Louisiana counts the cost of teaching creationism in reputation and dollars

GOP Governor Bobby Jindal defends anti-evolution education policy, but it costs his state millions in science-based business





Louisiana State University's former graduate dean of science, Kevin Carman, says: 'teaching pseudo-science drives scientists away.' Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian


Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal endorsed teaching creationism in public schools, by way of the state's creationism law, a misnamed and misguided piece of legislation called the Louisiana Science Education Act. In a recent interview with NBC News, Jindal said:

"Let's teach them about intelligent design What are we scared of?"

Governor Jindal, we are scared of the harm to Louisiana students and to our state. The Louisiana Science Education Act has already hurt our economy.

The chairman of Louisiana's senate education committee, Conrad Appel, has called for high schools and colleges to graduate more students in Stem fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), because "the amount of income [students] can earn in these related fields is best." Teaching students that creationism is science will confuse them about the scientific method and the nature of science, which, in turn, will hold them back from getting jobs in any cutting-edge scientific field.

We can't teach students misleading lessons that blur the lines between rigorous fact and religious belief.

If the law stays in place, we will not graduate more students into careers in science unless we teach them evolution, which is vital to fields like agriculture and medicine. We need our students to understand the concept to get jobs in places such as Baton Rouge's top-notchPennington Biomedical Research Center or New Orleans' BioDistrict.

Claude Bouchard, a former executive director of the PenningtonResearch Center, told me that because of the Louisiana Science Education Act:

"[Students] will continue to believe that the laws of chemistry, physics and
biology are optional when addressing the big issues of our time. Unfortunately, this is also not without economic consequences.

"If you are an employer in a high-tech industry, in the biotechnology sector or in a business that depends heavily on science, would you prefer to hire a graduate from a state where the legislature has in a sense declared that the laws of chemistry, physics or biology can be suspended at times or someone from a state with a rigorous science curriculum for its sons and daughters?"

Peter Kulakowsky, a biotech entrepreneur in Louisiana, recently published a letter in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, saying that:

"As the director of a biological laboratory in Louisiana, I need enlightened staff. Distracting the state's students in their formative training [through the Louisiana Science Education Act] only cripples them."

The Louisiana Science Education Act does more than harm the potential of Louisiana's students. It is already directly impacting the state's economy. Louisiana State University's former graduate dean of science, Kevin Carman, testified before the state legislature in 2012 that top scientists had left the university citing the Louisiana Science Education Act as a reason. Other scientists chose to accept jobs elsewhere, because they didn't want to come to a state with a creationism law. Carman said: "teaching pseudo-science drives scientists away."

Louisiana's third largest industry is tourism, and the state generates millions of dollars each year from conventions. After the Louisiana Science Education Act was passed, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology cancelled a scheduled convention in New Orleans in 2011, costing the city an estimated $2.9m. The society launched a boycott of Louisiana, and the state has become less competitive at attracting certain conventions because of its anti-science stance.

Thankfully, the boycott of New Orleans has ended, because the New Orleans city council has endorsed a repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act and the Orleans Parish School Board banned the teaching of creationism in its schools. The boycott on the rest of the state still remains, however. Kristin Gisleson Palmer, a member of the city council, said the act needed to be repealed because of the economic harm it caused the city:

"With the New Orleans Medical Corridor poised for tremendous growth, this law also profoundly impacts our ability to fill jobs in the cutting-edge science fields with students educated in our state's public schools."

On 1 May, Louisiana's lawmakers will have a chance to stand up for students and help repair the damage done to our economy. A bill to repeal the act will be heard in the education committee of the state senate, and they can vote to repeal. We should all urge our elected officials to do the right thing.

The economic damage from the Louisiana Science Education Act should serve as a warning to other states. Tennessee passed a copycat bill and other states around the country introduce creationism bills every year. Any state that passes a creationism law will harm their students and drive scientists and business away.