News Roundup 2/9/19: Sen. Baxley takes a pounding

Several opinion pieces were published since my last news roundup just one week ago. Every one of them tears into state senator Dennis Baxley’s bill that attacks so-called “controversial theories” in science classrooms. If you need a primer about this bill, check out our issues page: “Controversial Theories/Rigorous Standards” Bills 2019.

Writer Joe Henderson writes in Florida Politics: Balance? Are you kidding? Florida SB 330 is educational quackery.

Despite so much inclusion and moderation by new Gov. Ron DeSantis, some Republicans in the Florida Legislature can be counted on for dunderhead proposals. For today’s example, consider Florida SB 330.

It was filed by conservative Ocala Sen. Dennis Baxley. In this now seemingly annual GOP attack on science, Baxley proposes that “controversial theories and concepts shall be taught in a factual, objective and balanced manner.”

Well, you may ask, what’s wrong with that?

Let’s look at that question in a factual, objective and balanced manner.

When doing that, we learn it’s another straight out of looneyville stab by those say there is no proof climate change is real. If it is real, they say humans had nothing to do with it. They usually punctuate that by saying something intellectual like pffffffffffftttt.

Next up is Donald R. Eastman III, president of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. He writes in the Tampa Bay Times: Ignorance is dangerous.

The price to be paid for this kind of nonsense is considerable. Not only will students suffer when they take standardized tests for entrance to college — which they will, because they won’t know the fundamentals of established science — but they will suffer long term as the climate of their state, country and world continues to erode because people like Sen. Baxley insist on playing politics with facts. Neither evolution nor human-caused climate change are “controversial theories”: They are, by scientists the world over, confirmed as truth, as fact.

Also in the Tampa Bay Times is writer Daniel Ruth’s: Baxley tries to turn back the clock on climate change, evolution.

The Florida Citizens Alliance and their faithful Friar Tuck of fake hysteria have introduced a piece of cynical legislation predicated on a false premise.

There is nothing “controversial” about the proven science of evolution or climate change. These concepts have been validated repeatedly by people who are completely foreign to likes of Baxley and the Florida Citizens Alliance — scientists who actually know what they are talking about. You see the problem.

Meanwhile, the National Center for Science Education summarizes the list of antiscience bills that have popped up so far across the country. Of course, Florida gets a section all to itself: A Baker’s-Dozen-Plus-One of Half-Baked Measures.

Bills requiring balance with regard to controversial issues. There’s just one such bill, in Florida, where it reprises a similar pair of bills, which thankfully died in committee, from 2017. The idea here is to require “[c]ontroversial theories and concepts” discussed in science standards “[to] be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner,” and while there is no indication of what theories and concepts are deemed to be “controversial,” the bill’s sole sponsor, Dennis Baxley (R–District 12), has a history of antievolution advocacy. In 2008, when Florida adopted new state science standards, for example, he complained that scientists should “leave the door open a little bit” for the consideration of supposed alternatives to evolution. As always, Florida Citizens for Science is calling for concerned Floridians to work against the misguided bill. Florida’s Senate Bill 330.

Florida has a growing list of school voucher programs that allow public tax money to be diverted into private schools, which is a problem considering how much bad science is taught in some of these schools. An Associated Press story covers a recent controversy stirring over this issue: Hashtag stirs debate over role of Christian schools in US.

To critics, many of these Christian schools venture too often into indoctrination, with teachings that can misrepresent science and history and potentially breed intolerance toward people with different outlooks.

“These schools are front and center in the politicization of knowledge and that’s problematic,” said Julie Ingersoll, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida.

A lengthy story published in Scientific American highlights a growing problem with climate change education in states all across the country: Some States Still Lag in Teaching Climate Science. The good news is that the topic is in Florida’s science standards. The bad news is, well, Baxley.

Aside from Texas, the other states that haven’t adopted the new standards or the framework are Alaska, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

In at least one of those states, there’s an effort to make it easier to teach that humans aren’t the primary driver of climate change.

Florida Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley introduced a bill that would allow schools to teach alternative concepts from what he deems “controversial theories,” such as evolution and human-induced climate change, the Miami Herald reported last week.

OK, I’ll take a break from Baxley bashing, but I wish I could take a break from bad news. FSU physics professor Paul Cottle has spent years trying to strengthen physics education in Florida’s schools. He wants to ensure kids have the solid foundation they need to pursue high paying career fields. But he keeps digging up depressing statistics: Physics enrollment in Florida’s public high schools continues to decline; now down 12% in four years.

The American Society for Engineering Education recommends that high school students who might major in engineering in college take physics. College majors in physical science fields like chemistry and meteorology are required to take physics, as are students in the life and health sciences. Many bachelor’s degree programs in computer science also require physics.

Thus, the physics enrollment decline demonstrates that the readiness of Florida public high school students for college majors in STEM fields is continuing to deteriorate.

And it’s not just physics: Chemistry course enrollments in Florida’s public high schools decline by 14% in only three years.

The rate of decline in chemistry is even faster than that in physics in the state’s public high schools. Together, the chemistry and physics statistics show that the role of the physical sciences in the education of Florida’s high school students is shrinking rapidly.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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