NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2010/03/05
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, The New York Times reports on the increasing linkage of evolution denial and global warming denial, and NCSE announces a new award for the most noisome creationist of the year. Plus Don McLeroy loses at the Texas polls, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau and Steven Newton comment on a South Dakota bill that uses antievolutionist rhetoric in the service of global warming denial, and the latest from Israel's fracas over evolution.
EVOLUTION AND GLOBAL WARMING REDUX "Critics of the teaching of evolution in the nation's classrooms are gaining ground in some states by linking the issue to global warming, arguing that dissenting views on both scientific subjects should be taught in public schools," reported The New York Times (March 3, 2010). "Wherever there is a battle over evolution now," Lawrence M. Krauss told the Times, "there is a secondary battle to diminish other hot-button issues like Big Bang and, increasingly, climate change. It is all about casting doubt on the veracity of science -- to say it is just one view of the world, just another story, no better or more valid than fundamentalism." The article suggested that the linkage of evolution and global warming was in part due to legal considerations. NCSE's Joshua Rosenau told the Times that he began to notice the linkage after the 2005 decision in Selman v. Cobb County. At issue was a disclaimer about evolution affixed to textbooks; although the text of the disclaimer was not religious, it was held to be unconstitutional because it endorsed the creationist view that evolution is a problematic theory lacking an adequate foundation. "By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general." Reporting the scientific consensus, the Times explained, "For mainstream scientists, there is no credible challenge to evolutionary theory. They oppose the teaching of alternative views like intelligent design, the proposition that life is so complex that it must be the design of an intelligent being. And there is wide agreement among scientists that global warming is occurring and that human activities are probably driving it." Nevertheless, it seems clear that around the country, attempts to undermine the integrity of science education are increasingly likely to include global warming as well as evolution. For the story in The New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/04/science/earth/04climate.html ANNOUNCING THE FIRST ANNUAL UPCHUCKY AWARD Not content only to honor those who have valiantly defended the teaching of evolution in the public schools with its annual Friend of Darwin award, NCSE is introducing a new award: the UpChucky, bestowed on the most noisome creationist of the year. "It's a spoof award, of course," explained NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, "but even so there's a lot of competition out there, unfortunately." The nominees for 2009, as announced in a press release issued on March 3, 2010, were: Don McLeroy, the former chair of the Texas state board of education, for his longstanding efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in the Lone Star state; Ray Comfort of Living Waters Ministries, for his distribution of copies of the Origin disfigured with his own creationist introduction; Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, for his logorrheic zeal in reciting the "intelligent design" talking points du jour, and Al Jazeera, for its wildly misleading coverage of Ardipithecus ramidus. And the winner is ... Don McLeroy. "Perhaps the honor of receiving the first annual UpChucky award will compensate for his loss at the polls," joked NCSE's Scott, who noted that in the March 2, 2010, primary election, McLeroy narrowly lost his bid for his party's nomination for the District 9 seat, to which he was first elected in 1998. "I'd like to think that we won't have to give a future UpChucky to any of his colleagues, though." For the press release, visit: http://ncse.com/evolution/first-annual-upchucky-awards-announced MCLEROY BOOTED IN TEXAS In the March 2, 2010, primary election, avowed young-earth creationist Don McLeroy narrowly lost his bid to be the Republican candidate for the District 9 seat on the Texas state board of education. As the Dallas Morning News (March 3, 2010) reported, "The fiercely contested race pitted McLeroy, a dentist from College Station and member of the board’s social conservative bloc, against [Thomas] Ratliff, a legislative consultant and son of former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff," who is viewed as likely to side with the moderates on the board. There is no Democratic candidate for the seat, so Ratliff is expected to be elected in November 2010. Originally elected to the board in 1998, McLeroy was persistently determined to undermine the treatment of evolution in Texas's public schools. During the debate over biology textbook adoption in 2003, he was one of the four members of the board who misused the state science standards to oppose adopting the eleven textbooks under consideration. His attacks on science education -- including his endorsement of a book that described parents who want their children to learn about evolution as "monsters" -- were in part responsible for the state senate's refusal to confirm him as chair of the board in May 2009, as NCSE previously reported. McLeroy's assault on evolution came to a head during a meeting of the board in March 2009 when he declaimed, in a now notorious moment, "Somebody's got to stand up to experts!" (Video is available on NCSE's YouTube channel.) Unfortunately, a majority of the board did so, voting to amend the Texas state science standards to add a requirement that students examine "all sides of scientific evidence" and 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 board's revisions to the standards were widely deplored, with the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology describing it as "a step backward" and the Austin American-Statesman (April 1, 2009) editorially complaining, "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." But McLeroy was unabashed. "Our science standards are light years ahead of any other state when it comes to challenging evolution," he told the Washington Monthly (January/February 2010), adding, "Evolution is hooey." For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/030210dnpoledboard.3a15ed5.html For the "a step backward" comment, visit: http://blogs.