Louisiana is next

Fast political action is needed to stop another anti-science bill in Louisiana. Below is a message from Barbara Forrest, who says it all better than I can.

Friends, fellow educators, and concerned citizens,

First, please accept my thanks to those of you who helped in the effort to stop SB 561, especially those who went to the Capitol to testify. Second, action is needed IMMEDIATELY to ask members of the House Education Committee to kill HB 1168, which is the House twin of SB 561. As far as I know, no newspapers have carried the story of its being filed on Monday, April 21. The bill could be heard in the House Education Committee as early as this week of April 28, so immediate action is crucial.

As you may know, SB 561 was amended to SB 733, the “Louisiana Science Education Act,” in which form it is less pernicious but still bad because it contains code language that creationists can exploit. However, the creationists were unhappy with the amendments, so Rep. Frank Hoffman of West Monroe has introduced HB 1168 in the House of Representatives. HB 1168 is identical to the original SB 561. (Mr. Hoffman was the Asst. Supt. of the Ouachita Parish school system in 2006. He helped persuade the the Ouachita Parish School Board to pass its creationist “science curriculum policy” that is the basis for both SB 561 and HB 1168.)

SB 733 will probably pass the Senate and be sent to the House, where it could be merged with HB 1168, which means that we are back where we started with SB 561. So HB 1168 must be killed in the House Education Committee, which means that we must generate as much opposition to the House Education Committee **NOW.** The bill could come up in the House Education Committee this week, but we are not sure. We need to act immediately to request that House Education Committee members kill HB 1168. And please also contact everyone else you know INSIDE LOUISIANA to do the same. We want opposition from inside the state, not outside. We want the House Education Committee members to hear from people who live here and vote here. We may need to generate outside opposition later, but not at this time.

I have written a revised backgrounder for HB 1168 based on the one I wrote for SB 561. You may download it here:


There are talking points, contact information, and some instructions for you at the end of this document.

A shorter set of talking points, also with contact information, is here:


The contact information in these is for ten members of the House Education Committee who may be receptive to our contact based on what we have been able to learn. If you personally know another member who is approachable, please also contact that person.

I have talked personally to three committee members and found those three very nice and very interested. Some of the committee members have been teachers and served on their parish school boards. Some are attorneys. The three to whom I talked were aware of the Dover trial, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005), in which I served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, a case that cost the Dover school board one million dollars. This seemed to resonate with them. You may wish to keep that in mind as you contact them. If I may make a suggestion: remember that this is a political problem, not a scientific one. Please try to avoid “science talk.” As Eugenie Scott, our executive director at the National Center for Science Education says, we will not solve this problem by throwing science at it. We must appeal to the legislators as fellow citizens, parents, and educators. No academic-speak! :)

The children and teachers of Louisiana are being used as pawns by the Louisiana Family Forum and, most likely, the Discovery Institute, about which I have written so extensively. These people will assuredly not be around to clean up the wreckage they will leave in their wake if we don’t stop them. We have to stop them.


  1. defectiverobot says

    How do you make the appeal politically without envoking science?

  2. FishyFred says

    If I may make a suggestion: remember that this is a political problem, not a scientific one. Please try to avoid “science talk.” As Eugenie Scott, our executive director at the National Center for Science Education says, we will not solve this problem by throwing science at it. We must appeal to the legislators as fellow citizens, parents, and educators. No academic-speak! :)

    How long do you think it will take the Discovery Institute to mine this quote and accuse “Darwinists” of politicizing science?

  3. Stephanie says

    Damn it, home state, did we learn nothing from Edwards v. Aguillard?

  4. Ichthyic says

    we will not solve this problem by throwing science at it. We must appeal to the legislators as fellow citizens, parents, and educators. No academic-speak! :)

    because of course, those of us who are just scientists aren’t actually fellow citizens?

    that needs some rewording, methinks.

  5. says

    Well, that’s just indicative of the problem…science education isn’t about science anymore. Such a shame, too.

  6. The indefatigable frog says

    What’s with the southern states?

    Is it the humidity?

  7. John Mashey says

    Actually, I think Barbara is right, I think meaning “Don’t go off into long lectures about science or you’ll lose them.” I think that’s good advice, having seen numerous people talk accurately … but about the wrong things … and then not achieve their goals.

