McLean v. Arkansas Documentation Project

Testimony of Dr. William Vernon Mayer, Director, Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (Plaintiffs Witness) - transcript paragraph formatted version. 


MR. CEARLEY: I expect his direct may be an hour to an hour and a half.




called on behalf of the Plaintiffs herein, after having been first duly sworn or affirmed, was examined and testified as follows:



Q: Will you please state your full name for the record?

A: William Vernon Mayer.

Q: Briefly tell the Court what your educational background is?

A: I have a Ph.D. in biology from Stanford University in California. I have taught at Stanford, the University of Southern California, Wayne State University and University of Colorado.

At the University of Southern California, I became head of the biology department, acting head. I was head of the biology department at Wayne State University. I was associate dean of the college of liberal arts. I am currently, as I say, professor of biology at the University of Colorado.

Q: Do you also have training in the area of biology



Q: (Continuing) education or education in general?

A: Yes, sir. At the time I was obtaining my doctorate, I went for a fifth year at Stanford University, took all the required courses for a certificate in teaching science. This included all the standard educational courses such as history of education, philosophy of education, educational sociology, educational psychology, statistics, methodology and so forth.

Q: You have prepared at my request a curriculum vitae, have you not?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: And does that accurately reflect your education, training, experience and publications

A: Yes, sir.

MR. CEARLEY: Your Honor, that curriculum vitae has previously been furnished to the defendants and is marked as Plaintiffs' Exhibit 92 for identification. I move its admission.

THE COURT: It will be received.

MR. CEARLEY: (Continuing)

Q: Do you have any publications that are not included in your most recent curriculum?

A: Yes, sir. Last month I presented a paper at Nashville, Tennessee, to the National Science Teachers Association area meeting entitled "The Fallacious Nature



A: (Continuing) of Creation Science."

Q: Have you written other articles on that subject, Doctor Mayer?

A: Yes, sir. I've authored about a half dozen biology textbooks and about three hundred odd papers and publications both in the field of science and science education.

Q: What is your current occupation?

A: I'm Director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, abbreviated BSCS, in Boulder, Colorado.

Q: And in that regard, have you held several positions or with BSCS, have you held several positions?

A: Yes, sir. I started with the BSCS in 1960, where I came aboard as a writer on the topic of evolution. I became associate director of that organization and assumed the executive directorship in 1967, which I have held to this date.

Q: Do you act as consultant to any educational groups or institutions?

A: Yes, sir. I have consulted with school boards in Florida and North Dakota. I have been a consultant and am a consultant on the advisory board of Encyclopaedia Britannica films. I have consulted with various industries and state, local and federal government agencies.



Q: What are your responsibilities, Doctor Mayer, and activities as the director of BSCS?

A: Well, the executive director is responsible for everything. But basically, my job is to implement the mission of the organization and to insure that it is well managed.

It is to insure that we retain contact with both the educational and scientific communities, maintain frequent contact with schools, school boards, state boards of education and to have liaison with publishers, producers of educational materials.

Q: Have you consulted with educators or school districts or school institutions in this country and abroad?

A: Yes, sir. As I say, in California, Florida, South Dakota, a variety of places.

Q: Doctor Mayer, do you have any association with the National Association of Biology Teachers?

A: Yes, sir. I've been a member of that organization for a number of years. I was president-elect, president and past president. I'm an honorary member of that organization, and I'm chairman of the NAST committee for education in evolutionary biology.

Q: How would you describe your area of expertise?

A: Well, my doctorate was in the fields of systematics



A: (Continuing) and morphology, which are two fields basic to evolutionary biology. So my research work was done in an evolutionary field.

I've had a number of specialties, but most recently have concentrated on education, and particularly, evolutionary biology.

Q: Have you testified as an expert before in any court?

A: Yes, sir.

Q: In what regard?

A: I was a consultant and witness at the California Segraves trial earlier this year. I consulted with the Lemmon School Board and was part of a trial in Lemmon, South Dakota, concerning creationism.

Q: Was that the focus of your testimony?

A: The focus of the testimony was primarily what constituted adequate biological education and how a teacher would normally present the discipline of biology.

MR. CEARLEY: Your Honor, I offer Doctor Mayer as an expert witness in biology and biology education.

THE COURT: Okay. That will be accepted.

MR. CEARLEY: (Continuing)

Q: When did you first hear the term "creation science"?

