In December 2005, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that a local school board could not include intelligent design as part the district’s biology curriculum. Throughout the controversy, which ballooned to Scopes monkey trial proportions, a bespectacled physical anthropologist assisted the attorneys on the side of science by marshaling the evidence for evolution and assembling noted researchers to serve as advisers.
That anthropologist was Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center for Science Education, which was founded in 1987 to support public understanding of evolutionary biology, especially in schools. The 67-year-old founding CEO announced her intention to retire from the center on Monday, after 26 years. "I’ve put a lot of blood sweat and tears into this organization," she said in a phone interview Wednesday, "but I think it’s a good time for someone with new ideas."
Her departure, though, won’t change what has become a key new emphasis for the organization in recent years: countering the trend of climate change denialism that has joined anti-evolutionary fervor as an obstacle in science classrooms. Half the organization is devoted to climate at this point, she said.
That happened because a few years ago, Scott began to notice that anti-evolution bills in state legislatures were being bundled with regulations aimed at straitjacketing climate science curricula. A handful of states, including South Dakota and Utah (which have passed resolutions denying climate change altogether), have already approved legislation specifically restricting climate science in the classroom. Scott’s center, based in Oakland, California, is working to counteract that anti-science surge by providing teachers with classroom resources and political backing for teaching climate science, along with evolution.
“Students shouldn't be debating whether living things have common ancestors,” Scott told OnEarth editor-at-large Ted Genoways in an extended interview published in the magazine’s Spring 2013 issue. “And they shouldn't be debating whether the earth is getting warmer. They can debate arguments within evolution or climate change. Were dinosaurs warm-blooded or cold-blooded? That's a great critical-thinking exercise for kids. With regard to climate change, is the sea level going to rise two inches or six? What are the data? That's a great exercise.”
And it’s one with special interest to the students who will inherit the world that climate science predicts.
Image: National Center for Science Education