NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2012/08/17
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, A new survey on Canadian public opinion on climate change. Plus potentially bad news for evolution education in both Missouri and Kentucky.
POLLING CLIMATE CHANGE IN CANADA A new survey addresses the views of Canadians on climate change. Conducted by Insightrix Research, Inc. for IPAC-CO2 Research Inc., which describes itself as "an environmental non-government organization (ENGO) created to provide ndependent risk and performance assessments of CO2 storage projects," the survey asked its respondents, "Where do you stand on the issue of climate change?" Of the respondents, 32% agreed that climate change is occurring due to human activity, 54% agreed that climate change is occurring partially due to human activity and partially due to natural climate variation, 9% agreed that climate change is occurring due to natural climate variation, and 2% agreed that climate change is not occurring at all; 4% of respondents were not sure. According to the report, the results were consistent with the results from a survey conducted in 2011. Regionally, residents of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba were least likely to agree that climate change is occurring due to human activity, while residents of Quebec, the Atlantic provinces, and British Columbia were most likely to agree. The report added, "Younger respondents are most likely to believe that climate change is occurring due to human activity and least likely to believe that it is occurring due to natural climate variation. Men are more likely than women to believe that climate change is occurring due to natural climate variation. No significant differences in beliefs by level of education are noted." The poll was conducted between May 29 and June 11, 2012. Reporting on the survey, the Canadian Press (August 15, 2012) explained, "Unlike traditional telephone polling, in which respondents are randomly selected, the Insightrix survey was conducted online among 1,550 respondents, all of whom were chosen from a larger pool of people who agreed to participate in ongoing research. They were compensated for participating. The survey set quotas by age, gender, region and education to match the general population. The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population." By way of comparison, a survey from Angus Reid Public Opinion, conducted in May and June 2012, asked respondents in Canada (as well as the United States and the United Kingdom), "Which of the following statements comes closest to your view of global warming (or climate change)?" "Global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities" was preferred by 58% of Canadians, "global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by natural changes" was preferred by 20% of Canadians, "global warming is a theory that has not yet been proven" was preferred by 14% of Canadians, and 8% of Canadians were not sure. The Angus Reid survey was also conducted on-line with the results weighted to ensure a representative sample. For the report of the Insightrix Research survey (PDF), visit: http://www.ipac-co2.com/uploads/File/Surveys/IPAC-CO2%20-%202012%20-%20National%20Survey.pdf For the Canadian Press's story (via the CBC), visit: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2012/08/15/calgary-climate-change-web-poll.html For the report of the Angus Reid Public Opinion survey (PDF), visit: http://www.angus-reid.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/2012.06.27_Climate.pdf And for NCSE's collection of polls and surveys on climate change, visit: http://ncse.com/polls/polls-climate-change A WORRY FROM MISSOURI Is a new amendment to the Missouri state constitution going to undermine the teaching of evolution in the state's public schools? On August 7, 2012, voters overwhelmingly approved a proposal to revise a portion of the state constitution that concerns freedom of religion. Among the revisions was the addition of a provision "that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs." And that provision, as NCSE's Joshua Rosenau told Science Insider (August 14, 2012), is worrisome from the point of view of science education: "Those words give students the legal right to skip assignments related to evolution if the subject matter conflicts with their beliefs, Rosenau says." Evolution was not mentioned in the proposal and was not apparently mentioned in the legislature's discussion of House Joint Resolution 2, the instrument that placed the proposal on the ballot. Opponents of the proposal warned, however, that the integrity of science education was at stake. Michael McKay of the Skeptical Society of St. Louis told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (July 30, 2012) that if the amendment passes, students could graduate from school without having taken an important science class, avoid learning about evolution," and The New York Times (August 6, 2012) editorially expressed a similar concern that the proposal "would allow students who believe in creationism, for example, to opt out of assignments on evolution." Susan German, president of the Science Teachers of Missouri, told Science Insider, "It could be an issue. There are teachers that work in very conservative districts and they already have students on a yearly basis that voice their concerns about having to learn some of these concepts," and recommended that her colleagues "wait and see what the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education advises them to do" before taking any action in light of the new amendment. It