When it comes to science, legislators, trust your Idaho educators and experts

The Idaho State Capitol in Boise.
The Idaho State Capitol in Boise. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

The debate in the Idaho Legislature over science standards, for us, comes down to facts like these:

A committee of 20 top teachers, along with experts from INL and industry, spent 1,000 hours over three years to draft modern science standards.

Twenty of our best teachers. One thousand hours. Three years.

These are our experts on education and curriculum and learning. They worked with the same people we trust to advise us on weather, on nuclear waste cleanup and technology, on the safety of our food and water. These are the people who land spacecraft on distant planets. They can calculate the movements of our solar system with such precision we know we can lay on a blanket in Garden Valley to see a total eclipse of the sun that we would just slightly miss in Boise.

Why can’t we trust them to help write basic science standards for our schools?

The good news is that we can.

“There has been a lot of work involved in putting these things together,” said Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, who was quoted by Idahoednews.org when his colleagues on the House Education Committee outvoted him to remove parts of the recommended standards for what Idaho students should be taught about science.

The Senate Education Committee is now doing its review. If the Senate committee doesn’t agree with the House, the new standards will take effect as recommended by the Department of Education.

In our book, the arguing about climate change science and alleged censorship misses what is the larger point. That larger point is that the Department of Education and its advisers did exactly what Idaho legislators asked them to do last year when legislators did not accept the standards as temporary rules:

Revise the standards and come back to the Legislature with a new recommendation.

That’s now done. And to near-unanimous support of scientists and educators, their work is recognized as being sensitive to the concerns of Idaho legislators while still hewing to the settled science about our changing climate.

Idahoans have only to look to our longer, hotter fire seasons; our earlier snowmelt; our warmer streams; our migrating fish; our changing growing seasons and crops to see that this is true. But legislators don’t have to rely on that assurance from a newspaper editorial, or anecdotes from laymen. They can trust the Idaho scientists who do the Idaho research and know the Idaho data and can attest to the solidity of the proposed Idaho curriculum.

We urge lawmakers to do just that.

We urge lawmakers to trust their process. That’s what policymakers do. Like scientists, they follow determined protocol and procedures. When they have questions, they turn to the professionals who work for Idaho agencies and institutions to advise them on the best course for the state.

Science is a process and practice. Science poses a question and then unleashes the forces of investigation and experimentation to get closer and closer to the truth. It’s that discipline that separates it from belief in mythology or magic.

We encourage the Legislature to respect the scientific process, to trust the professionals it hires for their expert advice and to listen to the educators to whom we trust our children’s futures.

Getting this right is important. Not all kids in Idaho have access to the same resources. Having solid standards, and detailed supporting content, offers that lone general science teacher in a rural Idaho high school the same state guidance as teachers in bigger districts with more resources.

Our children will go on to college or jobs in other states, to compete against students who’ve been taught the latest science. Science builds upon principles, and it’s hard to advance to the top level if you haven’t gotten a chance to master the basics. It’s hard to be a successful professional in any field if you’re not conversant in the latest information and the fundamentals of modern scientific thought.

We also want people in other states and professions to come to Idaho, to attend state-of-the-art conferences and fill the state-of-the-art jobs our economy needs. We don’t want our state to be seen as a place where well-meaning politicians substitute their imperfect understanding of science for the judgment of experts. In June, 1,500 epidemiologists came to Boise, the city’s largest-ever convention. We want Idaho to keep presenting itself as a place where knowledge is celebrated and scrutinized, even when it makes some people uncomfortable.

That’s the way science works. Of course, scientists are humans and make mistakes. Scientists are humans and sometimes let their opinions, or their policy preferences, overshadow their science. But those occasional human excesses don’t mean the underlying science is suspect. The evidence of change and its human cause is unambiguous.

We know that because we have the scientific process to test and re-test the data. And we have a time-tested legislative process as well. Legislators should demand the best information from their experts, and then recognize that they’ve gotten it.

Unsigned editorials represent the opinions of the Statesman Editorial Board.