A controversial new bill in Florida is worrying a lot of scientists and educators - and for good reason. If enacted, the ambiguous language of the bill could invite climate denial and creationism into the classroom.
The bill, which was filed last week by Senator Dennis Baxley, requires "controversial theories and concepts … [to] be taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner." And while the bill does not explicitly state what those controversial theories are, there are some worrying indicators.
Senator Baxley has a long and rich history of antievolution advocacy. In the past, Baxley has complained about the "tirade" against creationism in universities, and he has sponsored bills that would have prevented "biased indoctrination" by the "classroom dictator" – which is what most of us call a science teacher.
When Florida was adopting new science standards in 2008, Baxley said he wanted scientists to "leave the door open a little bit" for other theories about how life on Earth came to be. Nevertheless, the new Florida standards required for the very first time that "the fundamental concept underlying all of biology" be taught in public schools.
Baxley was not happy.
"The controversy will never be over," said Baxley after the vote.
"It's another step in a long saga of this discussion. There will be a number of scientific perspectives put forward as the years go on, and a number of religious and other perspectives."
Baxley's opinions on science education make him the perfect sponsor for the newest anti-science bill, which was written by the creationist, climate denying group Florida Citizens Alliance.
For years, this organization has been attempting to remedy the way religion is portrayed in student text books and reading material. Under the guise of improving balanced viewpoints on certain issues, Florida Citizens Alliance has led a state-wide crusade against inconvenient scientific truths. And their newest bill is no different.
The bill stipulates that school boards can not only "meet" state education standards, but they can also "exceed" them where possible. But critics of the bill argue that "exceeding science standards" is just a roundabout way of allowing creationism and climate denial to be taught in the classroom.
The Florida Citizens for Science, which is an organization that defends and promotes good science, certainly thinks this is a possibility. Their director, Brandon Haught, has come out hard against the new bill, which he says is a blatant attack on science education, and specifically evolution and climate change.
As a high school science teacher, Haught knows how dangerous it is to give unscientific views an equal voice in our education system.
"This is developing into an all out war against science education in Florida," said Haught in a recent blog post.
"New laws about the challenging of textbooks and religious liberties are meant to chip away at classroom science instruction and now this newly proposed bill is trying to blast a hole right through its heart."