    While the Dover trial was going on, I was exchanging emails with the Dean of Science at Penn State. He and others were very frustrated because Pennsylvania has been trying really hard to build up biosciences industries, and they needed the Dover publicity like a hole in the head.

    Barbara pointed out the “we want bioscience industry, and the people who do that expect good education or they won’t come” argument, which I heard some of in Florida, i.e., w.r.t. FL getting a branch of Scripps. Doesn’t LA have some bioscience initiatives?

    In light of Peak Oil, sea-level rise, and status of New Orleans, this certainly would seem a weird law to pass. Recall what it cost Dover, is this what they want to spend money on?

  8. says

    Louisiana has really gone downhill in the last 15 years or so. I was born and grew up in Louisiana, at least in the southern part of the state. This used to be the cultural part of the state with our French heritage. The northern part of the state always seemed to be a bunch of rednecked Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, and KKK members who regarded the southern half of the state as those “Mary worshiping Papists” since southern Louisiana has traditionally been Catholic.

    Apparently, in the last decade the Pentecostals and Baptists have been taking over the state politically. That is why as long as these people are in control I will never move back. I have a brother-in-law who converted from Catholic to Baptist and he is a raging fundy. If I moved back, I would probably be lynched because I would eventually slip up and say something that would set them off. Perhaps that’s somewhat of an overstatement, perhaps I would only have my house set on fire or something.

  9. BaM says

    Wait a second: You’re fighting a bill that encourages critical thinking and academic freedom for elementary and high school students? Hate to say it, but that sort of makes you look like the bad guy, PZ.

  10. Nibien says

    Wait a second: You’re fighting a bill that encourages critical thinking and academic freedom for elementary and high school students? Hate to say it, but that sort of makes you look like the bad guy, PZ.


  11. says

    ask members of the House Education Committee to kill HB 1168, which is the House twin of SB 561.

    That is generally an old school special interest tactic of not allowing a vote which means the government body in the State of LA would pass it, if voted on. On the other side, generally Creationist activists would tell their representatives either to vote for or against a bill…Bills that get killed can come back especially if the public wants it.

  12. says

    Wait a second: You’re fighting a bill that encourages critical thinking and academic freedom for elementary and high school students? Hate to say it, but that sort of makes you look like the bad guy, PZ.

    Because Bush’s “Healthy Forest Bill” was totally about healthy forests and not logging…

  13. Dustin R. says

    So has this already been voted on in committee or not? Ms. Forest mentions that this might be heard the week of April 28th, which is all but gone at this point, and I suppose a letter won’t be of much good if HB 1168 is already out of committee.

  14. says

    There’s no need, or should be no need, to get into the science. Just tell them the scientists, ie those who know what they’re talking about, think creationism is a crock of shit, and if they pass this they’ll be a laughing stock, the state will have to defend it in court, businesses will leave…

    all political reasons not to pass this bill.

  15. davidstvz says

    Sigh… what do you expect from the U.S. state with the largest prison population (per capita). I think my state is in the bottom 5 of every good thing you could think to rank.

  16. says

    Seeing as how i’m probably one of the few that actually lives in the state in question, i’ll make some calls.

    @frog, it’s called Baptists.

    This state is full of very poor people that have never been out of the state. Almost everyone i’ve spoken to hasn’t been out of the south.

    Compare that to suburbs of Los Angeles… where everyone goes on vacation to Utah or Canada yearly.

    Poor = more likely to need help. Help is more likely to come from churches and churchgoers than others out here. that’s just my two cents.

  17. Rick says

    My state representative is actually on the education committee. I emailed her to say that teachers already have the freedom to explore strengths and weakness of scientific theories and I then mentioned how this legislation has been linked to promoting creationism in science classrooms.

  18. RickFlick says

    I just did a quick skim for the background of this kind of bills. Of course the history in LA and elsewhere goes back a ways and precedent has been set against the introduction of creationism into the science classroom.
    However, as I read along I became more unsure of the likely outcome of these little dramas. It appears as though at least 2 supreme court justices are of a peculiarly anti science leaning. This concerning “Edwards v. Aguillard” (Louisiana,1987) discussing the Trojan horse aspect, from Wikipedia:

    Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, dissented, accepting the Act’s stated purpose of “protecting academic freedom” as a sincere and legitimate secular purpose. They construed the term “academic freedom” to refer to “students’ freedom from indoctrination”, in this case their freedom “to decide for themselves how life began, based upon a fair and balanced presentation of the scientific evidence”. However, they also criticized the first prong of the Lemon test, noting that “to look for the sole purpose of even a single legislator is probably to look for something that does not exist.”.

