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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2017/02/03

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear friends of NCSE,

Disappointing news for Texas state science standards. Darwin Day is
declared in Delaware. Concerns are mounting about the antiscience bill
passed by South Dakota's state senate. And a reminder about Darwin Day
and Evolution Weekend.


"The Texas State Board of Education on Wednesday [February 1, 2017]
voted preliminarily for science standards that would keep in language
that some say opens the door to creationism," the Texas Tribune
(February 1, 2017) reports.

At issue were four standards inserted into the Texas state science
standards by members of the state board of education, without input
from scientists and educators, during the last revision of the
standards in 2009.

The objectionable standards called for students to analyze "all sides
of scientific evidence" and to evaluate "sudden appearance, stasis" in
the fossil record, "the complexity of the cell," and "the DNA molecule
for self-replicating life."

The history as well as the pedagogical and scientific problems of
these standards is described in detail by Ryan Valentine of the Texas
Freedom Network, Ben Pierce of Southwestern University, and John Wise
of Southern Methodist University in a 2015 report.

A panel of educators and scientists charged with streamlining the
science standards for biology recommended the removal of the standards
on the grounds that they raised issues too difficult for teachers to
present and students to understand.

Karyn Ard, a teacher who served on the panel, told the board in
November 2016, "These changes were purely based on the fact that our
kids cannot master those [standards]," according to the Texas Tribune
(November 16, 2016).

The panel's recommendation was strongly upheld by teachers and
scientists -- "many of them University of Texas graduate students in
biology fields" -- testifying before the board on January 31, 2017,
according to the Austin American-Stateman (January 31, 2017).

At the board's February 1, 2017, meeting, however, the board voted 9-5
to restore language calling for students to "examine scientific
explanations of abrupt appearance and stasis in the fossil record,"
despite the panel's recommendation.

The board also voted to revise rather than remove the standard
requiring students to evaluate the "DNA molecule for self-replicating
life": the revision would require students to "evaluate scientific
explanations for the origin of DNA."

The board further voted to revise the panel's suggested "compare and
contrast prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, including their complexity"
by substituting, for the last three words, "and evaluate scientific
explanations for their complexity."

The panel's recommendation for the removal of a standard requiring
students to analyze "all sides of scientific evidence"-- the successor
to the notorious "strengths and weaknesses" standard of the previous
set of science standards -- was accepted.

In a February 1, 2017, statement, Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller
lamented, "Once again we see the board overruling and rewriting the
work of classroom professionals and other experts who know better than
anyone else how to teach our kids."

The board's vote was preliminary. The board is scheduled to hold a
second public hearing on the revised standards, during which criticism
of the problematic standards is expected to continue, followed by a
final vote, in April 2017.

For the Texas Tribune's story on the board's vote, visit: 

For the Texas Freedom Network's report on the problematic standards
(PDF), visit: 

For the Texas Tribune's story on the panel's report to the board, visit: 

For the Austin American-Stateman's report on the testimony before the
board, visit: 

For the Texas Freedom Network's statement on the vote, visit: 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: 


Delaware's governor and lieutenant governor, John Carney and Bethany
Hall-Long, declared February 12, 2017, Charles Darwin Day in the state
of Delaware, urging "all citizens to join us in celebrating his
tremendous contributions in the field of science."

The declaration describes evolution as "the foundation of modern
biology, an essential tool in understanding the development of life on
earth," and recommends Darwin's birthday as "a time to reflect [on]
and celebrate the importance of his scientific achievements."

For the declaration (PDF), visit: 


"Parents and educators worry that legislation advancing in the South
Dakota Legislature would open the floodgates for teachers to present
nearly any topic as science," according to the Sioux Falls
Argus-Leader (January 27, 2017), referring to South Dakota's Senate
Bill 55, which passed the Senate on January 25, 2017.

Deb Wolf, a high school science coach with the Sioux Falls School
District, told the newspaper, "let's say I believe in eugenics ... [SB
55] says that I couldn't be prohibited, I couldn't be stopped from
teaching that as long as I did it in an objective scientific manner,
and it doesn't specify what that means."

Ann Lewis, special projects director at the South Dakota Discovery
Center in Pierre, pointed to a different problem with the bill: the
phrase "strengths and weaknesses," she argued, is "just meant to
undermine whatever it is you're talking about." She expanded on her
point in a letter published in the Capital Journal (January 27, 2017).

Jarod Larson, superintendent of the Brandon Valley School District,
told the Argus-Leader that he was concerned about the bill's removing
districts' ability to oversee teachers. "It appears as though this
opens the door for whatever you want," Larson said. "Versus the
framework and the standards that are provided for our teachers."

Before SB 55 passed the Senate, the American Civil Liberties Union of
South Dakota issued a strong statement (January 23, 2017) opposing it,
saying in part, "the best way to instill critical thinking skills in
our students is by implementing and following the science curriculum,
which is already geared toward this very aim and has been written and
tested by qualified educational specialists."

Meanwhile, the bill attracted national attention, with The Hill
(January 27, 2017) taking note of it and similar bills in Indiana and
Oklahoma, and tracing the development of antiscience bills in South
Dakota from the 2014 measure that would have specifically allowed
teachers to present "intelligent design" to the present bill, SB 55.

And the American Institute of Biological Sciences, in a January 26,
2017, letter to leaders in the South Dakota House of Representatives,
slammed SB 55 as "bad for science, science education, and the future
economic health and well-being of South Dakota," predicting "needless
controversy, or even litigation" if the bill is enacted.

Similarly, the National Science Teachers Association alerted its local
members about SB 55, writing, "South Dakota students need the kind of
preparation that provides them with the tools and skills necessary to
succeed in college and careers. Opening the door to teach non-science
ideas in the science classroom will do them a disservice."

Subsequently, in a January 28, 2017 letter to each member of the South
Dakota House of Representatives, the National Association of Biology
Teachers urged rejection of SB 55, warning that the bill would
"contradict and diminish" the role of science and the accountability
of teachers in South Dakota's science classrooms.

And in a February 1, 2017, letter to leaders in the South Dakota House
of Representatives, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers
also urged rejection of SB 55, observing that the bill "threatens to
make South Dakota's students unprepared for college coursework and for
careers that depend upon solid understandings of science, mathematics,
and technology."

For information about South Dakota's Senate Bill 55 from the legislature, visit: 

For the story from the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, visit: 

For Ann Lewis's letter in the Capital Journal, visit: 

For the ACLU of South Dakota's statement, visit: 

For the article in The Hill, visit: 

For the letter from AIBS (PDF), the alert from NSTA, the NCAC blog
post, the letter from NABT (PDF), and the letter from NAGT (PDF),

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in South Dakota, visit: 


It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: just over a week
remains before Darwin Day 2017! 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
already under way in state legislatures. 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 10-12, 2017, 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, 321
congregations in forty-five states (and seven foreign countries) were
scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events.

For the Darwin Day registry, visit: 

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit: 


Have you been visiting NCSE's blog recently? If not, then you've missed:

* Emily Schoerning reflecting on inclusivity in NCSE's Science Booster
Club program: 

For NCSE's blog, visit: 

Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- -- where you can always find the latest news on 
evolution and climate education and threats to them.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600
Oakland CA 94612-2922
fax 510-788-7971 

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