NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2017/03/31
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear friends of NCSE, Frontline reports on a climate-change-denial campaign targeting teachers. The instructional material challenge bills make headway in Florida. The deletion of climate change from Idaho's state science standards is finalized. And congratulations are in order both for two lucky teachers and for Richard C. Lewontin.
FRONTLINE ON CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL A climate-change-denial think tank's unsolicited mailing to science teachers was the topic of a story from Frontline (March 28, 2017). The Heartland Institute -- notorious for its billboard comparing climate change "believers" to the Unabomber -- sent a book entitled Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming and an accompanying DVD to 25,000 science teachers in March 2017, and its president told Frontline that a similar mailing will occur every two weeks until every public school science teacher in the nation is reached. "The campaign elicited immediate derision from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a nonprofit in Oakland, California that monitors climate change education in classrooms," Frontline reported. "It's not science, but it's dressed up to look like science," NCSE's executive director Ann Reid explained. "It's clearly intended to confuse teachers." Lori Baker, a sixth-grade science teacher in Indiana who received the mailing, wasn't confused. She found it dismaying, she told Frontline: "I read quite a bit of the book, actually, and it was extremely frustrating. It's an attempt to sound science literate, but there's very little actual data." She found the foreword's dismissal of the threat posed by climate change (as "laughable") to be shocking. But Eric Plutzer of Pennsylvania State University, who led the NCSE/Penn State survey on climate change education which found that one in three science teachers tell their students that the causes of recent climate change are under debate, told Frontline, "This could increase polarization within the science teaching profession, though probably not a great deal." Greg Ballog, a high school teacher in Washington who received the mailing, was especially aware of the potential for polarization among science teachers. One of his colleagues, he told Frontline, is a "borderline climate denier," causing tensions in their school's science department. "I'm not going to show this stuff to him," Ballog said. "It's pretty slick. I think he might use it." A similar mailing in 2013 from the Heartland Institute provoked NCSE to produce a brief rebuttal. For the Frontline story, visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/climate-change-skeptic-group-seeks-to-influence-200000-teachers/ For a story in The New York Times about the Heartland Institute's billboard, visit: https://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/04/a-new-tactic-for-climate-skeptics/ For "Mixed Messages," the report on the NCSE/Penn State survey (PDF), visit: https://ncse.com/files/MixedMessages.pdf And for NCSE's brief rebuttal to the Heartland Institute's mailing in 2013, visit: https://ncse.com/files/nipcc.pdf ANTISCIENCE BILLS PROGRESS IN FLORIDA The two bills aimed at empowering taxpayers to object to the use of specific instructional materials in the public schools -- whose supporters have evolution and climate change in their sights -- progressed in the Florida legislature. Senate Bill 1210 passed the Senate Education Committee on a 9-0 vote on March 27, 2017, while House Bill 989 passed the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee of the House Education Committee on a 14-0 vote on March 27, 2017. Both bills were amended in committee before they passed, eliminating two worrisome provisions (involving eligibility to file a complaint and consistency of instructional materials with the state science standards). But in a March 27, 2017, blog post, Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science emphasized that passage of the bills even as amended would threaten to inundate local school boards with scientifically unfounded attacks on climate change and evolution. To demonstrate his point, Haught cited affidavits submitted in support of the bills that complained, e.g., "I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact ... rather than a theory ... I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality." Eric Otto, a parent in Collier County, Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times (March 28, 2017), that these affidavits reveal "the intent of HB 989/SB 1210 -- to allow ideological, activist citizens to dictate public school curricula according to their political standards." A further provision remaining in the bills would ensure that the attacks would continue. Presently, a school board's decision on challenged instructional materials is final, not subject to further petition or review. Previous versions of the bills (HB 899 and SB 1018 in 2016) would have allowed the appeal of a negative result to a circuit court to seek damages and/or injunctive relief. The present bills allow no such appeal, but also rescind the finality of the school board's decision. Michelle Groenings, a parent in Collier County, Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times that as a result, "The process of approving instructional materials would be an insurmountable task, as materials will be challenged repeatedly, regardless of outcome." Florida Citizens