From 1986 to 2014, Scott served as the Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, Inc., a nonprofit science education organization supporting teaching of evolutionary science. She holds a Ph.D. in biological anthropology from the University of Missouri. A biologist, her research has been in human medical anthropology and skeletal biology. Scott serves on the National Advisory Council of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Scott grew up in Wisconsin and first became interested in anthropology after reading her sister's anthropology textbook. Scott received a BS and MS from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, followed by a PhD from the University of Missouri. She joined the University of Kentucky as a physical anthropologist in 1974 and shortly thereafter attended a debate between her mentor James A. Gavan and the young earth creationist Duane Gish which piqued her interest in the creation-evolution controversy. She also taught at the University of Colorado and at California State University, Hayward. Her research work focused on medical anthropology and skeletal biology.
In 1980, Scott worked to prevent creationism from being taught in the public schools of Lexington, Kentucky. Scott was appointed the executive director of the National Center for Science Education in 1987, the year in which teaching creation science in American public schools was deemed illegal by the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard. Scott announced that she would be retiring from this position by the end of 2013, doing so on 6 January 2014. Her place was taken by Ann Reid.
Scott was brought up in Christian Science by her mother and grandmother but later switched to a congregational church under the influence of her sister; she describes her background as liberal Protestant. Scott is now a secular humanist and describes herself as a nontheist. In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that "Scott describes herself as atheist but does not discount the importance of spirituality." In 2003 she was one of the signatories to the third humanist manifesto, Humanism and Its Aspirations.
Scott is an expert on creationism and intelligent design. Her book Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction was published by Greenwood Press in 2004 and then in paperback by the University of California Press in 2005. It has a foreword by Niles Eldredge.
She co-edited with Glenn Branch the 2006 anthology Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for Our Schools.
In 2006 Jon D. Miller, Scott and Shinji Okamoto had a brief article published in Science entitled "Public Acceptance of Evolution", an analysis of polling on the acceptance of evolution from the last 20 years in the United States and compared to other countries. Turkey had the lowest acceptance of evolution in the survey, with the United States having the next-lowest, though the authors saw a positive in the higher percentage of Americans who are unsure about evolution, and therefore "reachable" for evolution.
David Berlinski, a fellow at the Discovery Institute, describes Scott as an opponent "who is often sent out to defend Darwin". Scott prefers to see herself as "Darwin's golden retriever".
Scott has been profiled in The New York Times, Scientific American, The Scientist, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Stanford Medical Magazine. She has had been interviewed for Science & Theology News, CSICOP, Church & State and Point of Inquiry. She has commentary published by Science & Theology News, Metanexus Institute.
Scott has taken part in numerous debates on MSNBC and Fox News.
In 2004, Scott represented the National Center for Science Education on the Showtime television show Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, on the episode titled "Creationism", where she offered philosophical views about the creationist and intelligent design movements.
In 2005, Scott and other NCSE staff served as scientific and educational consultants for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case regarding the teaching of intelligent design in public schools. Judge John Jones ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Scott said that "we won decisively" and "in triplicate," and "we had the better case." About the merits of the case, she said, "Within evolutionary biology, we argue about the details... and the mechanisms," but "we don't argue about whether living things descended with modification from common ancestors, which is what biological evolution is all about.... The Dover School Board wanted students to doubt whether evolution had taken place."
Scott and her husband, lawyer Thomas C. Sager, have one daughter and reside in Berkeley, California.
Scott is a backyard beekeeper with two beehives. Although she isn't a bee researcher, she is interested in the causes of colony collapse disorder. She is an advocate of amateur beekeeping, since it is good for "increasing genetic variability of the European honeybees" that are important for agriculture, making it "less likely... to have a really disastrous crash in the bee population."