NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2012/02/24
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, The end of the road for C. F. v. Corbett. A second bill in Oklahoma attacks evolution and climate change. Documents reveal a conservative think tank's plans to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools -- and the source of the leak steps forward. The two antievolution bills in New Hampshire are editorially denounced, and the impetus behind the credit-for-creationism scheme in Alabama is divulged.
CORBETT CASE ENDS WITH A "VICTORY FOR TEACHERS" "The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal Tuesday from a former high school student who sued his history teacher, saying he disparaged Christianity in class in violation of the student's First Amendment rights," the Orange County Register (February 21, 2012) reported. The case in question is C. F. et al. v. Capistrano Unified School District et al., which began in 2007. The case originated when Corbett, a twenty-year veteran history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, California, was accused by a student, Chad Farnan, of "repeatedly promoting hostility toward Christians in class and advocating 'irreligion over religion' in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause," according to the Orange County Register (May 1, 2009). Farnan cited more than twenty offending statements of Corbett's in his complaint. In the district court's decision, however, only one of the statements was identified as constitutionally impermissible. In 2007, while describing to his class his involvement in the 1994 case Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District -- in which a teacher unsuccessfully contended that it was unconstitutional for the school district to require him to teach evolution -- Corbett characterized creationism as "superstitious nonsense." The district court wrote, "The Court cannot discern a legitimate secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context. The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause." But the district court also ruled that because there was no clear precedent establishing that Corbett's comment would have been unconstitutional, Corbett was entitled to qualified immunity, shielding him from liability. Both Farnan and Corbett then appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a decision issued on August 19, 2011, the Ninth Circuit overturned the district court's decision "to the extent it decided the constitutionality of any of Corbett's statements" while upholding its grant of qualified immunity to Corbett. Corbett told the Orange County Register (August 19, 2011) that it "was a victory for free thought and academic freedom." Farnan then appealed the Ninth Circuit's decision to the Supreme Court. With its decision not to hear the appeal, the case is now definitely over. Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law who represented Corbett in the appeal, told the Orange County Register that "Corbett's victory is a really important victory for teachers ... it could have opened the door for other teachers to be held liable." But the Register also quoted Douglas Laycock, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia School of Law, as identifying the case as "an example of a systemic problem in constitutional litigation": "They can't hold the teacher liable because the law was not clearly settled. Because they can't hold him liable, the law will never become clear on what teachers can say in class." For the 2/21/2012 story in the Orange County Register, visit: http://www.ocregister.com/news/corbett-341315-court-law.html For the 5/1/2009 and the 8/19/2011 stories in the Orange County Register, visit: http://www.ocregister.com/news/corbett-198567-religion-court.html For information about Peloza v. Capistrano, visit: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/peloza.html And for NCSE's collection of documents from C. F. v. Corbett, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/c-f-v-capistrano-usd A SECOND OKLAHOMA BILL ATTACKS EVOLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE A bill in Oklahoma that would, if enacted, encourage teachers to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of "controversial" topics such as "biological evolution" and "global warming" is back from the dead. Entitled the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act," House Bill 1551 was introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2011 by Sally Kern (R-District 84), a persistent sponsor of antievolution legislation in the Sooner State, and referred to the House Common Education Committee. It was rejected there on February 22, 2011, on a 7-9 vote. But, as The Oklahoman (February 23, 2011) reported, the vote was not final, since a sponsor "could ask the committee to bring it up again this session or next year." And indeed, on February 20, 2012, Gus Blackwell (R-District 61) resurrected the bill in the House Common Education Committee. The only significant difference is that where the original version specified, "The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects," the new version specifies, "the Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." On February 21, 2012, just a day after HB 1551 was resurrected, the House Common Education Committee voted 9-7 to accept it, hearing no testimony from the public. One amendment, providing, "Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to exempt students from learning, understanding, and being tested on curriculum as prescribed by state and local education standards," was accepted; while that language was not present in the original version of HB 1551, it was added by amendment by the House Common Education Committee in 2011 before the bill was rejected, suggesting that Blackwell was working from the original rather than the amended version of Kern's bill. The bill will now presumably proceed to the House of Representatives for a floor vote; it will have to be accepted by the House by March 15, 2012, in order to