NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2010/09/24
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Antievolutionism surfaces in a marine science textbook in Florida. Meanwhile, Discover is dismissive of "intelligent design"; the winners of the Stick Science cartoon contest are announced; the latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach is published; and statements from three museums are added to NCSE's Voices for Evolution.
ANTIEVOLUTIONISM IN A MARINE SCIENCE TEXTBOOK A sidebar in a marine science textbook recommended for approval in Florida is "packed with good ol' fashioned creationist language," Florida Citizens for Science charges. The text in question, Life on an Ocean Planet (Current Publishing, 2011), was recently recommended for state approval by the state's instructional materials adoption committee on a 7-2 vote, according to the education blog of the St. Petersburg Times (September 22, 2010). But as FCFS's president Joe Wolf wrote to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith, the sidebar on "Questions about the Origin and Development of Life" is "simultaneously actively misinforming, at odds with state standards, and ultimately irrelevant to marine science." Smith has the final say in the textbook adoption process, and Wolf recommended that the sidebar "should be removed entirely, as there is so little information that is either correct or useful to make it worth retaining." The sidebar makes a variety of historical and scientific errors. For example, it claims that in the Origin of Species "Darwin proposed that life arose from nonliving matter"; it equates microevolution with genetic drift; and it contends that selective breeding demonstrates genetic drift. Moreover, although the sidebar acknowledges that "the vast majority of biologists (probably more than 95%)" accept evolution, it also airs, without attempting to debunk, a variety of creationist claims (which are attributed to unnamed "skeptics"). Among these claims: that the fossil record "does not contain the many transitional species one would expect," that "evolution doesn't adequately explain how a complex structure ... could come to exist through infrequent random mutations," that transitional features could not be favored by natural selection, and that "the hypotheses that ... chemicals can lead to abiogenesis are highly debatable." The St. Petersburg Times's education blog cited a Florida Department of Education spokesperson as stating that the committee's vote to recommend Life on an Ocean Planet for approval included the provision that the publisher remove two specific pages -- presumably the problematic sidebar. But FCFS isn't so sure about what was recommended, reporting, "Information we have about the committee vote indicates that they voted to approve the textbook overall, and then a second vote was called for to remove the sidebar. That second vote failed but a compromise was reached to 'fix' the sidebar." FCFS added, "Further muddying of the waters comes from there being two versions of the textbook: an electronic one on CD and a print one. It's unclear whether the votes pertain to both versions or just one since it looks like the committee only reviewed the electronic one." For the story on FCFS's blog, visit: http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=1227 For the story in the St. Petersburg Times's blog, visit: http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook/content/textbook-promotes-creationism-florida-science-group-says For the sidebar itself, visit: http://ncse.com/files/images/LOP_3-14-15.jpg "INTELLIGENT DESIGN" -- WHO ASKED FOR THAT? The October 2010 issue of Discover commemorates the magazine's thirtieth anniversary by looking back at, among other things, the scientific debacles of the past three decades -- including "intelligent design" -- under the rubric "Who asked for that?" *** Not satisfied with the biblical God who created the world in six days, creationists developed a "science" that aims to explain the supernatural force behind the whole shebang: intelligent design. Because we cannot reverse-engineer things like the human eye, they say, it follows that all must be designed by a higher being. (The human knee presumably came together during a moment of distraction.) This tactic had some success easing intelligent design/creationism into American public-school science lessons. But in 2005 a jury prohibited its teaching in the schools of Dover, Pennsylvania, delivering a stinging rebuke. *** (Discover errs in attributing the verdict in Kitzmiller v. Dover to "a jury"; it was a bench trial, and the decision -- which was indeed a stinging rebuke to the scientific pretensions of "intelligent design" -- was due to Judge John E. Jones III.) For the article in Discover, visit: http://discover.coverleaf.com/discovermagazine/201010?pg=46#pg46 For NCSE's materials about Kitzmiller v. Dover, http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/intelligent-design-trial-kitzmiller-v-dover STICK SCIENCE CARTOON WINNERS ANNOUNCED The winners of the Stick Science cartoon contest, sponsored by Florida Citizens for Science, were announced on September 19, 2010. "The basic concept here," as FCFS's Brandon Haught explained in announcing the contest, "is to draw a cartoon that educates the public about misconceptions the average person has about science." And lack of artistic ability was no barrier: "all entries must be drawn using stick figures. This is about creative ideas, not artistic ability." The third place winner was Anastasia Scott of Saint Augustine, Florida; the second place winner was Aaron McGinniss of Little Meadows, Pennsylvania; and the first place winner was Jimmy Grayson of Stanford, California: congratulations to all three! Their winning cartoons, along with those of seven runners-up, can be