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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/03/06

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

A new antievolution bill in Florida. It's the seventh so far in 2009,
joining bills in Alabama, Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi (already dead), New
Mexico, and Oklahoma (already dead). Meanwhile, faculty in Iowa decry the
antievolution bill in their state. And a fresh crop of scientific and
educational journals celebrating the Darwin anniversaries.


Senate Bill 2396, filed on February 27, 2009, would, if enacted, amend a
section of Florida law to require "[a] thorough presentation and critical
analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." The bill is sponsored by
Stephen R. Wise (R-District 5), who was in the news earlier in February
when he announced his intention to introduce a bill requiring "intelligent
design" to be taught in Florida's public schools. "If you're going to teach
evolution, then you have to teach the other side so you can have critical
thinking," he told the Jacksonville Times-Union (February 8, 2009). Wise
acknowledged that his bill was likely to invite a legal challenge, but
contended, "Someplace along the line you've got to be able to make a value
judgment of what it is you think is the appropriate thing." Evidently he
changed his mind about how to accomplish his goal, since "intelligent
design" is not mentioned in the bill.

But the phrase "[a] thorough presentation and critical analysis of the
scientific theory of evolution" is familiar from the previous legislative
session in Florida. House Bill 1483, which originally purported to protect
the right of teachers to "objectively present scientific information
relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and
chemical evolution," was eventually amended -- due to concerns about its
constitutionality -- to require the public schools to provide "[a] thorough
presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of
evolution." Challenged to justify the measure, its sponsor Alan Hays
(R-District 25) claimed that it was necessary to protect teachers seeking
to "provide a critical analysis" of evolution, although the St. Petersburg
Times (March 6, 2008) reported that it was unable to substantiate any
claims of persecution.

During the previous legislative session, the House of Representatives
preferred the "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the
scientific theory of evolution" language of HB 1483 -- voting 71-43 to
adopt the language on April 28, 2008 -- while the Senate preferred the
"full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical
evolution" language of SB 2692. Wise was then dismissive of HB 1483's
language, telling the Sarasota Herald Tribune (April 24, 2008) that Hays
"must be hitting the sauce if he thinks he's going to send the bill back"
to the Senate. In any case, the two chambers were unable to agree on the
wording of a bill before the legislative session expired, prompting the
Tampa Tribune (May 3, 2008) to comment in its editorial reviewing the
accomplishments of the legislature, "The session will be remembered for
what wasn't done to compromise the quality of education in Florida."

The phrase "critical analysis" was used to undermine the teaching of
evolution situation in Ohio from 2002 to 2006. As NCSE's Glenn Branch
explains in Reports of the NCSE, in 2002 Ohio adopted a set of state
science standards that included a controversial indicator calling for
students to be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and
critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." At the time, it was
feared that the indicator would provide a pretext for the introduction of
creationist misrepresentations of evolution; in 2004, those fears proved to
be justified, when the state board of education voted to adopt a model
lesson plan riddled with scientific inaccuracies and pedagogical
infelicities. But after the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover and the
revelation that the lesson plan was adopted despite warnings from experts
at the Ohio Department of Education, the board voted in 2006 to rescind
both the model lesson plan and the indicator.

For the text of Florida's SB 2396 as introduced (PDF), visit:

For the story in the Jacksonville Times-Union, visit:

For the story in the St. Petersburg Times, visit:

For the story in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, visit:

For the editorial in the Tampa Tribune, visit:

For RNCSE's account of "critical analysis" in Ohio, visit:

For the website and blog of Florida Citizens for Science, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Florida, visit:


Over two hundred faculty members at Iowa's colleges and universities have
endorsed a statement calling on Iowa's legislature to reject House File
183, the so-called Evolution Academic Freedom Act. Responding to the
bill's contention that "current law does not expressly protect the right of
instructors to objectively present scientific information relevant to the
full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological
evolution," the statement explains, "It is misleading to claim that there
is any controversy or dissent within the vast majority of the scientific
community regarding the scientific validity of evolutionary theory. Since
there is no real dissent within the scientific community ... 'academic
freedom' for alternative theories is simply a mechanism to introduce
religious or non-scientific doctrines into our science curriculum."

HF 183 contends that "instructors have experienced or feared discipline,
discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the
full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological
evolution," and its sponsor, Rod A. Roberts (R-District 51), told the Iowa
City Press-Citizen (February 27, 2009) that his bill is "about the freedom
that an instructor and students can engage in without fear of criticism,
censure or fear of losing one's job." But such claims of persecution have
not been substantiated, the authors of the statement -- Hector Avalos of
Iowa State University and James W. Demastes and Tara C. Smith of the
University of Iowa -- explained to the Ames Tribune (February 25, 2009).

NCSE's Glenn Branch told the Chronicle of Higher Education (February 25,
2009) that the new Iowa statement is apparently the first organized
response to such a bill by college faculty members throughout a
state. Between the opposition from college and university instructors and
the opposition of the Iowa State Education Association -- the state
affiliate of the National Education Association, representing over 34,000
education employees in Iowa -- the bill's prospects are dim. Although the
University of Iowa is not taking a position on the bill, its legislative
liaison was quoted by the Press-Citizen as saying, "From what I've heard, I
don't anticipate it making it past the first funnel. We have concerns
about the bill, but we are not expecting it to move."