proceed to the Senate. In its current incarnation, HB 1551 differs only slightly from Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320 from 2009, which a member of the Senate Education Committee described to the Tulsa World (February 17, 2009) as one of the worst bills that he had ever seen. In its critique (PDF) of SB 320, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education argued, "Promoting the notion that there is some scientific controversy is just plain dishonest ... Evolution as a process is supported by an enormous and continually growing body of evidence. Evolutionary theory has advanced substantially since Darwin's time and, despite 150 years of direct research, no evidence in conflict with evolution has ever been found." With respect to the supposed "weaknesses" of evolution, OESE added, "they are phony fabrications, invented and promoted by people who don't like evolution." For information about Oklahoma's House Bill 1551, visit: http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=hb1551 For the stories from The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World, visit: http://newsok.com/oklahoma-house-panel-votes-down-science-bill/article/3543083 http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20090217_16_A11_OKLAHO853574 For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education's critique of Senate Bill 320 (PDF), visit: http://www.oklascience.org/SB320_handout.pdf And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit: http://ncse.com/news/oklahoma CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL PLANS DIVULGED "Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate change is becoming a part of the nation?s culture wars," reported The New York Times (February 15, 2012). The documents in question were obtained from the Heartland Institute, a non-profit organization best known for its attacks on climate science, and posted at DeSmogBlog (February 14, 2012), which "exists to clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science on climate change." The documents detailed a plan to invest at least $100,000 to produce and distribute curriculum material propounding climate change denial. "Many people lament the absence of educational material suitable for K-12 students on global warming that isn?t alarmist or overtly political. Heartland has tried to make material available to teachers, but has had only limited success." The proposed remedy was to produce "modules" on climate change with such claims as "whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial" and "whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy." "It is in fact not a scientific controversy," the Times explained with regard to the latter claim. "The vast majority of climate scientists [97-98%, according to Anderegg et al., "Expert credibility in climate change," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 2010)] say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain about the exact magnitude of that risk. Whether and how to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases has become a major political controversy in the United States, however." The Heartland Institute explicitly denied the authenticity of one of the documents, which included a startling description of the proposed curriculum as showing "that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain -- two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science." The author of the curriculum confirmed to the Associated Press (February 18, 2012) that the description of his curriculum throughout the documents was otherwise accurate, however, explaining that his goal for schools was "teaching both sides of the science, more science, not less." The article in the Times observed, "The National Center for Science Education, a group that has had notable success in fighting for accurate teaching of evolution in the public schools, has recently added climate change to its agenda in response to pleas from teachers who say they feel pressure to water down the science," and quoted Mark McCaffrey, who is spearheading NCSE's climate initiative, as saying that the Heartland documents show that climate change deniers ?continue to promote confusion, doubt and debate where there really is none.? The Los Angeles Times (February 20, 2012) offered its editorial opinion: "On one side of the 'controversy' are credentialed climatologists around the globe who publish in reputable, peer-reviewed scientific journals and agree that the planet is warming and that humans are to blame; on the other are fossil-fuel-industry-funded 'experts' who tend to have little background in climatology and who publish non-peer-reviewed papers in junk magazines disputing established truths. ... It's bad enough that we're gambling our children's futures by doing so little to fight this problem; let's not ask their teachers to lie to them about it too." For the article in The New York Times, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2012/02/www.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/science/earth/in-heartland-institute-leak-a-plan-to-discredit-climate-teaching.html For the post at DeSmogBlog, visit: http://www.desmogblog.com/heartland-insider-exposes-institute-s-budget-and-strategy For Anderegg et al. (2010), visit: http://www.pnas.org/content/107/27/12107.full For the Associated Press story (via Education Week), visit: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/02/16/499220usscithinktankleaks_ap.html For the editorial in the Los Angeles Times, visit: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/opinionla/la-ed-climate-20120220,0,3564279.story SOURCE OF HEARTLAND LEAK STEPS FORWARD The source of the documents revealing the strategy of the Heartland Institute's campaign to undermine the public's understanding of climate science -- including by producing and distributing K-12 curriculum materials propounding climate change denial -- revealed himself to be Dr. Peter Gleick, the hydroclimatologist who heads the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security. In