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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2017/11/24

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(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear friends of NCSE,

Sad news of the death of paleoanthropologist Alan Walker. A new
antiscience bill in Florida. A documentary about current threats to
evolution education featuring Kenneth R. Miller. And a visit to
Darwin's Backyard.


The distinguished paleoanthropologist Alan Walker died on November 20,
2017, at the age of 79, according to a November 21, 2017, Facebook
post from his wife Pat Shipman. A specialist in primate and human
evolution, concentrating mainly on the Neogene record from East
Africa, Walker was a member of Richard Leakey's team responsible for
the discovery of Turkana (or Nariokotome) Boy in 1984 and the
discoverer of the so-called Black Skull of Paranthropus aethiopicus in
1985. His publications included two popular books coauthored with Pat
Shipman: The Wisdom of Bones: In Search of Human Origins (1996) and
The Ape in the Tree: An Intellectual and Natural History of Proconsul

As a leading paleoanthropologist, Walker is frequently quoted and
misquoted by creationists seeking to portray any evidence of
disagreement among paleoanthropologists as a confession of scientific
bankruptcy. He is often quoted from a 1984 article in the Washington
Post as saying, of Turkana Boy, "I'm not sure whether the average
pathologist would notice any differences from a modern human,"
although creationists often fail to note that he was excluding the
skull from his assessment and typically fail to discuss the later
scientific literature examining the anatomical differences between
Homo erectus and Homo sapiens. While Walker seems not to have bothered
to engage with such misrepresentations of his work in print, it is
clear that he did not have any time for creationism. In The Wisdom of
Bones, he and Shipman emphasized, "We are first and foremost mammals
and have to operate under the same biological, physiological, and
biochemical rules as any other mammal. There was no special creation
for humans, and there are no special exemptions from the constraints
of anatomy." He was also a member of NCSE.

Walker was born in Leicester, England, on August 23, 1938. He earned
his undergraduate degree in the natural sciences from Cambridge
University in 1962 and his Ph.D. in Anatomy and Palaeontology from the
University of London in 1967. During his career he taught in a variety
of institutions in Britain, Africa, and the United States, ending his
career at the Pennsylvania State University. His honors included a
"genius" grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,
the Charles R. Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award from the American
Association of Physical Anthropologists, and an honorary D.Sc. from
the University of Chicago. He was a member of the National Academy of

For Pat Shipman's obituary post, visit: 


Florida's Senate Bill 966, prefiled on November 17, 2017, would, if
enacted, require "c]ontroversial theories and concepts ... [to] be
taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner," while allowing
local school districts to use either the state science standards or
alternatives "equivalent to or more rigorous than" them.

Although there is no indication in the bill about which "theories and
concepts" are deemed to be "controversial," much less any guidance
about adjudicating disputes about which are and which are not, it is
suggestive that the bill's sole sponsor, Dennis Baxley (R-District
12), has a history of antievolution advocacy.

In 2005, while serving in the Florida House of Representatives, Baxley
introduced House Bill 837, concerning academic freedom in
postsecondary education, reportedly citing a "tirade" against
creationism he was subjected to as a student at Florida State
University as the impetus for the bill. The bill ultimately died.

Similarly, the Orlando Sentinel (November 20, 2017) reported, "Baxley,
then [in 2008, when new science standards were adopted in Florida]
executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, said at the
time he wanted scientists to 'leave the door open a little bit' for
the consideration of other evidence about how life on earth

Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science commented, "There are
plenty of other things in this new controversial theories bill about
other academic subjects that could potentially raise alarms for those
teachers and subject matter experts. But our focus is, of course, the
clear attack on science education, specifically evolution and climate

For the text of Florida's Senate Bill 966, visit: 

For the Orlando Sentinel's story, visit: 

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

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


Kenneth R. Miller, president of NCSE's board of directors and
professor of biology at Brown University, features in a ten-minute
documentary about current threats to evolution education, produced by
Retro Report and hosted at The New York Times. Also appearing is
activist Zack Kopplin, a recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award.

The documentary, as the Times (November 19, 2017) describes it, "shows
the enduring strength of the forces that embrace the biblical account
of Creation or reasonable facsimiles of it," following
antievolutionist efforts from the Scopes trial through "creation
science" and "intelligent design" to the so-called Louisiana Science
Education Act of 2008.

Miller expressed concern about Louisiana's law especially, observing,
"the First Amendment protects you against imposition of religious
ideas in the public schools -- it doesn't protect you against the
introduction of stupid ideas," and worrying that students are learning
that "the scientific method and the scientific community [are] not to
be trusted."

For the documentary, visit: 

And for The New York Times's description of the documentary, visit: 


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of James T. Costa's Darwin's
Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory (W. W. Norton,
2017). The preview consists of the preface, in which Costa explains
his goal to describe "how we can draw upon Darwin in exploring nature
and better understanding evolution and how science works" and chapter
2, "Barnacles to Barbs," which discusses Darwin's own research on
cirripedes and pigeons.

The reviewer for Science writes, "[Costa] has done something very
important with this new book: He has brought Darwin fully to life. ...
Costa has written an intimate and big-hearted book. In its pages,
readers will discover the real Darwin, a complicated man behind a
revolutionary theory." Costa is a professor of biology at Western
Carolina University and executive director of the Highlands Biological

For the preview (PDF), visit: 

And for information about the book from its publisher, visit: 


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

* Brad Hoge expressing NCSE's thankfulness for science teachers and
the work they do: 

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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