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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Science vs. politics, Round 2

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2012 at 10:49 AM

The Louisiana Legislature convenes next week, and that means another showdown between science and politics. So far, politics is winning.

But that doesn’t deter Zach Kopplin, the college freshman who, as a high school student last year, took on Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) and others promoting the teaching of creationism in Louisiana public schools.

Kopplin is once again leading the charge to repeal the grossly misnamed Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA). The act was passed in 2008 and signed into law by Jindal, who majored in biology at Brown University and once dreamed of becoming a doctor. (Jindal’s genetics professor urged him to veto the law in 2008, arguing that it would harm Louisiana students who, like Jindal at one time, aspire to become scientists and doctors. Jindal, who is the darling of right-wing religious fundamentalists in the GOP, happily signed the bill into law and continues to defend it as a tool of “critical thinking.”)

LFF is a right-wing non-profit with stated religious goals, but it functions chiefly as a lobbying firm for fundamentalist causes. Most state lawmakers kowtow to LFF rather than risk being labeled “anti-family” or “anti-God.”

Kopplin, the son of New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, now has 75 Nobel laureates supporting the move to repeal the LSEA. State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, is once again authoring a measure (Senate Bill 374) to make that happen. Peterson filed a similar bill last year but it died in committee. The bill will likely be heard once again by the Senate Education Committee, but after last year’s statewide elections the committee has a new chair and several new members.

Critics of the LSEA maintain that it is just a ruse for teaching creationism in public schools. Supporters of the law — chiefly LFF and similar groups — point to seemingly innocuous language in the bill calling for “supplemental materials” to be used in science classes that will allow students to engage in “critical thinking” about scientific topics, including evolution.

Although Kopplin and Peterson failed to repeal the law last year, Kopplin succeeded in convincing the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)’s Textbook Advisory Council to maintain science textbooks that teach … um … science.

“Please stand tall and endorse life-science textbooks that teach real science rather than undermine it,” Kopplin told the textbook council. The council agreed and voted 8-4 to keep science in science textbooks, and BESE followed suit by voting 6-1 and 8-2 in subsequent meetings. Kopplin called those votes “the largest victory for science that Louisiana has had in eight years,” but he says the real victory will be repeal of the LSEA.

In a press release, Kopplin notes that the 75 Nobel laureates supporting repeal of the LSEA represent “nearly 40 percent of all living Nobel laureate scientists in physics, chemistry, or physiology or medicine.”

“This year the Governor has asked the Louisiana legislature to focus on education,” says Peterson in the press release. “If this legislative session is truly about improving Louisiana’s education system, then the first place to start is to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.”

Now that Kopplin is in college, other high school students are helping to lead the cause. They are Nathan Babb of Baton Rouge High School and Hui Jin of Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans. They can be reached at For more on the move to repeal the LSEA, see

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