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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2010/09/24

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

Antievolutionism surfaces in a marine science textbook in Florida.
Meanwhile, Discover is dismissive of "intelligent design"; the winners
of the Stick Science cartoon contest are announced; the latest issue
of Evolution: Education and Outreach is published; and statements from
three museums are added to NCSE's Voices for Evolution.


A sidebar in a marine science textbook recommended for approval in
Florida is "packed with good ol' fashioned creationist language,"
Florida Citizens for Science charges. The text in question, Life on an
Ocean Planet (Current Publishing, 2011), was recently recommended for
state approval by the state's instructional materials adoption
committee on a 7-2 vote, according to the education blog of the St.
Petersburg Times (September 22, 2010). But as FCFS's president Joe
Wolf wrote to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith,
the sidebar on "Questions about the Origin and Development of Life" is
"simultaneously actively misinforming, at odds with state standards,
and ultimately irrelevant to marine science." Smith has the final say
in the textbook adoption process, and Wolf recommended that the
sidebar "should be removed entirely, as there is so little information
that is either correct or useful to make it worth retaining."

The sidebar makes a variety of historical and scientific errors. For
example, it claims that in the Origin of Species "Darwin proposed that
life arose from nonliving matter"; it equates microevolution with
genetic drift; and it contends that selective breeding demonstrates
genetic drift. Moreover, although the sidebar acknowledges that "the
vast majority of biologists (probably more than 95%)" accept
evolution, it also airs, without attempting to debunk, a variety of
creationist claims (which are attributed to unnamed "skeptics"). Among
these claims: that the fossil record "does not contain the many
transitional species one would expect," that "evolution doesn't
adequately explain how a complex structure ... could come to exist
through infrequent random mutations," that transitional features could
not be favored by natural selection, and that "the hypotheses that ...
chemicals can lead to abiogenesis are highly debatable."

The St. Petersburg Times's education blog cited a Florida Department
of Education spokesperson as stating that the committee's vote to
recommend Life on an Ocean Planet for approval included the provision
that the publisher remove two specific pages -- presumably the
problematic sidebar. But FCFS isn't so sure about what was
recommended, reporting, "Information we have about the committee vote
indicates that they voted to approve the textbook overall, and then a
second vote was called for to remove the sidebar. That second vote
failed but a compromise was reached to 'fix' the sidebar." FCFS added,
"Further muddying of the waters comes from there being two versions of
the textbook: an electronic one on CD and a print one. It's unclear
whether the votes pertain to both versions or just one since it looks
like the committee only reviewed the electronic one."

For the story on FCFS's blog, visit: 

For the story in the St. Petersburg Times's blog, visit: 

For the sidebar itself, visit: 


The October 2010 issue of Discover commemorates the magazine's
thirtieth anniversary by looking back at, among other things, the
scientific debacles of the past three decades -- including
"intelligent design" -- under the rubric "Who asked for that?"


Not satisfied with the biblical God who created the world in six days,
creationists developed a "science" that aims to explain the
supernatural force behind the whole shebang: intelligent design.
Because we cannot reverse-engineer things like the human eye, they
say, it follows that all must be designed by a higher being. (The
human knee presumably came together during a moment of distraction.)
This tactic had some success easing intelligent design/creationism
into American public-school science lessons. But in 2005 a jury
prohibited its teaching in the schools of Dover, Pennsylvania,
delivering a stinging rebuke.


(Discover errs in attributing the verdict in Kitzmiller v. Dover to "a
jury"; it was a bench trial, and the decision -- which was indeed a
stinging rebuke to the scientific pretensions of "intelligent design"
-- was due to Judge John E. Jones III.)

For the article in Discover, visit: 

For NCSE's materials about Kitzmiller v. Dover, 


The winners of the Stick Science cartoon contest, sponsored by Florida
Citizens for Science, were announced on September 19, 2010. "The basic
concept here," as FCFS's Brandon Haught explained in announcing the
contest, "is to draw a cartoon that educates the public about
misconceptions the average person has about science." And lack of
artistic ability was no barrier: "all entries must be drawn using
stick figures. This is about creative ideas, not artistic ability."

The third place winner was Anastasia Scott of Saint Augustine,
Florida; the second place winner was Aaron McGinniss of Little
Meadows, Pennsylvania; and the first place winner was Jimmy Grayson of
Stanford, California: congratulations to all three! Their winning
cartoons, along with those of seven runners-up, can be viewed on the
Florida Citizens for Science website.

