NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/03/27
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Plenty of news in Texas, as the state board of education prepares to conduct its final vote on the state science standards. New Mexico's antievolution bill is dead. And NCSE Supporter Stephen G. Brush is to receive the 2009 Abraham Pais Prize for the History of Physics.
"STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES" NIXED IN TEXAS AGAIN The Texas state board of education again narrowly voted against a proposal to restore the controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language to the set of state science standards now under review. As the Dallas Morning News (March 26, 2009) reported, "Board members deadlocked 7-7 on a motion to restore a long-time curriculum rule that 'strengths and weaknesses' of all scientific theories -- notably Charles Darwin's theory of evolution -- be taught in science classes and covered in textbooks for those subjects. Voting for the requirement were the seven Republican board members aligned with social conservative groups. Against the proposal were three other Republicans and four Democrats." A final vote is expected on March 27, 2009, but the outcome is not likely to change . It remains to be seen whether the board will vote to rescind the flawed amendments undermining the teaching of evolution proposed at the board's January 2009 meeting. The debate is attracting national attention, with the Wall Street Journal (March 23, 2009) quoting NCSE's Steven Newton as saying, "This is the most specific assault I've seen against evolution and modern science," and the Washington Post (March 24, 2009) editorially urging, "The Texas State Board of Education must hold firm to its decision to strip the 'strengths and weaknesses' language from the state's science standard. Texans, like everyone else, are free to believe what they want, but in science class, they should teach science." Closer to home, the Dallas Morning News (March 25, 2009) editorially commented, "Doubting evolution shouldn't be Texas' legacy. More importantly, our students should not be subject to an erroneous line of teaching," and reminded its readers that because Texas is such a huge market for textbooks, "what happens in Texas doesn't stay here." Writing in the Guardian (March 26, 2009), Jerry Coyne echoed the sentiment: "What happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas. That state is a sizeable consumer of public school textbooks, and it's likely that if it waters down its science standards, textbook publishers all over the country will follow suit. This makes every American school hostage to the caprices of a few benighted Texas legislators." (House Bill 4224, introduced in the Texas House of Representatives on March 13, 2009, would, if enacted, require the Texas state board of education to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the Texas state science standards.) A professor of the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, Coyne is the author of Why Evolution is True (Viking, 2009), which NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott recently praised in Nature as "a good choice to give to the neighbour or teacher who wants to know more about evolutionary biology." NCSE's Joshua Rosenau and Eugenie C. Scott are in Austin for the meeting; both testified on March 25, 2009. Detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary on the proceedings is available on a number of blogs: Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman is blogging and posting photographs on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog, the Texas Freedom Network is blogging on its TFN Insider blog, and NCSE's Joshua Rosenau is blogging on his personal blog, Thoughts from Kansas (hosted by ScienceBlogs). For those wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth, minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting will be available on the Texas Education Agency's website. NCSE's previous reports on events in Texas are available on-line, and of course NCSE will continue to monitor the situation as well as to assist those defending the teaching of evolution in the Lone Star State. For the story in the Dallas Morning News, visit: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/032609dntexevolution.72be216f.html For the story in the Wall Street Journal, visit: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123777413372910705.html For the editorial in the Washington Post, visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/24/AR2009032403356.html For the editorial in the Dallas Morning News, visit: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-science_0326edi.State.Edition1.212982b.html For Jerry Coyne's op-ed in the Guardian, visit: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2009/mar/26/evolution-science-texas-school-board To purchase Why Evolution is True from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/0670020532/nationalcenter02/ For Eugenie C. Scott's review in Nature (subscription required), visit: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v458/n7234/full/458034a.html For the blog coverage of the hearings, visit: http://www.chron.com/commons/readerblogs/evosphere.html http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/ http://www.scienceblogs.com/tfk/ For the minutes and records from the TEA, visit: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/minutes_archived.html http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/audio_archived.