McCain Picks Palin: Medium Threat to Science Education

John McCain has picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate. Palin comes with solid conservative credentials, including agreement with the Religious Right on hot-button social issues. Palin is also known to be receptive to antievolution arguments.

Back in 2006, the issue of creationism came up in the Alaska governor’s race. Palin’s responses there indicate that she has bought into the “fairness argument” from the antievolution advocates.

Palin was answering a question from the moderator near the conclusion of Wednesday night’s televised debate on KAKM Channel 7 when she said, “Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.”


In an interview Thursday, Palin said she meant only to say that discussion of alternative views should be allowed to arise in Alaska classrooms:

“I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”

She added that, if elected, she would not push the state Board of Education to add such creation-based alternatives to the state’s required curriculum.

Members of the state school board, which sets minimum requirements, are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.

“I won’t have religion as a litmus test, or anybody’s personal opinion on evolution or creationism,” Palin said.

I think this is primarily an issue of a candidate who hasn’t bothered to find out what’s going on, and who doesn’t know about the antievolution movement’s dependence upon falsehoods, misrepresentations, and underhanded strategies to pass off narrow religious views as if they were scientific information. It’s possible that if Palin were to get informed, she’d still pick the route off minimizing cognitive dissonance and stick to the “fairness” script. It’s just that there is nothing “fair” about giving lying loudmouths unearned access to schoolchildren. If they want time for their ideas in a science classroom, they should do the science first and show that their ideas stand up to the scrutiny of the scientific community. The antievolution advocacy community decided back in 1968 that deception was the basis of their further strategies, not legitimate scientific effort. Pointing out that one “side” are recidivist cheaters should put paid to vague “fairness” mumbo-jumbo, but the lesson seems to be a hard one to get across.

The Anchorage Daily News editorial by Matt Zancey said it pretty well at the time:

Creationists are entitled to their views, but they’re not entitled to air time in public school science class.

The executive branch isn’t usually much involved with setting education policy due to the local control issue in the USA, though efforts like “No Child Left Behind” do have an impact. As a high-profile politician, though, Palin would have influence as an opinion-maker. The fact that she disclaimed explicit inclusion in curricula of antievolution gunk seems to indicate that she is not a hardline adherent. I’ll take that as a somewhat hopeful sign.

I’d be happy to talk with any candidate or public servant who would like the background on what really is meant by the “fairness argument” when the antievolution advocates push it.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

6 thoughts on “McCain Picks Palin: Medium Threat to Science Education

  • 2008/08/29 at 10:59 am

    The extreme threat to science education in the long-term isn’t in the specific make-up of the Republican presidential ticket, but in the general indebtedness any Republican candidate would have to extreme right-wing interests when choosing Supreme Court justices. The SCOTUS may even now be willing to overlook any amount of religious advocacy in public schools short of the “coercion test”. Adding a right-wing ideologue to the current bench will make that pretty much a certainty.

  • 2008/08/30 at 6:55 am

    What is meant by “fairness” as used by anti-evolutionists?
    About the same as “fair and balanced” as used by Fox Noise.

  • 2008/08/30 at 11:48 am

    I don’t think she’s merely uninformed and would change her stance if she were better informed; she’s a die-hard evangelical with the positions you see in die-hard evangelicals. Just as with her global warming denial, her anti-evolution stance is part of her basic world view.

  • 2008/08/30 at 3:00 pm

    I did allow for that possibility, which you will see if you read the post. However, a die-hard literalist already committed on this particular issue would be unlikely to have made the concession about not including antievolution in the science curricula, so Palin’s behavior does not quite fit that of the full-bore IDC cheerleader. The fact that Palin spouts antievolution rhetoric is a matter of concern. The fact that Palin is not on the DI script indicates that she may not be among the professional deceptionists of the antievolution movement, but rather an ordinary dupe.

  • 2008/09/04 at 3:49 pm

    I think upraised eyebrows and a shrug are about all that the previous comment by Peggy evokes.

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