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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/04/03

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

Plenty of news in Texas again: the Texas state board of education voted to
adopt a flawed set of state science standards, and Chris Comer's suit
against the Texas Education Agency was dismissed. In Florida, the Florida
Academy of Sciences denounced the antievolution bill still in the state
senate. A few seats remain aboard NCSE's next excursion to the Grand
Canyon. And the Evolution Education Update is going to be transferred to
Google Groups in the near future.


At its March 25-27, 2009, meeting, the Texas state board of education voted
to adopt a flawed set of state science standards, which will dictate what
is taught in science classes in elementary and secondary schools, as well
as provide the material for state tests and textbooks, for the next
decade. Although creationists on the board were unsuccessful in inserting
the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language from the old set of
standards, they proposed a flurry of synonyms -- such as "sufficiency or
insufficiency" and "supportive and not supportive" -- and eventually
prevailed with a requirement that students examine "all sides of scientific
evidence." Additionally, the board voted to add or amend various standards
in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the
complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age
of the universe.

The proceedings were confusing and contentious, and it is understandable
that journalists differed in their initial assessments of the significance
of the vote: for example, the Dallas Morning News (March 28, 2009)
headlined its article as "Conservatives lose another battle over
evolution," while the Wall Street Journal (March 27, 2009) headlined its
article as "Texas Opens Classroom Door for Evolution Doubts," and the
Austin-American-Statesman (March 28, 2009) played it safe with "State
education board approves science standards." As the dust settled, though,
NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott -- who was invited to testify
before the board at its meeting -- commented, in a March 30, 2009, press
release, "The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over

"The board majority chose to satisfy creationist constituents and ignore
the expertise of highly qualified Texas scientists and scientists across
the country," Scott added. Among the organizations calling upon the board
to adopt the standards as originally drafted by a panel of Texas scientists
and educators were the American Association for the Advancement of Science,
the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Paleontological
Society, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the Texas
Association of Biology Teachers, as well as fifty-four scientific and
education societies that endorsed a statement circulated by NCSE. The
board's chair, avowed creationist Don McLeroy, responded by crying (video
is available on NCSE's YouTube channel), during the meeting, "Somebody's
got to stand up to experts!"

Writing in Salon (March 29, 2009), Gordy Slack -- the author of The Battle
Over the Meaning of Everything: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and a
School Board in Dover, PA (Jossey-Bass 2007) -- explained that after
Kitzmiller v. Dover, "advocates of teaching neo-creationism have been
forced to seek other ways into public science classrooms. Enter the
'strengths and weaknesses' strategy." After the creationist faction on the
board failed to reinsert the "strengths and weaknesses" language, NCSE's
executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "they had a fallback
position, which was to continue amending the standards to achieve through
the back door what they couldn't achieve upfront." Slack added, "Each of
the amendments singles out an old creationist argument, strips it of its
overtly ideological language, and requires teachers and textbook publishers
to adopt it."

Rachel Courtland, a blogger for New Scientist (March 31, 2009), examined a
case in point: the deletion of a reference in the standards to the age of
the universe ("about 14 billion years ago"). As revised, the standards
require students to learn "current theories of the evolution of the
universe including estimates for the age of the universe," with the actual
age absent. "Is the new standard an invitation for young-Earth proponents
to teach students that the Earth and the universe beyond it is just a few
thousand years old?" asked Courtland, adding, "Some teachers could
conceivably see it as an opening. According to a 2008 study ["Evolution
and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National Portrait" from PLoS
Biology 2008; 6 (5)], 16% of US science teachers believe humans were
created by God in the last 10,000 years."

Texas groups defending the integrity of science education were dismayed at
the result. Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network,
Kathy Miller, said in a March 27, 2009, statement, "The word 'weaknesses'
no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has
plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make
their way into Texas classrooms. Through a series of contradictory and
convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will
use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking
established science into textbooks." There is a historical precedent in
the textbook adoption process from 2003, when creationists selectively
applied the "strengths and weaknesses" language to try to dilute the
treatment of evolution in the textbooks under consideration.