remains to be seen whether teachers will be expected to provide substitute assignments for students who object to assignments on evolution and whether schools and the state will be prohibited from testing such students from their understanding of the material covered in such assignments. "It's a recipe for disaster," commented NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott. "With the new amendment in place, Missouri's biology teachers are bound to receive a flurry of requests -- or demands -- for students to be excused from learning about evolution. And that's going to create trouble, since nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." Citing a 2008 article she and NCSE's Glenn Branch published in Evolution: Education and Outreach 1(2), she argued that if teachers are forced to accommodate such requests, the result would be disruptive for the classroom, burdensome for teachers, and problematic for administrators, as well as harmful to the scientific literacy of the students excused. For the proposal that was approved (PDF), visit: http://www.sos.mo.gov/elections/2012ballot/fulltext_1.pdf For the Science Insider story, visit: http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2012/08/missouri-right-to-pray-law-could.html For the St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, visit: http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/missouri-s-proposed-amendment-on-prayer-gets-mixed-reviews/article_8b188463-9973-532c-92d9-223235cad84a.html For the editorial in The New York Times, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/07/opinion/prayer-in-missouri.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Missouri, visit: http://ncse.com/news/missouri KENTUCKY LEGISLATORS ASSAILING EVOLUTION Legislators in the Kentucky state senate are concerned about the presence of evolution in the state science standards and associated end-of-course testing. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader (August 14, 2012), "Several GOP lawmakers questioned new proposed student standards and tests that delve deeply into biological evolution during a Monday meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education. In an exchange with officials from ACT, the company that prepares Kentucky's new state testing program, those lawmakers discussed whether evolution was a fact and whether the biblical account of creationism also should be taught in Kentucky classrooms." State senator David Givens (R-District 9) told the Herald-Leader, "I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution," while state representative Ben Waite (R-District 10) went so far as to dispute the inclusion of evolution. "The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science -- Darwin made it up," Waide was quoted as saying. "My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny." But Vincent Cassone, chair of the University of Kentucky's biology department, told the Herald-Leader, "The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research. ... There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein's theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised." David Helm, president of the Kentucky Science Teachers Association, declined to comment, but referred the newspaper to the National Science Teachers Association's statement on evolution, which "strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K-12 science education frameworks and curricula." In a subsequent editorial headlined "Keep religious beliefs out of science class if we want Ky. kids to compete," the Herald-Leader (August 16, 2012) observed, "It is unlikely that the pleas by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, and others that creationism or other unscientific, faith-based beliefs about the origins of the universe and its species should be taught along with evolution will gain enough traction to change Kentucky's standards," adding, "Parents will always be free to teach their children as they see fit in their homes. But religious beliefs cannot be substituted for, or equated with, scientific understanding in public schools. At least, not if we want our children to compete on a national level." Previous legislative activity aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution in Kentucky's public schools includes House Bill 169 in 2011 and House Bill 397 in 2010, both based on the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act; both bills died in committee. Kentucky is apparently unique in having a statute (Kentucky Revised Statutes 158.177) on the books that authorizes teachers to teach "the theory of creation as presented in the Bible" and to "read such passages in the Bible as are deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of creation." Yet the Louisville Courier-Journal (January 11, 2006) reported that in a November 2005 survey of the state's 176 school districts, none was teaching or discussing "intelligent design." For the Lexington Herald-Leader's article, visit: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/08/14/2298914/gop-lawmakers-question-standards.html For the NSTA's statement on evolution, visit: http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/evolution.aspx For the Lexington Herald-Leader's editorial, visit: http://www.kentucky.com/2012/08/16/2300725/keep-religious-beliefs-out-of.html For the Biblical creation statute (PDF), visit: http://www.lrc.ky.gov/KRS/158-00/177.PDF And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kentucky, visit: http://ncse.com/news/kentucky 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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