NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/02/20
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Louisiana's antievolution law lost the state a major biology conference. There's good news and bad news on the legislative front, with a new antievolution bill introduced in Missouri but a similar bill dead in Oklahoma. NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller is honored by the AAAS. And a few further noteworthy articles for the Darwin bicentennial.
MAJOR BIOLOGY CONFERENCE SHUNS LOUISIANA The executive committee of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology decided not to hold any future meetings in New Orleans owing to "the official position of the state in weakening science education and specifically attacking evolution in science curricula," according to a February 5, 2009, letter (PDF) from SICB's president, Richard Satterlie, to Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal. Noting that the last SICB meeting, held in Boston, attracted over 1850 scientists and graduate students to the city for five days, Satterlie observed, "As you might imagine, a professional meeting with nearly 2000 participants can contribute to the economic engine of any community." But in 2011, those economic benefits will accrue to Salt Lake City rather than to New Orleans. Particularly of concern to SICB was the Louisiana Science Education Act -- originally introduced as Senate Bill 561, then renamed as Senate Bill 733, and finally enacted as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1. As NCSE previously reported, the law threatens to open the door for creationism and scientifically unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in public school science classes. The development of a policy about what types of supplementary classroom materials will, and will not, be allowable under the law was not reassuring, especially when a provision that "[m]aterials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes" was deleted. Taking note of SICB's decision, the Louisiana Coalition for Science wrote in a February 13, 2009, press release (PDF), "The first tangible results of the Louisiana legislature's passage and Gov. Bobby Jindal's signing of the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act have materialized, and these results are negative both for the state's economy and national reputation." Observing that Governor Jindal signed the bill over the protests of educators and scientists in Louisiana and nationally, the press release concluded, "The citizens of Louisiana, whose educational well-being the governor claims to be so concerned about, are now paying the price -- literally -- for his loyalty to his conservative Christian base." The Louisiana Coalition for Science also noted that SICB may not be the only scientific organization considering taking its business elsewhere. In the August 2008 issue of ASBMB Today, Gregory Petsko, the president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, called for a boycott by scientific organizations of Louisiana and of any state adopting antievolution legislation, writing, "As scientists, we need to join such protests with our feet and wallets. ... I think we need to see to it that no future meeting of our society [the ASBMB was already committed to holding its 2009 meeting in New Orleans before the LSEA was enacted] will take place in Louisiana as long as that law stands." SICB's decision to shun Louisiana was in the headlines, both in Louisiana and nationally. The New Orleans Times-Picayune (February 16, 2009) led its story with, "A national organization of scientists has informed Gov. Bobby Jindal it will not hold its annual convention in Louisiana as long as the recently adopted Science Education Act remains on the books," and quoted a spokesperson for Governor Jindal as saying, "That's too bad. ... New Orleans is a first-class city for a convention." In its report, The New York Times (February 17, 2009) quoted Barbara Forrest -- a member of NCSE's board of directors as well as a leader of the Louisiana Coalition for Science -- on the evasive language of the LSEA: "They're using code language, which is not new ... Creationists have done it for decades." For SICB's letter (PDF), visit: http://www.sicb.org/resources/LouisianaLetterJindal.pdf For the Louisiana Coalition for Science's letter (PDF), visit: http://lasciencecoalition.org/docs/Release_SICB_Boycott_2.13.09.pdf For Petsko's editorial in ASBMB Today, visit: http://www.asbmbtoday-digital.com/asbmbtoday/200808/ For the story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, visit: http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/02/national_science_boycotting_lo.html For the story in The New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/17/us/17boycott.html?ref=us And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/louisiana ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN MISSOURI House Bill 656, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on February 10, 2009, and not yet referred to a committee, is the latest antievolution "academic freedom" bill. The bill would, if enacted, call on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including such subjects as the teaching of biological and chemical evolution," and to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." "Toward this end," the bill continues, "teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution." Where a predecessor, HB 2554 from the 2008 legislative session, attempted to immunize itself from the accusation of unconstitutionality by saying, "This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and this section shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion," however, HB 656 is interestingly specific, saying, "This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and this section shall not be construed to promote philosophical naturalism or biblical theology, promote natural cause or intelligent cause, promote undirected change or purposeful design, promote atheistic or theistic belief, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or ideas, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. Scientific information includes physical evidence and logical inferences based upon evidence." The chief sponsor of HB 656 is Robert Wayne Cooper (R-District 155), joined by Mike Sutherland (R-District 99), Ed Emery (R-District 126), Therese Sander (R-District 22), Brian Nieves (R-District 98), and Stanley Cox (R-District 118). Cooper was the sponsor of numerous failed antievolution bills in the past. In 2008, he introduced the similar HB 2554. In 2006, he introduced HB 1266, which if enacted would have required that "If a theory or hypothesis of biological origins is taught, a critical analysis of such theory or hypothesis shall be taught in a substantive amount." In 2004, he introduced two bills, HB 911 and HB 1722, that called for equal time for "intelligent design" in Missouri's public schools. HB 911 moreover contained idiosyncratic definitions of various scientific and philosophical terms as well as the draconian provision, "Willful neglect of any elementary or secondary school superintendent, principal, or teacher to observe and carry out the requirements of this section shall be cause for termination of his or her contract." For the text of Missouri's HB 656, visit: http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills091/biltxt/intro/HB0656I.htm And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Missouri, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/missouri OKLAHOMA