Kentucky State Senator Criticizes New Science Standards for Emphasizing Evolution and Climate Change

Here’s some advice to politicians out there: If you’re going to say something stupid, don’t do it in writing where all of us can see it.

Mike Wilson, a Republican state senator from Kentucky, not only ignored that wisdom, he doubled down on his ignorance in an op-ed for the (Louisville) Courier-Journal in which he railed against recently-released “Next Generation Science Standards” for promoting human activity as a factor in climate change and — wait for it — evolution:

The standards place substantial emphasis on teaching climate change and there is considerable discussion describing human activities as major factors in global warming…

The National Research Council appears to be carving out positions and expressing the beliefs of U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

There are those in the scientific field who question the beliefs of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A statement signed by 16 scientists listed several stubborn scientific facts contradicting the Intergovernmental Panel’s beliefs

16?! That’s how many scientists he’s basing this judgment on? Not the tens of thousands who have said otherwise?!

It makes no sense to ignore the overwhelming majority of experts in this field who say human activity is an important factor in climate change in favor of the fringe minority. What an idiotic way to settle the issue — you can find dissenters for anything; it doesn’t mean they have anything legitimate to say. That’s why you don’t hand over sex education to a group of abstinence-only ideologues and why you don’t let pseudo-historian David Barton write your history textbooks. You have to learn how to separate the bullshitters with loud voices from the people who actually understand the issues at hand. Wilson obviously hasn’t figured that out yet.

He’s even more out of sync with reality when it comes to evolution, which he doesn’t understand and categorically denies:

The standards make it clear that evolution is fundamental to understanding the life sciences. Generally, the standards focus on changes in gene pools, genetic mutations and effects of the environment on changes within species. The controversy arises with the statement that “Students can evaluate evidence of the conditions that may result in new species and understand the role of genetic variation in natural selection.” This is supposition and implies that one species may evolve into a different species. There is no factual evidence that this has ever occurred and to suppose that it happens is counter to the beliefs of many Kentuckians.

No factual evidence… except for the fossil record and DNA evidence and the tens of thousands of peer-reviewed published papers.

And the fact that accepting evolution “is counter to the beliefs of many Kentuckians” says more about the state of science education in Kentucky (and the people who get elected) than it does about evolution.

That many people don’t understand evolution is exactly why we must make sure teachers are educating students about what it is and why it’s central to all of biology.

Oh. By the way. Wilson chairs the state’s Senate Education Committee. And he’s the also the General Manager of WCVK Christian Family Radio. So that should make you feel better… or give you nightmares.

The best part of his op-ed piece, though. has to be this:

Standards should encourage teachers to create and foster an environment that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of multiple theories.

Wilson is lecturing us on the importance of critical thinking. Let that sink in.

At least he’s right on this point — we should discuss multiple theories… when warranted. If there are different, credible, evidence-based theories in major scientific areas, we should discuss them with students. But those kinds of debates are not happening when it comes to the subjects discussed in high-school-level textbooks. There’s no debate when it comes to the basics of photosynthesis or the structure of DNA or how evolution works. Those issues have been settled for a long time.

The science standards Wilson is opposing here were written by people who know what they’re talking about:

Writing and review teams will consist of K–12 teachers, state science and policy staff, higher education faculty, scientists, engineers, cognitive scientists, and business leaders.

Wilson believes his collection of 16 fringe scientists and, I assume, a cohort of evangelical Christian pastors know more about science than the people who study and work with it on a regular basis.

He doesn’t deserve his seat on the Senate Education Committee. And when an opponent runs against him, I hope that person uses this op-ed as Exhibit 1 as to why he has no business in a position of power.

(Thanks to Joshua for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • kielc

    Do they have a Stupid Contest in Kentucky and then appoint the winner to the Senate?

    • Billy Bob

      Sometimes, I really think they do something like that.

    • TCC

      Yes, it’s called an “election.”

  • Rain

    At least he’s right on this point — we should discuss multiple theories… when warranted. If there are different, credible, evidence-based theories in major scientific areas, we should discuss them with students.

    Yeah exactly. But like he says, he (pretends like he) thinks nobody talks about multiple theories if nobody talks about his theory. That’s because the only way baloney ever gets anywhere is with lame equivocations like that.

  • A3Kr0n

    I can’t beat your first paragraph. But it is comical when they write it so all of us can see it

  • Billy Bob

    A better headline for this would be “Kentucky State Senator Criticizes New Science Standard for Teaching Science”

  • Matthew Baker

    Can we start giving science lectures to elected officials?

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      We need to do something. Politicians who have Wendy Wright disease are probably the single greatest threat to humanity.

