Government & Politics

Interview with Zack Kopplin: Creationism is an economic threat to Louisiana

Zack Kopplin

Zack Kopplin

I first profiled science advocate Zack Kopplin in 2010. In light of his recent successes and publicity, I figured it was time for a follow-up interview about his future plans.

Mark Moseley, The Lens: You’ve called on President Barack Obama to support a “Second Great Leap” in science research funded by $1 trillion in tax dollars. At a time of high deficits, tight budgets and a slow economy, how can you justify such an expenditure?

Zack Kopplin: My view is that the Second Giant Leap is fiscally responsible and morally indispensable.

Investing in research and development offers a huge return on investment.  For example, as the President noted in the State of the Union, “Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy.”  Imagine how much weaker our economy would be if ARPANET wasn’t created.  While $100 billion every year is a lot of money, we must think about the long term effects of this investment on our economy.

We also must think long-term about the future of our species.  I have two quotes to put this in the right context. The Scientific American recently said:

“We are one species of many on a little planet with an ancient fossil record that shows that more than 99 percent of the species that once lived are now extinct. This speaks to a tenuousness of our existence as a species—an existence we need to protect vigorously.”

Another quote is from Robert Heinlein who said “The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.”

My generation, today’s students, are going to face unprecedented challenges to our way of living and survival as a species, and the way we can overcome them is investment in rapid scientific innovation.  I hope the meteorite that exploded over Russia was a wakeup call.  The recent drought in the Midwest appears to have made more Americans accept the science behind climate change.  I’m hoping this translates into a real call for more funding for scientific innovation.

Moseley: Your home state of Louisiana hopes to see future job growth in its expanding energy and biomedical sectors, which are reliant on sound, evidence-based science. Yet you’ve said the state, with its strong religious convictions, is “addicted to creationism.” How will it ever reconcile these tensions?

Kopplin: Many people have been able to accept the science of evolution and still have faith.  Having said that, the tension between Louisiana’s addiction to creationism and the fact that Louisianians want jobs in cutting edge scientific fields is coming to a head in our fight over the LSEA.

I think we can reconcile these tensions by giving everyone a good education about science and providing them with the means to enter into some of these fields.  We will see a cultural shift eventually as we educate more and more students about evolution.

Moseley: You’ve also noted that science can prepare us to face potential future disasters such as pandemics, asteroids, and global warming. In recent years Louisiana has suffered massive hurricanes (Katrina, Rita), a Federal Flood (broken levees in New Orleans), and an out-of-control oil gusher (Macondo). The state’s irreplaceably fruitful coast continues to dissolve into rising seas, yet the Governor is a skeptic about basic scientific principles such as evolution, and a majority of the state’s Congressional delegation deny anthropogenic global warming, which contributes to rising oceans. (In fact U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R – Kenner, claimed the earth is in a “cooling period.”) If none of these disasters and threats can awaken Louisiana’s leaders to the existential crisis that only science can solve, why do you think your campaigns to repeal creationism and for a “second giant leap” will ever find success?

Kopplin: I would love to have the support of Governor Jindal and Rep. Scalise, but I believe this movement will grow much larger than any of us individually, even the governor or our members of Congress.

My generation is waking up and we’re aware of the challenges we face and the future that we want. We know that we need to do more science.  We’re going to have an overwhelming call for a second giant leap.

Also, if we’re discussing individuals, even if the governor doesn’t accept climate change, the president certainly does. I hope President Obama will help Louisiana get in a position to help repair our coasts and weather these disasters even if our leaders deny science.

Moseley: What accounts for the recent burst of national publicity? Have you received much in response to the articles about your work? How do you balance your studies at Rice with your activism for science education?

Kopplin: It has been a perfect storm that has caused the recent publicity. I had been researching voucher programs across the country and that was published at the same time as io9 published a viral article calling for a second giant leap.  Everything has just snowballed.

Balancing work and Rice is tough, not just because of the workload, but because there are some days where I have class, but just need to be in Austin or Baton Rouge and I have no choice but to miss class.  I plan to take some time off to establish infrastructure for this campaign (a nonprofit, PAC, a large grassroots network) so I can run this campaign full time and travel more easily when I return as a student. I’m aiming for a Thiel Fellowship right now, but that’s stiff competition, and if I don’t get it, my plans are still the same.

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About Mark Moseley

Mark Moseley blogs at Your Right Hand Thief. Until mid 2014, Mark Moseley was The Lens' opinion writer, engagement specialist and coordinator for the Charter Schools Reporting Corps. After Katrina and the Federal Flood he helped create the Rising Tide conference, which grew into an annual social media event dedicated to the future of New Orleans.

  • Here in TN, they have taken steps though new legislation to allow creationism back into the classroom. This law turns the clock back nearly 100 years here in the seemingly unprogressive South and is simply embarrassing. There is no argument against the Theory of Evolution other than that of religious doctrine. The Monkey Law only opens the door for fanatic Christianity to creep its way back into our classrooms. You can see my visual response as a Tennessean to this absurd law on my artist’s blog at with some evolutionary art and a little bit of simple logic.

  • theot58

    Kopplin is barking up the wrong tree attacking creationism.

    Why is he not attacking the Darwinian/Macro evolution myth which has been taught for years as a “fact” – even though the SCIENTIFIC evidence supporting it is woeful.

