Ellen Smith for Oak Ridge Rotating Header Image

HB 0368/SB 0893 is harmful to the interests of Oak Ridge and Tennessee

My email to State Senators Randy McNally and Ken Yager:

As a scientist and an elected official in the city of Oak Ridge, which trades on its scientific reputation, I urge you both to vote against SB 0893, the “critical thinking” bill.

Professional science teachers and the scientific community as a whole correctly interpret this as a bill to legitimize the teaching of creationism, intelligent design, and other non-science-based worldviews as science, by relabeling the real science as “debate”. (Science teachers already can and do discuss the fact that scientific teaching may be at odds with what children have learned at home or in Sunday school — passing a new law won’t help them.)

Mere discussion of this proposed legislation is making Tennessee a laughingstock in the scientific community, both nationally and globally. Passing it will do real harm to the ability of Oak Ridge and the state of Tennessee to continue to represent ourselves as leaders in science and technology. Please vote against this, in the interest of the economic future of the city of Oak Ridge and the state of Tennessee.



  1. Jim McDaniels says:

    Ms. Smith, doesn’t the bill simply let teachers teach, without fear of retribution, alternative theories about controversial subjects, such as the origin of man and anthropogenic warming? Shouldn’t that label us as progressive and inclusive, rather than backward and a laughingstock? Shouldn’t scientists strive to explain their conclusions, rather than resort to shouting down those who disagree? Aren’t the giants in science those who went against the orthodoxy of the time?

  2. Ellen Smith says:

    Discussion and debate about public issues has a place in school, but it belongs in the classes that used to be called “social studies” in my day and in extracurricular organizations — like the high school debate club that I participated in.

    At the secondary school level, science education needs to expose kids to the methodology of science, which emphasizes the logical testing of alternate explanations of natural phenomena against empirical data. Also, kids need a solid grounding in the concepts that underlie modern science. Teaching them “alternative theories” and “controversies” is not teaching science — and it definitely will not help qualify them for a future as leaders in scientific and technical fields.

    Those giants in science who “went against the orthodoxy of” their times did so on the basis of solid empirical observations of the natural world — and they formulated new hypotheses that fit their observations, even though the hypotheses may have conflicted with existing orthodoxy. Scientific revolutions do not come from attempting to find empirical data that would fit a hypothesis formed on the basis of a preferred philosophical, political, or religious view. You might want to recall the history of Lysenkoism, which was popular because it was contrary to established science and was supportive of government goals, but ended up seriously handicapping biology and biotechnology in the Soviet Union.

  3. TPB says:

    Thank you, Ellen, for the succinct and powerful response to Mr. McDaniels. Religion is not science, and science is not religion. Those who deliberately or ignorantly try to equate the two, especially in the educational arena, harm the nation.

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