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US scientists launch evolution fight-back

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Scientists in the US are going on the attack against anti-evolution campaigners. The National Academy of Sciences has set up a website that serves as a kind of portal for people wanting to access research and information on evolutionary theory, and evolution in education.

The NAS said that it has long supported the inclusion of evolution as a central element of any science education programme. But it warned that there was growing pressure to include "non-scientifically based 'alternatives' in science courses", adding that there are now 40 states or local school districts challenging the teaching of evolution.

Bizarre as this seems to us in the UK, in the states, the teaching of one of science's most robust and well-tested theories is a highly controversial matter.

Many religious fundamentalists believe that evolution should not be taught in schools as fact, as it is just a "theory". They want the biblical story of creation to be given equal footing in the class room. The NAS takes a totally opposing view, and has previously stated that creationism has no place on a science curriculum.

Of course, writing off evolution as a 'mere theory' demonstrates a very clear misunderstanding of the meaning of the word "theory" in science. In everyday language, theory is synonymous with conjecture. Not so in science, where is has a very specific meaning: a theory is an explanation of a set of events, based on proven, or at least well-tested hypotheses. It will also have been verified many times by unconnected research groups.

But the controversy extends far beyond the classroom. In March this year, IMax cinemas in some of the southern states reportedly refused to show several scientific films, after test audiences objected to the presentation of evolutionary theory as fact, describing it instead as "blasphemous".

A spokeswoman for a cinema in South Carolina told The New York Times that the nature of the audience was a big factor in choosing whether or not to screen a film. "We have definitely a lot more 'creation' public than 'evolution' public," she said at the time.

You can check out the NAS site here. ®

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