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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

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.


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: 

For a story in The New York Times about the Heartland Institute's
billboard, visit: 

For "Mixed Messages," the report on the NCSE/Penn State survey (PDF), visit: 

And for NCSE's brief rebuttal to the Heartland Institute's mailing in
2013, visit: 


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

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: 

For Brandon Haught's blog post for Florida Citizens for Science, visit: 

For the story from the Tampa Bay Times, visit: 

For Brandon Haught's column in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, visit: 

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


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: 

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


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: 

For information about donating to the scholarship fund, visit: 

For Steven Newton's Q&A with Story and Witty, visit: 

And for the blog posts from previous recipients, visit: 


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

For the press release from the Genetics Society of America, visit: 


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: 

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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