For the statement, visit:

For the text of Iowa's HF 183, visit:

For the story in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, visit:

For the story in the Ames Tribune, visit:

For the story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, visit:

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Iowa, visit:


Scientific and educational journals are continuing to celebrate the
bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin and the sesquicentennial of the
publication of the Origin of Species. As NCSE previously reported, Science
is allocating a special section of its website to "a variety of news
features, scientific reviews and other special content." Similarly, Nature
is providing "continuously updated news, research and analysis on Darwin's
life, his science and his legacy." A special issue of The Lancet for
December 2008, entitled Darwin's Gifts, was "dedicated to Darwin's life and
work and the enduring legacy of his theory of evolution" and is freely
available in a special Flash-based format. And Evolution: Education and
Outreach is devoting the whole year to the celebration. Herewith a
sampling of further celebrations in the literature -- and let NCSE know of
any worthwhile contributions to add!

The February 2009 issue of The American Biology Teacher is focusing on
Darwin and evolution, including articles on "The Struggle for
Existence: 1859 & Today," "The Influence of Darwin on Evolutionary
Algorithms from 'Dinner with Darwin'," "Putting Darwin in His Place: The
Need to Watch Our Language," "Spork & Beans: Addressing Evolutionary
Misconceptions," "A Suggested Project-Based Evolution for High
Schools: Teaching Content Through Application," "Darwin, Earthworms, &
Circadian Rhythms," and "Teaching Evolution Through Inquiry-Based Lessons
of Uncontroversial Science." Two of the articles -- Randy Moore and Sehoya
Cotner's "Rejecting Darwin: The Occurrence & Impact of Creationism in High
School Biology Classrooms" and Paul M. Beardsley, Stephen R. Getty, and
Paul Numedahl's "Explaining Biogeographic Data: Evidence for Evolution" --
are freely accessible on-line.

The American Journal of Botany is celebrating by dedicating a whole issue
(2009; 96 [1]), as its editor-in-chief explains, "to one of the number of
botanical issues about which Darwin thought and wrote, the rapid appearance
and diversification of the angiosperms, his so-called 'abominable
mystery.' Invited Special Editors Ruth A. Stockey, Sean W. Graham, and
Peter R. Crane have assembled a group of articles that review thinking and
research on this subject from approaches as diverse as the history of
science, anatomy, morphology, paleobotany, pollination biology, molecular
systematics, genetics, and ecology. Authors of these papers variously
address traditional or historical understanding of angiosperm origin,
spread, and diversification, current thinking on these topics, and
unresolved issues to stimulate future research." Subsequent issues of the
journal in 2009 will include invited papers addressing botanical topics
considered by Darwin.

Current Biology (2009; 19 [3]) features "(Re)Reading the Origin": "Charles
Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species is much referenced, especially
in this double anniversary year. But, does anyone still read it? And, if
so, what is the book itself like as a text? We have asked biologists from
a range of fields -- evolutionary biologists, but also geneticists,
ecologists, paleontologists and molecular biologists -- to re-read (or
read) The Origin for Current Biology. Below are the responses, contributed
by: Andrew Berry, Matthew Cobb, Simon Conway Morris, Jerry Coyne, Hopi
Hoekstra, Peter Lawrence, Robert May, Christiane N|sslein-Volhard, Mark
Ptashne, Matt Ridley and Marlene Zuk." The same issue includes a
discussion of the celebrations in Darwin's home town of Shrewsbury.

The journal Heredity commemorates the sesquicentennial year of the
publication of the Origin of Species with a special issue (2009; 102 [1])
on, appropriately, the genetics of speciation. R. K. Butlin and M. G.
Ritchie explain in their editorial introduction, "As we approach the
milestone of 2009, the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th
anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species, many questions
concerning the causes of speciation remain open and speciation continues to
be one of the most actively studied topics in modern evolutionary biology
... the papers in this special issue of Heredity reveal the breadth of
current studies into the genetics of speciation. They contain a
fascinating mixture of studies of familiar questions and issues in
evolutionary biology, as well as new and exciting ideas and insights." All
of the articles in the special issue are freely accessible.

And the open-access Journal of Biology (2009; 8 [2]) features Paul Harvey's
"Q&A: What did Charles Darwin prove?" -- posing and answering various
questions about Darwin and his significance to modern biology. Answering
the question What was so special about Darwin, Harvey commented, "Any of us
can pick up one of his books and read it with ease and for pleasure. And
we'll fairly rapidly find places where Darwin's clarity of style reveals
errors of logic, and whether those are because we have learned more in the
years since he wrote or because he made some obvious mistakes is for us his
readers to decide. If we are up to it." In the same issue are Laurence D.
Hurst's "Evolutionary genomics and the reach of selection," James F. Crow's
"Mayr, mathematics and the study of evolution," Charles F. Stevens's
"Darwin and Huxley revisited: the origin of allometry," and Jonathan C.
Howard's "Why didn't Darwin discover Mendel's laws?"

For Science's array of Darwin anniversary resources, visit:

For Nature's array of Darwin anniversary resources, visit:

For the special issue of The Lancet, visit:

For Education: Evolution and Outreach, visit:

For the table of contents and articles (PDF) from The American Biology
Teacher, visit:

For the table of contents and introduction to the American Journal of
Botany, visit:

For the articles from Current Biology, visit:

For the table of contents and introduction to Heredity, visit:

For the articles from the Journal of Biology, visit:


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Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site:

where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and
threats to it.


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

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