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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/04/17

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

The potential consequences of the Texas state board of education's decision
to adopt a set of flawed state science standards are in the news, as are
disquieting poll results from Louisiana. And the head of the White House
Office of Science and Technology described the new Texas standards as "a
step backward."


Since the March 2009 decision of the Texas state board of education to
adopt a set of flawed state science standards, media coverage has
increasingly emphasized the possible consequences. As NCSE previously
reported, 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 result, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott
commented, was "a triumph of ideology and politics over science."

The board's antics seem to have caught the attention of legislators in
Texas. There are now no fewer than six bills in the Texas legislature --
HB 710, HB 2261, HB 3382, SB 440, SB 513, and SB 2275 -- that would reduce
the state board of education's power. As the Wall Street Journal (April
13, 2009) reported, "The most far-reaching proposals would strip the Texas
board of its authority to set curricula and approve textbooks. Depending
on the bill, that power would be transferred to the state education agency,
a legislative board or the commissioner of education. Other bills would
transform the board to an appointed rather than elected body, require
Webcasting of meetings, and take away the board's control of a vast pot of
school funding." To be sure, it is not only with respect to evolution that
the board's actions have been controversial, but the recent decision about
the state science standards seems to have been the last straw.

Gaining the most attention recently is SB 2275, which would transfer
authority for curriculum standards and textbook adoption from the board to
the Texas Commissioner of Education; the bill received a hearing in the
Senate Education Committee on April 14, 2009. The Dallas Morning News
(April 15, 2009) reports that one of its sponsors, Senator Kel Seliger
(R-District 31), told the committee, "The debate [over the science
standards] went on with almost no discussion of children," adding, "The
fact is there is nothing that makes the board particularly qualified to
choose curriculum materials and textbooks." The Texas Freedom Network's
Kathy Miller was among the witnesses at the hearing testifying to "the
state board's unfair processes, divisive ideological history and outright
ineptitude." Texas Citizens for Science's president Steven Schafersman
(writing on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog on April 14, 2009) and
the Waco Tribune (in its April 17, 2009, editorial) have both expressed
their support for the bill.

Unless such a bill is enacted, it seems likely that the board will pressure
textbook publishers to dilute the treatment of evolution in the biology
textbooks submitted for adoption, probably in 2011. As Lauri Lebo
explained in a story on Religion Dispatches (April 14, 2009), "With almost
$30 million set aside in the budget, Texas is second only to California in
the bulk purchase of textbooks. But Texas, unlike California, approves and
purchases books for all the state's school districts. Publishers often edit
and revise textbooks in order meet the specific demands of the Texas board
members." NCSE Supporter Kenneth R. Miller, coauthor (with Joe Levine) of
several widely used textbooks published by Prentice-Hall, told the Wall
Street Journal that "We will do whatever we think is appropriate to meet
the spirit and the letter of Texas standards," but firmly added, "We will
never put anything in our books that will compromise our scientific values."

Lebo discussed the possibility of litigation over the board's
decision: "Now the issue is whether there is enough prima facie evidence
to challenge the Constitutionality of the wording now, or wait for the
textbook review process in two years." It is not surprising that she
thought of the possibility, since she wrote a book, The Devil in Dover (The
New Press, 2008), about the Kitzmiller case, which she covered for a local
newspaper, the York Daily Record. That newspaper's report (April 6, 2009)
on the situation in Texas opened with a memorable quotation from one of the
eleven plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case, which established the
unconstitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" creationism in the
public schools: "Steve Stough was silent. He had just heard a passage
from Texas' new public school science standards, and was
processing. Then: 'Oh ----,' he said. 'That's intelligent design without
using the nomenclature. It really, truly is.'"

For the story in the Wall Street Journal, visit:

For the text of Texas's SB 2275, visit:

For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit:

For TFN's report on Kathy Miller's testimony, visit:

For Steven Schafersman's blog for the Houston Chronicle, visit:

For the Waco Tribune's editorial, visit:

For Lauri Lebo's story at Religion Dispatches, visit:

To buy Lebo's book at (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit:

For the story in the York Daily Record, visit:

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


"Just in time for the bicentennial observance of Charles Darwin's birth, a
new survey of Louisiana residents shows 40 percent of the respondents
believe evolution is not well-supported by evidence or generally accepted
within the scientific community," the Baton Rouge Advocate (April 14, 2009)
reports. The Louisiana Survey, sponsored by the Manship School of Mass
Communication's Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs at Louisiana State
University, asked, "Do you think the scientific theory of evolution is well
supported by evidence and widely accepted within the scientific community,
or that it is not well supported by evidence and many scientists have
serious doubts about it?" Of the respondents, only 38.8% preferred the
correct option, with 40.3% thinking that evolution is not well supported
and 20.9% listed as saying they don't know. The survey also asked, "When
teaching students about human origins, would you generally favor or oppose
teaching creationism along with evolution in public schools?"; 57.5% of the
respondents said that they favored teaching creationism, 31% said that they
opposed teaching creationism, and 11.4% were listed as saying they don't know.

The Advocate was editorially appalled, commenting, "The level of belief
that evolution is not supported by scientific evidence is startling.
Equally amazing is the percentage who believe evolution is not generally
accepted within the scientific community," and adding, "Such indifference
to basic principles of science doesn't position Louisiana very well to
embrace the knowledge-based economy it needs to advance its future." (As
Barbara Forrest recently observed in a post at the Louisiana Coalition for
Science's blog, the state is next-to-last in the nation with respect to
student educational success and economic prospects.) In a jab at Governor
Bobby Jindal, who signed the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act into
law in 2008, thus opening the door for creationism and scientifically
unwarranted critiques of evolution to be taught in public school science
classes in Louisiana, the Advocate also remarked, "How ironic that Jindal's
wife, Supriya, has launched a private foundation to promote math and
science education in Louisiana's classrooms. We encourage the governor to
promote science education by working to keep religion out of science
classes in public schools -- something he's been unwilling to do so far."

For the story in the Baton Rouge Advocate, visit:

For the Louisiana Survey (PDF), visit:

For Barbara Forrest's post at the Louisiana Coalition for Science's blog,

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


John Holdren, the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology,
told the ScienceInsider blog (April 8, 2009) that the recent adoption in
Texas of a flawed set of state science standards was "a step
backward." Asked "do you think that the Texas state school board's recent
decision to add a skeptical view of the study of evolution and the fossil
record weaken the state's science standards and weaken national efforts to
improve science education?" Holdren replied, "Well, I have not reviewed
that decision carefully. But my impression from reading about it is that
it was not a step forward but rather a step backward. Of course, all
science needs to be skeptical. It's hard to be against skepticism. But
when you get into the domain of promoting particular views about the basis
for skepticism of evolution, and those views are not really valid, then I
think we have a problem. I think we need to be giving our kids a modern
education in biology, and the underpinning of modern biology is
evolution. And countervailing views that are not really science, if they
are taught at all, should be taught in some other part of the
curriculum." He added, "I'm not aware of any leverage we have, at OSTP or
within the federal government, over the science curriculum in Texas, other
than exhortation. We can argue and we can beg and we can try to
educate. But we have no authority to act."

For the ScienceInsider blog post, visit:

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


With any luck, the next Evolution Education Update you receive will be from
its new home at 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.

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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