Monday, November 14, 2005

Using copyright to squelch speak--even speech we don't like

Here's a fascinating article at Wired. Seems that the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association are using their copyrights to force the Kansas State Board of Education to change its curriculum standards--because the NAS and the NSTA do not endorse the Board's inclusion of "intelligent design" in the state's science curriculum. As much as I disapprove of teaching intelligent design in the classroom, the author of this article points out that copyright was not intended to squelch speech or "bring people into line." Librarians, copyright scholars, and other interested parties should oppose the NAS and NSTA's actions here.


Mort said...

I agree that we should oppose this. However, I think that the article makes a critical leap when it accuses copyright activists of being hypocritical if they do NOT vocally oppose it. Activists are not under an obligation to encyclopedically compile and systematically pursue every violation of their principles. Furthermore, when I have been an activist in the past, I have tended to pursue the cases that I cared about most deeply. If the Kansas case is not cared about as deeply by the activists that have attacked “Disney, Diebold and NBC” then so be it. Disney, Diebold and NBC is a full agenda for one group of people to take on without Kansas.

Barbara said...

Hmmm.... I agree that using copyright this way is problematic. On the other hand, the authors of the standards have a right to be distressed that they are being abused this way - and to deny any implication that they, in some way, are endorsing Kansas's stance. Their reputation is at stake and at risk of being hijacked.

That said, I agree with Alec. This means of removing their imprimatur from the standards is inconsistent with their usual stance on the importance of sharing information as freely as possible.

This mirrors the reluctance many scientists have to even answer the intelligent design controversy, thinking that by joining the fray they are making the issue legitimate. But to my mind that's a mistake: their silence might be interpreted as having no answer or being too arrogant to consider alternatives. Dialogue, however intransigent one party may be to having an open mind, is still important because people are listening. And silence is not going to persuade them. It's not the hearts and minds of those convinced of intelligent design that are at stake, here; it's the general public that doesn't necessarily understand the science involved, or what the word "theory" means in the context of science.