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2009/04/in-full-intervi.html For the Austin American-Statesman's editorial, visit: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/content/editorial/stories/04/01/0401sboe_edit.html For the article in the Washington Monthly, visit: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2010/1001.blake.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncse.com/news/texas FROM EVOLUTION TO GLOBAL WARMING? House Concurrent Resolution 1009, now under consideration in South Dakota's legislature, borrows language from antievolution legislation in encouraging teachers to present "a balanced and objective" presentation of global warming, and two NCSE staffers react -- Steven Newton at the Huffington Post (February 25, 2010) and Joshua Rosenau at the Center for American Progress's Science Progress blog (February 26, 2010). As the Rapid City Journal (February 24, 2010) reports, "The resolution, which does not have the force of law, asks schools that present the threats of global warming to balance the information with the skeptical view of climate change as well." Analyzing HCR 1009 as it was introduced, Newton commented on the resolution's "startling lack of knowledge about the particulars of climate science and how science works," observing that it refers to "a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics" -- "Do they think glaciers melt slower when Virgo is ascending?" Newton added, "Even more disturbing than these errors is the underlying premise of HCR 1009: the assumption that political bodies, rather than scientists, should have the final say over scientific issues. ... This political interference in science education is a problem that extends beyond merely getting the facts wrong. Students deserve better than to be pawns of science denialists." After discussing the history of creationist activism and its increasing affinity for global warming denial, Rosenau noted that HCR 1009 was revised by the Senate to remove most of the scientific errors -- including the reference to astrology, prompting the quip "[t]he stars were not aligned." He warned, however, that "the Senate strengthened the final line, insisting now that teachers offer a 'balanced and objective' presentation of global warming. However reasonable such advice may be in the abstract, the effect of the law will be chilling to teachers on the ground. Science is not and should not be resolved through the legislative process, and the details of what teachers present as science should not be dictated by legislators with no experience as scientists or teachers." For the Rapid City Journal's article, visit: http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/news/article_8b3164b8-219c-11df-bc91-001cc4c03286.html For Newton's and Rosenau's articles, visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-newton/denying-science-legislati_b_476975.html http://www.scienceprogress.org/2010/02/climate-change-scopes-trial/ For the House and Senate versions of HCR 1009, visit: http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2010/Bill.aspx?File=HCR1009P.htm http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2010/Bill.aspx?File=HCR1009S.htm UPDATE FROM ISRAEL The furor over Gavriel Avital's denial of evolution and global warming continues, with a host of eminent scientists calling for his dismissal and with the minister of education reportedly describing his remarks as "unacceptable." Avital, the chief scientist at the Israel ministry of education, was quoted in Haaretz (February 21, 2010) as saying, "If textbooks state explicitly that human beings' origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don't believe the evolutionary account is correct ... Part of my responsibility, in light of my position with the Education Ministry, is to examine textbooks and curricula." Subsequently, Haaretz (February 23, 2010) editorially called on the minister of education, Gideon Sa'ar, to sack Avital, describing him as "an obscurantist Orthodox zealot who casts doubt on the validity of scientific research and rejects both evolution and global warming." The reaction to Avital's remarks from the scientific community was indignant, with Yehoshua Kolodny, who recently won the Israel Prize -- the country's highest civilian honor -- for his contributions to the earth sciences, telling Haaretz (February 22, 2010), "Denying evolution is like denying science itself." A letter to Sa'ar signed by ten recipients of the Israel Prize, including Nobel laureates Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover, protested that Avital's remarks "undermine the standing and importance of science and take us centuries backward, even as the world celebrates the importance of Charles Darwin's discoveries and the great contributions he made to human knowledge and scientific development, and is striving to uproot benighted doctrines such as intelligent design," and commented, "We don't see any alternative other than to replace Dr. Gavriel Avital with an individual suited to fill the position, one who could do so faithfully and professionally," Haaretz (February 26, 2010) reported. Sa'ar is apparently taking the protests seriously, telling a session of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, that Avital's remarks "are not in line with Education Ministry policy, and are unacceptable to me." Haaretz (February 25, 2010) reported that a letter sent by one of Sa'ar aides to Eyal Morag, a blogger who publicized Avital's statements, explained, "The statements of the chief scientist of the Education Ministry reflect only his personal views and do not reflect the policy of the ministry, those heading it and the professionals in charge [of the said] subjects." A source in the ministry described the letter as in effect a vote of no confidence in Avital; and although Sa'ar told the Knesset that "a process of clarification with the chief scientist" was underway, a source in the ministry told Haaretz that Sa'ar would prefer for Avital to resign. Instructed by the ministry not to give any interviews, Avital reportedly told a religious website that he stands behind his statements, but would not make any comment to Haaretz. For Haaretz's initial story about the furor, visit: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151223.html For Haaretz's editorial, visit: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151714.html For Haaretz's subsequent coverage, visit: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151403.html http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1152492.html http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1152228.html Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- 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://ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/membership