NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2009/08/14
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Chris Comer is appealing the dismissal of her case against the Texas Education Agency. A new study conducted by NCSE's Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates reveals progress in the treatment of evolution in state science standards -- but there's still plenty of room for improvement. And NCSE's Glenn Branch reviews the updated edition of But Is It Science? for Skeptic.
CHRIS COMER APPEALS Chris Comer, whose lawsuit challenging the Texas Education Agency's policy of requiring neutrality about evolution and creationism was dismissed on March 31, 2009, is now appealing the decision. Formerly the director of science at the TEA, Comer was forced to resign in November 2007 after she forwarded a note announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest in Austin; according to a memorandum recommending her dismissal, "the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism." In June 2008, Comer filed suit in federal court in the Western District of Texas, arguing that the policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: "By professing 'neutrality,' the Agency credits creationism as a valid scientific theory." The judge ruled otherwise, however, writing, "As a matter of law, the Agency's neutrality policy, if it advances religion at all, only does so incidentally. Further, a reasonable observer of the neutrality policy would not believe the Agency endorses religion through the policy." In her appellate brief, submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Comer asked the court to "review the record de novo and reverse and vacate the district court's decision. Specifically, it should grant Comer's motion for summary judgment, and vacate the grant of summary judgment for defendants, as well as the dismissal of plaintiff's complaint. At a minimum, this Court should vacate the grant of summary judgment to defendants, plus the order dismissing the complaint, and remand for further proceedings." For Comer's appellate brief (PDF), visit: http://ncseweb.org/webfm_send/1170 For NCSE's collection of information about the case, visit: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/chris-comer-docs For NCSE's video about the case, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpCdQ2Tbf6s EVOLVING STANDARDS How is evolution faring in state science education standards? NCSE's Louise S. Mead and Anton Mates pored over the latest standards in all fifty states. In a new study forthcoming in the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach, they report, "The treatment of biological evolution in state science standards has improved dramatically over the last ten years." Forty states received satisfactory grades for the treatment of evolution in their state science standards in Mead and Mates's study, as opposed to only thirty-one in Lawrence S. Lerner's 2000 study Good Science, Bad Science, conducted for the Fordham Foundation. But the news is not all rosy. Five states -- Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia -- received the grade of F, and a further six states -- Alaska, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming -- receive the grade of D. Moreover, the "treatment of human evolution is abysmal," Mead and Mates lament, with only seven states (and the District of Columbia) providing a comprehensive treatment. Many states "do not reference the Big Bang as the current scientific theory for the origin of the universe," they add, and only 17 states provide a comprehensive treatment of the connections among biological, geological, and cosmological systems. Mead and Mates also consider a few states that furnish "excellent examples of the successes and failures of the standards-setting process." The grades for Florida and Kansas have vaulted from F to A, although not without controversy: "the Kansas standards have seesawed between abysmal and excellent no fewer than four times in the last decade." In Louisiana, however, the passage of the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act undermined the treatment of evolution in the standards, which now receive the grade of F. And in Texas, the state board of education's revisions in March 2009 served to undermine the treatment of evolution in the standards to the point where they, too, receive a failing grade. In a companion article introducing the study, NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "On the basis of Mead and Mates’s results, there is reason to be pleased by the progress over the last ten years in the inclusion of evolution in state science education standards. That the treatment of evolution is inadequate in almost one in five states still suggests that there is considerable room for improvement, but we should be optimistic that teachers, scientists, and others who care about science education will continue -- as science standards continue to be periodically revised -- to work for the appropriate inclusion of evolution in state science education standards." For Mead and Mates's article, visit: http://www.springerlink.com/content/9u0610162rn51432/fulltext.html For Lerner's study, visit: http://www.fordhamfoundation.org/detail/news.cfm?news_id=42 For Scott's article, visit: http://www.springerlink.com/content/e41527271423814p/fulltext.html PHILOSOPHERS, CREATIONISTS, AND SERIOUS BRAINIACS NCSE's deputy director Glenn Branch's review of the updated edition of But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy (Prometheus Books, 2009) appeared in eSkeptic for August 12, 2009. The review concluded: *** But Is It Science? is evidently intended as a sourcebook for university classes in philosophy, the history of science, science and religion, and so forth, and as such it succeeds admirably. But it is, or ought to be, appealing to the general public at large. The creationism/evolution controversy is a perennial feature of life in the United States, with attempts to remove, balance, or compromise the teaching of evolution recurring from the Scopes era to the present day. Even if public interest in intelligent design dwindles after Kitzmiller, as public interest in creation science dwindled after McLean and Edwards, the profound yet misguided discomfort with evolution that actuates such assaults on evolution is bound to remain. Also bound to remain are philosophical controversies over creationism, which -- as the Kitzmiller case illustrated so vividly -- have the potential to affect the quality of science education across the country and indeed around the world. Pennock and Ruse conclude their preface by writing, "We hope that you enjoy this collection and learn from it." I think that you will. And they add, "We hope sincerely that in twenty years it will not be necessary to bring out a third edition." I do, too. But if so, it will be due, despite Mencken's jab, in large part to the philosophers -- Pennock, Ruse, and Forrest, to be sure, but also Philip Kitcher, Sahotra Sarkar, Elliott Sober, and a host of their colleagues -- who have worked tirelessly to expose the philosophical flaws of creationism. *** The editors of the book, philosophers Michael Ruse and Robert T. Pennock, testified in McLean and Kitzmiller, respectively, and Ruse is additionally a Supporter of NCSE. Branch's review will be published in a forthcoming issue of Skeptic. For Branch's review, visit: http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-08-12#feature To buy the book from Amazon.com (and benefit NCSE in the process), visit: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/1591025826/nationalcenter02/ For information about Skeptic, visit: http://www.skeptic.com/ Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's website -- 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 Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism -- now in its second edition! http://ncseweb.org/evc Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools http://ncseweb.org/nioc NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncseweb.org/membership