Open letter to the People of the great state of Florida

Dear Floridians,

Greetings, and an early “hello”! I’m heading your way at the end of the week to spend my tourist dollars, and I can’t wait to see you!

But first, some important business.

Your representatives in the Florida House have just passed a so-called academic freedom bill. I strongly recommend a deep suspicion on your part regarding this bit of planned government intrusion into your children’s academic future. It is up to you, through your elected Senators, to stop this misguided intrusion of politics into science. It would also be wise to reconsider those who voted “aye” when they come up for re-election. If you fail, the consequences could be more serious than you imagine.

First, let me give you a brief outsider’s view of some of the goings-on. When your governor, Charlie Crist, was asked if he “believed in” evolution, he responded, “I believe in a lot of things. We should have the freedom to have a good exchange of ideas.”

As far as I am aware, this great country has always allowed for “good exchange of ideas”. Also, evolution isn’t something one “believes” in. It is a cornerstone of science. If you are not a scientist and don’t know much about it, there is no shame in that. Just admit it and pick up a book (I’d personally start with anything by Stephen Jay Gould). It would be nice to see a state leader stand up and say, “We have always had, and always will have, the freedom to exchange ideas, in and out of school. This is irrelevant to the design of a science curriculum.”

This bill, which will hopefully die in the Senate, is a sham. It makes a mockery of science, education, and religion. It is simply a way to allow the teaching of religion in the science classroom. Despite the fact that no teachers have filed complaints about evolution education, the bill is designed to protect these non-existent complainants.

And, as one of your own representatives astutely pointed out:

Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, said the bill would lead teachers to present their personal opinions on evolution in the classroom.

Noting that some people believe the Holocaust never happened or 9/11 was an Israel-hatched plot, Domino said he doesn’t want fringe theories introduced in public schools. “There are a lot of strange things out there that I don’t want teachers teaching,” said Domino, who joined the Democrats in voting against the bill.

Gee, that’s refreshing. Good for you, Senator Domino, and good for your contituents for electing you.

I have to tell you quite honestly—from the perspective of someone in a scientific field, the whole issue looks really silly. Science is brutal…theories that cannot hold up to withering scrutiny do not survive, and scientists are always interested in being the one to discover something new, even if that “something new” is the proof that a theory is wrong. Science is self-regulating that way. Scientists don’t need laws to remind them to critique each other. The idea is laughable.

More personally, as a physician and educator of young physicians, I’d worry about anyone educated in a state where precious time was taken from science classes to teach fairy tales, even popular ones. That’s what social studies is for. I like social studies. I’d feel bad if an aspiring doctor had to take extra time on their own to learn biology because some misguided or coerced teacher was spending time including every imaginable pseudoscience in their lesson plans.

So, my southern friends, good luck. I respect your beliefs, and I respect your right to have a wonderful Sunday school class on Genesis. If fact, try the original Hebrew, or the English translation by Everett Fox; it’s quite interesting—especially in a religion class. In a biology class, it’s just odd.


Peter A. Lipson, M.D.


3 responses to “Open letter to the People of the great state of Florida”

  1. Sadly, the bill passed. On the bright side, imho, it’s merely a sop to a constituency, a bone to a dog. In fact, the state curriculum (“Sunshine State Standards”) has built into it a requirement that information presented in public school science classes be based on evidence, observation, and scientific methodologies, among other appropriate criteria. There’s certainly a danger to this wedge in the door, but I’m betting that 99.9 percent of our university trained science educators regard this particular bill a non-issue.

  2. Rep. Kiar also was able to amend the bill to say “scientific critical analysis,” of which there is none. If it is passed as is, then it should have no effect, of course, that will take a court case, but it’s better than nothing.

    Rep. Fitzgerald also gave a very lucid defense of science in the debate. He’s a college professor. I was impressed that there was someone in the legislature who understood science well enough to make “half mosquito half monkey” Hays look like an idiot. Unfortunately, Hays is incapable of logic, so Fitzgerald had no effect on him.

  3. Yay for return of the Open Letter!

    Boo for the need to write one.

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