Friday, July 07, 2006


Discovery Institute to "Defend Science" in Kansas

John West, the vice president for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at the Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture, and Robert Crowther, the Director of Communications -- they all have fancy titles out there in Seattle -- have announced they will hold an 11:00 am news conference today to launch "Stand Up For Science" and "Stand Up For Kansas Science Education" campaigns here.

Discovery is concerned, they say, about "a concerted effort to censor science in Kansas, to spread misinformation about the Kansas science standards, and ultimately to repeal the standards relating to evolution and replace them with dogmatic, Darwin-only standards."

Discovery may seem an odd defender of science and science education. It's been at the forefront of a political and cultural movement embraced by right-wing Christians to attack evolution, push intelligent design into the public school science curriculum, and to redefine science itself -- in order, as they write in their "Wedge Strategy" -- to replace it with a science "consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

In fact, Michael Behe a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute recently testified in court that the intelligent design movement's proposed re-definition of science would transform astrology from a cheap parlor trick to one of the sciences right there alongside biology, physics, and chemistry.

So, when Discovery says it will launch a campaign to defend science and science education in Kansas it really means it will be pouring buckets of money into the campaigns coffers of right-wing Christian fundamentalists -- John Bacon, Ken Williard, Connie Morris, Brad Patzer, and Jesse Hall -- who are running for re-election, or in Patzer's case, election to the seat currently held by his mother-in-law, Iris Van Meter.

Jesse Hall, who until he was unmasked just the other day as an anti-evolution stealth candidate, didn't appear even to have left his living room to campaign. Yet, he's been the beneficiary of passionate pleas for campaign contributions from zealots such as Celtie Johnson on the religious right.

It is ironic -- but perfectly in tune with these up-is-down times -- that the well-heeled outsiders now coming into Kansas to "defend science" are opposed by the National Research Council, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association.

Saying that "students are ill-served by any effort in science classrooms to blur the distinction between science and other ways of knowing, including those concerned with the supernatural," these premier science organizations issued a joint statement last October disassociating themselves from the newly revised Kansas Science Education Standards and denying the Kansas State School Board permission to use substantial sections of text from two standards-related documents to which they hold copyright.

Last September, 38 Nobel Laureates, including Elie Wiesel, wrote the Kansas State Board of Education in defense of science and education. The Nobel Laureates urged the Board to reject proposed science standards supported by the Discovery Institute and the Intelligent Design Network that were to include alternatives to evolution as explanations for the origin of species.

In 2005, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute issued a report noting that "Science education in America is under attack, with 'discovery learning' on one flank and the Discovery Institute on the other." Fordham's report on Kansas said, "Kansas has adopted standards whose treatment of evolutionary material has been radically compromised. The effect transcends evolution, however. It now makes a mockery of the very definition of science. The grade for Kansas is accordingly reduced to 'F.'"

Discovery's defense of science today will undoubtedly include support for Kansas State Board of Education Chair Steve Abrams, an old-style a creationist who, in 1999, wrote revisions into the standards that deleted any mention about the origins and evolution of the universe and life on Earth.

Last September, as the science standards were being revised, Abrams told a religious group that “At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe,” Abrams said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Abrams and other members of the right-wing majority faction on the board, Connie Morris, Kathy Martin, John Bacon, Ken Williard, and Iris Van Meter -- like the Discovery Institute from whom they've taken their lead -- have lately moved away from publicly advocating creationism and intelligent design.

Their new flavor of the month is critical analysis. And, like intelligent design -- and before that creation science -- critical analysis has nothing at all to do with science and everything to do will pushing supernatural speculation into science classes under the radar of judicial review.

Discovery is coming to Kansas because they see clearly just how critical a victory in the upcoming school board election is for their movement. They know that the Kansas school board election is much more than just a local event. Like Dover -- perhaps even more important than Dover -- the outcome of the Kansas school board election will encourage local school boards across the country to either embrace ID or run from it like a scalded dog.

Having lost both in federal court and at the ballot box in Dover, having been dealt setbacks in Ohio, El Tejon, Rio Rancho, and failing even to get an ID initiative on the ballot in Nevada, Discovery knows intelligent design must have a victory soon if it is to survive as a viable political strategy for the religious right.

Discovery will be all over Kansas with their "Swift Boat" PR firm and their money. They'll be here with their disinformation campaigns, as well. Supporters of real science education should prepare themselves for last minute slander campaigns like the one launched against Val Defever in 2002. They are going to pull out all the stops, because they have to. Kansas is the end of the line.

If they can't win here, they can't win anywhere.

In these days, when tort reform means corporate control of the judiciary, protecting the environment means building strip malls on toxic waste sites, and voluntary compliance means dumping waste in rivers, it should come as no surprise that fundamentalist Christians and their political advocacy fronts portray themselves as defenders of science.

When timber lobbyists form astroturf groups such as the Save Our Species Alliance to weaken the Endangered Species Act, Working Families for Wal-Mart is funded by, you guessed it, Wal-Mart, and Hands Off the Internet is a creature of telecommunication companies AT&T, Bell South, and Cingular, it tells us something important about the deep cynicism of those on the right, like Discovery.

Is it really any surprise that the Discovery Institute is coming all the way to Kansas to defend science and science education? No, in the Alice in Wonderland world we now live in, it makes perfect sense.


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