It’s an election year, and plenty of things seem to matter to voters, including health care, the budget, unemployment, and women’s rights. But this year, as always, one of the things that doesn’t seem to matter is science. That’s particularly troubling because just about every challenge that America faces today has a scientific component, from revitalizing the economy to dealing with climate change to managing health care.
Science took a beating in the primary season this year. Leading candidates made it clear that they rejected climate science (Herman Cain and Rick Perry), thought that vaccines caused mental retardation (Michele Bachmann), and didn’t “believe” in evolution (a bunch of them, most prominently Rick Santorum). One candidate, John Huntsman, bravely tweeted, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” To scientists, Huntsman’s candor was “right on!” To Republican primary voters, apparently he was crazy.
At least, for the second presidential election in a row, both major party candidates are on record as accepting the science of evolution, the cornerstone of the biological sciences. But let’s not celebrate just yet. One of those candidates still has to make a vice presidential pick, and one of the leading contenders for that job has a public record on science that’s crystal clear—and deeply troubling. It’s Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana.
Jindal has an elite résumé. He was a biology major at my school, Brown University, and a Rhodes scholar. He knows the science, or at least he ought to. But in his rise to prominence in Louisiana, he made a bargain with the religious right and compromised science and science education for the children of his state. In fact, Jindal’s actions at one point persuaded leading scientific organizations, including the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, to cross New Orleans off their list of future meeting sites (PDF).
What did Jindal do to produce a hornet’s nest of “mad scientists,” as Times-Picayune writer James Gill described them? He signed into law, in Gill’s words, the “Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA), which is named for what it is designed to destroy.” The act allows “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” to be brought into classrooms to support the “open and objective discussion” of certain “scientific theories,” including, of course, evolution. As educators who have heard such coded language before quickly realized, the act was intended to promote creationism as science. In April, Kevin Carman, dean of the College of Science at Louisiana State University, testified before the Louisiana Senate’s Education Committee that two top scientists had rejected offers to come to LSU because of the LSEA, and the school may lose more scientists in the future.
And now Jindal is poised to spend millions of dollars of state money to support the teaching of creationism in private schools.