The entries were judged by NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott;
Carl Zimmer, the author of The Tangled Bank and Microcosm: E. coli and
the New Science of Life; Jorge Cham, the writer and artist of the web
comic Piled Higher and Deeper; and Jay Hosler, associate professor of
biology at Juniata College and the author and illustrator of such
comics as The Sandwalk Adventures.

For the announcement of the winners, visit: 

For the winning cartoons and runners-up, visit: 


The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new
journal aspiring to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive
teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now
published. Devoted to human evolution and edited by William E. H.
Harcourt Smith, the issue (volume 3, number 3) features Tom Gundling
on "Human Origins Studies: A Historical Perspective"; Kieran P.
McNulty on "Apes and Tricksters: The Evolution of Diversification of
Humans' Closest Relatives"; Harcourt-Smith on "The First Hominins and
the Origins of Bipedalism"; David S. Strait on "The Evolutionary
History of the Australopiths"; Holly M. Dunsworth on "Origin of the
Genus Homo"; Katerina Harvati on "Neanderthals"; Jason A. Hodgson and
Todd R. Disotell on "Anthropological Genetics: Inferring the History
of Our Species Through the Analysis of DNA"; Ian Tattersall on "The
Rise of Modern Humans"; Monique Scott on "The Pleasures and Pitfalls
of Teaching Human Evolution in the Museum" -- and much more besides!

Also included is the latest installment of NCSE's regular column,
Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education. In "Fossils that Change
Everything We Know About Human Evolution (... Or Not)," NCSE's W. Eric
Meikle and Andrew J. Petto explain, "Dramatic headlines touting new
fossil discoveries often proclaim that our view of human evolution has
been revolutionized. While this is occasionally the case, it is more
often true that new fossils enrich our understanding of our own
ancestry or answer scientific questions that could not be resolved
with previous data. Even spectacular new discoveries, such as the now
famous 'hobbit' skeleton (Homo floresiensis), can usually be included
in the human family tree without any significant change in the
inferences about the phylogenetic relationships or taxonomic status of
the rest of its members. It is a testament to the power of
evolutionary theory and the careful comparative study of human and
other fossils that what we know about human evolution changes so
little, even when spectacular new discoveries are announced."

For information about the journal, visit: 

For Meikle and Petto's article (subscription required), visit: 


The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with
three statements from the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural
Science, the Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester, and
the Minnesota Science Museum.

In its statement, the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural
Science writes, "The Louisiana State University Museum of Natural
Science comprises a community of students, professors, and researchers
of natural history. As members of the worldwide scientific community,
we use the theory of evolution and other scientific principles to
study the natural world. Evolutionary theory has greatly enhanced
progress in the fields of medicine, anatomy, archaeology, biology,
biochemistry, geology, neuroscience and many other disciplines.
Without an understanding of evolutionary biology, our perception of
the natural world would be greatly diminished."

The Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester (in Britain)
states, "The theory of evolution states that the diversity of life has
developed over time," adding, "The theory of evolution is central to
the field of biology." With respect to the age of the earth and the
evolution of life, the museum's statement explains, "These facts are
accepted by the overwhelming majority of scientists and are
established beyond reasonable doubt as the simplest explanations of
the physical and biological evidence."

The Science Museum of Minnesota proclaims, "The theory of evolution is
grounded in well-substantiated, testable hypotheses that have stood
the tests of time and peer review. The word 'theory' as it is used
here, does not mean a mere speculation or a best guess. Rather, in
referring to a scientific theory, it is a set of firmly established
scientific principles supported by research. Evolutionary theory
serves as a foundation for natural history including the museum's core
competencies in paleontology, anthropology, and biology. To compromise
the explanations of evolution or to permit unscientific alternative
explanations into our galleries or our programs would misrepresent the
principles of science."

All three of these statements are now reproduced, by permission, on
NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of
NCSE's Voices for Evolution.

For the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science's statement, visit:$Content/evolution+statement?OpenDocument 

For the Manchester Museum's statement (PDF), visit:,150894,en.pdf 

For the Science Museum of Minnesota's statement, visit: 

And for information about Voices for Evolution, visit: 

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- -- 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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