Thursday, January 11, 2007

Agendas and more agendas
PZ mentioned this story this morning and I made a quick joke in his comments and moved on. Now I've had more time to read the full article and the full silliness of the affair has soaked in.

Between Seattle and Tacoma is the town of Federal Way, a place I rarely think about, except to notice its roadsign as an almost-home marker when returning from Portland. According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
This week in Federal Way schools, it got a lot more inconvenient to show one of the top-grossing documentaries in U.S. history, the global-warming alert "An Inconvenient Truth."

After a parent who supports the teaching of creationism and opposes sex education complained about the film, the Federal Way School Board on Tuesday placed what it labeled a moratorium on showing the film.

Let's stop right here. What do creationism and sex education have to do with a film on man-made climate change? Just in case we're tempted to dismiss the connection as something the P-I reporters, Robert McClure and Lisa Stiffler, threw in for color, the grumpy parent himself makes the connection.
"Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher," said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who also said that he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old.*

Actually, Al Gore has taught, but let's assume he hasn't and grant Mr. Hardison his point. Only students and teachers have any business being in our schools; all non-teacher people must leave immediately. This group includes janitors, nurses, secretaries, coaches, lunchroom help, security guards, and parents. And, since Al Gore wasn't actually in the Federal Way schools, I suppose Mr. Hardison wants to purge all educational materials of non-teachers. This will get tricky with the history books. I was about to make an assumption that Mr. Hardison will allow an exception to his non-teacher rule for significant historical figures. But, since American vice-presidents aren't suitable, I think that would be an unfounded assumption.

Of course, it's also possible that the whole sex education and condoms thing was just an ill thought out analogy, which Mr. Hardison thought was clever, but which doesn't really have anything to do with his objections to showing the movie. That's not the case with his creationism. Hardison tells us that religion is at the core of his objection.
"The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. ... The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD."

It appears that Mr. Hardison has no objection to the idea that we are undergoing a round of rapid climate change, specifically warming, he merely objects to the film's conclusion about the cause of the warming. In his view, the planet is warming up because it is God's will.

Seeing that the schools are selectively representing certain viewpoints and excluding others, the Federal Way school board leapt into action.
School Board members adopted a three-point policy that says teachers who want to show the movie must ensure that a "credible, legitimate opposing view will be presented," that they must get the OK of the principal and the superintendent, and that any teachers who have shown the film must now present an "opposing view."

The requirement to represent another side follows district policy to represent both sides of a controversial issue, board President Ed Barney said.

"What is purported in this movie is, 'This is what is happening. Period. That is fact,' " Barney said.

Students should hear the perspective of global-warming skeptics....

Mr. Hardison's religious viewpoint will still be un-represented, but the marketing message of the energy industry will be represented. It looks like the school board is just using Hardison's complaint to push through an agenda completely different from Hardison's. School board vice-president David Larson hints at that agenda when he suggests how to "balance" Gore and the vast majority of the Earth sciences community.
But Larson pointed out two articles presenting counter-views. One is by journalist and author John Stossel, who writes that many scientists laugh at doomsday predictions by Gore and other environmentalists. Some scientists, Stossel writes, say the result of global warming may be benign.

For those unfamiliar with John Stossel, he's a former consumer advocate turned extreme free-market libertarian. How extreme you may ask. He thinks we should do away with federal certification of drug safety and let the market determine which drugs are safe enough to give our families.

Board vice-president Larson also has an interesting view of the first amendment:
Hardison's e-mail to the School Board prompted board member David Larson to propose the moratorium Tuesday night.

"Somebody could say you're killing free speech, and my retort to them would be we're encouraging free speech," said Larson, a lawyer. "The beauty of our society is we allow debate."

The best way to encourage free speech is to suppress information. The best way allow debate is to require it on any point of view we disagree with. To defeat the enemy, we must become the enemy. We ahve always been at war with Oceania. This guy should get a job in the Bush administration. I wonder if NASA needs another science-illiterate spokesperson.

* The specific number 14,000 raised a few eyebrows over at PZ’s. Most of the young earth creationists we are familiar with choose six to ten thousand years as the age of the Earth. Where did fourteen come from? I have a suggestion.

Fourteen thousand years ago, the last ice age was in full retreat. Maybe Mr. Hardison dates the beginning of the world from the retreat of the ice. This would make sense if his bible is the Elder Edda of Snorri Sturluson. In the Eddic poem Voluspa, we learn that in the beginning the frost giant Ymir was formed in the gap between the realms of Niflheim and Muspelheim. The great cow Audumbla licked away the salty ice to create the first man, Buri. Later Buri and his sons killed Ymir and used his bones to create the Earth on which to live. At the end of time, the gods and giants will battle till each kills his counterpart. Then the Earth will be consumed by fire and sink into the sea, which is not a bad description of what we can expect from continued anthropomorphic climate change.

Update: Mr. Hardison has posted a manifesto of sorts online as a Word document. It's hard to pick just one paragraph to illustrate the flavor of the whole thing, so I recommend reading the entire document. It's only two pages and the best use of your entertainment dollars that you're likely to come across this lunch hour.

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