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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

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.


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: 

For NCSE's coverage of events in Texas, visit: 


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)

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: 

For NOVA's evolution resources, visit: 

For the interview with Scott, visit: 


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: 

For Haaretz's editorial, visit: 

For the story about Avital's appointment, visit: 

For the cited polls, visit: 

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- -- 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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