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NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/03/27

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(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

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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
branch@ncseweb.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!
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