Joshua Youngkin is a law and policy analyst at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture – or at least he used to be: we haven’t really heard from him in a couple of years. Youngkin is (or used to be) a stalwart defender of the center’s dishonest efforts to promote science denialism in American public schools, in particular intelligent design creationism and climate change denialism, under Newspeak slogans like “strengths and weaknesses” or “promote critical thinking” (without giving students the tools to actually think critically). As per the official Discovery Institute line, Youngkin systematically tried to pretend that their efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution were motivated by scientific and not religious concerns, insofar as explicit mention of the real motivation would land any successful implementation of their advice in legal trouble.
Youngkin himself is a lawyer, and not a scientist. But then, what the Discovery Institute does is, in Youngkin’s own words, to “draft and amend academic freedom language, counsel lawmakers privately, testify publicly, and are otherwise intimately acquainted with the intentions behind and likely effects of academic freedom legislation” – science, research and evidence have nothing to do with their efforts. On other occasions – when Youngkin remembers what he was supposed to say – he has, in fact, asserted that the Discovery Institute is engaged in science: they even have their own journal (he gets the title of their journal and their “research” organ wrong), an in-house vanity journal stacked with creationist reviewers that primary publishes work by their own editors and editorial board. To bolster the claim that what they’re doing is scientifically credible, Youngkin has even cited their hilariously silly petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism.
Youngkin is ostensibly particularly concerned with academic freedom, and has tirelessly championed the rights of religiously motivated denialists to teach students pseudoscience instead of what they should be teaching them – and note that for the Discovery Institute, acadmic freedom only extends to religiously motivated attacks on evolution and climate change; if teachers try to teach science at religious private schools, the Discovery Institute will equally vigorously defend the schools’ attempts to fire said teachers because such institutions need to preserve the integrity of their mission. Youngkin has also argued that laws demanding equal time for creationism in public schools are, in fact, anti-bullying laws, because scientists with real expertise on the issues are just bullies.
He and his institute has, however, had more success in promoting climate change denialism using the same dishonest appeal to “academic freedom”.
Diagnosis: Though it seems to have receded into the background somewhat, we really don’t want to discount the Discovery Institute’s efforts and people like Youngkin: slick, dishonest, denialist strategists and lobbyists can be rather effective, as long as they fall for the temptation to care about truth, evidence and accountability.