A: The term "creation science" is relatively new. I believe I ran across it about 1965, There was a period where there was no strong anti-evolution sentiment nor any


A: (Continuing) organization exclusively devoted to this activity. And it been primarily in response to new text book subject matter, particularly the use of the word "evolution", that has allowed this group to reform and resurrect itself.

Q: Does your role with the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study bring you into contact with the creation science movement, if I can use that term, or with creation scientists?

A: Yes, it does. From its inception in 1960, BSCS knew that the inclusion of evolutionary material in textbooks would essentially be a red flag to a segment of the fundamentalist community.

However, as one of the board members stated at the time, `A hundred years without Darwin are enough', and we did have the temerity to reintroduce the term "evolution" and a discussion of evolution into text.

Q: What, if you can describe briefly, Doctor Mayer, is the purpose or what are the goals of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study?

A: Most simply stated, the goal is the improvement of biological education at all levels. When the BSCS began, we concentrated on the tenth grade level simply because that was the academic level at which most students in the United States contacted biology for the first time as a


A: (Continuing) discrete discipline. And it was felt that that is where our initial impact should have been. Since that time, we have prepared materials from kindergarten through college and into adult education. We've used every conceivable type of medium to get the message across, games, models, films, even television programs.

We have defined educational goals of the organization as serving a broad population of students from the educable mentally handicapped to what is now called the gifted and talented student.

And, lastly, we have recognized the transdiciplinary ramifications of the subject of biology so that materials now incorporate a much broader definition than biology formerly occupied.

Q: Does BSCS stress any particular areas of biology?

A: Well, it stresses, first of all, a basic concept of biology. The problem has been that if— Content gets very far behind, so that we wanted, first of all, to be at cutting edge, acquaint students with what was happening in the mid-twentieth century. And, secondly, there was no agreement on the best way to do this.

A: textbook, for example, is kind of a carrier current for information. And depending on the noise to signal ratio, you get a better or less good reception. So that we decided, as we could not agree on one single way to


A: (Continuing) write a textbook, we would write three. Now, three was completely arbitrary, based primarily on the availability of time and money. We could have written thirty, but we concentrated on three. We produced three basic books.

First, one that came to be known as the green version." These were color coded, simply not to clue anybody to their content , so that we could see if people actually had a real preference not prejudiced by a title. The green version was an ecological approach. It approached biology in terms of the organism and its environment.

The blue version was a molecular approach. It approached biology from the standpoint basically of biochemistry

The yellow version was what you might call a developmental and cellular approach, a more classic approach to biology.

The initial idea was that we would try these three out, and one would swim and the others would sink. We found, however, that these books are now in fourth and fifth editions, and there is a market for a wide variety of approaches to biology. And it seems reasonable to us that others would write additional texts based on different approaches to the subject and still find a market.


Q: Doctor Mayer, does BSCS produce text materials or textbooks and teaching materials in other areas of science?

A: We have produced materials in a variety of areas, particularly as science impacts in the social sciences. For example, land use is a module that applies scientific data to the management of land.

Energy is another module that takes the problems of our energy shortages, their biological relationships, and, indeed, their global relationships.

So we have a variety of works that extend beyond what you might call the traditional boundaries of biology.

Q: Will you tell the Court how BSCS came into existence?

A: About 1957-58, the National Academy of Sciences' national research council investigated the status of science education, particularly in American high school, and found it woefully wanting, and decided that this, in a technological age, was unacceptable.

About the same time, the first Russian sputnik went up, which gave cry to the fact that American science education was obviously falling behind because the Russians had beaten us.

At that time, the National Science Foundation made grants to a number of organizations with the specific injunction to research and prepare materials that would replace those currently in use in secondary school science


A: (Continuing) courses, primarily. And this was done. The initial grant was made to the American Institute of Biological Sciences in 1958. In the early Sixties, around 1962, this grant was transferred to the University of Colorado. And in the early Seventies, BSCS became a private nonprofit 50IC3 corporation to manage things that the university was not willing to have on campus.

Q: Initially, how did BSCS go about producing these three textbooks that you testified to?

A: Well, as science is what scientists do, the first thing we did was assemble a cadre of distinguished biological scientists from throughout the United States. There were roughly thirty-five of these.

