Thursday, April 07, 2005

University presidents feeling squeezed

Newsday, via the Sarkar lab, offers A quick evolution of ruffled feathers:
How do you make a room of university presidents squirm?

Ply them with salmon and sirloin steak and then serve up the political hot potato of teaching evolution at the high school level. …

"It stinks," Barrett said. He and several university presidents, however, dismissed suggestions that efforts to push evolution out of high school classrooms or to label it unproven may be linked to science's declining fortunes. And a question asking whether the presidents would affirm their support of the scientific theory produced evident discomfort.

National Public Radio correspondent Ira Flatow told the group it was "the elephant in the room," but University of Kentucky president Lee T. Todd Jr. said the evolution question was a "red herring," a sentiment Barrett echoed.

"I can speak up for evolution, but that's because I'm the grateful resident of a blue state," said Stony Brook University president Shirley Strum Kenny. "I might feel differently if I lived in another part of the country where my funding was threatened."

Others bristled at suggestions that they were ducking the issue. "First of all, I am a practicing scientist," said University of Texas at Austin president Larry Faulkner, a chemist. "Secondly, I am a believer in the theory of evolution." …

After Monday's dessert, though, Kenny expressed surprise at the unease: "If a university president doesn't speak out," she said, "who will?"
Indeed. Mike the Mad Biologist will be pleased that his University's president is defending science (assuming Stony Brook University == SUNY SB). Others should be peeved that their heads weren't ready to stick their necks out.

The dangers of legislatures underfunding evolutionary biology is a real concern, and another important reason to fight this battle in the public eye. No matter where you work in 21st century science, you get money from the government. When the public understands science, they appreciate evolution, and when they understand science, they want to fund it.

So if you're at a university, bug your higher ups about the importance of speaking out strongly in favor of evolution as good science. Not "I'm a believer in evolution," but "Evolution is good, useful, necessary science." And join the Thoughts from Kansas Pro-Science Movement. All you have to do is sing this the next time it comes around on the guitar:

"Intelligent Design is not a theory and there are no facts to back it. … I don't believe it belongs in the sciences."