South Dakota preps for Scopes IV?

I’ve got a column at Science Progress arguing just that (in my internal accounting, McLean was Scopes II, Kitzmiller was Scopes III):

Legislators in South Dakota seem bent on becoming anti-science pioneers. After a century of anti-evolution policies and legislation across the United States, the South Dakota legislature is set to become the only one in the nation to micromanage what teachers should say about global warming.

This attack on global warming was prefigured in the announcement last August by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that it planned to gin up “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.” Senior vice president for the environment William Kovacs exulted: “It would be evolution versus creationism. It would be the science of climate change on trial.”

Kovacs later apologized, explaining, “My ‘Scopes monkey’ analogy was inappropriate,” as it undermined his insistence that the Chamber “is not denying or otherwise challenging the science behind global climate change.” However embarrassing and erroneous Kovacs’ description of the chamber’s campaign might have been, they foreshadowed the South Dakota legislature’s move toward its own version of a global warming Scopes trial.

Click through and enjoy. I’ve been looking for an excuse to mock that line from Kovacs for a while now, and this is a pretty good outlet to plant that flag. Global warming denial is the creationism of the 21st century, and it’s time scientists and science fans started treating it as such.

And don’t forget that Scopes lost.


  1. #1 denature
    February 26, 2010

    The Scopes analogy doesn’t work. It is a resolution with no force of law.

  2. #2 Marion Delgado
    February 26, 2010

    I think the law itself violates Deuteronomy, which says no diviners or readers of omens (astrology) and no passing through the fire (thermology). So clearly, this is Man’s law, not God’s law. and hence, while rendering to caesar and acknowledging the authorities God has chosen to put us under, it wouldn’t hurt to point out to the South Dakota legislature that they would all be put to death under moral and just laws.

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    February 27, 2010

    The Scopes analogy is imperfect, but even as a resolution without enforcement authority, this creates a conflict between the legislature’s advice and that of the state standards (which state that students should learn that global warming is a result of human activities). State standards are usually not legally enforceable against particular teachers, but they do serve as the basis for standardized testing, which school districts care about. A district that took the conflict between the nonbinding standards and nonbinding resolution as reason to require the teaching of global warming denial would set the stage for a Scopes trial, as a teacher sticking up for the science in that scenario could be fired.

  4. #4 denature
    February 27, 2010

    Your points here and at Science Progress are well-made. I have no desire defending what remains an intrusive and flawed piece of legislation. But a school board would have to be particularly willful to ignore the portions of the resolution that recommend presentations be objective and bemoans politicization of science, and then bring in unpublished materials from political think tanks into the classroom.

    There are conflicts between the current resolution and science standards such as the legislature implying climate is too complicated to understand and science standards recommending students “describe how various factors may affect global climate.” It seems a stretch to envision this as the spark that ignites a future lawsuit. But I could be naive.

    I don’t see anything in the standards that explicitly states global warming is a result of human activities, although there are sections relating to human impacts. A teacher bent on denialism could just as easily justify their actions by a selective interpretation of the standards (various factors affect climate) in order to bring in bad science. I would not be surprised to find that there are teachers in the state who already do this. Does the publicity surrounding the resolution make this more likely to occur in the future? I don’t know.

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