Critics of mainstream science frequently dispute evolution or climate change. Whatever their target, a common tactic is to challenge how well mainstream scientists accept these ideas.

When the anti-evolution Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington, began a project in this vein, creating lists of scientists who doubt evolution, the pro-evolution National Center for Science Education (NCSE) responded in kind. It collected responses from PhD-level scientists who agreed that there is “no serious scientific doubt” that evolution occurred — but only those who were called Steve or a variant. This light-hearted list of Stephens, Stephanies and similars now dwarfs the list of doubters, making a clear statement about where mainstream science stands.

That statement does not, and is not intended to, inform scientists. But it buttresses their long-term futures. To ensure that the supply of competent young researchers and policy-makers does not fail, the public should be educated in a vital, unifying principle of biology. Yet teachers are often pressured to keep evolution out of the classroom or to teach it as a scientifically controversial theory, particularly in the United States.

The NCSE, which is based in Oakland, California, is committed to tackling such attacks. It is perhaps most famous for organizing plaintiffs in the 2005 case Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which parents in Pennsylvania sued a school board for requiring that intelligent design be taught in public schools. The case was decided in favour of the parents, a ruling that is credited with keeping intelligent design out of classrooms across the United States. But the NCSE has probably had a similar impact in its quieter battles: it provides resources for science advocates, so that they do not have to reinvent the wheel when helping teachers who are told to skip evolution, to misrepresent it as controversial or to teach it alongside unscientific ideas. And the centre adapts to current needs: last year, it branched out to include climate change in its education efforts.