NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/03/18
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, The antievolution legislation in Tennessee progresses. The eminent evolutionary biologist Walter M. Fitch is dead. The opposition to the antievolution legislation in Tennessee continues. The adjournment of the Kentucky legislature means that the antievolution bill there is no longer in play. And a reminder that there are still seats available on the next NCSE excursion to the Grand Canyon.
ANTIEVOLUTION BILL IN TENNESSEE PROGRESSES Tennessee's House Bill 368 was passed on a 9-4 vote, with no testimony or discussion, at the House General Subcommittee of Education meeting on March 16, 2011. A version of the "academic freedom" antievolution bill, HB 368 would, if enacted, require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." The only examples provided of "controversial" theories are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." Voting for the bill were Harry Brooks (R-District 19), Kevin Brooks (R-District 24), Joe Carr (R-District 48), John J. DeBerry Jr. (D-District 90), the bill's sponsor Bill Dunn (R-District 16), Joey Hensley (R-District 70), Ron Lollar (R-District 99), Debra Young Maggar (R-District 45), and Richard Montgomery (R-District 12); voting against it were Lois M. DeBerry (D-District 91), Craig Fitzhugh (D-District 82), Jimmy Naifeh (D-District 81), and Joe Pitts (D-District 67). The bill now proceeds to the full House Education Committee, which is scheduled to consider it at its meeting on March 22, 2011, beginning at noon; e-mail NCSE's Joshua Rosenau or Steven Newton if you're able to attend. For the text of House Bill 368 (PDF), visit: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/107/Bill/HB0368.pdf For the record of the vote, visit: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/BillVotesArchive.aspx?ChamberVoting=H&BillNumber=HB0368&ga=107 For the committee's schedule, visit: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/Calendar/CalendarOrders.aspx?CalendarID=366 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: http://ncse.com/news/tennessee WALTER FITCH DIES The distinguished evolutionary biologist Walter M. Fitch died on March 11, 2011, at the age of 81, according to The Panda's Thumb blog (March 13, 2011). Born in San Diego, California, on May 21, 1929, Fitch attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1953 and his Ph.D. in comparative biochemistry in 1958. After a series of postdoctoral appointments, he joined the School of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he was a professor from 1962 to 1986. He then returned to his native California, spending three years at the University of Southern California before becoming a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, in 1989. A pioneer in molecular evolution, Fitch was proudest of his work on phylogenetics, especially "Construction of phylogenetic trees" (coauthored with E. Margoliash), published in Science in 1967. He was the first president of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution and the founding editor-in-chief of its journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. His honors included election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. A long-time member of NCSE, Fitch was active in efforts to promote the teaching of evolution; he was a member of the working group that produced Evolution, Science, and Society: Evolutionary Biology and the National Research Agenda in 1998, and contributed "Evolution is Fact" to Evolutionary Science and Society: Educating a New Generation in 2005, for example. He was also concerned with creationism, giving a plenary address on "Creation Science: An Oxymoron" to the Southern California Academy of Sciences in 2002; developing a class on creation and evolution at the University of California, Irvine, for students not majoring in biology; and even engaging in public debates with creationists on occasion (see, for example, the report in the Daily Pilot for May 15, 2006). At the time of his death, he was finishing a book on the creationism/evolution controversy, which NCSE Supporter Richard E. Dickerson of the University of California, Los Angeles, describes as "the final word of a major player in the field"; Logic, Rhetoric, and Science: And Why Creationism Fails at All Three is expected to be published by the University of California Press in 2012. For the post at The Panda's Thumb blog, visit: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2011/03/walter-fitch-pa.html For Fitch's contribution to Evolutionary Science and Society (PDF, pp. 22-24), visit: http://www.bscs.org/pdf/evolutionarysciencecomplete.pdf For the story in the Daily Pilot, visit: http://articles.dailypilot.com/2006-05-15/features/dpt-religion15_1_intelligent-design-evolution-walter-fitch OPPOSITION TO ANTIEVOLUTION BILL CONTINUES IN TENNESSEE As a third subcommittee hearing on Tennessee's House Bill 368 approached, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, and the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee were expressing their opposition to the bill. Alan I. Leshner, the chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of its journal Science, explained to two of the members of the subcommittee, "There is virtually no scientific controversy among the overwhelming majority of researchers on the core facts of global warming and evolution. Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them." He concluded, "We encourage you to continue to support a rigorous scientific education curriculum in Tennessee schools by rejecting HB 368." Becky Ashe, the president of the TSTA, told the subcommittee that the bill was flawed in implying that evolution is scientifically controversial, explaining that the members of TSTA "recognize the scientific theory of evolution is accepted by mainstream scientists around the world as the cornerstone of biology and as the single, unifying explanation for the diversity of life." She also expressed concern that the bill would "allow non-scientific alternatives to evolution ... to be introduced into our public schools." She concluded by describing HB 368 as "unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional." And in a column in The Tennesseean (March 11, 2011), Hedy Weinberg of the ACLU of Tennessee reviewed the checkered career of attempts to undermine evolution education in the state culminating in HB 368. She forcefully argued, "this legislation is not aimed at developing students' critical thinking skills. Rather, it seeks to subvert scientific principle to religious ideology by granting legal cover to teachers who wish to dress up religious beliefs regarding the origin of life as pseudo-science," and warned of the bill's "serious consequences for the future well-being of our children, our economy and our state overall." Nevertheless, HB 368 was passed on a 9-4 vote, with no testimony or discussion, at the House General Subcommittee of Education meeting on March 16, 2011. The bill is expected to be considered by the full House Education Committee on March 22, 2011. For the letter from the AAAS (PDF), visit: http://www.aaas.org/spp/cstc/docs/11-03-02Tenn_evolution.pdf For the letter from the TSTA (PDF), visit: http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1564 For Weinberg's column in The Tennessean, visit: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110311/OPINION03/103110363/-1/MICRO020701/Proposed-bill-s-intention-push-religious-agenda And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: http://ncse.com/news/tennessee ANTIEVOLUTION BILL DIES IN KENTUCKY When the Kentucky legislature adjourned sine die on March 9, 2011, House Bill 169 died in committee. A special session of the legislature will convene starting on March 14, 2011, but only to consider two unrelated items, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader (March 10, 2011). HB 169, if enacted, would have allowed teachers to "use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." No particular scientific theories were cited in HB 169, but the similar HB 397 introduced by the same legislator -- Tim Moore (R-District 26) -- in the previous legislative session explicitly listed "the study of evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning" as examples of scientific theories for which supplementary instructional materials could be used. The exact phrase appears in the Louisiana Science Education Act, Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, on which HB 397 was apparently based. For the text of Kentucky's House Bill 169, visit: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/record/11RS/HB169.htm For the story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, visit: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/03/10/1663752/beshear-calls-special-session.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kentucky, visit: http://ncse.com/news/kentucky NCSE AND THE GRAND CANYON 2011 Explore the Grand Canyon with Scott, Newton, and Gish! Seats are still available for NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon -- as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From June 30 to July 8, 2011, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott, NCSE's Steven Newton, and paleontologist Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. 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 (maybe not entirely seriously) and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. To get a glimpse of the fun, watch the short videos filmed during the 2009 trip, posted on NCSE's YouTube site. The cost of the excursion is $2545; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot. Seats are limited: call, write, or e-mail now. For information about the trip, visit: http://ncse.com/about/excursions/gcfaq For NCSE's report on the story in The New York Times, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2005/10/seeing-creation-evolution-grand-canyon-00771 For NCSE's YouTube site, visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/NatCen4ScienceEd 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