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Republicans Are Dominating State Politics, Destroying Science

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Many of us are enjoying our post-election schadenfreude, observing as the Republican Party increasingly marginalizes itself, demographically and politically, and scrambles to cut a narrowing path to the White House while also attempting to shove the tea party demon back into its cage.

Yet at the same time, we're hearing more and more about all varieties of insanity at the state and local level where the party has been cultivating its power base for decades. Strategically, it's a fantastic back-door to exploit.

While Washington is the primary focus of our national attention, and the president's re-election victory offers the facade of Democratic dominance, Republicans in many states have been able to operate mostly unopposed.

I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer here, but let's do the list. Off the top of my head we've observed the passage or near-passage of voter ID laws, attacks on unions, sweeping legislation reversing reproductive rights, anti-abortion ultrasound laws, personhood amendments, gerrymandering and electoral vote tampering. They've blocked Medicaid expansion while refusing to implement the Obamacare health insurance exchanges. They've passed school voucher programs that privatize the public education system and they've slashed and burned social programs while protecting tax cuts for the rich. And the Republicans are doing a fine job of blocking new gun control legislation. Most of these measures have been successfully pushed through various state capitals by dominant Republican legislatures and governors. And on top of everything else, they're pushing the antiquated process of nullification. As I wrote this week, nullification originated with the pro-slavery movement and, in today's context, would theoretically block the federal government from overruling any of the above.

Suddenly, the Republican Party doesn't seem as feckless and geriatric, eh? Before Democrats laugh and point at the GOP clown car, they ought to keep a very serious eye on the states because the Republicans are kicking their collective asses.

In Oklahoma yesterday, Republican legislators advanced a bill, HB 1674, through the state Common Education committee. If passed, the law would make it illegal for a teacher -- a public school teacher -- from giving a student a poor grade for answering questions about science and evolution with unprovable, untestable biblical mythology. In other words, if a teacher asks a test question about the lives of prehistoric humans, a student could suggest that cave men or maybe even Jesus himself used to ride on the backs on dinosaurs and science teachers would be unable to mark the answer as incorrect. A student could invoke the Great Flood and the talking snake in the Garden of Eden in a discussion about the provable science of evolution and not be corrected for it.

Additionally, the law would make it illegal for a teacher to grade a student poorly for debunking the climate crisis -- global warming. The student could write, for example, that it's snowing in the Northeast in February and therefore the global climate can't be growing warmer and unstable.

In Kansas last week, Republican lawmakers introduced HB2306, which would force teachers to present evidence that debunks the climate crisis while also presenting alternate views on whether and why the climate is changing. The bill commands that public school educators “provide information to students of scientific evidence which both supports and counters a scientific theory or hypothesis.” Of course the twisted logic of this bill would allow a crackpot teacher to instruct his or her students on the existence of Bigfoot and the notion that dead people can become ghosts and subsequently haunt houses. In science class. As I'm sure you can deduce, without the scientific method and the results it generates as the basis upon which science class is taught, anything goes. And "anything goes" in science class is phenomenally dangerous.

Meanwhile, back in Missouri, another law, HB 291, the "Missouri Standard Science Act," was introduced by Rep. Rick Brattin. The law would force teachers to give equal science class time to intelligent design, the idea of "destiny" and whatever other ridiculous theories about human origins are floating around out there. According to Mother Jones, the bill redefines important scientific precepts:

For example, a "hypothesis" is redefined as something that reflects a "minority of scientific opinion and is "philosophically unpopular." A scientific theory is "an inferred explanation...whose components are data, logic and faith-based philosophy." And "destiny" is not something that $5 fortune tellers believe in; Instead, it's "the events and processes that define the future of the universe, galaxies, stars, our solar system, earth, plant life, animal life, and the human race."

To anyone with even a modest respect for science, this law ought to be terrifying. Further terrifying is what Rep. Brattin said about the bill, "I'm a science enthusiast...I'm a huge science buff. This [bill] is about testable data in today's world." Um. Yeah. He's not. He's a far-right fundamentalist zealot who's cleverly disguised himself as a science "buff." And there's nothing resembling testable data when it comes to intelligent design, just a lot of hocus-pocus conjecture based on wishful thinking. Besides, intelligent design isn't an end in and of itself, it's clearly a stepping stone to teaching creationism in science class.

The saying goes, All politics is state and local politics. And the Republican Party is remarkably dominent. Their efforts are going a long way towards the further Balkanization of science and our broader culture, not to mention civil and voting rights. So maybe it's an appropriate time for Democrats to put down the schadenfreude and get to work.

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