      • Rain

        Another “cartoon fundy”. They act like they are cartoons instead of real people. They probably think they have “magic Jesus rays” all around themselves. Or maybe some sort of psychosomatic or physiological condition I don’t know about? Whatever it is, it happens to professional fundies way more than anybody else. Ted Haggard and D. James Kennedy are some more good examples of “cartoon fundies”.

      • Bdole

        My brain is aching.

        Scientists are close minded and form an isolated community that sseeks to teach others without listening to them. My irony meter almost melted, salvaged only in part by her saying “like a religion.” Then I realized she’s saying that’s a BAD thing…I need a new irony meter.

        Her narrow, simple-minded conception of evidence relegates her request for evidence to the level of asking “were you there?”

        I know he’s English but MUST he pronounce it “evilootion.”

  • Octoberfurst

    What is it with Republicans? It seems like every week some GOP politician is spewing idiotic bullshit that we are supposed to take seriously. I don’t know which disturbs me more. The fact that morons like Mike Wilson, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, et al run for office or that we have a large group of cretins in this country who VOTE such people into office. Personally I can’t stand these science-denying yahoos and the harm that they do to this country. They make us the laughing stock of the world.

    • Mario Strada

      It’s the cretins that vote them into office.

      • Rev. Achron Timeless

        That’s an understatement. The problem is, common sense doesn’t get any traction in Kentucky. A bunch of farmers who are barely able to keep their families fed keep electing the same politicians who gut agricultural programs that would help them thrive. They’re literally shooting themselves in the foot, and they can’t figure out why it’s happening. If they can’t get past that, what hope is there to not only convince them that science is real, but absolutely necessary for our economy?

        Apparently a recent poll (where are these polls done? I’m never part of any of them) in KY put support for gay marriage equality at ridiculously low numbers despite national support being well over 50%. In fact, only 1/3 of registered democrats supported it. That’s the thing with KY, the dems are playing the more-conservative-than-thou game to even have a chance of being elected.

      • baal

        While i suspect a number are cretins, I know that a good many of them have been enveloped by a parallel universe media environment and are no longer able to think rationally. Endless fear + random punishment (that shooting selves in the foot Rev Achron mentions) erodes rationality even more. It’s really corrosive.

    • Fugen

      yes, sorry about that, but that´s the truth

    • Camorris

      I’m convinced that GOP now means “God’s Own Party” or maybe “God Owned Party”.

    • Grotoff

      I wouldn’t say that science denying is restricted to Republicans. Plenty of Democrats make hay over the nontroversy that is GMO foods.

      • susan

        You should see what corporate GMO is doing in Kauai. Tons of roundup being sprayed. You should educate yourself on this subject.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          There are a lot of issues that get lumped together into ‘GMO’ by people who don’t understand the subject.

          For example, “Monsanto sues farmers when their crops allegedly get pollinated by GMO plants”

          That’s a problem with intellectual property law, not GMO.

          “Pesticides are killing bees” That’s a problem with pesticide use, which is facilitated by insecticidal resistant GMO crops. But since ‘GMO’ covers a very wide range of genetic modifications for a wide range of purposes, it is certainly not ‘educated’ to lump them all together as “corporate GMO”

          Let’s put it this way, if someone was able to develop the same pesticide resistant strain via only selective breeding (very conceivable when you know anything about how most of our crops have been selectively bred), would that make it ‘ok’?

  • Miss_Beara

    I wonder if these 16 “scientists” went to Liberty or Bob Jones University.

    There is no factual evidence? Just because you don’t understand or try to understand science, doesn’t mean the factual evidence isn’t there, and it is, boatloads and boatloads of it. Countering the belief of the many people of Kentucky also doesn’t make it true and it casts not only Kentucky but the U.S. as a whole in a very very dim light.

    • Hat Stealer

      Facts are too mainstream.

      Hipster politicians strike again!

      • baal

        Facts based on subjectivity change all the time. That’s why you need Objective Fact. Those only come from Truth! *

        *Poe Poe Poe your boat, gently down the stream.

  • WallofSleep

    This type, always proud of their ignorance. And there are many more like him all over the world. Such a sad state of affairs.

  • Jasper

    “and open and objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of multiple theories.”

    Sure, and as soon as there’s more than one scientific theory regarding the diversity of life, we’ll get right on top of that.

    • Space Cadet

      Emphasis on scientific.

    • serfdood

      I’m not saying it was aliens … but it was aliens ;)

  • Cj

    Yeah! why the dearth of multiple hypotheses in school? Teach the controversy! Aquatic-Ape 4eva!!

