Barbara Forrest

The repercussions that were expected from the Louisiana legislature’s passage and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signing of the creationist 2008 LA Science Education Act have begun. Louisiana taxpayers and schoolchildren are now reaping what the legislature and governor have sowed: the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, one of the nation’s leading scientific societies, is boycotting Louisiana. In a February 6, 2009, letter [pdf] to Gov. Bobby Jindal, SICB Executive Committee President Richard Satterlie told the governor that “The Executive Committee voted to hold the 2011 meeting in Salt Lake City in large part because of legislation SB 561, which you signed into law in June 2008…. Utah, in contrast [to Louisiana], passed a resolution that states that evolution is central to any science curriculum.” [See the resolution adopted by the Utah State Board of Education affirming that “The Theory of Evolution is a major unifying concept in science and appropriately included in Utah’s K-12 Science Core Curriculum.” Contrast this resolution with the recent decision by the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to strip the prohibition against teaching creationism from the policy implementing the LSEA.]

The LA Coalition for Science has issued a press release [pdf] announcing SICB’s decision. [Correction: Although the LA Science Education Act was first introduced as SB 561, it was renumbered during the legislative process and signed into law as SB 733.]

The legislature and the governor cannot say they weren’t warned. They were, but they ignored the warnings. Indeed, they ignored everyone except the creationists at the Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum. Before the Louisiana Family Forum and the Discovery Institute — and perhaps well-meaning critics — start squawking about how mean this is, let’s just consider a few things, shall we?

  • In its letter [pdf] of June 9, 2008, to Louisiana state representatives, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) warned of the damage the legislature might do to the state by passing SB 733: “By promoting the discussion of patently non-scientific ideas in the science classroom, SB 733 threatens the quality of science education and risks setting the students of Louisiana well behind their national and international counterparts. At a time when national political and business leaders are calling for a reinvestment in our scientific research and education enterprise, passage of SB 733 would set Louisiana on a path counter to that of the rest of the nation.” The legislature did not listen.
  • In its letter [pdf] of June 13, 2008, to Gov. Jindal, AIBS warned the governor of precisely the same thing: “By promoting the discussion of patently non-scientific ideas in the science classroom, SB 733 threatens the quality of science education and risks setting the students of Louisiana well behind their national and international counterparts. The future educational, employment, and economic growth of Louisiana and the United States depends upon a scientifically literate workforce and a population capable of making informed decisions. A strong foundation in science that includes an understanding of evolution is required to fuel the advances in research, development, and innovation that will help Louisiana increase economic growth from new jobs and opportunities arising from science and technology.” Jindal did not listen.

These pleas and warnings to the legislature and the governor to kill the LA Science Education Act were only two of many, all of which were ignored.

The following points summarize the fairest and most accurate way to assess this first fallout from what the legislature and the governor did by respectively passing and signing the creationist LA Science Education Act of 2008:

No doubt the creationists at the Discovery Institute and the LA Family Forum will try to make hay out of this boycott by blaming SICB. But it is not the SICB that has done the damage here; it is the legislature and the governor, egged on by the Discovery Institute and the LFF. The SICB held its 2004 meeting in New Orleans, and it was a huge event that contributed to the city’s tourism business.

The legislators and Gov. Jindal are the people who refused to consider the economic damage to the state that they were warned would result from their passing this bill. Other state agencies that have done stupid things like this, e.g., the Kansas Board of Education in 1999, when it stripped evolution out of the state science standards, were warned by their pro-science citizens that such decisions could damage their states’ economies. The public officials never seem to take such warnings seriously. We pro-science activists, scientists, and teachers who lobbied against the Louisiana bill last year — in other words, people who do real work for the state of Louisiana such as, say, educating students and searching for a cure for cancer — tried to warn public officials of repercussions like this. They ignored us.

The legislature and Gov. Jindal — and no one else — bear the responsibility. The scientific organizations, not to mention all the other organizations that have come to New Orleans, as well as to other Louisiana convention centers, to do business, deserve credit for wanting to help the city and our state. Indeed, they already have helped the city and the state as a whole many times in the past by coming here for their meetings. Any negative reactions against SICB about the fallout from their decision not to hold future meetings in Louisiana while this law is on the books should be turned around and properly directed toward the people who actually did the damage to Louisiana: the legislature, Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Family Forum, and the Discovery Institute — not the SICB.

It is important to highlight where the real responsibility for this decision lies. It is not with the scientific organizations who have every right to stand up to defend both their disciplines and the way science is taught in public schools.