    I guess stopping them at a lower level would be wise.

  19. freelunch says

    Sadly, I have to agree with Barbara Forrest about science. Getting your average legislator to understand why ID is not science is not easy and he will have a hard time explaining to his constituency why he voted against God, er, the intelligent designer, if he has to explain science to them. Now, of course, this tells us that science education in America, not just Louisiana, is pathetic, but that won’t be resolved here, either.

    It’s much easier to tell the legislator that it will cost money and they are going to lose, just as creationists have lost every single time in the past.

    In Texas it’s easy, just tell ’em that if they start doing this it will cost millions of dollars and they’ll have to shut down high school football to pay for it.

  20. MikeK says

    It’s quite clear that we Washington State scientists cleverly set up the “Discovery Institute” to cripple science education in other States. With any luck, we can get land all the science funding and make some progress while University biology departments in other states spend their time developing “evidence” for creationism.

  21. says

    MikeK: That was you guys? I thought the Australasian Science Cabal set that one up… or was it AiG?

    anyway, who cares? There’s plenty of biotech to go around!

  22. Stephen says

    If you’re looking for a pithy soundbite to get the idea across to non-scientists, the best I’ve seen (it was either here or on PT) was along the lines of:

    Real academic freedom is the freedom of scientists to ask questions. This bill is all about letting schools ignore the answers.

  23. chrisw says

    Its no accident that History and Evolution are the two most politicised subjects in the US School Curriculum – they both challenge delusional narratives shared by way too many Americans about their origins and “purpose”.

    The groups that are continually trying to muddy the waters to allow their delusion to survive (at least through High School) are practicing a form of demagoguery set in motion by Ronald Reagan and his Republican sweep. Its largely based upon appealing to emotions rather than intellect, patriotism rather than common sense. In this guise, Evolution = Government and Creationism = Individual freedom.
    In a nutshell that’s the premise of Ben Stein’s travesty of a movie “Expelled” – and framed this way it will find a substantial audience in America for some time to come.

    In this context trying to win a debate on the science is very difficult. However there is another “authority” these conservatives claim to respect (apart from their pastors) – and that is money. It is obvious that none of Ben Stein’s “victims” in the movie worked for private Biotech companies, who would be completely justified in dismissing them from their labs for not understanding the basics of their field.

    A 2006 survey of Global Biotech expenditures put the annual figure at $73 billion – and the companies making these real world choices are basing their decisions on the FACT of evolution. That is, the functioning of genes in disparate organisms is in direct relation to their evolutionary connection. That comparative analysis is the basis of medical research and trials, pest control, genetic modification of food crops and so on.

    I’m coming round to a position articulated by others that we need to separate the “narrative” of evolutionary history from the “fact” of the evolutionary present. In the Republican debates last year, the wrong question was asked: “Do you believe in Evolution?”.

    What should have been asked was: “Do you accept that Humans and Chimpanzees share more that 96% of the same genes?”

    I use “accept” rather than “believe” because empirical data doesn’t require belief. $73 billion dollars is a lot more than Ben Stein’s money – and is the most meaningful vote of confidence in the Evolutionary relationship between species. Evolution by natural selection is a GOOD explanation for how this genetic relation comes about, and has PREDICTIVE power that can be used to search for more relationships that can make them money. It should be well within the High School Biology teachers ability (with support materials) to simply compare the PREDICTIVE powers of Evolution vs Creationism/ID.

    So the question to the doubters would be why would so many PRIVATE citizens put so much money into research based upon a fallacy – and why would that research keep producing results that saves millions of lives every year?

  24. Pete Dunkelberg says

    Rick, since you live there you can *call* your rep and then lots more of them. Monday.

    The aim of the bill(s) (just went up at The Thumb)

    is to authorize teaching creationism without naming it. It mustn’t be named since teaching creationism as science is not legal. The bill facilitates illegal activity.

    The “supplemental materials” are likely to be books sold by Disco.

  25. WordsNotNames says

    Louisiana has really gone downhill in the last 15 years or so. I was born and grew up in Louisiana, at least in the southern part of the state.

