Last month, North Carolina’s Senate flirted with taking the state into full bonehead territory when it approved a bill that would have required state agencies to ignore scientific forecasts predicting accelerated sea level rise and instead use predictions based on historical, linear data. We were a national and international laughingstock for a few days. (The House revised the bill so that it’s less international-scorn-inducing, but still semi-laughable, and the revised bill is now before Governor Perdue).
To be fair, though, when the senators approved the sea level bill, they were taking part in a long and storied tradition of lawmakers and government officials acting in direct opposition to cold, hard, scientific truth.
To make ourselves feel a little bit better about the whole thing, we’ve rounded up a few other instances of pigheadedness, in other states that are just as deserving of Colbert-style mockery. Should we be relieved or sad to say that we’re not the only ones who’ve been on the wrong side of science?
A state environmental agency commissioned a report about Galveston Bay. John Anderson, an oceanography professor at Rice University, answered the call and wrote a chapter for the report, a synopsis of a peer-reviewed, 10-year study. Unhappy to learn that pumping greenhouse gases into the air might not be good for the Bay, the agency deleted all mentions of sea level rise and human impact on the environment, and in October 2011, Anderson accused the agency of censorship.
A standoff ensued: The state agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, refused to publish the chapter and Anderson refused to accept the deletions. A bit of an impasse!
The standoff lasted for several months, until Anderson and the agency officials reached a compromise about the language, and the report got to see the light of day, after all.
Read the Houston Chronicle’s account to see specific examples of the language that was deleted from Anderson’s original report.
Here’s another one for the “Coastal States Boldly Ignoring Sea Level Rise” collection. The Virginia General Assembly commissioned a study on the impacts of climate change, but approved the study only after excising all occurrences of the words “climate change” and “sea level rise,” replacing them with terms like “increased flooding risk” and “recurrent flooding.”
One of Virginia’s lawmakers, House Del. Chris Stolle, called sea level rise a “left-wing term.” Never mind that it is actually a scientific term, used by scientists! Stolle and other lawmakers wanted such controversial language to go; the study made it through the legislature, but it is now a study about “recurrent flooding.” The Virginian-Pilot has the full story here.
Louisiana has a school voucher program, which uses state money to pay for students to attend certain private or religious schools. At least one of those schools uses the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. In the ACE curriculum, biology isn’t about Punnett squares or Darwin’s finches. The Biology 1099 textbook explains that dinosaurs could still be alive today, including the Loch Ness monster:
Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence.
Have you heard of the `Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? `Nessie,’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.
The point of including the Loch Ness monster in the biology book is to demonstrate that evolution is bunk because dinosaurs exist(ed) at the same time as people (Wait, what?). But why stop at Nessie? Why not round out the lesson by including Bat Boy and the yeti?
This is perhaps our favorite example, because we aren’t so hot at math ourselves, and because it’s got all the ingredients of American Where-there’s-a -will -there’s -a –way-ism.
In 1897, the Indiana legislature seriously considered changing the mathematical definition of pi to 3.2. Edward J. Goodwin was a physician amateur mathematician who thought he’d solved the unsolvable: how to square a circle. Mathematicians already knew that this was impossible. But Goodwin remained convinced that he had outsmarted everyone. He even finagled his faulty formula into an academic journal, copyrighted his method, and proposed that the Indiana legislature recognize this “new mathematical truth” as law. Goodwin would allow the state to use the formula for free, but would charge royalties to everyone else. His state representative introduced the bill. The legislators couldn’t really follow the math. The bill got referred to several different committees before landing in the education committee, which passed it 67-0. The Indianapolis Sentinel clarified to its readers that “the bill was not intended to be a hoax.”
The debate on the so-called “Pi bill” piqued the attention of a Purdue University math professor, C.A. Waldo, who was so horrified that he intervened, explaining the faulty math to the state representatives. After the lesson from the good professor, the senators spent some time making bad puns and having a good time with the bill, then voted to postpone the decision on the bill indefinitely.
Thanks to Professor Waldo, who probably could not believe that he had to, in effect, lobby for 3.14, Pi is still Pi in Indiana and we all have this amusing anecdote for posterity. Mental Floss has a good write-up, and Purdue University has an account of this story here, including links to the text of the bill itself.
So, there you have it – North Cackalacky ain’t the only place where politicians try to alter math or deny science .