The Wisconsin Science Festival started today. The statewide science exposition/celebration runs Thursday through Sunday, with events held at various primarily public and non-profit venues. The festival is primarily weighted in the southern half of the state, although Wausau, Rhinelander, and even Madeline Island (on Lake Superior) are hosting some events. Laboratories, libraries, parks, nature centers, museums, and 6 campuses of the University of Wisconsin system are participating.
The epicenter for the festival is at the Discovery Building, a 3-year-old high-tech edifice in the heart of UW-Madison, occupied by two distinct organizations: The Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and The Morgridge Institute for Research. WID/MIR's mission explicitly includes public outreach, and the building has become Madison's primary venue for science fairs, educator conferences, middle and high-school STEM programming, and so forth. The first Saturday of every month brings "Saturday Science", when the first floor of the building -- the "Town Center" -- is overrun by mobs of kids, visiting dozens of demonstration stations associated with the monthly theme. On schooldays, middle-school and high-school students are often seen bustling about in little groups, taking a tour of the building and then taking the elevators up to the specially outfitted teaching labs on the northeast end of the building.
Today many dozens of schoolchildren were exploring the Town Center, which was packed with Science Festival demonstrations from 10 AM till 2PM. Perhaps some will return this evening, for Ira Flatow's "keynote" lecture (livestreamed here, along with various other interesting events). Tomorrow, more dozens of schoolchildren will fill the Town Center for day 2 of the exposition.
However, none of those children will be students from any of the region's Catholic parochial schools.
“Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison may no longer participate in any activities, workshops or field trips at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery,” wrote Michael Lancaster, superintendent of Catholic schools. “Any plans to do so should be halted immediately, and alternative, morally acceptable means of meeting the educational objectives should be utilized.”The reason? In addition to being an outreach facility, WID/MIR is a working scientific institute, and some of the researchers in the building work with human embryonic stem cells.
Yes, you read that correctly. Because some of the research going on in the building offends the Church's principles, the building and the educational opportunities it offers are off limits to parochial schools. Here, for those of you who feel the need, is the official fatwa issued by the High Inquisitor. I offer up for you this particularly choice little item:
While it would be possible to visit the Town Center and avoid participation in the stem cell workshop, attending only the other educational offerings that, in and of themselves do not pose a moral issue, the question becomes whether or not patronizing an institution involved in embryonic stem cell research causes scandal and collusion with evilThe deep, deep difficulty with the Superintendent's reasoning is that one of the institutions in question, WID, is for all practical purposes a component of the University of Wisconsin. Moreover, other scientists at UW-Madison, not affiliated with WID/MIR, are also studying stem cells. Is it thus the Superintendent's position that the parochial schools must not come to campus at all, so as to avoid "patronizing an institution involved in embryonic stem cell research"?
This position is so epistemologically broken that it cannot be fixed. The government of the State of Wisconsin funds WID. Shall field trips to the Capitol be discontinued as well?