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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/02/13

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

The 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth is in the headlines far and
wide.  A new issue of Evolution:  Education and Outreach is now available,
and so is selected content from a new issue of Reports of the NCSE.  On the
legislative front, there's a new antievolution bill in Alabama, but the
Mississippi evolution disclaimer bill is already dead.  And although Darwin
Day is over, the celebrations aren't.


In recognition of Darwin's 200th birthday, February 12, 2009, the mass
media are again taking notice of Darwin's life, accomplishments, and
importance and influence.  Writing to Charles Lyell in 1860, Darwin was
wryly amused at the sort of newspaper coverage he was receiving in the wake
of the publication of the Origin of Species:  "I have received in a
Manchester Newspaper a rather ... good squib, showing that I have proved
'might is right', & therefore that Napoleon is right & every cheating
Tradesman is also right."  Fortunately, today's journalists generally
exhibit a higher degree of accuracy than their Victorian colleagues at the
Manchester Guardian!  Herewith a sampling of the recent coverage of the
Darwin bicentennial.

The January 31, 2009, issue of Science News contained a number of articles
about Darwin and evolution; a special web edition contains expanded
versions of articles from the print edition plus two additional
features.  Included are Tom Siegfried on "Darwin's Evolution," Rachel
Ehrenberg on "Evolution's Evolution," Tina Hesman Saey on "Molecular
Evolution," Sid Perkins on "Step-by-Step Evolution," Patrick Berry on
"Computing Evolution," and Susan Milius on "A Most Private
Evolution."  Also of interest are three stories about Darwin and evolution
aimed at kids:  Susan Milius on "When Darwin Got Sick of Feathers," Tina
Hesman Saey on "Hitting the Redo Button on Evolution," and Tom Siegfried on
"The Man Who Rocked Biology to its Core."

On February 1, 2009, National Public Radio launched a Darwin 200 series,
beginning by interviewing Keith Thomson, the author of The Young Charles
Darwin (Yale University Press, 2009), about the influences on the young
naturalist.  Science Friday's Ira Flatow interviewed Matthew Chapman, a
great-great-grandson of Darwin, about the ongoing battle over teaching
evolution in public schools and how Darwin's legacy continues to evolve on
February 6, 2009.  A story comparing the Darwin anniversary celebrations in
the United States with their counterparts in Britain was broadcast on
February 8, 2009.  A story about Evolution Weekend was broadcast on
February 11, 2009.  And there is apparently more to come, so stay tuned!

Observing that "nearly 150 years after Darwin published his groundbreaking
work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Americans are
still fighting over evolution. If anything, the controversy has recently
grown in both size and intensity," the Pew Research Center's Forum on
Religion & Public Life unveiled a useful collection of on-line resources on
February 4, 2009.  Included are discussions of the social and legal
dimensions of the evolution debate in the United States, a brief
explanation of Darwin and evolutionary theory, a listing of the positions
of various religious groups and their members on evolution, and a sampling
of controversies over the teaching of evolution across the country.

 From February 5 to February 9, 2009, the BBC's Radio 4 broadcast "Dear
Darwin," in which "[f]ive leading scientists address letters to Charles
Darwin, expressing their thoughts on his work and legacy."  Featured were
Craig Venter, telling Darwin "about his own experiences as a collector,
medic and geneticist"; Jonathan Miller, describing "the huge advances in
the understanding of genetics that have filled the holes in Darwin's
understanding of inheritance"; Jerry Coyne, telling Darwin about the
evidence amassed since the publication of the Origin that supports
evolution; Peter Bentley, explaining the emerging field of evolutionary
computing to Darwin; and Baruch Blumberg, telling Darwin "about his work
with the hepatitis B virus and his later work at NASA searching for life on
other planets."  All five letters are available via Radio 4's Darwin website.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Quirks and Quarks show, hosted by
Bob McDonald, devoted its program for February 7, 2009, to "a discussion of
the life and work of Charles Darwin, and to a discussion of his impact on
modern science, with three special guests," namely the science journalist
David Quammen, the author of The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (W. W. Norton, 2006);
the geneticist Steve Jones, the author of Darwin's Ghost (Random House,
2000); and the science journalist Olivia Judson, the author of Dr.
Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the
Evolutionary Biology of Sex (Holt, 2003).  The whole show is available in
MP3 format; segments are available in MP3 as well as Ogg formats.