    Let’s apply the scientific method in the science classroom. Students and teachers should be protected from persecution if/when they question what is being taught. Kopplin should be supporting the “academic freedom” bills.

    For too long the Evolutionists have been harassing and intimidating anyone who questioned the Evolution myth.

    There are many cases where people have been bullied and harassed for no other reason than because they questioned Evolution. (See Expelled – No intelligence allowed, or the Kansas School Board – Evolution hearings for documentation). Questioning/scrutinizing is a key tenant of the scientific method, it should be encouraged not punished.

  • Cade Roux

    You’ve got to be kidding. We don’t have any evidence for anything BUT evolution. That’s why it’s the currently accepted theory.

  • theot58

    It depends what you mean by “evolution”.

    “Evolution” is a vague word. The main definitions in the text books are:

    1) “change over time”, this is silly as it is stating the flaming obvious.

    2) Micro evolution is minor changes within a species, this is real and observable and uncontested.

    3) Darwinian/Macro evolution (where the conflict is) which asserts that:

    a) All living things had a common ancestor. This implies that your great….. great grandfather was a self replicating molecule.

    b) The observable world has come into existence by totally natural, unguided processes and specifically WITHOUT the involvement of an intelligent designer.

    Have a look at this link for details
    What definition of “evolution” are you referring to?
    What do you assert is the starting point of “evolution”?
    What evidence exists to support Darwinian/Macro evolution?
    What evidence can you put forward to support the assertion that our great…… great grandfather was a self replicating molecule?

  • Robert Long

    Knock it off, Hovindbot

  • theot58

    Scoffing and sarcasm is a poor substitute for scientific evidence.

    What evidence is there, which proves beyond reasonable doubt, that our great …. Great grandfather was a self replicating molecule?

  • But Theot, you are a young earth creationist. You make the absurd claims that the earth is less than 10k years old and that the entire earth was repopulated after Noah’s flood.

    You are just a spam bot, repeating the same disreputable and bogus claims over and over and over and over again. If ever anyone deserved to be “banned from the internet for spam” it would be you.

    In response to your specific statements:

    1. All categorical words in science could be called vague under your argument. Define “physics” in a few sentences.

    2. There is no such thing as “micro-evolution.” There is only evolution.

    3a) We have tread this ground before. NYU has shown multiple models of self-replicating molecules that could account for life. Multi-cellular development has been duplicated in the lab with yeast. Models for everything creationists claim is impossible and not observable has been reproduced. The exact method of life’s emergence is not known because the evidence cannot be reproduced – it has been lost in over the billions of years.

    3b) Please see Kitzmiller v. Dover. Intelligent design cannot not even survive in a court of law as a viable hypothesis let alone a scientific theory.

    Your arguments are bankrupt, your positions are unsupported, and you are not even a scientist. You are a life coach from Australia who believes if you don’t prove evolution wrong to the world, we’re all going to hell.

  • Frederick J

    further proof our public education system is a Regimented Indoctrination system, “No” they say, our idol “science” still has unfulfilled promise that we hold blind faith in; while the world collapses from the first 5 generations of it’s evil, consuming influence. heralding its omni-innocense – reckless, privatized science ISN’T accountable; no – science ever evolves, innocent like an ever-underage child, its not tied to anything but the whim of he who wields its mighty power, even on these boards; and is ONLY capable of receiving accolade. THAT IS ALL. THAT IS THE NEW LAW. THAT IS THE NEW UNIVERSAL DECREE. END OF STORY.

    – yes, but why wont you comment on those modern dilemmas that science has trapped us in, leaving us hopeless AGAINST ITS RECKLESSNESS? (New strain of anti-biotic resistant bacteria, for instance;, no, science is to be heralded for it’s tiniest findings, yet not to be blamed for it’s most epic blunders, kilings, creations of mass death. No- science is on a higher level than religion – it is not to be criticized for its inability to solve the problems of imminent destruction it has enabled, and created.

    The law of unintended consequences has been ignored. Just like the laws of God!!! dont forget, it is a race.
    This little Kopplin fellow has got courage, but it is sad that no one but Theot and myself want to point out the ridiculousness of this trendy little ‘ceremony’ of praising the teen for essentially getting his snot-nosed finger-pointing wrong, (its sad ) wasting a bunch of people’s time and money. Kopplin? ha. boy has Nothing to say about how much Destruction Science has Heedlessly released into our world without recompense, long before he was ever born – that are GOING TO UNFOLD STAGGERINGLY before he even gets to see manhood in full.

    The scope of Science’s Lies as an institution covering-up for itself in a war against God and religion, is far beyond any form of profundity that Kopplins masturbation-obsessed high-school-classroom trapped mind has branched out to realize yet. come on, this kid is out for attention and glory. he is a politician. dont act like this little prick is doing something good for humanity. dont be such trendy lemmings. we are in a crisis, engineered at the hands of privatized, corporatist science (something pure turned evil, abandoning God). without the ability to reverse the damage.

  • Don Bartlett

    Well we do have plenty of monkeys to take care of who will bend the law.
    Bobby Brown Serves Nine Hours in Jail for Third DUI
    Why don’t you write about the liberals who let people like this out over and over?