ANTIEVOLUTION BILL DEAD Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320, the so-called Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, died in committee on February 16, 2009, according to a report in the Tulsa World (February 17, 2009). The bill, if enacted, would have required state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies" and permitted teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught." The only topics specifically mentioned as controversial were "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." In its critique of the bill, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education argued, "This is a 'Trojan horse' bill intended to open the door for the teaching of specific religious concepts in school science classes," observing that "[p]romoting the notion that there is some scientific controversy is just plain dishonest ... Evolution as a process is supported by an enormous and continually growing body of evidence. Evolutionary theory has advanced substantially since Darwin's time and, despite 150 years of direct research, no evidence in conflict with evolution has ever been found." With respect to the supposed "weaknesses" of evolution, OESE added, "they are phony fabrications, invented and promoted by people who don't like evolution." The bill's sponsor, Randy Brogdon (R-District 34), told the Tulsa World that the bill was needed because science teachers in his district were confused and fearful about how to address controversial topics, but Owasso Public Schools Superintendent Clark Ogilvie told the newspaper, "I don't think our teachers are confused at all, and I'm somewhat puzzled because Sen. Brogdon and I have never had any dialogue on the subject." Richard Lerblance (D-District 7), who sits on the Senate Education Committee, called the bill "subterfuge," adding that it was one of the worst bills he has seen. Lerblance was among the eight members of the committee to vote to kill SB 320; under the rules of the Oklahoma Senate, the measure is dead for two years. For the story in the Tulsa World, visit: http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20090217_16_A11_OKLAHO853574 For OESE's critique (PDF), visit: http://www.oklascience.org/SB320_handout.pdf And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/oklahoma KENNETH R. MILLER HONORED BY AAAS Kenneth R. Miller was named as the winner of the 2008 Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of "his sustained efforts and excellence in communicating evolutionary science," according to a February 11, 2009, press release. He received the award during a February 14 ceremony at the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago. A Supporter of NCSE who testified for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Miller "made an extraordinarily persuasive public case for the power of science in general, and the validity of evolution in particular, to explain the natural world," AAAS reported in announcing the award. "He did the scientific community an immeasurable service" by helping to uphold the integrity of U.S. science education. Miller is Professor of Biology and Royce Family Professor for Teaching Excellence at Brown University, coauthor of the most widely used high school biology textbook in the country, and author, most recently, of Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (Viking, 2008). For the AAAS press release, visit: http://news.aaas.org/2009/02112008-aaas-public-understanding-of-science-and-technology-award-presented.shtml For NCSE's collection of materials about Kitzmiller v. Dover, visit: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/intelligent-design-trial-kitzmiller-v-dover And to buy Only a Theory from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/067001883X/nationalcenter02/ DARWIN ANNIVERSARY UPDATE The February 13, 2009, evolution education update included a sampling of coverage of the Darwin bicentennial in the mass media. Here are a few further noteworthy articles. Carl Zimmer, writing in Time magazine (February 12, 2009), noted that amid the anniversary hoopla, "there's a risk to all this Darwinmania: some people may come away with a fundamental misunderstanding about the science of evolution. ... Today biologists are exploring evolution at a level of detail far beyond what Darwin could, and they're discovering that evolution sometimes works in ways the celebrated naturalist never imagined." Yet, discussing some of the ways in which modern evolutionary biology is still in a creative ferment, Zimmer concluded, "Time and again, biologists are finding that Darwin had it right: evolution is the best way to explain the patterns of nature." Michael Shermer's column in the February 2009 issue of Scientific American offered "A Skeptic's Take on the Public Misunderstanding of Darwin," in which he debunks "two myths about evolution that persist today: that there is a prescient directionality to evolution and that survival depends entirely on cutthroat competitive fitness." (The latter topic allowed him charmingly to quote Lincoln on "the better angels of our nature.") Scientific American further celebrated the Darwin bicentennial by posting a collection of its previous articles, as well as a few articles originally published in the magazine's German version Spektrum, on Darwin and evolution in a special section on its website. In The New York Times (February 12, 2009), Olivia Judson began her anniversary op-ed with, "My fellow primates, 200 years ago today, Charles Darwin was born. Please join me in wishing him happy birthday!" She urged that Darwin is admirable not only as a scientist but also as a man, describing him as "one of those rare beings, as likeable as he was impressive." In the same issue of the Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg of the newspaper's editorial board reflected on Darwin's life as a scientist, concluding, "Darwin recedes, but his idea does not. It is absorbed, with adaptations, into the foundation of the biological sciences. In a very real sense, it is the cornerstone of what we know about life on earth." Thanks to all who wrote to suggest their favorites! The version of the list posted on the NCSE website is now updated to include the above. For Zimmer's article, visit: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1879213,00.html For Shermer's article, visit: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=darwin-misunderstood For Scientific American's collection of relevant articles, visit: http://www.sciam.com/report.cfm?id=darwin For Judson's article, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/opinion/12judson.html For Klinkenborg's article, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/opinion/12thu4.html And for NCSE's summary of the Darwin bicentennial in the news, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/02/darwin-bicentennial-news-004302 REMINDER If you wish to unsubscribe to these evolution education updates, please send: unsubscribe ncse-news email@example.com in the body of an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to subscribe, please send: subscribe ncse-news email@example.com again in the body of an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x310 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 email@example.com http://www.ncseweb.org Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools http://www.ncseweb.org/nioc Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism http://www.ncseweb.org/evc NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://www.ncseweb.org/membership