A reversal in South Carolina?

Just three days after the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee refused to approve a section of the new state science standards involving evolution, Senator Mike Fair (R-District 6), a member of the committee whose opposition was responsible for the refusal, is reportedly withdrawing his objection. Fair told the Charleston City Paper (February 13, 2014), "I support the scientific standards as they were given to our subcommittee," adding, "I just needed a few days to look at the possible overreach of the terminology, and it's not there."

"We are, of course, very pleased to learn that Senator Fair has changed his mind about this important issue," South Carolinians for Science Education's Robert T. Dillon, a professor of biology at the College of Charleston, told NCSE. Dillon added, "We hope that the deleted material regarding natural selection can be patched back into the standards without further delay in the process." It remains unclear when the EOC will reconsider the standards. The committee's next meeting is scheduled for April 14, 2014, and its agenda is not yet posted.

In a subsequent story, the Charleston City Paper (February 14, 2014) wondered about Fair's delay in accepting the standard: "either Fair needed two more days to parse the verbiage, or it was all a saber-rattling publicity stunt." NCSE's Glenn Branch observed that antievolution politicians sometimes indulge in "a kind of chest-thumping that is pandering to their base," adding, "So when election season comes around, they can go home and say, 'Well, I introduced this bill and it didn't go through, but re-elect me and I'll introduce it again.'"

Dillon suggested that Fair "gets his marching orders" from the Discovery Institute, but when asked about his connections with the de facto institutional headquarters of "intelligent design," Fair demurred, saying, "I talk to them regularly, but their views aren't like mine." Fair is a young-earth creationist, but Dillon observed that "his latest shenanigans" are similar to the Discovery Institute's strategy: "The idea, Dillon says, is to suggest that the theory of evolution is somehow controversial among scientists, or that it 'needs further study,' without explicitly offering an alternative theory."

The South Carolina board of education voted in 2014 to accept the new set of science standards, rejecting two different proposals that would have compromised the treatment of evolution in the process.  The EOC was supposed to have voted on the standards before the board's vote, but instead sent the standards to the board with a list of recommended changes, including a revision that seemed to be intended to open the door to the use of non-scientific critiques of evolution. Both the EOC and the state board must agree on the standards for them to be adopted.