On his blog for the Houston Chronicle (March 27, 2009), Steven Schafersman
of Texas Citizens for Science optimistically commented, "I think we can
work around the few flawed standards," but lamented, "But the point is that
there shouldn't be ANY flawed standards. The science standards as submitted
by the science writing teams were excellent and flaw-free. All the flaws
were added by politically unscrupulous SBOE members with an extreme
right-wing religious agenda to support Creationism." Having attended (and
blogged from) all three days of the meeting and observed the confusion and
contention among the members of the board, he ruefully added, "this is not
the way to develop educational policy in one of the most wealthy and
powerful states in the most wealthy and powerful country in the world in
the 21st century."

Even The New York Times (March 30, 2009) took notice of the plight of
science education in Texas, editorially commenting, "This was not a
straightforward battle over whether to include creationism or its close
cousin, intelligent design, in the science curriculum. Rather, this was a
struggle to insert into the state science standards various phrases and
code words that may seem innocuous or meaningless at first glance but could
open the door to doubts about evolution. ... At the end of a tense,
confusing three-day meeting, Darwin's critics claimed that this and other
compromise language amounted to a huge victory that would still allow their
critiques into textbooks and classrooms. One can only hope that teachers
in Texas will use common sense and teach evolution as scientists understand

The Austin American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) editorially complained,
"Chairman Don McLeroy, Dunbar and others have turned the education board
into a national joke. But when it comes to teaching Texas children, what
they have done is not funny. Last week's discussion about shaping the
teaching of science to allow doubts about evolution was surreal. Biology
texts now must include 'all sides' of scientific theories ... The
underlying point is that a board majority wants creationism to be part of
the scientific discussion. And they got enough of a foot in the door with
their language about teaching 'all sides' of scientific theories that
publishers will have to include criticism of evolution if they want to sell
science textbooks to Texas schools."

Detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary on the
proceedings is available on a number of blogs: Texas Citizens for
Science's Steven Schafersman was blogging and posting photographs on the
Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog, the Texas Freedom Network was blogging
on its TFN Insider blog, and NCSE's Joshua Rosenau was blogging on his
personal blog, Thoughts from Kansas (hosted by ScienceBlogs). For those
wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth, minutes and audio
recordings of the board meeting will be available on the Texas Education
Agency's website as well as on Tony Whitson's Curricublog. NCSE's previous
reports on events in Texas are available on-line, and of course NCSE will
continue to monitor the situation as well as to assist those defending the
teaching of evolution in the Lone Star State.

For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit:

For the story in the Wall Street Journal, visit:

For the story in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:

For NCSE's press release, visit:

For NCSE's story about the societies supporting the standards, visit:

For NCSE's YouTube channel, visit:

For Gordy Slack's column in Salon, visit:

For the New Scientist blog post, visit:

For "Evolution and Creationism in America's Classrooms: A National
Portrait," visit:

For TFN's statement, visit:

For Steven Schafersman's comments, visit:

For the editorial in The New York Times, visit:

For the editorial in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:

For the blog coverage of the hearings, visit:

For the minutes and records from the TEA, visit:

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


In a March 31, 2009, decision, Chris Comer's lawsuit against the Texas
Education Agency, challenging the agency's policy of requiring neutrality
about evolution and creationism, was dismissed. The Austin
American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) reported, "The state's attorneys argued
in court filings that the agency is allowed to bar its employees from
giving the appearance that the agency is taking positions on issues that
the State Board of Education must decide, such as the content of the
science curriculum." The newspaper quoted Texas Education Commissioner
Robert Scott as saying, "We are sorry that this situation resulted in a
lawsuit but we were confident we would prevail," and John Oberdorfer, one
of Comer's lawyers, as saying of the dismissal, "We'll look at it and
decide what we'll do next."

Comer, the former director of science at the Texas Education Agency, was
forced to resign in November 2007 after she forwarded a note announcing a
talk by Barbara Forrest in Austin. As NCSE's Glenn Branch -- who sent the
offending e-mail -- explained in a post at the Beacon Broadside blog
(December 19, 2007), "Less than two hours after sending the e-mail, she was
called on the carpet and instructed to send a disclaimer. And then she was
forced to resign. Although a memorandum recommending her dismissal
referred to various instances of alleged 'misconduct and insubordination'
on her part, it was clear what her real offense was: 'the TEA requires, as
agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and
creationism.'" The TEA was widely criticized in editorials and by
scientific and educational societies.

