No Thanks, New Orleans: Scientists Take Conventions Outside Anti-Evolution Louisiana

"No thanks, New Orleans."

The Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) coined this phrase on its Web site this week, and it could quickly become the new catch phrase for scientists, educators and civil liberties groups across the country.

On Monday, SICB sent a letter to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal telling him that the organization will be taking its 2011 annual conference to Salt Lake City.

"We will not hold the Society's 2011 annual meeting in New Orleans even though the city has been a popular venue of us in the past," SIBC President Richard Satterlie wrote in his letter. "The SICB 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."

The boycott is a result of Jindal's decision to sign into law the so-called "Science Education Act." That measure allows teachers to introduce into the classroom "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials" about evolution.

From the start, scientists and civil liberties groups knew this bill was part of a hidden agenda to push creationism in the science classroom.

"They're using code language, which is not new," Barbara Forrest, philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, told The New York Times. "Creationists have done it for decades."

State Sen. Ben Nevers, who introduced the measure, is known for repeatedly trying to push legislation promoting creationism. In 2002, he even voted in favor of a measure declaring Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution to be the cause for racism.

Nevers, a close ally of the Religious Right activists at the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), also introduced a resolution encouraging schools not to purchase textbooks that "do not provide students with opportunities to learn that there are differing scientific views on certain controversial issues in science."

And though he claimed the Science Education Act was not meant to promote creationism (the law states it does not "promote any religious doctrine"), Nevers initially told the Hammond Daily Star otherwise.

"[The LFF] believe[s] that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory," he told the newspaper. "This would allow the discussion of scientific facts. I feel the students should know there are weaknesses and strengths in both scientific arguments."

For scientists, there are no weaknesses in evolution, and that is what they told Jindal. But it's not surprising that the governor did not heed the advice from nine national scientific societies that asked him to veto the bill. As The New York Times put it in June, Jindal is "seen as practically one of the family" at the LFF's offices.

And now the state will see the repercussions scientists warned him about.

This boycott is the "first tangible result" of the Louisiana law, and it is both "negative for the state's economy and national reputation," the Louisiana Coalition for Science said after getting word of SIBC's letter.

The SIBC meeting last month brought 1,800 scientists and graduate students to Boston for five days, according to The Times.

The 2011 event will be moved to Salt Lake City, Satterlie wrote in the letter, because Utah passed a resolution that states evolution is central to any science curriculum.

But this doesn't seem to worry Jindal, who had little to say on the boycott.

"That's too bad," Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin told The Times. "New Orleans is a first-class city for a convention."

But not a first-class city for science education.

As New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist James Gill wrote, "[S]cientists are going to be thin on the ground around here" but there would likely be "an influx of fundamentalists to take up the slack.

"The city economy might still suffer a net loss anyway," he continued. "When it comes to cocktail time, one biologist is probably worth at least six Bible literalists."