a February 20, 2012, statement posted at the Huffington Post, Gleick explained that at the beginning of the year, he received a document "describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute's climate program strategy." Attempting to confirm the accuracy of the information, he continued, "I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name." Gleick expressed regret for his actions, writing, "My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts -- often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated -- to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected." As part of NCSE's expansion to defend the teaching of climate science, Gleick had agreed to join NCSE's board of directors. On the same day as he posted his statement, however, he apologized to NCSE for his behavior with regard to the Heartland Institute documents and offered to withdraw from the board, on which he was scheduled to begin serving as of February 25, 2012. His offer was accepted. "Gleick obtained and disseminated these documents without the knowledge of anyone here," NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "and we do not condone his doing so." But, she added, "they show that NCSE was right to broaden its scope to include the teaching of climate science. There really are coordinated attempts to undermine the teaching of climate science, and NCSE is needed to help to thwart them." For Gleick's statement at the Huffington Post, visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-h-gleick/-the-origin-of-the-heartl_b_1289669.html "ANTI-EVOLUTION BILLS SHOULD BE DEFEATED" The two antievolution bills in New Hampshire's House of Representatives were editorially denounced by the Concord Monitor (February 20, 2012), which wrote, "The House should spare the state further embarrassment and kill both bills." Both bills were dismissed by the House Education Committee on February 16, 2012, but nevertheless proceed to a floor vote in the House on February 22, 2012. According to a primer on legislative process posted on the state legislature's website, "It is rare for the full Senate or House to overturn a Committee's decision." With regard to House Bill 1148, which would have charged the state board of education to "[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism," the Monitor commented, "But we fear that [the bill's sponsor Jerry] Bergevin is not referring to Darwin with his use of the words 'the theorist' in his bill but to today's science teachers. If so, it is a McCarthy-esque proposition that's odious on multiple levels." With regard to House Bill 1457, which would have charged the state board of education to "[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis," the Monitor commented that its description of science, insofar as it was accurate, "is the opposite of efforts to espouse positions like the creationist theories of life's origin promoted by ... a representative from the Discovery Institute who came to New Hampshire from the state of Washington to testify in favor of the bills." For the editorial in the Concord Monitor, visit: http://www.concordmonitor.com/article/312621/anti-evolution-bills-should-be-defeated For the primer on legislative process, visit: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/misc/legprocess.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Hampshire, visit: http://ncse.com/news/new-hampshire BACKGROUND ON THE CREATIONISM-FOR-CREDIT SCHEME Alabama's House Bill 133 -- which would, if enacted, "authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students" -- was introduced at the behest of a former teacher who was "fired in 1980 for reading the Bible and teaching creationism at Spring Garden Elementary School when parents of the public school sixth-grade students objected and he refused to stop," the Birmingham News (February 17, 2012) reports. Now 84, Joseph Kennedy "still has a dream of teaching public school students about creationism," and he and his supporters are poised to offer a course on creationism if the bill passes. The sponsor of HB 133, Blaine Galliher (R-District 30), told the News that he introduced the bill -- which he described elsewhere as a "vehicle" for creationism -- at Kennedy's request. Describing his plans to the newspaper, Kennedy explained, "All the school board needs to do is set it up. They can give the students credit. We're going to major on creation science. Since creation involved science, then certainly we can study it. We want to give students good sound scientific reasons to support their faith in the seven-day creation and the young Earth," adding, "The textbook will be 'The Defender Study Bible,' with notes by Henry Morris, author of 'The Genesis Flood,' who started the creationist movement." Mary Sue McClurkin (R-District 43), who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, told the News that the bill would be debated in committee during the week of February 28, 2012, commenting, "It looks like it's a very viable way to offer some elective courses for kids that have many opportunities for electives." But Thomas Berg, a professor of law formerly at Samford University in Birmingham, expressed doubt about the bill's constitutionality, asking, "Is the religious teacher going to certify that the student passed? Would the school do any review of that? Would they monitor the class for quality to ensure it would warrant a public school credit? All those things would entangle the school." For the article in the Birmingham News, visit: http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2012/02/alabama_legislation_proposes_o.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Alabama, visit: http://ncse.com/news/alabama 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 and climate education and threats to them. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x305 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 email@example.com http://ncse.com Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.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/join