    I was transplanted to central Louisiana 7 years ago. Being a disconnected alien, the locals do not hold much back when venting their disdain, and as a result I have had the enormous privilege of hearing the north go on endlessly about how backwards the south is, and hearing the south go on about endlessly how backwards the north is. Both the pot and the kettle live very nicely in Louisiana.

    Myers is partly right that this is a political problem: the science is clear on the matter, it is not a science issue. What is missing, though, is this is primarily a social/cultural problem. A better way of saying it is that the solution is political since it is unlikely that you will change LA society any time soon. I pray for some Islamic immigrants wanting to set up religious public schools (the resulting irony would be delicious).

    I’ve only been here a few years, but I am suspecting Louisiana will have another go-around with DI. I hope not, but perhaps I can report on the next Dover from close up?

  26. The Wholly None says

    Please note that at the present time Barbara is requesting Louisiana citizens to personally contact their legislators, particularly the ones who are on the house education committee. She is NOT requesting a bunch of emails from other states informing Louisiana legislators that they are all scientific idiots for even considering such a bill (even if that may be true, it won’t help), so please, let’s follow Barbara’s lead on this. As I now live in Mississippi, I don’t have a legislator to call, but I have alerted all my old friends in education in Louisiana to help if they can. That would be a positive action to take, I think.

    Yesterday I looked at the website which tracks bills and, as far as I can tell, this bill is still in committee. If I hear more, I will post here.

  27. says

    You’re right about the north/south Louisiana. As a native of southwest Louisiana, we tend to slam the north like we slam Mississippi and Alabama. It’s too bad that the state has squandered the oil money made from the 50’s through the 70’s. But one good thing about the state was the use of oil revenue to finance college students from 1950s through the 1970’s. That was how I was able to afford my education.

  28. says

    As some have pointed out above, the southern states have provided the most targets for anti-evolution legislative bills. This is due mainly to the greater percentage of fundamentalists, especially Southern Baptists, in the population, and their very active anti-science stance.

    However, the creationist attempts have not been limited to the southern states. In the past few years (as a check at the NCSE web site will show), Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin have had such bills/school board actions. ‘Border’ states such as Kansas, Missouri and Maryland, as well as the western states of Nevada, New Mexico and Utah have also had to defeat similar attempts. California has had their share of local school board problems and Kitzmiller was in Pennsylvania!

    The creationists will continue to concentrate on those places where they believe they have a better chance of success, but no state can be considered immune and as this conflict continues, everyone needs to be vigilant and strongly oppose the anti-science movement, wherever it occurs.

  29. BlueIndependent says

    “What’s with the southern states?”

    Southern pride. They’re still chafing that they got their ass beat. And now their immoderate religious fundigelical elements are infecting the Yankee portions with intellectual trash.

    As far as these bills “encouraging” critical thinking, I didn’t know laws had to be written to do that. People have done that throughout the ages in spite of a lack of laws allowing the practice. Whether those critical thinkers were allowed to speak and study is another matter, but it goes without saying that Thomas Paine didn’t need a law to help forge a new era in human civilization. Galileo didn’t need a law that allowed him to come up with the idea that we are not the focus of the universe. These efforts trying to enshrine into law “encouragement” of critical thinking is simply nothing more than the rote, copied, by-the-book thinking that passes for “intelligence” in conservative circles. This is just more of them driving merrily toward the edge of the cliff without care or concern for anyone or anything other than their petty world view.

  30. Jeanette Garcia says

    This kind of undermining of education by idiots, is of concern to the whole country. What happens in the South has impact on the North, the East, the West. I shudder to think of the future of this country in light of the rampart ignorance displayed by its citizens, people who believe scientists or ‘real’ educators are elitist’s. The world laughs at the dumbing of America. At the same time they worry that a nation like ours, with so many people who think this way, has so much power. I know I do.

  31. BruceGee says

    I’ve started to wonder whether perhaps we should change our tactics. The creationist forces keep trying to “teach the controversy.” Why not use that strategy back in their faces? Write a textbook that lays out each all of the so-called “scientific evidence” that the creationists use, and then explains, point by point, why the evidence is bogus.

    The problem with nothing but straight up evolution being taught in the classroom is that it kind of assumes that kids are living in a vacuum. Kids today are smart enough to realize that this is a controvertial area, but they don’t understand WHY it’s controvertial, or what the different arguments are. When the creationists use the “academic freedom” argument, the kids are going to wonder what the Darwinists are so afraid of. Besides, what better way to teach REAL science than to exhibit what real science isn’t?