News Roundup 2/2/19: Controversial Theories in Science bill

There was quite a flurry of news earlier this week about the bill filed in the state senate that would allow Florida school districts to create/adopt their own sets of academic standards as long as they are equally or more rigorous than the state’s standards. The focus of all of the news was the provision in the bills that would require those districts that adopt their own standards to make sure “controversial theories” in science are “taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner.” As we’re about to see, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, sees evolution and climate change as those “controversial theories.” For more background on the bill, see our issues page: “Controversial Theories/Rigorous Standards” Bills 2019. The bill is SB 330.

The story that set off the news avalanche was in the Tampa Bay TimesFlorida bill would have students learn alternatives to climate change, evolution. Before this story was published, Baxley had not said publicly what was meant by “controversial theories.” But this story confirmed what we knew.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said that schools need to teach “different worldviews” on issues like evolution and climate change. He asserts that textbooks now skew toward “uniformity” of thought.

“Nothing is ever settled if it’s science, because people are always questioning science,” Baxley said. “If you look at the history of human learning, for a long time the official worldview was that the world was flat. Anything you now accept as fact comes from a perspective and you learn from examining different schools of thought.”

And we get further confirmation in this story about where the bill came from.

The language of the bill sounds fairly unremarkable, requiring only that schools “shall” teach these “theories” in a “factual, objective, and balanced manner.” But the group that wrote the bill, the Florida Citizens Alliance, says the bill is needed because curriculum currently taught in Florida schools equates to “political and religious indoctrination,” according to their managing director, Keith Flaugh.

Florida Watchdog has this story: Bill wants climate change, evolution ‘alternate theories’ taught in public schools.

Baxley said SB 330 is not an attack on science but an attempt to provide school districts with more academic freedom in how they teach science to K-12 students.

“The purpose of this bill is to allow people to question and challenge certain ideas rather than saying ‘This is the way it is,'” Baxley said. “We pursue all kinds of diversity but then we are like, ‘Don’t dare question anything that is set science,’ and the whole pursuit of science, for example, is pursue everything. There was a time in science that the world was flat.”

I noticed that in several news stories Baxley stated that science once thought that the world was flat. If you have a chance to rebut Baxley in a letter to the editor, op-ed or other venue, please point out that he’s not only hopelessly ignorant about evolution, but he’s just as ignorant about flat earth. This Wikipedia page is a good place to start: Myth of the flat Earth.

According to Stephen Jay Gould, “there never was a period of ‘flat Earth darkness’ among scholars (regardless of how the public at large may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the Earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.” Historians of science David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers point out that “there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth’s] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference”.

The Miami New Times hammers the point in their story that the source of the bill, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, isn’t really an authority on science education and yet they are having an out-sized influence in our state when it comes to education matters lately. Florida Lawmaker Sourced Anti-Climate Change, Anti-Evolution Bill From Islamophobic Fringe Group

It’s 2019 and Florida lawmakers still want to debate the existence of evolution and human-caused climate change. For that, you can thank longtime state senator and proud son of the Confederacy, Ocala’s Dennis Baxley, who recently teamed up with a fringe-right, virulently Islamophobic group to push yet another anti-science bill.

[…]

The group last made news after then-Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis tapped two of its members to serve on his education advisory team. As New Times has previously reported, the Alliance is virulently Islamophobic, has said LGBTQ people are guilty of “deviant behavior,” and claims schools must teach Judeo-Christian values.

[…]

But as New Times has previously reported, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance is on the fringe, even in the Sunshine State. The group routinely rails against the creeping influence of what it calls “cultural Marxism,” “LGBTQ values,” and “Islam” in public schools. It publishes an annual list of books it wants the public school system to ban — it has protested books that include “stories depicting ‘victims’ of capitalism, and the bigoted, sexist, racist ‘American Culture’ where whites victimize Indians, Mexican immigrants, women, Japanese, Chinese, African-American, and animals.”

I do have some good news to report, though! I’ve been active in the Florida evolution wars for several years and I rarely see state lawmakers go on the record as pro-evolution/climate change. The last time I can recall it happening was 2008, more than a decade ago. But before this year’s legislative session even kicks off, there are signs that we finally have someone on our side. WMNF reports: Florida bill could let nonscientific theories be taught in science classes

One critic of the bill, Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando), is a newly-elected state representative in House District 47.

You oppose this bill. Why do you oppose it?

“I do. I believe firmly that we don’t need alternative facts in our schools and we need science. And science is not controversial. It’s actually necessary and it helps to explain how the world operates.

“So, we’re setting a foundation for our young people to be successful as they grow into different career paths. Having a foundation of science is essential to their success.”

Please take time to show Eskamani some love with words of appreciation directly or via social media.

Over the years we’ve had the support of many newspaper columnists who love to make fun of anti-evolution politicians. Frank Cerabino is the first out of the gate at the Palm Beach PostScience teaching would evolve in Florida schools under proposed bill

After all, every child should have the right to be as proudly misinformed as the most uneducated parent in his or her school district.

[…]

So, it’s time that children be taught that it’s perfectly within their individual rights, not to mention the country’s founding principles and our family values, to believe in a more tolerant science, one that holds that our planet might be just thousands of years old, and that global warming must be a hoax because, well, it’s been really cold this week.

Did dinosaurs and man live on earth during the same time? If you believe they did, they did!

See how easy it is?

And Fred Grimm at the South Florida Sun Sentinel pokes some fun while at the same time reminding us that some horrible ideas do become law. Love to mock those crazy bills filed in Tallahassee — unless they pass

Just last week, Dennis Baxley, a longtime provider of fish in the proverbial barrel, once again rescued columnists from our winter slumber. The senator from Ocala, where folks don’t appreciate pointy-headed scientists messing with their worldview, introduced a bill that would allow school districts to teach “different worldviews” about such lefty myths as evolution and climate change.

Hear that distant sound? That’s us opinion slingers, howling like indignant banshees, invoking the Scopes monkey trial. Much like we did back when Sen. Stephen Wise of Jacksonville introduced his own anti-evolution measure, asking the question that left biologist cringing: “Why do we still have apes if we came from them?”

[…]

But much of our shock and fury are feigned. We know, in our disingenuous hearts, that’s it’s mostly fluff. Because wiser heads in key Senate or House committees will quietly table off-the-wall legislation. We know, secretly, that the wild stuff will just disappear.

Except, sometimes it doesn’t. Baxley and his buddies managed to pass the notorious 2005 Stand Your Ground Act. In 2017, the flat-earthers enacted a law allowing any Florida resident to challenge textbooks or other teaching materials that offend their sensibilities. Which translates into a war on evolution and global warming.

[…]

All those laws started out as absurdities, good for a laugh before the session began. Yet, they passed. It could be a bad year for evolution and sex dolls.

So, those are the news highlights. There were many, many more articles published but the majority of them just rehashed what earlier stories reported. But if you come across a unique one that points out something new, please let us know!

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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