  • observer

    “…counter to the beliefs of many Kentuckians.”

    So wait, he’ll listen to the majority of Kentuckians who don’t believe in evolution, but he’s also willing to listen to mearly 16 scientists?

  • Tel

    Well, my excellent English state school does teach about alternative ideas to Darwinian evolution — we learned about Lamark’s hypothesis too. This was to teach us about making a scientific theory, and showed that that was a hypothesis which didn’t withstand the evidence so it was discarded. In the same way, we learned that people once thought the atom was akin to a plum pudding.

    What doesn’t get taught is creationism, because that’s a crock of shit. There’s no controversy about not teaching it and it’s not mentioned at all in Science; it just stays in RS, where creation myths of several religions are explained.

    • Compuholic

      Well, my excellent English state school does teach about alternative ideas to Darwinian evolution — we learned about Lamark’s hypothesis too.

      Biology is not exactly my specialty but wasn’t Lamark’s hypothesis about inheritance? And although evolution requires some sort of inheritance I see very little overlap. And as far as I know Darwin himself was fond of Lamark’s idea of inheritance which of course is not what we are using today.

      • Rambleale

        Lamark gave an alternative explanation for adaption, essentially use vs disuse and the inheritance of acquired characteristics. As opposed to natural selection producing adaption. Darwin did get a bit Lamarky at times.

    • baal

      Russians carrying out ‘Lamarkism’ in the early 20th century (because Darwinism was too western) stopped a number of agricultural breeding programs. The net impact was starvation as productivity yields fell off the map.

  • Gus Snarp

    Sadly, as a state senator in Kentucky, this probably won’t hurt him a bit. If he were running in a district in Louisville or Lexington, maybe, but he knows his constituents and they’re all eating this up. This is a winning issue for him, unless and until he decides to run statewide, this won’t hurt him at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marc.petrick.7 Marc Petrick

    I wish I had gone to High School in Kentucky. I could have just written “Goddidit” and gotten straight A’s. Instead I had to be born in Canada and learn and stuff.

  • Mark Main

    I have lived in Kentucky my whole life. Sadly I can tell you that there is a rather large percentage of the populace that is proud to be part of the whole Rick Santorum “smart people will never be on our side” way of thinking. They wear the fact that they aren’t “smart people” like some badge of honor. If I only had a nickel for every time I heard someone say something along the lines of: “If being smart means I’ve got to stop believing the word of God then I’m proud to be dumb cause I have too much common sense to believe those lies.” The irony almost hurts.

    • Murasaki

      I live here as well. I truly believe that these people do not have the capacity to understand the words “irony” and “hypocrisy”. It’s like the book “The Stepford Wives”, where the word archaic was not programmed into the “perfect wife’s” vocabulary.

  • ORAXX

    This is yet another example of America’s culture of ignorance, where belief is given equal status with fact. Sixteen scientists who disagree with climate change? A generation ago you could have easily found sixteen doctors to defend the tobacco industry.

  • Sue Blue

    Pathetic. Every time I hear about some knuckledragger in some Bible Belt state saying or doing some cringe-inducingly stupid thing, I think of that old joke about the retard coyote who chewed off three legs and was still caught in the trap.

  • SeekerLancer

    The new standards place substantial emphasis on evidence and real science! The horror. The horror.

  • Tak

    Where are the trolls on this one crying about how calling stupid beliefs stupid = Bigotry? I guess this guy must be King Troll. He’s got to be pretending … people just can’t be this stupid.

    At least that’s what I tell myself so I can sleep at night.

  • David

    This reminds me of Ben Stein’s movie where they tried to get signatures of scientists suggesting that evolution isn’t fact so other options should be taught. It took them 4 years to 700 signatures. In response American Atheists I believe got 7,000 signatures in 4 days.

  • gardenchick

    Kentuckian here that grew up on a farm in a rural area, and comes from generations of farmers. One, we’re not all ignorant, and two, a majority of us hate this publicity and think that this dude is absurd. And no, we didn’t all vote for him, only a few had the actual option, since he’s the state senator for one district, 32. I would say that you can find politicians like this in every state, and that it is equally incorrect to base an opinion of an entire state on one individual.

  • Schatzie Gardella Dudee

    I live here in Kentucky (I’m from California) and most days I absolutely cannot believe what the elected officials say and how vocal they are about “doubling down” on their ignorance. The science teachers at my children’s schools seem hesitant and afraid to even whisper the words, “evolution,” “climate change,” and “global warming.” Thankfully, my 4 kids are not shy at all about defending these important facts.


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