Adam Nossiter in the New York Times is reporting that the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) has decided to in essence boycott New Orleans as a site for a future conference. They are doing this in response to a bill passed last year by Louisiana that is considered by many to be a hidden way to introduce religion into scientific teaching (the Times says the bill “allows teachers to “use supplemental textbooks” in the classroom to “help students critique and review scientific theories.”). The SICB wrote a letter to Governor Jindal saying
“It is the firm opinion of S.I.C.B.’s leadership that this law undermines the integrity of science and science education in Louisiana,”
“The S.I.C.B. leadership could not support New Orleans as our meeting venue because of the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula,” “As scientists, it is our responsibility to oppose anti-science initiatives.”
I note that they are going to hold their meeting in Salt Lake City instead, which at least in regard to science evolution and science education and state policy, is a bit better (e.g.,the Utah State Board of Education has made it clear it supports teaching evolution (see here)).
Along with the letter, a group called the Loiuisiana Coalition for Science has issued a press release saying that the state is “reaping what is sowed” by passing the bill.
So the question I have been asking myself is – is a boycott the right thing to do here? I am not sure. On the one hand, I commend SICB for taking a public action that is more than just words. I think it is pretty clear that this bill was designed as a backdoor way to allow religion beliefs to shape what is taught in public school science classes, which is sad. In response to this, I think scientists should do something more than just say this is a bad idea so at least SICB did something.
On the other hand, a boycott is perhaps a bit extreme and comes with many complications. In many cases, engagement is probably a better strategy. It is ironic in a way for a science group to be taking a George Bush-esque approach to dealing with disagreement. I guess I lean away from the boycott step not because it seems completely wrong, but because it seems a bit premature. Perhaps AICB could have held the conference there and organized a series of public discussion about science teaching. And on top of that they could have made a small contribution to a community that has been really hit hard recently.