During the late 1970s and early 1980s, citizens of several states were appalled to learn that bills promoting "scientific creationism" were appearing in their state legislatures. Other Americans and Canadians were distressed that their local school boards were being pressured to allow, or even encourage, the teaching of "scientific creationism". Groups of scientists, teachers, parents, clergy and interested citizens banded together to oppose "scientific creationism." They had many reasons for doing so: They wanted to maintain the integrity of science education, so that their children would not be taught factual nonsense and a distorted view of how science works. They worried about separation of church and state, because "scientific creationism" is in reality a restatement of Biblical literalist religious doctrine. Parents and clergy who were not literalists were concerned that their own religious views would be undermined in public school classrooms.
These concerned citizens formed "Committees of Correspondence"; like their namesakes in the Colonial period, they saw themselves as associations of citizens seeking to share information on questions of public policy. In 1981, members of several Committees of Correspondence founded the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and in 1983, NCSE was incorporated. NCSE was founded to provide a central information and resource clearinghouse, helping to coordinate the efforts of people working at state and local levels to preserve the integrity of science education.
In 1986, the NCSE board received a grant from the Carnegie Foundation and some other private foundations to open a national office, and the board hired as Executive Director, Dr. Eugenie C. Scott. Other staff were gradually added over the years. A list of current staff can be found here.
The best guarantee of good education is public understanding of the issues. NCSE continues to work constructively to promote public awareness of the importance of science education, and the importance of evolution and climate change in science education. Meanwhile, even though the past few decades have seen several court decisions confirming that religiously inspired "scientific creationism" and its cousin "Intelligent Design" may not be advocated instead of or alongside evolution, pressure to teach so-called "alternatives to evolution" continues. Much of NCSE's work still involves supporting citizens who oppose anti-evolution at the state and local level.
In 2012, in response to complaints from teachers that they were coming under fire for teaching global warming and other climate change concepts, NCSE decided to support the teaching of climate change in addition to evolution. Both evolution and climate change are well-accepted by scientists as being based on sound research, but the percentages of members of the public accepting these sciences is sharply lower. There are organizations dedicated to decreasing the acceptance and teaching of evolution and/or climate change: another parallel. NCSE has had decades of experience helping teachers cope with political and other pressures against the teaching of evolution; we believe this experience is transferable to the problems involving the teaching of climate change.
In-depth information on NCSE's history is available in NCSE's archives.
Grassroots Organizing: From Committees of Correspondence to Citizens for Science, a talk by Eugenie Scott.
Revised January 2012