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/texas TEXAS NEEDS TO GET IT RIGHT As the Texas state board of education prepares for its final vote on a new set of state science standards, no fewer than fifty-four scientific and educational societies are calling for the approval of the standards as originally submitted -- without misleading language about "strengths and weaknesses" and without the flawed amendments undermining the teaching of evolution proposed at the board's January 2009 meeting. In their statement, organized by the National Center for Science Education, the societies write, "Evolution is the foundation of modern biology, and is also crucial in fields as diverse as agriculture, computer science, engineering, geology, and medicine. We oppose any efforts to undermine the teaching of biological evolution and related topics in the earth and space sciences, whether by misrepresenting those subjects, or by inaccurately and misleadingly describing them as controversial and in need of special scrutiny." (The full statement is reproduced below.) Independently, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the Paleontological Society, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the Texas Association of Biology Teachers have issued their own statements, collected by Texas Citizens for Science, with advice for the Texas state board of education as it considers its final vote on the standards. And the AAAS's president Peter Agre (a Nobel laureate) and chief executive officer Alan I. Leshner contributed a commentary to the San Antonio Express-News (March 23, 2009), concluding, "Leveraging science and technology to create new jobs will require properly educating all potential innovators. It's time for the Texas State Board of Education to reject misleading amendments to science education standards, once and for all. As Texas science education standards go, so goes the nation. Texas needs to get it right." *** A Message to the Texas State Board of Education The undersigned scientific and educational societies call on the Texas State Board of Education to support accurate science education for all students by adopting the science standards (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or TEKS) as recommended to you by the scientists and educators on your writing committees. Evolution is the foundation of modern biology, and is also crucial in fields as diverse as agriculture, computer science, engineering, geology, and medicine. We oppose any efforts to undermine the teaching of biological evolution and related topics in the earth and space sciences, whether by misrepresenting those subjects, or by inaccurately and misleadingly describing them as controversial and in need of special scrutiny. At its January 2009 meeting, the Texas Board of Education rightly rejected attempts to add language to the TEKS about "strengths and weaknesses" -- used in past efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Texas. We urge the Board to stand firm in rejecting any such attempts to compromise the teaching of evolution. At its January 2009 meeting, the Board also adopted a series of amendments to the TEKS that misrepresent biological evolution and related topics in the earth and space sciences. We urge the Board to heed the advice of the scientific community and the experienced scientists and educators who drafted the TEKS: reject these and any other amendments which single out evolution for scrutiny beyond that applied to other scientific theories. By adopting the TEKS crafted by your expert writing committees, the Board will serve the best educational interests of students in Texas's public schools. American Anthropological Association American Association of Physical Anthropologists American Association of Physicists in Medicine American Association of Physics Teachers American Astronomical Society American Geological Institute American Institute for Biological Sciences American Institute of Physics American Physiological Society American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology American Society for Cell Biology American Society for Investigative Pathology American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics American Society of Human Genetics American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists American Society of Naturalists American Society of Plant Biologists American Society of Plant Taxonomists Association for Women Geoscientists Association of American Geographers Association of Anatomy, Cell Biology, and Neurobiology Chairs Association of College & University Biology Educators Association of Earth Science Editors Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists Biological Sciences Curriculum Study Biotechnology Institute Botanical Society of America Clay Minerals Society Council on Undergraduate Research Ecological Society of America Federation for American Societies for Experimental Biology Federation of American Scientists Human Biology Association Institute of Human Origins National Association of Biology Teachers National Association of Geoscience Teachers National Earth Science Teachers Association National Science Teachers Association Natural Science Collection Alliance Paleontological Society Scientists and Engineers for America Society for American Archaeology Society for Developmental Biology Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Society for Sedimentary Geology Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles Society for the Study of Evolution Society of Economic Geologists Society of Systematic Biologists Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Southwestern Association of Naturalists The Biophysical Society The Helminthological Society of Washington The Herpetologists' League For the statement (PDF), visit: http://ncseweb.org/webfm_send/797 For Texas Citizens for Science's collection of statements, visit: http://www.texscience.org/ For Agre and Leshner's op-ed in the San Antonio Express-News, visit: http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/Texas_case_threatens_education_and_competitiveness_nationally.