NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/01/21
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Not one but two new antievolution bills in Oklahoma, a column by NCSE's Steven Newton in the Christian Science Monitor, a settlement in the Gaskell case, a new antievolution bill in Missouri, and two criticisms of the proposed ark park in the newsletter of the Kentucky Academy of Science.
A SECOND ANTIEVOLUTION BILL IN OKLAHOMA House Bill 1551, prefiled in the Oklahoma Senate and scheduled for a first reading on February 7, 2011, is apparently the fourth antievolution bill of 2011, and the second in Oklahoma, joining Senate Bill 554. Entitled the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act," SB 320 would, if enacted, require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught." The only topics specifically mentioned as controversial are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." HB 1551 differs only slightly from Senate Bill 320, which died in committee in February 2009; a member of the Senate Education Committee told the Tulsa World (February 17, 2009) that it was one of the worst bills that he had even seen. In its critique of SB 320, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education argued, "Promoting the notion that there is some scientific controversy is just plain dishonest ... Evolution as a process is supported by an enormous and continually growing body of evidence. Evolutionary theory has advanced substantially since Darwin's time and, despite 150 years of direct research, no evidence in conflict with evolution has ever been found." With respect to the supposed "weaknesses" of evolution, OESE added, "they are phony fabrications, invented and promoted by people who don't like evolution." The sole sponsor of HB 1551 is Sally Kern (R-District 84), a persistent sponsor of antievolution legislation in Oklahoma. In 2006 -- a year which saw no fewer than four such bills in Oklahoma -- Kern was the lead sponsor of House Bill 2107, which would have called for "academic freedom" with respect to "biological or chemical origins of life," and of House Concurrent Resolution 1043, which would have called on the state board of education to revise the state science standards to ensure that students can "critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theory of evolution." HB 2107 was passed by the House by a vote of 77-10 in March 2006, with one supportive legislator explaining, "Did we come from slimy algae 4.5 billion years ago or are we a unique creation of God? I think it's going to be exciting for students to discuss these issues," but died when the legislature adjourned in May 2006. For the text of Oklahoma's HB 1551 (document), visit: http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/2011-12HB/HB1551_int.rtf For the Tulsa World's article, visit: http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20090217_16_A11_OKLAHO853574 For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education's critique of SB 320 (PDF), visit: http://www.oklascience.org/SB320_handout.pdf For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit: http://ncse.com/news/oklahoma ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN OKLAHOMA Senate Bill 554, prefiled in the Oklahoma State Senate on January 19, 2011, is apparently the third antievolution bill of 2011. Interestingly, two strands of antievolution strategy intersect in SB 554. First, echoing the still popular "academic freedom" language of antievolution legislation, the bill provides that state and local education administrators "shall not prohibit any teacher from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses of controversial topics in sciences, when being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula," where such topics "include but are not limited to biological origins of life and biological evolution." The bill also provides, "No teacher shall be reassigned, terminated, disciplined or otherwise discriminated against for providing scientific information being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula." Second, the bill requires the state board of education to adopt "standards and curricula" that echo the flawed portions of the state science standards adopted in Texas in 2009 with respect to the nature of science and, for grades eight through twelve, evolution. For example, the content of SB 554's D1, D2, D7, D9, and D10 are identical to sections 7A, 7B, 7G, 8A, and 8B of the Texas high school biology standards -- all sections that were added or amended by antievolution members of the Texas state board of education, such as Don "Someone's got to stand up to experts!" McLeroy, in order to encourage the presentation of creationist claims in the science classroom. No fewer than fifty-four scientific and educational organizations opposed these revisions. The sole sponsor of the bill is Josh Brecheen (R-District 6), who announced his intention to file antievolution legislation in a column in the Durant Daily Democrat (December 19, 2010): "Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors are being ignored. ... Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and unacceptable." In a subsequent column in the Daily Democrat (December 24, 2010), he clearly indicated that his intention was to have creationism presented as scientifically credible, writing, "I have introduced legislation requiring every publically funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin's religion." Oklahomans concerned about SB 554 are urged to get in touch with Steven Newton at NCSE and the grassroots organization Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education. For the text of Oklahoma's SB 554 (document), visit: http://webserver1.lsb.state.ok.us/2011-12SB/SB554_int.rtf For Texas's state science standards, visit: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter112/ch112c.html For the statement from fifty-four organizations, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2009/03/texas-needs-to-get-it-right-004695 For Brecheen's columns in the Durant Daily Democrat, visit: http://www.durantdemocrat.com/view/full_story/10717736/article-Brecheen-discusses-evolution-and-Darwinian-Theory http://www.durantdemocrat.com/view/full_story/10776295/article-Brecheen-says-the-religion-of-evolution-is-plagued-with-falsehoods For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, visit: http://www.oklascience.org/ For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit: http://ncse.com/news/oklahoma NCSE'S NEWTON IN THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR NCSE's Steven Newton contributed a guest column, entitled "Creationists have gotten clever, but there's still no debate over evolution," to the Christian Science Monitor (January 19, 2011). The tactics of creationists have evolved since the Scopes trial in 1925, and even since the Kitzmiller trial in 2005. What is now favored, he explained, is "to try to undermine the teaching of evolution by arguing that 'evidence against evolution' should be taught," adding, "The new strategy is craftier -- but just as bogus." Observing that "there simply is no debate among scientists about the validity of evolution," Newton concluded, "Because scientists are not debating evolution, it is wrong to teach students otherwise." But creationists nevertheless seek "to misuse public resources to foist their scientifically unwarranted denial of evolution on a captive student audience, and to force their culture war into America’s classrooms"; Newton cites a promised but so far not introduced bill in the Oklahoma state senate. "Lacking any substantive evidence to make their case, creationists offer a few selective quotes from real scientists to give their arguments authority," Newton explained, giving a recent example in which a Discovery Institute staffer misrepresented biologist Eugene V. Koonin. Koonin told Newton that he was challenging only a half-century-old approach to understanding evolution, prompting Newton to quip, "Evolution is alive and well, while creationist understanding of it is apparently stuck in the Eisenhower era." Newton concluded: "Whether by banning the teaching of evolution, or requiring the teaching of creation science or intelligent design, or encouraging the teaching of long-ago-debunked misrepresentations of evolution, creationist proposals are bad science, bad pedagogy, and bad policy. Instead of proposing scientifically illiterate and educationally harmful measures, state legislatures -- and other policy-makers -- should help students learn about evolution." For Newton's column, visit: http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2011/0119/Creationists-have-gotten-clever-but-there-s-still-no-debate-over-evolution SETTLEMENT IN THE GASKELL CASE A settlement was reached in C. Martin Gaskell v. University of Kentucky, and the parties are moving for a dismissal of the lawsuit. As NCSE previously reported, Martin Gaskell was a leading candidate to be the founding director of a new observatory at the University of Kentucky in 2007. He was not hired, however, in part because of his apparent views on evolution; according to the Louisville Courier-Journal (December 10, 2010), "Gaskell had given lectures to campus religious groups around the country in which he said that while he has no problem reconciling the Bible with the theory of evolution, he believes the theory has major flaws. And he recommended students read ... critics [of evolution] in the intelligent-design movement." Gaskell filed suit against the university in July 2009, alleging that he was not appointed "because of his religious beliefs and his expression of these beliefs" in violation of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991. According to the Courier-Journal, the university "acknowledged that concerns over Gaskell's views on evolution played a role in the decision to chose another candidate. But it argued that this was a valid scientific concern" -- particularly with regard to the prospect that Gaskell's views on evolution would interfere with his ability to serve effectively as director of the observatory -- "and that there were other factors, including a poor review from a previous supervisor and UK faculty views that he was a poor listener." In November 2010, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky denied the defendant's and the plaintiff's separate requests for summary judgment, noting, "The parties greatly debate exactly what Gaskell personally believes regarding the theory of evolution and the Bible." The case was scheduled to go to a jury trial on February 8, 2011, as the Associated Press reported (January 18, 2011). In the settlement, the University of Kentucky agreed to pay Gaskell and his attorneys $125,000; the parties are responsible for their own costs and attorney fees. The settlement provided (p. 3), "The parties agree that by entering into this Release and Settlement Agreement, the Defendant, University of Kentucky, is not admitting wrongdoing," and the university's counsel Barbara Jones said, in a January 18, 2011, statement, "This successful resolution precludes what would have been a lengthy trial that, ultimately, would not have served anyone's best interests. Importantly, as the settlement makes clear, the University believes its hiring processes were and are fundamentally sound and were followed in this case. ... We are confident that a trial court and the members of the jury would have agreed at the conclusion of all the evidence." Documents from the case, C. Martin Gaskell v. University of Kentucky, are available on NCSE's website. For the Louisville Courier-Journal's article, visit: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20101210/NEWS01/312110011/Job+candidate+sues+UK++claiming+religion+cost+him+the+post For the Associated Press's article, visit: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/01/18/1602707/univ-of-kentucky-settles-suit.html For the settlement document (PDF), visit: http://uknow.uky.edu/sites/default/files/gaskell_v_uk_settlement_agreement_01-18-11.pdf For the statement from the university's counsel, visit: http://uknow.uky.edu/content/gaskell-case-resolved-statement-uk-counsel For NCSE's collection of documents from the case, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/legal/c-martin-gaskell-v-university-kentucky ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN MISSOURI House Bill 195, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on January 13, 2011, and not yet referred to a committee, is apparently the second antievolution bill of 2011. The bill would, if enacted, call on state and local education administrators to "endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution" and to "endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." "Toward this end," the bill continues, "teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution." HB 195 is virtually identical to HB 1651, introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives on January 13, 2010. The main difference is that HB 1651's ornate disclaimer -- "this section shall not be construed to promote philosophical naturalism or biblical theology, promote natural cause or intelligent cause, promote undirected change or purposeful design, promote atheistic or theistic belief, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or ideas, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion" -- was replaced in HB 195 with "this section shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion." When the Missouri legislative session ended on May 14, 2010, HB 1651 died without ever having been assigned to a committee. The chief sponsor of HB 195 is Andrew Koenig (R-District 88), joined by Doug Funderburk (R-District 12), Kurt Bahr (R-District 19), Charlie Davis (R-District 128), Bill Reiboldt (R-District 130), Thomas Long (R-District 134), Dwight Scharnhorst (R-District 93), Shane Schoelle (R-District 139), Kathie Conway (R-District 14), Chuck Gatschenberger (R-District 13), Darrell Pollock (R-District 146), Rick Stream (R-District 94), Rodney Schad (R-District 115), and David Sater (R-District 68). Funderburk, Davis, Sater, Stream, Schad, and Pollock were also cosponsors of HB 1651 in 2010. HB 1651's chief sponsor Robert Wayne Cooper (R-District 155), who previously introduced a string of unsuccessful antievolution bills -- HB 911 and 1722 (which called for equal time for "intelligent design" in the state's public schools) in 2004, HB 1266 in 2006, HB 2554 in 2008, and HB 656 in 2009 -- in Missouri, was termed out of office in 2010. For the text of Missouri's HB 195, visit: http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills111/biltxt/intro/HB0195I.htm For NCSE's previous coverage of events in Missouri, visit: http://ncse.com/news/missouri KENTUCKY ACADEMY OF SCIENCE ON THE ARK PARK Concern over Ark Encounter, the proposed creationist theme park in northern Kentucky was expressed by two guest editorials in the January 2011 issue of the newsletter of the Kentucky Academy of Science. Collaborating on the project are Ark Encounter LLC and the young-earth creationist ministry Answers in Genesis, which already operates a Creation "Museum" in northern Kentucky. A major part of the controversy over the park is its application to receive state tourism development incentives, which would enable it to recoup 25 percent of its development costs by retaining the sales tax generated by the project -- estimated at $37.5 million. In his editorial, Robert Kingsolver of Bellarmine University wrote, "the Academy has long held the position that faith-based paradigms defying any sort of investigative scrutiny should not be passed off as scientific truth, especially at taxpayers' expense." He also warned, "Scientifically literate people will think twice about moving to or investing in a state that publicly endorses the replacement of established scientific methods and principles with an alternative 'creation science.' ... our Commonwealth is putting its money on a landlocked wooden boat, a failed stairway to heaven, and a bronze-age world view." Particularly galling to Kingsolver was the state's neglect of a project that genuinely would improve the public understanding of science -- the Kentucky Natural History Museum, authorized (in 2000) but never funded by the legislature. "To our knowledge, the state has sought no investors in this project, nor has it launched any public awareness campaign comparable to the recent deluge of publicity for Ark Encounter," Kingsolver commented, adding, "Opportunities lost include the natural history museum's potential tourism revenue and a critically needed educational resource, but also the preservation of our state's natural heritage." In his editorial, Daniel Phelps of the Kentucky Paleontological Society recommended that his fellow scientists take action, with respect to the short term and the long term alike. "In the short term, speak out!" he urged. "If scientists are silent, politicians and school boards will only hear the voices of anti-scientists." Not only is there a new antievolution bill, HB 169, in the Kentucky legislature, Phelps observed, but "Kentucky has over one hundred school districts, and scientists need to pay attention to these local decisions where creationism gets taught, or evolution is misrepresented." To help to defend the teaching of evolution in the long term, Phelps argued, "you can improve the way you teach the scientific method, evolution, and relevant sciences, especially to non-science majors," citing NCSE executive director Eugenie C. Scott's 2010 article "Dobzhansky was right: Let's tell the students." "If some public school teachers are not doing an adequate job of teaching evolution and relevant sciences," he suggested, "it may be because of pressure from administrators and the local community, but it is also because some were inadequately educated in their university science courses." For Kingsolver's column (PDF, p. 12), visit: http://www.kyacademyofscience.org/newsletter/january-2011.pdf For Phelps's column (PDF, p. 13), visit: http://www.kyacademyofscience.org/newsletter/january-2011.pdf For Scott's article (PDF), visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bies.200900190/pdf And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kentucky, visit: http://ncse.com/news/kentucky 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