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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 04/22/2011

High school senior leads Louisiana fight against anti-evolution law

A 17-year-old Baton Rouge high school senior is leading the fight to repeal a Lousiana law that gives teachers license to equate creationism with evolution -- and now he is doing it with the support of more than 40 Nobel laureates.

Zack Kopplin, who attends Baton Rouge Magnet High School, has been leading a campaign against the state’s Science Education Act since last summer, organizing students, teachers, professors, clergy and business leaders to support the repeal. He is planning a rally April 28 at the Lousiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, where legislators start a new session on Monday and a bill has been introduced by a Democrat to repeal the law. Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, opposes a repeal, according to the Associated Press.

“The single most important reason why I took on this repeal was jobs,” Kopplin told me. “This law makes it harder for Louisiana students to get cutting-edge science-based jobs after we graduate, because companies like Baton Rouge’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center are not going to trust our science education with this law on the books.”

He also won the support of major scientists and national and local organizations in support of the repeal; more than 40 Nobel laureates signed a letter that was just sent to the Louisiana Legislature. The National Association of Biology Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators also back Kopplin’s campaign.

“The repeal has been rapidly gaining momentum over the last year,” Kopplin said in an email. “People are calling and asking their legislators to take a stand for accurate and evidence-based science. People are driving in from as far away as Shreveport for our rally.

“I believe that this repeal will pass this year. Louisiana students want to be taught science that will prepare them to get jobs in today’s global economy,” he said.

Meanwhile, creationists have been busy in a number of states already this year. Since January, anti-science legislators in seven states have proposed nine bills attacking evolution and evolution education, according to the National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Many of the bills cite “academic freedom,” the idea that teachers should have the freedom to teach different theories equally. Of course that ignores the overwhelming scientific consensus on the validity of evolution and tries to equate biology’s animating principle with creationist theory that the science establishment rejects.

The issue is important, especially at a time when most high school biology teachers are reluctant to endorse evolution in class, according to a recent poll. According to the poll, conducted by Penn State political science professors Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer and published in Science magazine:

*About 28 percent consistently implement National Research Council recommendations calling for introduction of evidence that evolution occurred, and craft lesson plans with evolution as a unifying theme linking disparate topics in biology.

* About 13 percent of biology teachers “explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.”

* The rest, about 60 percent, “fail to explain the nature of scientific inquiry, undermine the authority of established experts, and legitimize creationist arguments.”

Here, from the National Center for Science Education, is a list of bills that were introduced this year in state legislatures in an attempt to promote the teaching of creationism in public schools:


Tennessee

House Bill 368 (HB 368)

Aim: “teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories”...including evolution, global warming, the chemical origin of life, and human cloning.

Status: Passed in the House, 4/7/2011. A hold has been put on the Senate version, meaning it is probably dead for this year.

Florida

SB 1854

Aim: requires a “thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution” in the state’s public schools.

Status: In committee


Texas

HB 2454

Aim: “An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member’s or student’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.”

Status: In committee

Missouri

HB 195

Aim: “teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.” Almost identical to last year’s HB 1165.

Status: Not assigned to committee

Kentucky

HB 169

Aim: would have allowed teachers to “use...instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.”

Status: Died in committee

Oklahoma

SB 554

Aim: A classic academic freedom bill that also provides that “No teacher shall be reassigned, terminated, disciplined or otherwise discriminated against for providing scientific information being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula.”

Status: Died in committee

HB 1551

Aim: allows teachers to help “students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” Topics specifically mentioned: “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Status: Died in committee

New Mexico

HB 302

Aim: Teachers must inform students about “relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses”. The bill would protect teachers from “reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so.”

Status: Died in committee

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