Science group rejects New Orleans for conference

Published 11:29 pm Monday, February 16, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A scientific organization says it has decided against holding its annual convention in New Orleans — in large part because of a new law that backers say will promote ‘‘critical thinking’’ about evolution and other scientific topics.

The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology says in a letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal that it will hold its 2011 convention in Salt Lake City instead of New Orleans.

The law allows local school systems to supplement state-approved science texts with other materials on scientific topics. Opponents say the law will be used to bring religion into science classes, despite language in the legislation prohibiting the promotion of religious doctrine. Proponents said the law merely allows science-based questions about topics such as evolution.

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‘‘It is the firm opinion of SICB’s leadership that this law undermines the integrity of science and science education in Louisiana,’’ SICB president Richard Satterlie said in a letter to Jindal.

‘‘That’s too bad. New Orleans is a first-class city for a convention,’’ Jindal press secretary Kyle Plotkin said in reaction to the SICB decision.

Plotkin, in e-mail responses to requests for comment, said the governor stands by his decision to sign the bill. He also said Jindal has not responded to Satterlie’s letter and has not heard of any other groups that are basing convention decisions on the new law.

The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau said in a news release it was saddened by the SICB decision.

‘‘The Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology last met in New Orleans in 2004, with approximately 1,800 attendees. SICB was considering New Orleans for its 2011 annual meeting, but New Orleans had not yet been confirmed as a definite site for the meeting,’’ said the statement from the bureau’s spokeswoman, Kelly Schulz.

‘‘We respect their decision and hope to have an opportunity to talk to them about returning to New Orleans in the future.’’

SICB’s 2010 convention is set for Seattle, according to the group’s Web site. Satterlie said in his letter that the SICB had 1,850 scientists and graduate students attend this year’s recent convention in Boston.

The ‘‘critical thinking’’ law was passed by the 2008 Legislature. More recently, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education wrestled with policy language on how to implement the law. Last month, BESE’s staff came up with draft policy language that strictly forbade the teaching of scientific creationism or intelligent design — the concept that there is scientific evidence that living organisms were designed.

The conservative Christian group Louisiana Family Forum and other backers of the law by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, persuaded the board to cut that language, saying it went beyond the scope of the law. It was ‘‘hostile’’ to religion, complained LFF director Gene Mills.

Louisiana has struggled for decades over what to teach and what not to teach about evolution.

Louisiana’s law giving scientific creationism equal time with evolution in science class was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. In 2005, a federal judge barred the school system in Dover, Pa., from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes. The judge said intelligent design is religion masquerading as science.