"Charles Darwin would no doubt be surprised to learn that, 127 years after
his death, people around the world will be celebrating his 200th birthday
on Thursday," Dan Vergano writes in USA Today (February 9,
2009).  Describing Darwin Day as "part birthday bash, part thumb-in-the-eye
to creationists, part opportunity for publishers rolling out Darwin books
like sausages," he proceeds to ask, "who and what are evolution's fans
celebrating?"  After a summary of Darwin's life and accomplishments, the
story turns to the controversial reception of evolution in the United
States -- "Public debate over evolution has bounced from the statehouse to
the schoolhouse to the courthouse since the Scopes trial" -- before ending
with a reminder from NCSE Supporter Sean B. Carroll that "[t]oday we live
in a second golden age of evolution."

The February 10, 2009, issue of The New York Times contained a suite of
articles on Darwin and evolutionary biology:  Nicholas Wade's "Darwin,
Ahead of His Time, Is Still Influential" (arguing that "[i]t is a testament
to Darwin's extraordinary insight that it took almost a century for
biologists to understand the essential correctness of his views"), Carl
Safina's "Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live," Carol Kaesuk
Yoon's "Genes Offer New Clues in Old Debate on Species' Origins," Carl
Zimmer's "Crunching the Data for the Tree of Life," and Cornelia Dean's
"Seeing the Risks of Humanity's Hand in Species Evolution."  Additionally,
in "Darwin the Comedian.  Now That's Entertainment!" John Tierney discussed
Richard Milner's one-man musical, "Charles Darwin:  Live & In Concert."

US News & World Report, which recently featured NCSE's Glenn Branch's
February 2, 2009, op-ed (along with one from the ICR's Henry Morris III)
now features four more authors writing op-eds (February 10, 2009) on the
topic of teaching evolution.  Included are Americans United for Separation
of Church and State's Richard Katskee, arguing "Should we teach creationism
in public-school science classes? Of course we should -- if we want to
violate the Constitution, dumb down our students, and make our nation an
international laughingstock," and Michigan State University's Robert T.
Pennock, who, after reviewing the evolution of the creationist attempts to
undermine the teaching of evolution in the public schools, concludes,
"Creationism, in whatever guise it has taken to get into the schools, has
proven itself to be fundamentally deceptive."

Reporting from Downe, the Los Angeles Times (February 11, 2009) discusses
how, despite Darwin's isolation in Down House during the latter part of his
life, "200 years after his birth on Feb. 12, 1809, Darwin seems to be
everywhere in his native land," with "a yearlong series of 300 events that
make up one of the most extensive national commemorations of a single
person ever to be held in this country."  "It's difficult to overstate how
pervasive Darwin's work is," said Robert M. Bloomfield, coordinator of the
umbrella organization Darwin200 and head of special projects at London's
Natural History Museum.  In celebration of the Darwin anniversaries, the
story explains, Down House itself "has undergone a three-month,
$1.3-million makeover for the bicentennial and is to reopen to local
residents on Darwin's birthday, Thursday, and the general public Friday."

The Christian Science Monitor (February 12, 2009) took Darwin Day as the
occasion to summarize the ongoing fights over antievolution legislation
going under the misleading banner of "academic freedom," with the American
Institute for Biological Science's Robert Gropp explaining, "They've gotten
crafty about arguments they make. 'Academic freedom' sounds very
all-American, but the problem is it sets aside the way science is done, the
way we teach science."  Referring to the so-called Louisiana Science
Education Act, so far the only such bill actually enacted, NCSE's Joshua
Rosenau told the newspaper, "This is very, very, watered down from the
earlier generation of strategies, and it's harder to deal with that on [a]
legal level because it's not about the legislation" but rather about how
individual teachers choose to interpret the legislation.