for Science's Brandon Haught, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal (March 29, 2010), summed the situation up by commenting, "These dangerous bills need to be disarmed before they cause catastrophic havoc in our schools." Both bills still await further committee votes. Senate Bill 1210 remains to be heard by the Senate Appropriation Committee, while House Bill 989 remains to be heard by the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee and the House Education Committee itself. For information about Florida's Senate Bill 1210 and House Bill 989, visit: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/1210 http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=58685&SessionId=83 For Brandon Haught's blog post for Florida Citizens for Science, visit: http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=2633 For the story from the Tampa Bay Times, visit: http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/concern-mounts-over-textbook-coding-bills-as-they-gain-steam-in-florida/2318178 For Brandon Haught's column in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, visit: http://www.news-journalonline.com/opinion/20170329/brandon-haught-bills-threaten-science-education And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Florida, visit: https://ncse.com/news/florida CLIMATE CHANGE DELETION FINALIZED IN IDAHO The Idaho House of Representatives voted 56-9 to adopt Senate Concurrent Resolution 121 on March 24, 2017, thus finalizing the legislature's decision to delete five standards -- those discussing climate change and human impact on the environment -- from a proposed new set of state science standards for Idaho. As NCSE previously reported, the House Education Committee originally voted in February 2017 to remove the five standards, on the grounds that they failed to present "both sides of the debate." Despite overwhelming testimony from the public in favor of retaining the standards, the Senate Education Committee followed suit later in the same month. The recommendations of the two education committees were incorporated in SCR 121, which approves and extends temporary rules of state agencies subject to the legislature's review. The Senate adopted SCR 121 on a voice vote on March 15, 2017, apparently with little discussion or controversy. On the House floor, however, there was what the Spokane Spokesman-Review (March 24, 2017) described as "lengthy" debate. Ilana Rubel (D-District 18) was quoted as saying of the deletion of the material, "This takes us into the dark ages of science denial, and is absolutely something we should not be doing." But Scott Syme (R-District 11), who led the House Education Committee's effort to remove the standards, was quoted as saying, "The overriding concern was we just wanted a little balance in it ... In fact, we didn't go as far as I really wanted to. And in retrospect, we probably should've exempted another five [standards]." More than one legislator quoted in the Spokesman-Review story emphasized that the legislature's decision was temporary. "That means a team of science teachers will be back on the job this summer, for the third consecutive year, working on wording" for a revised set of standards for the legislature's review in 2018, noted Idaho Ed News (March 23, 2017). For the stories in the Spokane Spokesman-Review and Idaho Ed News, visit: http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/boise/2017/mar/24/house-debates-climate-change-science-standards-adjourning-weekend/ https://www.idahoednews.org/news/2017-legislature-long-list-unresolved-k-12-issues/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Idaho, visit: https://ncse.com/news/idaho CONGRATULATIONS TO THE 2017 NCSE GRAND CANYON TEACHER SCHOLARSHIP WINNERS! NCSE is pleased to announce the winners of the third teacher scholarships on our regular raft trip through the Grand Canyon: Marie Story of Whittier Middle School, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Robyn Witty of Roncalli High School, Indianapolis, Indiana. Both teachers will receive an all-expenses-paid eight-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon, guided by a member of NCSE's staff and joining twenty other NCSE members and supporters who purchased seats on the trip. (Two seats are still available for the 2017 trip.) The funds for the teacher scholarships were donated by generous members and supporters of NCSE. "This trip will be the adventure of a lifetime for Story and Witty," explained NCSE's Steve Newton, a geologist and NCSE's guide on the raft trip. "They will get the chance to relax a little on the Colorado River after a hard year's work helping to ensure the scientific literacy of the rising generation. But," he added, "they shouldn't get too comfortable, because soon they'll be hard at work again. The Grand Canyon is the greatest geology teaching lab in the world, and Story and Witty will never have a better chance to learn about geological processes up close and personal -- laying their own hands on rock layers deposited before the first multicellular fossils, touching with their own fingers the traces of fossils left hundreds of millions of years ago, and seeing with their own eyes how plate tectonics, erosion, volcanoes built up and carved down the landscape." (For reflections from recipients of the teacher scholarships in previous years on what they learned from their Grand Canyon trips, see the posts on NCSE's blog from Brandon Haught, Crystal Davis, Scott Hatfield, and Alyson Miller.) Marie Story is a physical