A draft antiscience bill in Montana

Glacier National Park.

Montana's Glacier National Park. Photo by Jerad Hill on Unsplash.

A draft bill in the Montana legislature would cripple science education in the state by excluding anything but "scientific fact" from curriculum and instruction.

In its current form, LC2215 declares, "the purpose of K-12 education is to educate children in the facts of our world to better prepare them for their future and further education in their chosen field of study, and to that end children must know the difference between scientific fact and scientific theory; and ... a scientific fact is observable and repeatable, and if it does not meet these criteria, it is a theory that is defined as speculation and is for higher education to explore, debate, and test to ultimately reach a scientific conclusion of fact or fiction."

The bill then provides, "Science instruction may not include subject matter that is not scientific fact." The state board of public education, the state superintendent of public instruction, and the trustees of local school districts would be charged with ensuring that state education standards, science curriculum guides, and science curriculum and instructional materials, including textbooks, include only scientific fact. "Scientific fact" is defined as "an indisputable and repeatable observation of a natural phenomenon."

LC2215's presumption that only facts are important in science education conflicts with the views of professional associations of science educators. The National Science Teaching Association's position statement on the nature of science, for example, states that "[a] primary goal of science is the formation of theories" and endorses the importance of the eight principles of the nature of science described in Appendix H (PDF) of the Next Generation Science Standards, which include "Scientific Models, Laws, Mechanisms, and Theories Explain Natural Phenomena."

Montana's present state science standards, adopted in 2016, are based on but diverge from the performance expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards. The only two theories described as such are the Big Bang theory and the theory of plate tectonics (both in Earth and Space Science for grades 9 to 12), but the standards are permeated by implicit references to scientific theories, none of which are characterized as speculative. There are abundant references to scientific models, mechanisms, and laws as well as theories.

LC2215 was drafted at the behest of Daniel Emrich (R-District 11), a new member of the Montana state senate; it was introduced as Senate Bill 235 on January 30, 2023.

[Updated on January 30, 2023, to reflect the introduction of the bill.]

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.