Creationist row forces scientist to quit Royal Society post

Science Editor,Steve Connor
Saturday 22 October 2011 23:28

The scientist who said creationism should be discussed in science lessons has left his job at the Royal Society. Professor Michael Reiss stepped down yesterday as the Royal Society's director of education following remarks he made last week at the British Association for the Advancement of Science suggesting that creationism should be included in science lessons.

Robert Winston, the IVF pioneer, criticised the Royal Society for condemning someone who was only trying to engage with the growing number of children in Britain who come from deeply religious families holding creationist beliefs. "I fear that in this action the Royal Society may have only diminished itself," said Lord Winston.

"This is not a good day for the reputation of science or scientists. This individual was arguing that we should engage with and address public misconceptions about science – something that the Royal Society should applaud."

Professor Reiss had emphasised last week that he did not want creationism to be taught in science lessons, only that science teachers should be able to treat it as another "world view" that has no scientific basis. However, the Royal Society was forced to issue a clarifying statement last week saying that his remarks had been "misrepresented" by the media and that it had not changed its position on creationism, stating that it should not be taught as science.

The Royal Society issued a second statement yesterday saying that Professor Reiss has stepped down as director of education, a post that he had held on secondment from his usual job as professor of science education at the Institute of Education in London.

"Some of Professor Michael Reiss's recent comments, on the issue of creationism in schools, while speaking as director of education, were open to misinterpretation," the Royal Society said. "While it was not his intention, this has led to damage to the Society's reputation. As a result, Professor Reiss and the Royal Society have agreed that, in the best interests of the Society, he will step down immediately."

The statement continued: "The Royal Society's position is that creationism has no scientific basis and should not be part of the science curriculum. However, if a young person raises creationism in a science class, teachers should be in a position to explain why evolution is a sound scientific theory and why creationism is not, in any way, scientific."

A number of eminent scientists and fellows of the Royal Society – including two Nobel laureates – were incensed by the views of Professor Reiss, who was trained in evolutionary biology and is also an ordained minister in the Church of England.

Professor Richard Dawkins likened his appointment as head of education to a Monty Python sketch, while the Nobel prize-winner Sir Harry Kroto said at he had warned the Royal Society that his appointment was dangerous given his religious background.

Professor Reiss was unavailable for comment last night.

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