Time to give the answer to my previous post, where I asked UD readers if they could figure out why Tennessee’s academic freedom bill was a brilliant move. To my surprise (I underestimated people!) most commenters were within the ballpark right away, and Barry pretty much nailed it. Let’s take a look at Barry’s response.
CY, my guess is that nullasalus believes it is brilliant because it forces the other side’s hand and in doing so exposes their fascist tactics and hypocrisy for all the world to see.
Give this man a prize!
The bill is brilliant precisely because it’s ridiculously tame and – to all but the most paranoid, frantic people – unobjectionable. It’s extraordinarily straightforward and easy to read, measuring in at under two pages. The language is clear – the bill covers only scientific theories rather than religious or non-religious dogma, the objections must also be scientific, the theories covered must be discussed in an objective manner, the strengths and weaknesses of various theories are to be discussed in the same manner. It’s hard to picture guidelines that could be more tame than this, since it’s pretty much a bland recipe for thinking about scientific topics in an ideal way.
Yet there’s the NCSE and Eugenie Scott and company, angsting over this bill and screaming about how it’s all one big creationist ploy. And that’s where the brilliance of this bill shines: it exposes the paranoia and the downright dogmatic attitude of anyone who would oppose it.
Oh, you can make it sound terrifying so long as you don’t quote it. Scream about how it’s just going to lead to creationism being taught in schools (ignore the part about how the bill can’t teach religious or non-religious dogma, or non-scientific theories.) You can work people up by insisting it was crafted by evil creationists trying to teach lies about evolution (ignore the part about teaching the strengths and weaknesses of theories in an objective manner). And as with any kind of fear-mongering or motive-mongering, that’s going to work on some people… unless and until they read the bill itself. Remember, this bill is short – all it takes is a link to it in a comments section of a blog or news site, and everyone can read the whole thing in under a minute.
When that happens, there’s going to be a few results.
* Any fair-minded person who’s heard that this bill allows for teaching creationism, or teaching lies about global warming, is going to realize that they’ve been conned. Even people predisposed to worry about such things are going to have to struggle, and struggle hard, to see the evil right-wing strategy in this bill. They’re going to be provided with cause to be far more skeptical of the great Defenders of Science.
* Fair-minded people are also going to find themselves asking a simple question. If these theories are unassailable slam dunks, why in the world would a bill which merely protects questioning these theories and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses in an objective manner cause so much worry? And they’re going to wonder if maybe said theories aren’t as strong as they’ve been led to believe. Or that maybe this isn’t about science after all, but about political agendas and convincing people to believe certain scientific claims regardless of its strengths.
* People already predisposed towards being skeptical of mainstream scientific claims are going to have reason to be even more skeptical. They’re going to see the NCSE and a chunk of the media freaking out at the very prospect of these ideas being questioned. And they’ll take that as a reason to be even more skeptical of claims associated with the topics in question.
That’s why I treat this bill as such a masterstroke of legislation, assuming for the sake of argument that it’s all part of a wily creationist plot. It’s not the bill which does the real work, but the reaction to it. Each and every attack on the bill, every paranoid article, is just more ammo for creationists – really, any skeptic at all – to turn around and say, “Do you see the problem here? Do you see now that this isn’t about science, but about dogma? Shouldn’t we be worried that some people regard scientific theories as sacrosanct to the point where even discussing their weaknesses along with their strengths makes them freak out?”
The best part is, if you check around on the net looking for critics attacking this bill you’re going to see them talking about the people who crafted the legislation are incredibly crafty: “Oh, sure, the bill LOOKS entirely innocent and non-threatening, but I know who sponsored it. I know how smart and tricky they are. So I’m going to attack this bill however I can, because I’m not falling for it. There’s an endgame here, I know it!”
It’s a pity they don’t realize that getting them to attack this bill IS the endgame.