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/texas ANTIEVOLUTION BILL DEAD IN NEW MEXICO New Mexico's Senate Bill 433 died in committee when the legislature adjourned sine die on March 21, 2009. The bill, if enacted, would have required schools to allow teachers to inform students "about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses pertaining to biological evolution or chemical evolution," protecting teachers who choose to do so from "reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination." SB 433 joins Iowa's House File 183 and Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320 as proposed "academic freedom" antievolution bills that failed in 2009; Alabama's House Bill 300 and Missouri's House Bill 656 are still active. The bill mentioned only "biological evolution or chemical evolution," but its sponsor, Kent Cravens (R-District 27), described it as having wider applicability, telling the Santa Fe New Mexican (March 3, 2009), that it "just asks that if there's a controversial scientific theory being presented, that a teacher can't be reprimanded or fired or downgraded or any way harmed if the teacher happens to mention that there are other theories of controversial scientific nature, to include biological evolution, human cloning, global warming, you name a dozen different things." In a post at The Panda's Thumb blog (March 21, 2009), Dave Thomas suggested that Cravens may have intended to revise his bill accordingly. Analyses of the bill performed by various state agencies were not enthusiastic. According to the Legislative Education Study Committee's summary analysis, the Public Education Department was worried that the bill would allow the teaching of creationism, thereby inviting litigation; the Higher Education Department observed that the New Mexico state science standards already require students to understand the evidential basis for evolution; and the Office of Education Accountability questioned the bill's premises "that the theory of evolution lacks scientific validity ... and that teachers and students need protection when addressing 'relevant scientific strengths or scientific weakness pertaining to biological evolution or chemical evolution.'" For New Mexico's SB 433 as introduced, visit: http://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/09%20Regular/bills/senate/SB0433.html For the article in the Santa Fe New Mexican, visit: http://www.santafenewmexican.com/Bill-protects--controversial-science--teaching For Dave Thomas's post at The Panda's Thumb, visit: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2009/03/another-discove.html For the LESC's analysis (PDF), visit: http://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/09%20Regular/LESCAnalysis/SB0433.pdf And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Mexico, visit: http://ncseweb.org/news/new-mexico BRUSH AWARDED THE 2009 PAIS PRIZE NCSE Supporter Stephen G. Brush was selected by the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics to receive the 2009 Abraham Pais Prize for the History of Physics "for his pioneering, in-depth studies in the history of nineteenth and twentieth-century physics," according to a story in the spring 2009 History of Physics Newsletter. Beginning his career as a physicist, Brush turned to the history of physics, publishing a number of historical monographs, including The Kind of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century (North-Holland, 1976), which won the History of Science Society's Pfizer Award. He also coauthored the popular textbook Physics, the Human Adventure: From Copernicus to Einstein and Beyond (Rutgers University Press, 2001) with Gerald Holton. On retiring from the University of Maryland in 2006, he was named Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of the History of Science. Among his writings relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy are "Creationism versus physical science" and two refutations of creationist misuse of the history of science -- "Kelvin was not a creationist" and "Popper and evolution" -- for NCSE's journals. He is also Steve #71 in NCSE's Project Steve (now with over 1075 Steves). For the story in the History of Physics Newsletter, visit: http://www.aps.org/units/fhp/newsletters/spring2009/pais.cfm For the cited articles by Brush, visit: http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200011/back-page.cfm http://ncseweb.org/cej/3/2/kelvin-was-not-creationist http://ncseweb.org/ncser/13/4/popper-evolution For information about Project Steve, visit: http://ncseweb.org/taking-action/project-steve REMINDER If you wish to unsubscribe to these evolution education updates, please send: unsubscribe ncse-news firstname.lastname@example.org in the body of an e-mail to email@example.com. If you wish to subscribe, please send: subscribe ncse-news firstname.lastname@example.org again in the body of an e-mail to email@example.com. Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it. Sincerely, 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 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncseweb.org Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools http://ncseweb.org/nioc Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism http://ncseweb.org/evc NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncseweb.org/membership