science teacher in Whittier Middle School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She previously taught elementary school and middle school science for ten years at the Pierre Indian Learning Center in Pierre, South Dakota, where, as she recounted in her application, she was struck by the diversity of student preconceptions about evolution -- while many of her students accepted a Christian version of creationism, "more believe[d] that ... their ancestors followed Iktomi, the trickster, out of [Wind Cave] in the dead of winter." She concluded, "I was there to teach science. When you bring creation stories into science, it is no longer a science lesson." As she told Steve Newton in a Q&A posted on NCSE's blog, she subsequently developed a technique of teaching evolution "backward" to circumvent student misconceptions about evolution. In her service on the committee to write a new set of state science standards for South Dakota, she was a strong advocate for the inclusion of a forthright treatment of evolution along the lines of the Next Generation Science Standards. The standards were adopted in 2015. Robyn Witty teaches biology and environmental science at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. She brings to her classroom her experience working in a scientific research laboratory: as she told Steve Newton in a Q&A posted on NCSE's blog, her experience "gives me a strong understanding of how critical inquiry labs are in the high school setting. ... Students are more likely to fall in love with science if their natural sense of curiosity. They also better understand science as a process, if they have to walk through the experimental design process themselves." In her application, she identified the biggest challenge to teaching evolution and climate change in her school as the general lack of scientific literacy: "The majority of my students' exposure to evolution and/or climate change comes from sensationalized news stories of controversy, political statements, and Facebook or YouTube." She explains that she addresses the challenge with both a detailed unit on the nature of science at the beginning of the school year and -- since she teaches at a Catholic high school -- a discussion of the Catholic church's acceptance of evolution and climate change. Dozens of teachers applied for the two seats, but Story and Witty stood out, not just for their excellence in the classroom, but also for their efforts to make their communities safer for science and science education. "We were gratified by the response to this scholarship, and can't wait to offer more scholarships in future years," commented NCSE's executive director Ann Reid. "There were so many teachers we wished we could have brought with us, and we're grateful to everyone who donated to the scholarship fund (to which donations are still welcome). When communities, scientists, and teachers come together, great things happen." For information about the Grand Canyon trip, visit: http://ncse.com/about/excursions/gcfaq For information about donating to the scholarship fund, visit: https://ncse.secure.force.com/GCscholarship For Steven Newton's Q&A with Story and Witty, visit: https://ncse.com/blog/2017/03/q-with-ncse-2017-grand-canyon-teacher-scholarship-winners-0018496 And for the blog posts from previous recipients, visit: https://ncse.com/blog/2016/07/how-i-spent-my-summer-0018299 https://ncse.com/blog/2016/09/grand-canyon-fear-water-0018380 https://ncse.com/blog/2015/10/what-teacher-learned-grand-canyon-0016684 https://ncse.com/blog/2015/08/reflections-2015-ncse-grand-canyon-rafting-trip-0016559 CONGRATULATIONS TO RICHARD C. LEWONTIN NCSE is pleased to congratulate Richard C. Lewontin, a member of NCSE's Advisory Council, on receiving the Genetics Society of America's Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal for lifetime achievement in the field of genetics for 2017. According to a March 23, 2017, press release from the GSA, "This award recognizes Lewontin's extensive impact on our understanding of evolution, a broad and deep influence that has shaped the field. An unprecedented 160 distinguished biologists co-signed a letter of support to nominate Lewontin for the Morgan Medal. ... While his many scientific contributions to evolutionary biology, including others not mentioned here, are themselves worthy of recognition, Lewontin has also made a large impact as a mentor to young scientists. His 46 students and postdocs went on to have successful careers, and a large proportion of the population geneticists working today can trace their academic legacy back to Lewontin's vibrant group." Lewontin is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Emeritus and a Professor of Biology Emeritus in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. For the press release from the Genetics Society of America, visit: http://genestogenomes.org/richard-lewontin-is-awarded-the-2017-morgan-medal/ WHAT'S NEW AT NCSE'S BLOG? Have you been visiting NCSE's blog recently? If not, then you've missed: * Robert Luhn interviewing Friend of the Planet award recipient Peter Sinclair: https://ncse.com/blog/2017/03/peter-sinclair-most-important-videographer-planet-0018502 For NCSE's blog, visit: http://ncse.com/blog 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. 1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600 Oakland CA 94612-2922 510-601-7203 fax 510-788-7971 email@example.com http://ncse.com Check out NCSE's blog: http://ncse.com/blog 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