NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/02/04
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, A new antievolution bill in New Mexico. Additionally, a preview of David N. Reznick's The Origin Then and Now; a retreat by a creationist textbook publisher in Texas; and a reminder about Darwin Day and Evolution Weekend.
ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN NEW MEXICO House Bill 302, introduced in the New Mexico House of Representatives on February 1, 2011, and referred to the House Education Committee, is the fifth antievolution bill to be introduced in a state legislature in 2011. If enacted, the bill would require teachers to be allowed to inform students "about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses" pertaining to "controversial" scientific topics;The bill would protect teachers from "reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so." The sole sponsor of HB 302 is Thomas A. Anderson (R-District 29). Describing the bill as "a train wreck waiting to happen," Dave Thomas, the president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, a group that promotes science and science education in the state, told NCSE, "The proposed legislation is not needed by New Mexico's students or teachers. New Mexico's existing standards already protect students from religious indoctrination or harassment by their teachers. Furthermore, the bill is unconstitutional as written, and its passage and enactment will almost certainly result in expensive litigation." HB 302 is similar to Senate Bill 433 from the 2009 legislative session. The most salient difference is that where SB 433 was limited to "biological evolution" and "chemical evolution," HB 302 is ostensibly about "controversial" scientific topics in general -- of which the only examples offered are "biological origins, biological evolution, causes of climate change, [and] human cloning." The sponsor of SB 433, however, told the Santa Fe New Mexican (March 3, 2009) that he conceived of his bill as covering "biological evolution, human cloning, global warming, you name a dozen different things." A further difference is in the definition of the scientific information that teachers would be allowed to present to their students about "controversial" scientific topics. Both bills make a point of excluding information derived from religious "writings, beliefs or doctrines," but where SB 433 provided, "'scientific information' may have religious or philosophical implications," HB 302 provides, "'[s]cientific information' may include information that coincides or harmonizes with religious tenets" -- which would appear to be intended to cover "intelligent design" creationism. According to a summary analysis, various state agencies were not enthusiastic about SB 433, worrying that the bill would allow the teaching of creationism, inviting litigation; observing that the state science standards already require students to understand the evidential basis for evolution; and questioning the bill's premises "that the theory of evolution lacks scientific validity ... and that teachers and students need protection when addressing 'relevant scientific strengths or scientific weakness pertaining to biological evolution or chemical evolution.'" SB 433 died in committee in March 2009. For the text of New Mexico's HB 302, visit: http://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/11%20Regular/bills/house/HB0302.html For the NMSR website, visit: http://www.nmsr.org/ For the text of New Mexico's SB 433 from 2009, visit: http://www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/_session.aspx?Chamber=S&LegType=B&LegNo=433&year=09 For the story in the Santa Fe New Mexican, visit: http://www.santafenewmexican.com/Bill-protects--controversial-science--teaching For the summary analysis (PDF), visit: http://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/09%20Regular/LESCAnalysis/SB0433.pdf And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Mexico, visit: http://ncse.com/news/new-mexico A PREVIEW OF THE ORIGIN THEN AND NOW NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of David N. Reznick's The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species (Princeton University Press, 2010). In the excerpt, Reznick discusses speciation and the case of the mosquitoes of the London Underground, writing, "Public use of the London Underground began on January 10, 1863. That date, or perhaps some earlier date when the tunnels were being readied for traffic, marks the beginning of the path toward the formation of a new species of mosquito. We often wonder how long it takes to form a new species; Darwin speculated timescales on the order of tens of thousand to hundreds of thousands of generations. The mosquitoes of the London Underground show that if conditions are right, the process can be much faster." Reviewing The Origin Then and Now for BioScience, James T. Costa wrote, "Reznick succeeds in producing a highly engaging and informative 'interpretive guide' to the original On the Origin of Species with an approach that will prove quite useful in different ways to different groups of readers. Those who have read Darwin but perhaps lack knowledge of contemporary evolutionary biology will find the case studies, examples, and discussion of modern context highly instructive; modern biologists will gain much insight into the state of evolutionary thinking at its genesis, à la Darwin. ... I join Resnick in hoping that his interpretive guide will inspire readers to pick up the Origin and enjoy Darwin with a whole new level of comprehension and appreciation." For the preview of The Origin Then and Now (PDF), visit: http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/Excerpt--reznick.pdf For information about the book from its publisher, visit: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9005.html For Costa's review in BioScience, visit: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.1525/bio.2010.60.8.13 CREATIONIST PUBLISHER BACKS OFF IN TEXAS The Foundation for Thought and Ethics is not going to submit supplementary biology materials for approval by the Texas state of board of education after all, according to a January 31, 2011, post on the blog of the Texas Freedom Network. A list of vendors released by the Texas Education Agency on January 20, 2011, included FTE, which is perhaps best known as the publisher of Of Pandas and People, the "intelligent design" creationism textbook at the center of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case in 2005. But according to FTE, it told the TEA by e-mail on November 15, 2010, that it was not going to submit any materials; it reiterated its withdrawal by way of "a signed letter on publisher's stationary [sic]" dated January 25, 2011. Describing FTE's withdrawal as "very good news for supporters of sound science education and students in Texas public schools" and "a huge disappointment for evolution deniers on the Texas State Board of Education," the Texas Freedom Network nevertheless warned, "other dangers remain for science education in Texas. Anti-evolution groups and state board members are likely to pressure legitimate publishers and other vendors to water down instruction on evolution in the materials they submit for board approval." Materials submitted for approval will undergo for public review in March 2011, with a final vote from the state board of education expected in April 2011. Approved materials will be available for purchase by local school districts. For the TFN blog post, visit: http://tfninsider.org/2011/01/31/creationist-group-backs-out-in-texas/ For NCSE's collection of materials on Of Pandas and People, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/analysis/critique-pandas-people And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncse.com/news/texas DARWIN DAY APPROACHES It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: Darwin Day 2011 is approaching! Colleges and universities, schools, libraries, museums, churches, civic groups, and just plain folks across the country -- and the world -- are preparing to celebrate Darwin Day, on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education -- which is especially needed with assaults on evolution education currently ongoing in Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. NCSE encourages its members and friends to attend, participate in, and even organize Darwin Day events in their own communities. To find a local event, check the websites of local universities and museums and the registry of Darwin Day events maintained by the Darwin Day Celebration website. (And don't forget to register your own event with the Darwin Day Celebration website!) And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend! Hundreds of congregations all over the country and around the world are taking part in Evolution Weekend, February 11-13, 2011, by presenting sermons and discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science. Michael Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, "Evolution Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic -- to move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that religious people from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith. Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy." At last count, 575 congregations in all fifty states (and thirteen foreign countries) were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events. For the Darwin Day registry, visit: http://www.darwinday.org/events/ http://www.darwinday.org/events/register.php For information about Evolution Weekend, visit: http://www.evolutionweekend.org/ 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