SADOW: Not Much Free Inquiry At The Botanists’ Convention

Ironically, even though the Botanical Society of America’s annual conference ongoing in New Orleans this week assigns itself the tagline “Diversity!” the annual event’s contents make clear that the group countenances no diversity when it comes to actual free inquiry.

It also provides more evidence of the decidedly anti-intellectual strain increasing its infestation of the academy in America, and not just because it devoted one of its several symposia slots to the burning plant-related issue of “Yes Bobby, evolution is real!” That specific meeting devoted itself to “railing against and ridiculing” the Louisiana Education Science Act, for which I’m sure the taxpayers footing the bill for university-related attendees were glad to have funded this politicized spleen-venting.

This whining and moaning became a triumph of emotion over reason, because the law does nothing that its accusers allege. It mandates that Louisiana science educators should make maximal efforts to induce critical thinking into their classrooms. As anybody who cares to read the statute itself can observe, it does not in any way make obligatory the teaching of creationism, as its febrile critics maintain.

But a hallmark of the political left is that when the facts get in the way of its faith, change the facts or get rid of them. Thus, we get this idea that there’s some kind of voodoo behind the language of the law, that a grand conspiracy exists identified by code words, that from the legislators who drafted it messages are being sent out to impressionable science teachers across the state to forsake Darwin in favor of Bible inerrancy when it comes to teaching – never mind, of course, that the questions on which public school teachers’ students and their own careers will be judged seek correct answers entirely unrelated to creationism, and for private schools these affect their employers’ ability to participate in the state’s voucher program.

So this notion turns out to be just one more fantasy of the left, a concept that if you think about it enough and believe in it strongly enough, somehow it becomes true despite it bearing no relationship to the real world. We see it time and time again in the area of the sciences with issues such as the myth of significant man-made global warming, the hoax of “environmental racism,” and the denial that human life is taken cavalierly through abortion on demand, among many others, where political agendas trump careful scientific inquiry because of the psychological necessity to believe, because to them faith is more important than scientific inquiry.

Not that the conference itself does not have strands of politicization running throughout. The very title of the symposium in question demonstrates causal disregard of the facts to suit an agenda: referring to Gov. Bobby Jindal, he never has said that evolution is not real. And, having dispensed with backing diversity in thought, the conference embraces diversity by characteristic, by having the “Enhancing Scientist Diversity in Plant Biology Luncheon,” which one hopes brings forth recommendations to achieve this unnecessary undertaking that are much less totalitarian in nature than its attitude about free inquiry.

The statute itself, that neither promotes nor inhibits any particular teaching of science, merely states the obvious about how teaching ought to occur. Educators and researchers genuinely committed to free inquiry and developing creative thinking thus would think it’s neither here nor there, and the only real value it has is as a symbolic commitment the state has to excellence in instruction. But it’s the pathological hatred of it and the deliberate distortion of its meaning leading to this obsession with it that makes for the issue, not the existence of the law itself. And this pattern of behavior paints a disturbing picture of individuals inside and outside of academia and politics who seem to endorse Lysenkoism because this attitude fits some ideological imperative of theirs.

No doubt a large majority of the conference attendees could care less about these political sideshows and remain far more interested in research and teaching. Yet that the organizers accepted these as subjects on which to invest resources reveals the unfortunate trend found in many professional organizations in academia which are willing to give politics primacy in their endeavors. At least in their case the capitulation has not been complete, unlike the leading society in my profession which has for incoherent and politicized reasons abandoned New Orleans as a meeting place. Still, that some want repeal of a law exhorting free inquiry reminds us that Lysenkos still exist, and have infiltrated the very institutions essential to check the totalitarian impulse this long march represents.

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