A special twelve-page Darwin 200 section of the February 2009 issue of BBC
Focus, available in a special Flash format, features a welcome by Richard
Dawkins, a profile by Carl Zimmer of Michigan State University's Richard
Lenski (including a brief discussion of the amusing incident in which a
creationist demanded data from Lenski; see Zimmer's blog and The Panda's
Thumb blog for further details), a sidebar on industrial applications of
evolutionary theory, a spread on what Darwin didn't know (about
inheritance, the evolution of eyes, human evolution, and the origin of new
traits), a debate between Steve Jones and P. Z. Myers on whether human
evolution is at a halt, and Richard Dawkins interviewed on the topic of
"How to Win an Argument with a Creationist."

The February 2009 issue of Smithsonian contains Thomas Hayden's "What
Darwin Didn't Know" -- coincidentally the phrase used by National
Geographic for its February 2009 issue!  Despite advances in biology since
Darwin's day, Hayden writes, "even the most unanticipated discoveries in
the life sciences have supported or extended Darwin's central ideas -- all
life is related, species change over time in response to natural selection,
and new forms replace those that came before."  In the same issue is Adam
Gopnik's essay comparing Darwin and Lincoln, based on his new book Angels
and Ages (Knopf, 2009).  The Smithsonian's website also features a
collection of articles on Darwin and evolution appearing in previous issues
of the magazine.

And finally, a reminder about the January 2009 issue of Scientific
American, which took as its theme "The Evolution of Evolution:  How
Darwin's Theory Survives, Thrives and Reshapes the World."  Featured are
David J. Buller on "Evolution of the Mind," H. Allen Orr on "Testing
Natural Selection with Genetics," David M. Kingsley on "Diversity
Revealed:  From Atoms to Traits," Ed Regis on "The Science of Spore," Neil
H. Shubin on "The Evolutionary Origins of Hiccups and Hernias," Peter Ward
on "The Future of Man -- How Will Evolution Change Humans?" and David P.
Mindell on "Putting Evolution to Use in the Everyday World."  And NCSE is
represented, too, with Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott's discussion of
the newest mutations of the antievolutionist movement in "The Latest Face
of Creationism."

For Darwin's letter to Lyell, visit:

For the various Science News stories, visit:

For the various NPR stories (transcripts and/or audio), visit:

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit:

To buy The Young Charles Darwin from (and benefit NCSE in the
process), visit:

For the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life's collection
of resources, visit:

For the BBC Radio 4's Darwin website, visit:

For the Quirks and Quarks show on Darwin, visit:

To buy books by the interviewees from (and benefit NCSE in the
process), visit:

For USA Today's story, visit:

For the various stories in The New York Times, visit:

For information about Richard Milner's Darwin musical, visit:

For Branch's, Katskee's, and Pennock's op-eds in US News & World Report, visit:

For the story in the Los Angeles Times, visit:,0,2222602.story

For information about Darwin200, visit:

For information about Down House, visit:

For the Christian Science Monitor's article, visit:

For NCSE's coverage of previous events in Louisiana, visit:

For the Darwin 200 section of BBC Focus, visit:

For further details about the Lenski incident, visit:

For the February 2009 issue of National Geographic, visit:

For the articles from the February 2009 issue of Smithsonian, visit:

To buy Angels and Ages from (and benefit NCSE in the process),

For the previous articles about Darwin in Smithsonian, visit:

For the January 2009 issue of Scientific American, visit:

And for Branch and Scott's article in Scientific American, visit:


The latest issue of Evolution:  Education and Outreach -- the new journal
aspiring to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of
evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now available
on-line.  Throughout 2009, the journal will celebrate the life and work of
Charles Darwin.  Featured accordingly in the latest issue are articles on
Darwin: "Why Darwin," "Artificial Selection and Domestication: Modern
Lessons from Darwins Enduring Analogy," "Charles Darwin and Human
Evolution," "Experimenting with Transmutation:  Darwin, the Beagle, and
Evolution," "Darwin's 'Extreme' Imperfection," and "The 'Popular Press'
Responds to Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species and His Other
Works."  Studies of teaching and learning are presented as
well:  "Assessment of Biology Majors' Versus Nonmajors' Views on Evolution,
Creationism, and Intelligent Design," "Educational Malpractice:  The Impact
of Including Creationism in High School Biology Courses," "Teaching
Evolution in Primary Schools:  An Example in French Classrooms," and the
late Michael E. N. Majerus's "Industrial Melanism in the Peppered Moth,
Biston betularia:  An Excellent Teaching Example of Darwinian Evolution in
Action."  There are also reviews of Michael Shermer's Why Darwin Matters
and Rob DeSalle and Ian Tattersall's Human Origins.

Also included is the latest installment of NCSE's regular column for
Evolution:  Education and Outreach, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution
Education.  NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott and deputy director
Glenn Branch argue that in the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the
sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species, it is
especially important not to overemphasize Darwin while talking about
evolutionary biology in general.  In the abstract, they summarize,
"Evolutionary biology owes much to Charles Darwin, whose discussions of
common descent and natural selection provide the foundations of the
discipline.  But evolutionary biology has expanded well beyond its
foundations to encompass many theories and concepts unknown in the 19th
century.  The term 'Darwinism' is, therefore, ambiguous and
misleading.  Compounding the problem of 'Darwinism' is the hijacking of the
term by creationists to portray evolution as a dangerous ideology -- an
'ism' -- that has no place in the science classroom.  When scientists and
teachers use 'Darwinism' as synonymous with evolutionary biology, it
reinforces such a misleading portrayal and hinders efforts to present the
scientific standing of evolution accurately.  Accordingly, the term
'Darwinism' should be abandoned as a synonym for evolutionary biology."

For Evolution:  Education and Outreach, visit:

For Scott and Branch's article, visit:


Selected content from volume 28, number 3, of Reports of the National
Center for Science Education is now available on NCSE's website.  Featured
are Steven L. Salzberg's account of how a creationist article almost
slipped into a leading proteomics journal and Lawrence S. Lerner's latest
update on the state of state science standards.  And there are reviews,
too:  Daryl Domning discusses Creation and Evolution:  A Conference with
Pope Benedict XVI in Castel Gandolfo, Andrew J. Petto reviews David P.
Mindell's The Evolving World, and Roberta L. Millstein assesses Massimo
Pigliucci and Jonathan Kaplan's Making Sense of Evolution.

If you like what you see, why not subscribe to RNCSE today? The next issue
(volume 29, number 1) is a special issue to celebrate the Darwin
anniversaries, containing a discussion of Darwin's botanical work by Sara
B. Hoot.  Also featured is the first installment in a series of
creationism/evolution travelogues by Randy Moore.  A host of reviews, too,
including NCSE's Glenn Branch on Randy Moore and Mark Decker's More Than
Darwin, Rebecca Cann on Norman Johnson's Darwinian Detectives, and NCSE's
Peter Hess on Negotiating Darwin:  The Vatican Confronts Evolution,
1877-1902, by Mariano Artigas, Thomas F. Glick, and Rafael A.
Martinez.  Don't miss out -- subscribe now!

For selected content from RNCSE 28:3, visit:

For subscription information, visit:


House Bill 300, introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives on
February 3, 2009, by David Grimes (R-District 73) and referred to the House
Education Policy Committee, is the latest in a string of "academic freedom"
bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution.  Previous such bills
in Alabama -- HB 923 (which Grimes also sponsored) in 2008; HB 106 and SB
45 in 2006; HB 352, SB 240, and HB 716 in 2005; HB 391 and SB 336 in 2004
-- failed to win passage.  In 2004, a cosponsor of SB 336 told the
Montgomery Advertiser (February 18, 2004), "This bill will level the
playing field because it allows a teacher to bring forward the biblical
creation story of humankind."  The text of HB 300 as introduced is
reproduced in full on NCSE's website.

