Once again creationists are trying to undermine science education in Texas. On Wednesday the Texas House Higher Education Committee will consider legislation that would bar the state’s colleges and universities from discriminating against or penalizing “in any manner” faculty members or students who engage in research on “intelligent design” — the name creationists have given to their pseudo-scientific attacks on evolution.
This isn’t the first time creationists have targeted the teaching of evolution in Texas colleges and universities. State Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, proposed the same bill in 2011. It never got a committee hearing. In 2008 the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas lost a bid to get the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to certify its master’s of science education degree program. The ICR then sued the state, but that went nowhere.
Now Rep. Zedler is back with his academic fraud protection legislation, House Bill 285. This year he’ll get his committee hearing. We have a briefing paper on HB 285 here, but the key points are the same as in 2011.
- “Intelligent design” isn’t science; it’s creationism dressed up in a lab coat, as a federal court made clear in the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover decision in Pennsylvania.
- Texas institutions of higher education shouldn’t be required to look the other way when faculty or students distort mainstream science and research. Those institutions should (and do) protect academic freedom, but they shouldn’t be required to protect academic fraud.
- HB 285’s bar on penalizing such fraud “in any manner” could put colleges and universities in the position of having to fund junk science research into “intelligent design,” allow creationists to teach freshmen biology students that the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting evolution is wrong, and interfere with a professor’s ability to evaluate and grade a student’s mastery of course material.
The State Board of Education has done a pretty good job of turning Texas into a national laughingstock when it comes to science education in our public schools. Unless legislators want to do the same thing with our colleges and universities, they should slam the door shut on absurd legislation like HB 285.