We also felt that, despite the fact that scientists knew science, they didn't know education very well. So we figured one way of ameliorating that situation was to pair a scientist with a teacher. So we brought an equal number of teachers. In short, we had seventy people, scientist and teacher in pairs. The scientist to know the science; the teacher to tell that person whether the material produced was teachable or not. There's no point in producing materials that people can't understand that are above the grade level.

Prior to that time, there had been a number of meetings


A: (Continuing) to outline the course of work, what was to be done, what the content was to be. We had a curriculum content committee that outlined the three works. Teams met in Boulder, Colorado, in the summer of 1960 and produced a series of three paperback books that I've elucidated.

These books were then tried out with a hundred or so teachers and several thousand students in 1960-61, in the school year. And there were meetings around the country, people came together to decide whether this was working, did it reach the students, was it valuable.

And on the basis of extensive feedback from teachers and students, the materials were returned to the BSCS and rewritten by a much larger team. This time we had a hundred and fifteen teachers and educators, and much larger field tests with over a thousand teachers and a couple hundred thousand students who, again, tested the materials, which were found to be acceptable, new, exciting on both the part of the teacher and the student. And on the basis of that, we had originally decided to make simple models that other people could copy, but because we had gone so far and the interest now was so great in preserving the content of the initial three, contracts were let with private publishers to produce these books. And they came out with commercial editions


A: (Continuing) in 1963.

Q: And you've been marketing those textbooks or other derivatives from them ever since?

A: Yes, we have.

Q: Are you familiar, Doctor Mayer, with how other publishers develop their text materials for teaching science?

A: Yes, sir. Over the years I've worked with practically every major publisher of textbooks in the United States.

Q: Will you tell the Court how that is done?

A: It depends on the publisher. Publishing is a quite competitive industry, and in a way publishing is like the movie industry or like television. When something succeeds, other people produce duplicates, produce clones of this material. The BSCS material cloned very well, and we were very happy to have it do so.

And I was involved with a number of publishers. They normally pick an author team, decide on the framework of a course, prepare a manuscript, collect illustrations. The publisher looks at his input from the marketing standpoint, and a new work comes out.

This usually is a process taking two, three, sometimes four years, depending on the publisher.

On the other hand, there are a group of what we call


A: (Continuing) "managed textbooks." Regardless of whose name is on the book, the book is produced in-house within a publishing establishment. And the authors in that case are kind of a facade.

The publisher feels that his or her group of individuals knows the marketplace better than teachers, and, therefore, would be in a better position to produce a marketable, if not a really contributory text.

Q: How do the participants in these decisions determine the actual content of these textbooks?

A: Well, as I said, science is what scientists do. And you look at where science is at a given point. For example, the textbooks prior to 1960 were very strongly rooted in the fields of morphology and systematics. That is, they asked students to list orders of insects, name the parts of flowers, a tremendous burden of rote memory.

A: student was found, for example, to memorize more new words in a biology course then if he were enrolled in a foreign language, so that you were trying to teach the student science, but in essence, you were trying to teach it in a foreign language.

So we wanted to make sure that the level of vocabulary was down to the point where the student would get ideas and concepts and major principles because of the details of the things that one forgets.


Q: I take it, then, that part of your focus was to establish some kind of cohesive theme in your text materials?

A: Yes. We ended up developing what we called "themes." There were ten of these. They ran throughout the works. They were pervasive. They were threads throughout the texts holding the material together. You see, you need some kind of an organizer, otherwise it's just like going through a filing cabinet and looking at random cards that aren't even alphabetized. There needs to be some order to things.

And you try to order a textbook in the logical and reasonable way, So that we would have a theme such as the interaction of organism and environment, the interdependence of structure and function, genetics, homeostasis, which is kind of a physiological bounce, and of course, evolution. These were all major themes for our texts.

Q: Are there others that you've developed over the years?

A: Yes, sir. Themes, you mean?

Q: Yes, sir.

A: Yes, sir.

Q: How do you go about determining, in your experience, what the current state of the discipline is?


A: Well, you look, first of all, at the discipline. For example, were I writing a book today, I would advise somebody to write it around the field of genetics. This is where the cutting edge of biology is at this particular moment.

You read daily in your newspapers about genetic engineering, about people getting patents on new life forms, about all of the problems — I mentioned cloning a while ago. It got so popular there was even a cloning hoax, if you recall.

And I think the time is right for someone to come out with a textbook with a genetics theme because this, in essence, is where biology is going, where the research is becoming most rapid.

