NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2010/02/26
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, NCSE honors three Friends of Darwin. Two members of NCSE's staff surface in the blogosphere. And a controversy in Israel erupts over the ministry of education's chief scientist's denial of evolution.
FRIENDS OF DARWIN AWARDS FOR THREE TEXANS NCSE is pleased to announce the winners of the Friends of Darwin award for 2010: David Hillis, Gerald Skoog, and Ronald Wetherington, all scientists in Texas who have fought for the integrity of science education in the Lone Star State. Hillis, Skoog, and Wetherington received their awards in San Diego, on February 12, 2010, during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Scientific American's Steve Mirsky emceed the ceremony. Hillis is Alfred W. Roark Centennial Professor in Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. "When we anticipated problems with the Texas board of education's adoption of high school biology textbooks in the early 2000s, we turned to David," commented NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott in a February 24, 2010, press release from NCSE about the awards. "He was brilliant in his response then, and in the most recent battles in Texas in the rewriting of the science education standards." Gerald Skoog is Director of the Center for Integration of Science Education & Research at, and Dean Emeritus of, the College of Education at Texas Tech University. "Skoog's lifelong scholarship in evolution education has had a huge impact for forty years," Scott explained. "He literally wrote the book on the coverage of evolution in textbooks. We all depend on Jerry for his scholarship. And he has served NCSE in very important ways -- when we've needed help, especially in Texas, he's always been there for us." And Ronald Wetherington is Professor of Anthropology at Southern Methodist University, where he also is Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence. Scott remarked, "Ron is second to none when it comes to the time, energy, skill, and enthusiasm he's brought to the battle over Texas science standards. His honesty and his ability to earn the trust of school board members has paid huge dividends in the struggle for good science education standards in Texas." He was also named a "Grasshoots Hero" in 2009 by the Texas Freedom Network. The three Texans join Carl Zimmer, Steven Schafersman, Lawrence Krauss, Kenneth R. Miller, John F. Haught, Philip Kitcher, Victor H. Hutchison, Philip Appleman, Fred Edwords, Barbara Forrest, and the eleven plaintiffs of Kitzmiller v. Dover, to name a few, as NCSE's Friends of Darwin. The Friend of Darwin award is presented annually to a select few whose efforts to support NCSE and advance its goal of defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools have been truly outstanding. For the press release, visit: http://ncse.com/evolution/darwin-stands-tall-texas For NCSE's coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncse.com/news/texas NCSE'S MEAD AND SCOTT IN THE BLOGOSPHERE Two members of NCSE's staff, education project director Louise S. Mead and executive director Eugenie C. Scott, recently surfaced in the blogosphere -- Mead with a guest post on the blog of the National Association of Biology Teachers, and Scott in a question-and-answer session on the La Ciencia y sus Demonios (Science and its Demons) blog. In her post (February 18, 2010), Mead gently chided the recent Becoming Human series for its implicit comparison of modern chimpanzees and humans, which "fuels the misconception that humans evolved from 'monkeys'." "Don't get me wrong," Mead explained, "I love NOVA." But "numerous times statements like '[m]illions of years ago, we were apes, living ape lives in Africa' are paired with video segments of modern day chimpanzees and gorillas, which unfortunately promotes the misconception that we evolved from modern day chimpanzees, or even monkeys, since I'm guessing many people do not readily distinguish between chimps and monkeys." Mead acknowledged, "By the end of the three part program, however, I was less stressed over the perpetuation of the chimp to human comparison, and more excited by some of the newer findings presented in the series," and she recommended the resources for teachers provided at NOVA's evolution website. In her interview (February 18, 2010), Scott discussed a wide variety of topics on evolution, creationism, and science education. Among the highlights was her answer to a question about the best way to counter creationism. "In the long run," she answered, "the best way to combat creationism or any other erroneous scientific idea is to have better trained teachers who understand science and who understand why evolution is critically important to biology, geology, and astronomy. In the US, we need to do a better job of recruiting the smartest and most enthusiastic students to go into education as a career, which will require making the education field more attractive, both in pay as well as in working conditions. Once good students are recruited, we need to do a better job of preparing them for the classroom. This will involve improving their understanding of science as a way of knowing (philosophy of science) and also their understanding of basic science and mathematics." For Mead's post, visit: http://www.nabt.org/blog/2010/02/18/digging-up-our-family-tree/ For NOVA's evolution resources, visit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/beta/evolution/ For the interview with Scott, visit: http://cnho.