viewed on the Florida Citizens for Science website. The entries were judged by NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott; Carl Zimmer, the author of The Tangled Bank and Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life; Jorge Cham, the writer and artist of the web comic Piled Higher and Deeper; and Jay Hosler, associate professor of biology at Juniata College and the author and illustrator of such comics as The Sandwalk Adventures. For the announcement of the winners, visit: http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=1226 For the winning cartoons and runners-up, visit: http://www.flascience.org/ss2010top10.html THE LATEST ISSUE OF EVOLUTION: EDUCATION AND OUTREACH The latest issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach -- the new journal aspiring to promote accurate understanding and comprehensive teaching of evolutionary theory for a wide audience -- is now published. Devoted to human evolution and edited by William E. H. Harcourt Smith, the issue (volume 3, number 3) features Tom Gundling on "Human Origins Studies: A Historical Perspective"; Kieran P. McNulty on "Apes and Tricksters: The Evolution of Diversification of Humans' Closest Relatives"; Harcourt-Smith on "The First Hominins and the Origins of Bipedalism"; David S. Strait on "The Evolutionary History of the Australopiths"; Holly M. Dunsworth on "Origin of the Genus Homo"; Katerina Harvati on "Neanderthals"; Jason A. Hodgson and Todd R. Disotell on "Anthropological Genetics: Inferring the History of Our Species Through the Analysis of DNA"; Ian Tattersall on "The Rise of Modern Humans"; Monique Scott on "The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Teaching Human Evolution in the Museum" -- and much more besides! Also included is the latest installment of NCSE's regular column, Overcoming Obstacles to Evolution Education. In "Fossils that Change Everything We Know About Human Evolution (... Or Not)," NCSE's W. Eric Meikle and Andrew J. Petto explain, "Dramatic headlines touting new fossil discoveries often proclaim that our view of human evolution has been revolutionized. While this is occasionally the case, it is more often true that new fossils enrich our understanding of our own ancestry or answer scientific questions that could not be resolved with previous data. Even spectacular new discoveries, such as the now famous 'hobbit' skeleton (Homo floresiensis), can usually be included in the human family tree without any significant change in the inferences about the phylogenetic relationships or taxonomic status of the rest of its members. It is a testament to the power of evolutionary theory and the careful comparative study of human and other fossils that what we know about human evolution changes so little, even when spectacular new discoveries are announced." For information about the journal, visit: http://www.springerlink.com/content/120878/ For Meikle and Petto's article (subscription required), visit: http://www.springerlink.com/content/u27321321k30w7j3/ THREE MUSEUMS ADD THEIR VOICES FOR EVOLUTION The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with three statements from the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science, the Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester, and the Minnesota Science Museum. In its statement, the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science writes, "The Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science comprises a community of students, professors, and researchers of natural history. As members of the worldwide scientific community, we use the theory of evolution and other scientific principles to study the natural world. Evolutionary theory has greatly enhanced progress in the fields of medicine, anatomy, archaeology, biology, biochemistry, geology, neuroscience and many other disciplines. Without an understanding of evolutionary biology, our perception of the natural world would be greatly diminished." The Manchester Museum at the University of Manchester (in Britain) states, "The theory of evolution states that the diversity of life has developed over time," adding, "The theory of evolution is central to the field of biology." With respect to the age of the earth and the evolution of life, the museum's statement explains, "These facts are accepted by the overwhelming majority of scientists and are established beyond reasonable doubt as the simplest explanations of the physical and biological evidence." The Science Museum of Minnesota proclaims, "The theory of evolution is grounded in well-substantiated, testable hypotheses that have stood the tests of time and peer review. The word 'theory' as it is used here, does not mean a mere speculation or a best guess. Rather, in referring to a scientific theory, it is a set of firmly established scientific principles supported by research. Evolutionary theory serves as a foundation for natural history including the museum's core competencies in paleontology, anthropology, and biology. To compromise the explanations of evolution or to permit unscientific alternative explanations into our galleries or our programs would misrepresent the principles of science." All three of these statements are now reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution. For the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science's statement, visit: http://appl015.lsu.edu/natsci/lmns.nsf/$Content/evolution+statement?OpenDocument For the Manchester Museum's statement (PDF), visit: http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/exhibitions/theevolutionist/fileuploadmax10mb,150894,en.pdf For the Science Museum of Minnesota's statement, visit: http://www.smm.org/evolution/ And for information about Voices for Evolution, visit: http://ncse.com/voices 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