I think I would advise people now to look at the state of health. Health is a problem in this country. And I certainly would advise them to look very closely at the content of the discipline in terms of treating science as a process because recent studies have shown that America is a race of scientific illiterates. We have bits and pieces of disorganized information.

But as far as understanding the process of science goes, we do very badly.

Q: How do you select, Doctor Mayer, from among all of the various bits of information that are available to go


Q: (Continuing) into a textbook?

A: This is really the critical issue in education, the selection you make, because you do make a selection. There is an infinity of information, and you have a very finite time.

First of all, you have a finite time, and secondly, you have a finite book. If we attempted to cover everything, the child would have a cart on which he carried back and forth something like an Encyclopaedia Britannica, and we wouldn't be sure we'd covered it then.

So you do make a selection. You are going to have a four, five, maybe six hundred page textbook. You are limited by pages. You are going to have somewhere around, on a good year with everything going well, you are going to have roughly a hundred and fifty days of instruction, and that is an upper limit. You are far more likely to have a hundred and thirty, a hundred and twenty, a much lesser amount with various other school activities. So the first thing you have to recognize is that you are dealing with whatever it is as a finite container for information. Therefore, you ask yourself the question, `Out of all of the things that we could occupy the students' time with, which will be the more valuable?' And those are the things you try to tease out to give the student.


A: (Continuing) For example, we found that having students dissect earthworms and crayfish and learn long lists of names, really is a nonproductive activity. First of all, it's rather dull, and secondly, it has no application. So we would look at materials that were a little more meaningful, little more conceptually oriented, little less heavy on the vocabulary, and try to get them to think in terms of, let's say, heredity, or how the blood circulates through the body, what's the mechanism and why, or nutrition, or any one of these other topics which could be personally valuable to the student.

Q: How do people in your business, Doctor Mayer, take into consideration such things as grade level and ability and that kind of thing?

A: Well, we have to study a lot of school systems First of all, we know, anyone who has had children know, that people operate at different levels as they get older. So it's quite obvious you are not going to prepare materials for the first, second or third grades at the same level you are going to prepare them at the tenth, eleventh and twelfth.

If we really recognize that education is a cumulative process, and in theory, at each grade level, the student knows a little more than when he or she started, you are


A: (Continuing) able to carry them a little further each time.

To simply keep the student spiraling around a single content point for eight to twelve years is simply ridiculous, so that you try to raise the level of the student. You try to build on the vocabulary. You try to build on the ideas so that materials for the sixth or seventh grade aren't similar to the materials for the twelfth grade.

And also, there is a sequential way in which things are happening. Several of the witnesses pointed out that if the tenth grade students take biology, at the eleventh grade they normally take chemistry. And at the twelfth grade, they normally take physics.

Well, this means that if biology comes before chemistry and you want to have students do anything chemical, you've got to introduce some chemistry at that level so that they can get started. You don't try to teach them all of chemistry; just enough to understand the biological activities that are going to follow.

So not only are you writing for a reading level and maturity level, but you are also writing for what you might call a cumulation of knowledge over the years so that the student isn't bored by the redundancy of his classes.


Q: Do the terms "scope" and "sequence" in combination have any particular meaning to you?

A: Yes. To any teachers throughout the United States, most publishers provide something— Sometimes it's called a scope and sequence chart. It comes in a number of forms. But in simplest essence, it plots out a school year and shows the teacher, devote so many days to this, so many days to that, in this order. And if time is running short, perhaps omit this and skip on to something else. In other words, it's kind of a roadmap for teaching during the year. You calculate the number of teaching days you are going to have, look at your scope and sequence chart, and figure out what in that number of days that's on that chart can be taken in reasonable and logical progression and still give the students the best possible education within the classroom days allocated.

Q: I take it from what you said, Doctor Mayer, that BSCS texts in biology, anyway, generally follow some sort of organization that's tied together with major organizing themes, is that correct?

A: Yes, indeed. There is a pattern. You kind of plot out the course of study before you get down to writing the book so you know where things will be and, as I say, it is a cumulative kind of thing.

For example, in order to understand evolution, a student


A: (Continuing) must know something about genetics. It becomes meaningless unless you know something about genetics. So obviously the genetics chapters will be ahead of the evolution chapters when you seriously begin to talk about the mechanism of evolution.