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/ CONTROVERSY OVER EVOLUTION IN ISRAEL The chief scientist in Israel's ministry of education, Gavriel Avital, "sparked a furor" by questioning the reliability of evolution and global warming, leading to calls for his dismissal, according to Haaretz (February 21, 2010). "If textbooks state explicitly that human beings' origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don't believe the evolutionary account is correct," he was quoted as saying. "There are those for whom evolution is a religion and are unwilling to hear about anything else. Part of my responsibility, in light of my position with the Education Ministry, is to examine textbooks and curricula." Hava Yablonka of Tel Aviv University told Haaretz that Avital's statements were tantamount "to saying that space should be given in textbooks to the view that the earth is flat and the sun revolves around it. It's astonishing that the chief scientist of a government ministry can say such bizarre things." Similarly, Lia Ettinger, a biologist at the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership in Tel Aviv, called for Avital's resignation, commenting, "It's clear that given the nature of science, there is never complete consensus, and that disputes bring us closer to the truth. But this has nothing to do with the things Avital said. If these are his positions, he cannot promote the kind of education necessary for the environment and sustainable ecology." A subsequent article in Haaretz (February 22, 2010) quoted Yehoshua Kolodny, a professor emeritus at Hebrew University who recently won the Israel Prize -- the country's highest civilian honor -- for his contributions to the earth sciences, as saying, "Denying evolution is like denying science itself." Kolodny added, "When a top scientist ignores these things, it's a cultural calamity ... There are no disagreements among scientists regarding evolution. Catholics and Protestants long ago ended their war against evolution, and Avital is for all intents and purposes joining the radical fringe of evangelicals in the United States." Jonathan Erez, a professor at Hebrew University's Earth Sciences Institute, told Haaretz, "it is clear that Avital is not fit for the job." In a February 23, 2010, editorial, Haaretz called on the minister of education, Gideon Sa'ar, to sack Avital, describing him as "an obscurantist Orthodox zealot who casts doubt on the validity of scientific research and rejects both evolution and global warming" and commenting, "His proposals that curricula undergo religious censorship to cast doubt on evolution are reminiscent of the notorious 'monkey trial' that saw a teacher in Tennessee put on trial in the 1920s for teaching evolution." The editorial concluded, "Sa'ar should immediately get rid of Avital, whose appointment has made a mockery of the minister's lofty promises, and replace him with a true scientist." Avital's academic background is in aerodynamic engineering -- when appointed as chief scientist in December 2009, he was the head of aeromechanics at Elbit Systems and a lecturer in aerodynamics at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology -- and his appointment was controversial since, as Haaretz (December 1, 2009) reported, it was "apparently the first time the ministry's chief scientist has not come from one of the universities' education schools." A former chief scientist at the ministry told the newspaper, "A chief scientist do[e]s not have to know everything about education, but he should at least have extensive knowledge of the field. This is one of the most important posts in the ministry." Unfortunately, Avital's views on evolution may be shared by a sizable segment of the Israeli public. A 2006 survey of public opinion in Israel by the Samuel Neaman Institute found that "a minority of only 28% accepts the scientific theory of the evolution [sic], while the majority (59%) believes that man was created by god," while according to the 2000 International Social Survey Programme, a total of 54% of Israeli respondents described "Human beings developed from earlier species of animals" as definitely or probably true, placing Israel ahead of the United States (46%, in last place) for its public acceptance of evolution, but behind twenty-three of the twenty-seven countries included in the report. For the Haaretz stories about the furor, visit: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151223.html http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151403.html For Haaretz's editorial, visit: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1151714.html For the story about Avital's appointment, visit: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=1131922 For the cited polls, visit: http://www.neaman.org.il/neaman/publications/publication_item.asp?fid=757&parent_fid=488&iid=3428 http://www.gesis.org/en/services/data/survey-data/issp/modules-study-overview/environment/2000/ Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- 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://ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/membership