In June 2008, Comer filed suit in federal court in the Western District of
Texas, arguing, "the Agency's firing of its Director of Science for not
remaining 'neutral' on the subject violates the Establishment Clause,
because it employs the symbolic and financial support of the State of Texas
to achieve a religious purpose, and so has the purpose or effect of
endorsing religion. By professing 'neutrality,' the Agency credits
creationism as a valid scientific theory. Finally, the Agency fired
Director Comer without according her due process as required by the 14th
Amendment -- a protection especially important here because Director Comer
was fired for contravening an unconstitutional policy." The judge ruled,
however, that the TEA's neutrality policy is not a violation of the
Establishment Clause. (Additional legal documentation for this case is
archived on NCSE's website.)

Although Comer's lawsuit was dismissed, her plight (discussed in a brief
video commissioned by NCSE) is still a disquieting indication of the
condition of science education in Texas. Shortly after her forced
resignation was in the headlines, the Houston Chronicle (December 4, 2007)
editorially commented, "With a State Board of Education review of the
science portion of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills scheduled early
next year, Comer's ouster could portend a renewed effort to establish
creationism and intelligent design as science class fare." In light of the
recent adoption of a set of state science standards that encourages the
presentation of creationist arguments, the TEA's "neutrality when talking
about evolution and creationism" is likely to be under scrutiny again.

For the story in the Austin American-Statesman, visit:

For Glenn Branch's post on Beacon Broadside, visit:

For a sampling of the criticism leveled at the TEA, visit:

For Comer's lawsuit (PDF), visit:

For the dismissal of the case (PDF), visit:

For NCSE's archives of documents in Comer v. Scott, visit:

For the video about Comer's plight, visit:

For the Houston Chronicle's editorial, visit:

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


Florida's Senate Bill 2396, which would, if enacted, amend a section of
Florida law to require "[a] thorough presentation and critical analysis of
the scientific theory of evolution," was in the headlines after the Florida
Academy of Sciences denounced it. In its March 20, 2009, statement, the
academy described SB 2396 as "a deliberate attempt to undermine the adopted
science standards," adding, "SB 2396, in effect, leaves the door open for
the introduction in the public school curriculum of nonscientific and
covertly religious doctrines. The proposed bill would be damaging to the
quality of science education of Florida's children and the scientific
literacy of our citizens. It would further undermine the reputation of our
state and adversely affect our economic future as we try to attract new
high-tech and biomedical jobs to Florida."

David Karlen, a Tampa biologist and a member of the Florida Academy of
Sciences, told the Tampa Tribune (March 28, 2009), "'Critical analysis' is
the latest buzzword in the creationist movement to sneak intelligent design
or creationism into the curriculum," and noted that it is typically only
evolution for which "critical analysis" is applied. Observing that the
bill has yet to receive a hearing in committee -- the bill was referred to
the Education Pre-K-12 and the Education Pre-K-12 Appropriations committees
in the Senate -- or a counterpart in the Florida House of Representatives,
the Tribune reported that the bill "apparently is going nowhere this year,"
especially because the legislature is presently busy with budgetary
issues. May 1, 2009, is the last day of the current legislative session.

For the academy's statement (PDF), visit:

For the story in the Tampa Tribune, visit:

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


A few seats remain aboard NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon -- as
featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From July 3 to 10, 2009,
NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand
Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Alan ("Gish")
Gishlick. Call or write now: seats are limited. Because this is an NCSE
trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon,
the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night
skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact,
a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist
view of the Grand Canyon and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up
your own mind. The cost is $2480; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot.

For information on the excursion, visit:

For NCSE's story about the article in The New York Times, visit:


In the near future, the Evolution Education Update is going to be
transferred to Google Groups. You'll continue to receive news from NCSE
every week, but it will be originating from You'll also have the option of reading
messages and managing your subscription on the web, rather than by e-mail.

With any luck, you won't have to do anything for the transfer to take
place; you will receive a notification by e-mail when you have been added
to the new list. We think that the transfer will be helpful in a number of
ways, and we're working to make it as seamless as possible!

In the meantime, if you wish to unsubscribe to these evolution education
updates, please send:

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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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Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism

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