Now, that doesn't mean that early in the book you haven't shown children various types of organisms and arranged them in some kind of a hierarchical fashion. Some people might regard that as evolutionary, but it requires no special genetic information to understand that.

Q: Do most other major publishers in the area of biology, that is, publishers of biology text books, use the same kind of organizational structure?

A: Yes. It's fairly standard throughout the industry, some kind of scope and sequence chart.

Q: what effect, Doctor Mayer, does the structure of the textbook in a course such as biology or in any science course have on defining the content of that course in a classroom situation?

A: It's a tremendously important effect. As a matter of fact, one of the witnesses today testified to the importance of the textbook as being a curriculum determinate.

This is kind of a chicken and egg proposition. If you have a curriculum that has been working well, you try to


A: (Continuing) find a text that matches that. If you think it's time for a change and you wish to go in a different direction, different emphases, you may look at a wide variety of textbooks, select the one that most is congruent with your own patterns and school desires and select that.

But ultimately, in those situations the textbook becomes the curriculum. What is in the textbook is what is taught. With relatively few exceptions, teachers tend to stay with the text, and what is more, stay with it chapter one, two, three, four, seriatim throughout the year, sometimes never getting to the latter chapters due to simply running out of time.

But the textbook is an extremely important curriculum determinate, even in those schools and districts where they may have curriculum guides. We heard the topic of curriculum guide brought up today.

And here you have a situation where a district or sometimes individual schools, sometimes an entire state, as the state of New York with its region syllabus, prepares an outline of content. But this is not divorced from existing materials. One doesn't develop a content outline for which are no materials.

And you would find that many of these curriculum guides are simply manufactured by getting a large number of


A: (Continuing) textbooks and going through the tables of contents and putting them together in one way or another to make a curriculum guide.

This isn't bad. It isn't dishonest. It just emphasizes the very tight interplay between text and teaching.

Q: Can I assume from your testimony, Doctor Mayer, that you are familiar with the biology textbooks that are in use in most of the public school in the United States?

A: I try to keep up with all books. I want to see, you might say, what the competition is doing, so I do that.

Q: Approximately what percentage of American public schools or textbook sales in the biology area go to BSCS?

A: This is very difficult information to come by because publishers are very jealous of their sales figures. But it's been conservatively estimated by outside sources that fifty percent of American school youngsters use BSCS materials directly, and a hundred percent use them indirectly because of the modeling that's taken off from the original BSCS book.

So one needs only to look at the books prior to 1960 and the books subsequent to 1960 to see the influence BSCS has had.

For example, prior to 1960, the most single popular selling text in America never used the word "evolution-" It wasn't in the index, it wasn't anywhere. And when we


A: (Continuing) came along and we introduced the word, so did they. The word is now in these books. So there has been some progress, some change.

Q: Is there a lot of overlap between textbooks published by different publishers in your business?

A: Yes. If you excuse the expression, there is no way to have a separate creation of biology each time a new book is written, so that actually what you find is about ninety percent of the content in textbooks is common. All textbooks, for example, cover the cell. All textbooks cover the process of mitosis. All textbooks provide animal surveys and so on, so that there are a lot of commonalty to texts.

And maybe about ten percent of the content is different, either through deliberate selection or through differential emphasis.

Q: Doctor Mayer, you identified evolution as one of the ten major themes, I think, that BSCS has incorporated in its books. Why did that come about?

A: Well, evolution is simply the only theory that makes biology comprehensible. Evolution to a biologist is what the atomic theory is to a chemist or physicist; it ties the discipline together. It makes it make sense. It's the way which facts can be organized, things can be arranged in hierarchies and biology understood. There's


A: (Continuing) simply no way you could have a student understand a given organism if there were no relationships between organisms.

In other words, if there weren't the possibility of transferring information learned, let's say, on a fish to information applicable to a reptile or to a mammal or even to humans themselves. We see this everywhere, the ubiquity of this concept.

Manning and Best could do their work on insulin on dogs because of the relationship of dogs to humans as in that group called mammals. There was a transferable bit of information because of similarities of structure and physiology.

Similarly, you would find hybridization of wheat, for example, operates on the basis of the fact that there are principles that are applicable to plant fertilization and plant development and plant genetics.

Q: Do you have—

THE COURT: Mr. Cearley, we're obviously not going to finish this evening, so why don't we go ahead and recess until 9:00 o'clock in the morning.

(Thereupon, Court was in
recess at 4:55 p.m.)

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