NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2013/01/04
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, A mutation in the expected antievolution bill in the Montana legislature, and sad news of the death of Carl R. Woese.
MONTANA BILL MUTATES The bill in Montana that was intended to "[r]equire public schools to teach intelligent design along with evolution" instead now purports to "encourage critical thinking regarding controversial scientific theories." On November 5, 2012, Clayton Fiscus (R-District 46), a new member of the Montana House of Representatives, asked for a bill to be drafted to require the teaching of "intelligent design," which would presumably conflict with the decision in the 2005 case Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which requiring the public schools to teach "intelligent design" was held to be unconstitutional. The draft bill now produced in response to Fiscus's request contains a preamble, which invokes "academic freedom," the lack of scientific agreement, and "critical thinking" in support of the bill's provisions, and five sections, of which the first is the most substantive. Claiming that "some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on these subjects," the bill in its first section encourages state and local education administrators "to assist teachers in finding effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and forbids them to prohibit teachers from presenting "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." The remaining sections of the bill integrate it with existing state code and provide that it will take effect on passage and approval. Although the draft bill provides that it "may not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine," it is silent on whether "intelligent design" constitutes a religious doctrine. From the list of controversial topics -- "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, random mutation, natural selection, DNA, and fossil discoveries" -- it is clear that the teaching of evolution in Montana's public schools is still Fiscus's target. The legislature convenes on January 7, 2013. For the text of the bill (not yet assigned a number), visit: http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2013/lchtml/LC0599.htm And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Montana, visit: http://ncse.com/news/montana CARL R. WOESE DIES The distinguished microbiologist Carl R. Woese died on December 30, 2012, at the age of 84, according to the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois. Born on July 15, 1928, he earned his B.A. in mathematics and physics at Amherst College in 1950 and his Ph.D. in biophysics from Yale University in 1953. After a postdoctoral appointment at Yale and a stint at the General Electric Research Laboratory, he spent the rest of his career at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a professor of microbiology. In 1977, Woese and his colleagues published work "that overturned a universally held assumption about the basic structure of the tree of life. They reported that the microbes now known as Archaea were as distinct from bacteria as plants and animals are. Prior to this finding, scientists had grouped Archaea together with bacteria, and asserted that the tree of life had two main branches ? the bacteria (which they called prokarya), and everything else (the eukarya). The new discovery added Archaea as a third main branch of the evolutionary family tree." In recognition of his achievements, he received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius" award in 1984, the Leeuwenhoek Medal from the Dutch Royal Academy of Science in 1992, the National Medal of Science in 2000, and the Craaford Prize in Biosciences in 2003. As is common with trailblazing biologists, Woese's scientific work was steadily misrepresented by creationists as showing that evolution is a theory in crisis. In 2004, for example, after the Discovery Institute's Stephen C. Meyer told a Wired reporter that a paper of Woese's showed (in the reporter's words) that "the Darwinian emperor has no clothes," Woese responded by scoffing, "To say that my criticism of Darwinists says that evolutionists have no clothes ... is like saying that Einstein is criticizing Newton, therefore Newtonian physics is wrong." "Intelligent design," he added, "is not science. It makes no predictions and doesn't offer any explanation whatsoever, except for 'God did it.'" Woese also was concerned about creationism's effect on the integrity of science education. In a 1998 interview with Science Spectra, for example, he observed, "Biology is poorly taught in general at the high school level ... Scientifically, the matter is simple. The essence of biology is evolution, and biology should be taught from an evolutionary perspective. Yet, although evolution is covered to some extent in high school biology courses, it bears the scarlet letter and is taught in a guarded fashion, embalmed in caveats. The reason for this is obvious, as are the pressures on textbook publishers." Woese was a member of NCSE. For the Institute for Genomic Biology's obituary, visit: http://www.igb.illinois.edu/news/carl-r-woese-1928-%E2%80%93-2012 For the Wired article, visit: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/evolution.html For the Science Spectra article, visit: http://home.earthlink.net/~douglaspage/id30.html 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