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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/03/04

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

Opposition to Tennessee's House Bill 368 is mounting. In the meantime,
Scientific American offers a detailed report on new challenges for
evolution education, and NCSE presents a sample chapter from a new
biology textbook, Principles of Life.


As a second subcommittee hearing on Tennessee's House Bill 368
approached, the author of The Evolution Controversy in America and the
executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee
were speaking out against the bill.

Writing in The Tennesseean (March 1, 2011), George Webb commented, "I
find the most recent effort to compromise the quality of science
teaching in the public schools ... both curious and disquieting."
Acknowledging that it is useful to discuss historical scientific
controversies in science classes, he emphasized that the
"controversial" topics itemized in HB 368 -- including evolution --
are not scientifically controversial; to claim otherwise "reveals an
inadequate grasp of the history and practice of science." Moreover, he
argued, "If teachers are expected to examine these so-called
controversies in the science classroom, they will obviously have less
opportunity to discuss the topics included in the Tennessee Science
Framework." Observing that the Framework reflects the consensus of the
scientific and science education communities, he remarked, "It is
difficult to imagine how teaching less science so that so-called
controversies may be included in the curriculum will result in greater
scientific knowledge." Webb is professor of history at Tennessee Tech
University and the author of The Evolution Controversy in America
(University of Kentucky Press, 1994).

In a press release dated February 28, 2011, available at the Tennessee
Report, Hedy Weinberg wrote, "Eighty-six years after the famous Scopes
'Monkey Trial' in Dayton, Tennessee, anti-evolution forces continue
their attempt to entrench creationism in our state's science
classrooms," and urged her fellow Tennesseans, "Let's let our
lawmakers know that it's not 1925 anymore." She explained, "While at
first glance [HB 368] may not appear to promote creationism, the
bill's intent is actually to enable creationist teachers to create
doubts in their students regarding evolution, doubts which are not
scientifically justified. These alleged weaknesses come not from the
scientific community but from creationist advocacy organizations. The
National Academies of Science and the National Science Teachers
Association unanimously agree that evolution needs to be taught
straightforwardly and without compromise." Encouraging Tennesseans to
express their concerns about HB 368 to their representatives, she
concluded, "Tennessee lawmakers need to know that we want Tennessee to
move forward, not backward." Weinberg is the executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.

The House General Subcommittee of Education will have its third
hearing on the bill at 3:00 p.m. on March 16, 2011; e-mail NCSE's
Joshua Rosenau or Steven Newton if you're able to attend.

For Webb's column, visit: 

For Weinberg's press release, visit: 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: 


In a new in-depth report, Scientific American asks, "Five years after
the Dover trial pushed intelligent design out of public school
classrooms, how has evolution instruction fared?" Featured are a new
article by Lauri Lebo on how "creationists are co-opting some old
heroes of the fight to teach evolution in the classroom for their
anti-science campaign" and a new interview of Jennifer Miller, one of
the science teachers at Dover Senior High School who were affected by
the antievolution policy enacted by the Dover Area School Board in
2004, as well as classic articles from previous issues of Scientific
American, including "The Latest Face of Creationism in the Classroom,"
by NCSE's Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott.

In "The Scopes Strategy: Creationists Try New Tactics to Promote
Anti-Evolutionary Teaching in Public Schools," Lauri Lebo discusses
the latest manifestation of the campaign to teach, in lieu of
creationism, the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution: House Bill
368 and Senate Bill 893 in Tennessee, which a lobbyist for the
Tennessee Education Association described as a "lawyer's dream"
containing "some of the most convoluted language I've ever seen in a
bill," and which Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American
Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, described as "the latest line of
attack against evolution in a long-standing campaign," according to
the Knoxville News-Sentinel (February 27, 2011).

Would the Tennessee bills protect the teaching of "intelligent
design"? Lebo reports that their House sponsor, Bill Dunn (R-District
16) claimed that they would not. But their chief lobbyist, David
Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, claimed that they
would -- although a federal court ruled the teaching of "intelligent
design" in the public schools to be unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v.
Dover. Alluding to Michael B. Berkman and Eric Plutzer's recent
commentary in Science, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau observed that in any
case, with 60 percent of public high school biology teachers already
reluctant to present evolution forthrightly in their classrooms, the
bills send a message to teachers to avoid the subject.

In "The Education of Jennifer Miller," Nina Bai interviews Jennifer
Miller, who still works at Dover Senior High School in Dover,
Pennsylvania, where she teaches honors biology and anatomy and
physiology. Since the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Miller explained,
"I've definitely changed how I teach. The biggest thing is probably
that evolution used to be the last thing we got to in the semester.
... Now I put evolution first, and I refer back to it to show how
important it is to all topics of biology. ... I'm no longer afraid to
cover it in depth and to have in-depth conversations about evolution.
... Now I do cover intelligent design, why it is not science, and why
it should not be taught in a science classroom."

Miller also highlighted the need for increased coverage of evolution
in the training of preservice teachers, saying, "There needs to be a
lot more education about how to teach to evolution. ... Maybe as we
train new biology teachers -- make sure that we give them what they
really need to know -- new teachers can arm themselves with the
evidence that's out there. There is tons and tons of evidence for
evolution, and it keeps piling up. As a teacher it's hard to stay on
top of that." She added, "Teachers must stay on top of this in case
there is ever a school board member or community member who tries to
institute the 'teach the controversy' rhetoric in their classroom. I
think that would be helpful. I hope in five years that people aren't
so afraid of the topic, but I'm not optimistic."

For the introduction to the report, visit: 

For Lebo's article, visit: 

For the article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, visit: 

For NCSE's coverage of the Berkman and Plutzer column, visit: 

For the interview with Miller, visit: 


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of David M. Hillis, David
Sadava, H. Craig Heller, and Mary V. Price's new textbook Principles
of Life (Sinauer Associates and W. H. Freeman, 2010). The excerpt
constitutes the whole of chapter 15, "Mechanisms of Evolution," and
offers as seven "key concepts" the principles that evolution is both
factual and the basis of broader theory; that mutation, selection,
gene flow, genetic drift, and nonrandom mating result in evolution;
that evolution can be measured by changes in allele frequencies; that
selection can be stabilizing, directional, or disruptive; that genomes
reveal both neutral and selective processes of evolution; that
recombination, lateral gene transfer, and gene duplication can result
in new features; and that evolutionary theory has practical

The publishers proclaim, "Numerous recent studies ... confirm what a
growing number of educators already know: the typical majors biology
textbook has become too long, too detailed, and too expensive. ...
Written in the spirit of the reform movement that is reinvigorating
the introductory majors course, Principles of Life cuts through the
thicket of excessive detail and factual minutiae to focus on what
matters most in the study of biology today. Students explore the most
essential biological ideas and information in the context of the
field's defining experiments, and are actively engaged in analyzing
research data. The result is a textbook that is hundreds of pages
shorter (and significantly less expensive) than the current majors
introductory books."

For the preview of Principles of Life (PDF), visit: 

For information on the book from its publishers, 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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