For Alabama's HB 300, visit:

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


Mississippi's House Bill 25, which would have mandated the state board of
education to require every textbook that discusses evolution to include a
disclaimer describing evolution as "a controversial theory," died in
committee on February 3, 2009, according to the state's legislative
website.  At present, the only state to require a textbook disclaimer about
evolution is Alabama, which is currently using a disclaimer adopted in
2005.  The proposed Mississippi disclaimer was evidently a hybrid of two
previous versions of the Alabama disclaimer: its first paragraph is modeled
on the first paragraph of the second version (adopted in 2001), while much
of the remainder is modeled on the first version (adopted in 1995).

Speaking to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (2009 Jan 24), the
bill's sponsor, Gary Chism (R-District 37), was candid about his
motivations, explaining, "Either you believe in the Genesis story, or you
believe that a fish walked on the ground," adding, "All these molecules
didn't come into existence by themselves."  But he was pessimistic about
the prospects of the bill, telling the conservative Christian on-line news
source OneNewsNow (2009 Jan 26), "I am confident that this bill is ... dead
on arrival ... I don't think the [committee] chairman will even take the
bill up."  Yet he also told OneNewsNow that "he would consider drafting
another bill next year supporting the teaching of the strengths and
weaknesses of evolutionary theory in public school classrooms."

For the status of Mississippi's HB 25, visit:

For the story in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, visit:

For the story in OneNewsNow, visit:

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


Darwin Day is past, but the Darwin celebrations are still ongoing!  And
since 2009 is the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial
of the publication of On the Origin of Species, it promises to be a
particularly exciting celebration.  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.  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 13-15, 2009, 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, over 1000 congregations in all fifty states (and fifteen
foreign countries) were scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events.

In a January 27, 2009, story at Religion Dispatches, Lauri Lebo -- the
author of The Devil in Dover (The New Press, 2008), the latest book about
the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial -- discusses the genesis of Evolution Weekend
and the Clergy Letter Project.  Michael Zimmerman told her that after
organizing a number of letters in Wisconsin to counteract a local attempt
to undermine the teaching of evolution, it struck him:  "All of a sudden,
here it was ... I realized, OK, I have this letter signed by 200 people in
one state.  I did the calculations, and figured I could come up with 10,000
signatures nationwide.  I thought if I could get the signatures, I could
put an end to this silliness."  He added, "It never crossed my mind how big
10,000 is."  (There are presently 11,837 signatories.)  Lebo continues,
"Despite its success, Zimmerman is under no delusion that the Clergy Letter
Project will end the attacks on evolutionary education by those of
fundamentalist faiths. ... Instead, hes trying to reach out to people of
more mainstream faiths, who are open-minded but scientifically illiterate."

Writing on the Beacon Broadside blog in February 2008, NCSE's deputy
director Glenn Branch asked, "Why make such a point of celebrating Darwin
Day, as opposed to, say, Einstein Day on March 14?"  He answered, "A
crucial reason, particularly in the United States, is to counteract the
public climate of ignorance of, skepticism about, and hostility toward
evolution," citing a number of current attempts to undermine the teaching
of evolution in the public schools.  The onslaught continues in 2009, with
struggles in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and elsewhere.  "So
thats a fine reason," as Branch recommended in 2008, "for you to devote a
day -- at the museum or in a pew, at a lecture hall or in a movie theater,
out in the park or indoors on a badminton court -- to learn about, discuss,
and celebrate Darwin and his contributions to science, and to demonstrate
your support of teaching evolution in the public schools."

For the Darwin Day Celebration website's registry of events, visit:

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit:

For Lebo's article at Religion Dispatches, visit:

For Branch's Darwin Day 2008 blog post, visit:


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Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site:

where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and
threats to it.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x310
fax: 510-601-7204

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