Michael Reiss and the Royal Society
Debate continues about the resignation of Professor Michael Reiss, the Royal Society's former director of education. Reiss gave a speech to this year's Festival of Science, on September 11, titled "Should creationism be a part of the science curriculum?" This debacle does not seem to have done much for the reputation of Britain's oldest and most respected scientific institution. The Royal Society's official statement suggests that Reiss's speech was open to misinterpretation (like most speeches by intelligent people on complex subjects?) and that he had inadvertently damaged the Society's reputation. Reiss has now stepped down from his position at the Society and returned to his regular job as professor of science education at the Institute of Education in London.
No official statement has mentioned the fact that Professor Reiss is also a non-stipendiary priest in the Church of England. The National Secular Society was unafraid to emphasize the Reverend Professor Reiss's clerical status. Without taking the time to read Michael Reiss's actual speech -- or the book he wrote last year, Teaching about Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism -- some might conclude that the Royal Society's head of education had given a lecture defending flat-earthism. In fact, Michael Reiss's crime seems to be this: he proposed that it could be appropriate for science teachers to discuss creationism in classrooms with a view to explaining why this worldview perspective is non-scientific. Some teachers and academics may regard that as a strategically questionable proposal in the context of the continuing culture war over creationism and evolution, but is this really the basis for asking a highly qualified science educator to leave the room?