October 27, 2005
Copyright and the Evolution Wars

Proving the (uncopyrighted) adage that everything turns into a copyright issue if you look at it long enough, the NYT reports that 2 Science Groups Say Kansas Can't Use Their Evolution Papers -- and they're using copyright to stop it.

Two leading science organizations have denied the Kansas board of education permission to use their copyrighted materials in the state's proposed new science standards because of the standards' critical approach to evolution.

The National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association said the much-disputed new standards "will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world."

Apparently, the Kansas standards document quoted extensively from NAS and NSTA reports in the process of singling out evolution as a controversial theory. The organizations denied permission, but (and I haven't seen the Kansas report myself) unless the use was so extensive as to misappropriate the organizations' reports, it could still have been a fair use. (To be fair, the fault lies as much with the Kansas board of education for thinking it needed permission, if its uses were fair.)

Even though my politics are more flying spaghetti monster than "intelligent design," I don't think this is a proper use for copyright. Copyright is not about endorsement or agreement, and it's not a right to stop criticism, even ill-considered criticism. Quotation can be fair use even in a context the original author abhors -- that's precisely when we need fair use most, we on all sides of a political debate.

The organizations are free to broadcast their loud disapproval of the uses to which their publications are being put, and free to sue for misrepresentation if false statements or positions are put into their mouths, but asserting copyright rights seems a heavy-handed way to win a battle of ideas.

Posted by Wendy at October 27, 2005 06:52 PM | TrackBack

You have a very good point. Scientists should be sponsoring the free marketplace of ideas, not stifling it. Check out my URL for another take on ID.

Posted by: Kelly on October 28, 2005 11:55 AM

Is this really about quotation? I thought that NAS was going to provide complete sections which were to be included in the standards and now they are simply retracting them. The board is free to quote from the NAS if they want to, but they will have to do a major rewrite.

What had happened, if I understand correctly, was that NAS sent them some text, and then they modified it (by say, changing the definition of science in the text) - since NAS did not approve of those changes they withdrew their permission.

Posted by: Christos on November 9, 2005 11:19 AM

The heavy-handed move here was the redefinition of "science" by the Kansas State School Board as not limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena. That and the admission of "theories" into this "science" that are not capable of falsification.

The pre-Kansas School Board understanding has been the essence of science as method since the time of Aristotle, who died in 322 BC. This kind of status and precedent, older than Christianity itself, does not overthrow by redefinition from the modern home of the Land of Oz.

It appears to me that the NAS and NTAS were simply serving notice that they could not be co-opted into an appearance of association by allowing their published standards to appear in apparent collaboration with a now world-wide and notorious science-bashing group. If copyright rights are the only legal means for effecting dissociation, then so be it. I can't see how dissociation wins any battle of ideas in any case.

Posted by: Pinky on November 9, 2005 06:06 PM
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