NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/03/20
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, A new antievolution bill in Texas, and plenty of further news from the Lone Star state, too. Iowa's antievolution bill is dead. And NCSE announces its very own YouTube channel.
"WEAKNESSES" BY THE BACK DOOR IN TEXAS House Bill 4224, introduced in the Texas House of Representatives on March 13, 2009, would, if enacted, require the Texas state board of education to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards. The current standards for high school biology include a requirement that reads, "The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." As NCSE previously reported, in 2003 the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the standards was selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration. When a panel of scientific and educational experts revised the standards, the "strengths and weaknesses" requirement was replaced with "The student is expected to analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical eviden! ce, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." In a close vote on January 23, 2009, the board gave its preliminary approval to a version of the standards without the "strengths and weaknesses" language; a final vote is expected at the board's March 25-27, 2009, meeting. Introduced by Wayne Christian (R-District 9), House Bill 4224 would add a section to the Texas Education Code providing, "(a) As part of the essential knowledge and skills of the science curriculum under Section 28.002(a)(1)(C), the State Board of Education by rule shall establish elements relating to instruction on the scientific hypotheses and theories for grades 6-12. (b) Instructional elements for scientific processes: the student uses critical thinking and scientific problem solving to make informed decisions. The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information; (c) Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses; (d) No govern! mental entity shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students to understand, analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information." It is already clear that the state's scientific and educational communities are firmly opposed to the inclusion of the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the science standards. According to a survey conducted by the TFN Education Fund in conjunction with Raymond Eve, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, Arlington, professors of biology at Texas's colleges and universities overwhelmingly reject the notion of teaching the "weaknesses" of evolution, with almost 80% regarding it as likely to hinder student readiness for college and 72% regarding it as likely to hinder student ability to compete for 21st-century jobs. Additionally, over 1400 Texas scientists have endorsed the 21st Century Science Coalition's call on the state board of education to approve science standards that "encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to 'strengths and weaknesses,' which politicians have used to introduce supernatural explanation! s into science courses." And the president of the Science Teachers Association of Texas described the "strengths and weaknesses" language as "vague and misleading," while also noting that it provides a pretext for the problematic insertion of religious beliefs into the science curriculum. For the text of Texas's HB 4224 as introduced, visit: http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/81R/billtext/html/HB04224I.htm For the survey of Texas biology professors (PDF), visit: http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/FinalWebPost.pdf?docID=861 For the 21st Century Science Coalition, visit: http://www.texasscientists.org/ For the remarks of the president of STAT (PDF, p. 17), visit: http://www.statweb.org/STATellite/Dec08.pdf And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/texas UPDATES FROM THE LONE STAR STATE With evolution sure to be a hotly debated topic at the next meeting of the Texas state board of education, with a bill just introduced in the Texas legislature aimed at restoring the contentious "strengths and weaknesses" language to the standards, and with a different bill aimed at exempting the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school from the regulations governing degree-granting institutions in Texas, there's no shortage of news from the Lone Star state. NCSE, of course, continues not only to report on the antics of creationism in Texas but also to help concerned Texans to combat them: Texans wishing to express their concerns about the standards to the Texas state board of education, which is expected to have its final vote on the standards at its meeting in Austin on March 25-27, 2009, will find contact information and talking points in the Taking Action section of NCSE's website and on the Texas Freedom Network's website. With Texans still reeling from the detailed profiles of the chair of the Texas state board of education, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, published in the Austin American-Statesman (March 8, 2009) and the Texas Observer (February 20, 2009), Texas Citizens for Science (March 14, 2009) recently disclosed that McLeroy endorsed a bizarre creationist screed entitled Sowing Atheism: The National Academy of Sciences' Sinister Scheme to Teach Our Children They're Descended from Reptiles -- aimed, of course, at Evolution, Creationism, and Science, issued by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine in February 2008 to general acclaim. McLeroy, however, praises Sowing Atheism for showing "how the NAS attempts to seduce the unwitting reader by providing scanty empirical evidence but presented with great intellectual bullying -- both secular and religious." On its blog (March 18, 2009), the Texas Freedom Network summarized the themes of the book -- "Scientists are 'atheists.' Parents who want to teach their children about evolution are 'monsters.' Pastors who support sound science are 'morons'" -- and pointedly asked, "Is that the sort of message Chairman Don McLeroy and his cohorts on the State Board of Education have in mind for Texas science classrooms if they succeed in their campaign to shoehorn 'weaknesses' of evolution back into the science curriculum standards?" Mavis Knight, a member of the Texas state board of education who supports the integrity of science education, wrly commented to the Dallas Observer (March 18, 2009), "So much for neutrality in the chairman's position." Looking forward to the board's impending vote on the standards, she added, "I am confident several of us will hold firm, but it's the swing votes you have to concern yourself with -- and I don't know how much pressure is being put on the swing! voters. ... It definitely won't be boring." Fox News (March 18, 2009) offered a detailed story about House Bill 2800, which would, if enacted, exempt institutions such as the Institute for Creation Research's graduate school from Texas's regulations governing degree-granting institutions. Although the ICR is not named, "[the bill's sponsor Leo] Berman says ICR was the inspiration for the bill because he feels creationism is as scientific as evolution and should be granted equal weight in the educational community." Berman was also quoted as saying, "I don't believe I came from a salamander that crawled out of a swamp millions of years ago." NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott responded, "Their science education degrees are greatly inferior to those at, say, the University of Texas or Baylor University or even a good community college, frankly," adding, "Teaching that the Earth is only 10,000 years old is a little irregular in modern science." Concern about HB 2800 was not confined to worries about the ICR's graduate school. A spokesperson for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which denied state certification to the ICR's graduate school in 2007, argued that "HB 2800 appears to open the doors of Texas to predatory institutions ... Were the bill to become law, it could have the effect of leaving students defenseless against exploitation by diploma mills and other substandard institutions." Similarly, Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science warned, "This would open the door to other fly-by-night organizations that come in and want to award degrees in our state, because the bill is highly generalized," and NCSE's Scott added, "It would certainly open the door to all kinds of chicanery ... I mean, all you have to do, it looks to me from the bill, is start a non-profit organization, don't take any federal or state money, and then offer degrees in any fool subject you want." Discussing House Bill 4224, which would, if enacted, require the Texas state board of education to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language to the Texas state science standards, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (March 19, 2009), reported, "The bill does not address evolution specifically, but that seems to be its target. ... [The bill's sponsor Wayne] Christian said he filed the bill to allow teachers to continue to teach the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of evolution." Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science told the newspaper that the language was removed from the proposed new standards because it is not scientifically based, and warned that HB 4224 was likely to encourage teachers to teach creationism in violation of the constitutional strictures against doing so. He also said that for Texas to compete nationally and globally, the education standards must be based on "good science and not get bogged down with these religious interventions into our s! ecular schools." A further concern about HB 4224 discussed in the Star-Telegram's article was the bill's provision that "Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories or hypotheses." (The article reports, incorrectly, that the bill would afford the same protection to teachers; it is in fact silent about the beliefs of teachers, although it explicitly allows them to present "strengths and weaknesses" -- a creationist catchphrase -- to their students.) Schafersman commented, "Students could claim they believe anything they wanted in anything in science and if that's what they say, the teacher would be forced to give that student an A," but Christian countered that students would still be responsible for learning the material presented in the curriculum: "They can be lazy if they want to ... but teachers ! are still in charge of the grading system," he contended. For information about taking action in Texas, visit: http://ncseweb.org/taking-action http://www.tfn.org/ For the profiles of McLeroy, visit: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/03/08/0308mcleroy.html http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2965 For information about Science, Evolution, and Creationism, visit: http://www.nap.edu/sec http://ncseweb.org/news/2008/01/kudos-science-evolution-creationism-002137 For the reports on McLeroy's endorsement of Sowing Atheism, visit: http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/what-does-don-mcleroy-really-want-to-teach/ http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2009/03/in_advance_of_next_week.php For Fox News's story about HB 2800, visit: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,509719,00.html For the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's story about HB 4224, visit: http://www.star-telegram.com/state_news/story/1264169.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/texas ANTIEVOLUTION BILL DEAD IN IOWA House File 183, the so-called Evolution Academic Freedom Act, died in committee in the Iowa House of Representatives on March 13, 2009. The bill purported to protect the right of teachers in the state's public schools and instructors in the state's public community colleges and state universities to "objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological evolution," providing that they "shall not be disciplined, denied tenure, terminated, or otherwise discriminated against" for doing so. Also, the bill added, although students "shall be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials through standard testing procedures," they "shall not be penalized for subscribing to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution." The Iowa State Education Association -- the state affiliate of the National Education Association, representing over 34,000 education employees in Iowa -- was opposed to HF 183, and over two hundred faculty members at Iowa's colleges and universities endorsed a statement calling on Iowa's legislature to reject it, arguing, "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." In a March 13, 2009, guest post at The Panda's Thumb blog, Hector Avalos of Iowa State University, one of the faculty members who drafted the statement, commented, "Although the bill was given little chance of passing from the start, the petition helped to inform legislators and the public of the depth of resistance to such a bill within the academic and scientific community. Iowa faculty wanted to nip this bill in the bud before we had another Louisiana on our hands." Avalos was alluding, of course, to the Louisiana Science Education Act, enacted (as Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1) in 2008 over the protests of the state's scientific and educational communities; as the Baton Rouge Advocate (April 19, 2008) editorially recognized, "it seems clear that the supporters of this legislation are seeking a way to get creationism ... into science classrooms." The LSEA is the only "academic freedom' antievolution bill to have been passed, despite attempts to pass such bills elsewhere. So far in 2009, there have been six: Alabama's House Bill 300, Florida's Senate Bill 2396, Iowa's House File 183 (died in committee), Missouri's House Bill 656, New Mexico's Senate Bill 433, and Oklahoma's SB 320 (died in committee). Such bills are typically based on a policy adopted in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, in 2006 and/or a model bill promoted by the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of "intelligent design" crea! tionism. For Avalos's post on The Panda's Thumb blog, visit: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/03/iowa-gives-the.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Iowa, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/iowa LIGHTS! CAMERA! EVOLUTION! NCSE is expanding its on-line video presence with its new YouTube channel! Here you'll find reports from the evolution/creationism wars -- footage of contentious testimony, landmark and illuminating speeches, conference coverage, excerpts from television appearances, and presentations. In the future, look for classroom videos, tutorials for teachers, videos contributed by NCSE members, and much more. When you visit our YouTube channel, check out a couple of key areas. At top right you'll see the latest, hot video. (In this case, executive director Eugenie C. Scott explaining evolution to the Texas Board of Education.) Below this video window you'll see the Playlist area. We've broken down our initial offerings into different categories -- Genie Scott's testimony before the Texas Board of Education; the board's chairman, Don McLeroy, expounding why evolution is false; and some light-hearted coverage of our recent Project Steve celebration. Please explore the site, tell us what you like (and don't), and suggest improvements and changes. Send your comments to Robert Luhn at email@example.com. For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit: http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd REMINDER If you wish to unsubscribe to these evolution education updates, please send: unsubscribe ncse-news firstname.lastname@example.org in the body of an e-mail to email@example.com. If you wish to subscribe, please send: subscribe ncse-news firstname.lastname@example.org again in the body of an e-mail to email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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