NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2011/04/22
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Good news from all over. Tennessee's "monkey bill" is on legislative hold in the state senate. There are still seats available on the NCSE expedition down the Grand Canyon. Tennessee's antievolution legislation was criticized twice in the pages of the Knoxville News Sentinel. Louisiana's antievolution law is the target of a repeal effort -- led by a high school senior. And the first issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education in its new on-line format is now available.
TENNESSEE'S "MONKEY BILL" ON HOLD Tennessee's Senate Bill 893 -- nicknamed, along with its counterpart House Bill 368, the "monkey bill" -- is on hold, "almost certainly postponing any action until next year," according to the Knoxville News Sentinel's Humphrey on the Hill blog (April 21, 2011). Its sponsor, Bo Watson (R-District 11), assigned the bill to the general subcommittee of the Senate Education Committee on April 20, 2011, which was the last scheduled meeting of the committee; he told the blog, "Practically speaking, I probably am not going to be able to run the bill this year," although it is still possible that the committee might have a further meeting. The bill, if enacted, would require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as 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 covered in the course being taught." The only examples provided of "controversial" theories are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." While still regarding SB 893 as "a good bill," Watson told the News Sentinel's blog that he was deferring it because of concerns expressed by faculty at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga -- where he received a B.A. in biology -- and because of possible proposed amendments: "I want to listen some more," he explained. The Tennessee House of Representatives passed HB 368 on a 70-23 vote on April 7, 2011, after a debate ranging over "the scientific method, 'intellectual bullies,' hair spray, and 'Inherit the Wind,'" as the Chattanooga Times Free Press (April 7, 2011) reported. A particularly noteworthy moment of the House debate occurred when Frank Niceley (R-District 17) misinvoked the authority of Albert Einstein in support of HB 368, quoting the physicist as saying, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel (April 8, 2011), "A little knowledge would turn your head to atheism, while a broader knowledge would turn your head to Christianity." Beyond the fact that the passage is a paraphrase of a saying of the philosopher Francis Bacon, not a quotation from Einstein, it suggests that Niceley understood the bill to involve the promotion of Christianity, despite the protestations of its sponsors. Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee and a leader in the opposition to the antievolution legislation, testifying before legislative committees and writing op-eds against the bills, was relieved by Watson's decision to place his bill on hold. "It's taken eighty-six years," she told NCSE, "but perhaps at last the Tennessee legislature is learning the lesson of the Scopes trial." She added a note of caution, though: "This is the first step in the right direction, but it isn't the end of the story. Science education in Tennessee won't be truly safe until the legislature adjourns next year." NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott also hailed the decision, praising the activists in Tennessee. "This couldn't have happened without the hard work of the ACLU of Tennessee, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and all the teachers, scientists, parents, students, and just plain folks who volunteered their time and effort to defend the teaching of evolution in the Volunteer State." She warned, however, "They'll need to stay sharp, though, to make sure that such legislation can't sneak its way back to the legislative agenda." For the text of the bills, visit: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=SB0893 http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=HB0368 For the report in the Knoxville News Sentinel's Humphrey on the Hill blog, visit: http://blogs.knoxnews.com/humphrey/2011/04/critical-thinking-bill-or-crea.html For the stories on the House vote on HB 368, visit: http://timesfreepress.com/news/2011/apr/07/tennessee-house-oks-bill-shielding-teachers-who-do/ http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/apr/08/bill-protects-teaching-alternative-theories/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: http://ncse.com/news/tennessee NCSE AND THE GRAND CANYON 2011 Explore the Grand Canyon with Scott, Newton, and Gish! Seats are still available for NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon -- as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From June 30 to July 8, 2011, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott, NCSE's Steven Newton, and paleontologist Alan ("Gish") Gishlick. Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of the Grand Canyon (maybe not entirely seriously) and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. To get a glimpse of the fun, watch the short videos filmed during the 2009 trip, posted on NCSE's YouTube site. The cost of the excursion is $2545; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot. Seats are limited: call, write, or e-mail now. For information about the trip, visit: http://ncse.com/about/excursions/gcfaq For NCSE's report on the story in The New York Times, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2005/10/seeing-creation-evolution-grand-canyon-00771 For NCSE's YouTube site, visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/NatCen4ScienceEd TENNESSEE'S ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION STILL UNDER FIRE The Knoxville News Sentinel published back-to-back criticisms of Tennessee's antievolution legislation -- shortly before the Senate Education Committee was expected to resume discussion of Senate Bill 893 on April 20, 2011. Like its counterpart House Bill 368, SB 893 would, if enacted, require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as 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 covered in the course being taught." The only examples provided of "controversial" theories are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." In his April 17, 2011, op-ed, the News Sentinel's editor Jack McElroy described the idea of critical thinking about controversial issues as "Fair enough," but noted that the Tennessee antievolution legislation "narrows down the 'controversial issues' to scientific subjects including origins of life and evolution," adding, "What's up with that?" Taking examples from history, English, and mathematics, he argued that there are both appropriate and inappropriate controversies to address in the classroom. "Thus we come to science," he concluded. "There is plenty of room for critical thinking in each step in this process. But if the thinking involves criticizing the process itself -- and arguing there is a source of knowledge beyond the scientific method -- then we've moved outside of science, and should move out of the science classroom." In its April 18, 2011, editorial, the News Sentinel described the bill as "as best unnecessary and at worst a deceptive attempt to undermine science education in Tennessee," adding, "The bill is not needed to promote critical thinking because the state curriculum already promotes critical thinking. Competent teachers are not, as the bill's language suggests, 'unsure' about how they should teach topics like evolution. This is a solution in search of a problem." Referring to the verdict in the Kitzmiller case, in which teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools was found to be unconstitutional, the News Sentinel observed, "The judge noted that the focus only on scientific controversies was a clue about the intent. Tennessee's proposed bill suffers from the same shortcoming." The editorial concluded, "The Senate should reject this needless bill and let science teachers teach science." For the op-ed and the editorial, visit: http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/apr/17/critical-thinking-doesnt-mean-two-plus-two-is/ http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/apr/18/science-education-bill-should-face-extinction/ For the text of Tennessee's Senate Bill 893, visit: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/default.aspx?BillNumber=SB0893 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit: http://ncse.com/news/tennessee BILL FILED TO REPEAL LOUISIANA'S ANTIEVOLUTION LAW Senate Bill 70, prefiled in the Louisiana Senate on April 15, 2011, and provisionally referred to the Senate Committee on Education, would, if enacted, repeal Louisiana Revised Statutes 17:285.1, which implemented the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act, passed and enacted in 2008. SB 70 was introduced by Karen Carter Peterson (D-District 5), but the driving force behind the repeal effort is Baton Rouge high school senior Zack Kopplin, working with the Louisiana Coalition for Science. The repeal effort is endorsed by the National Association of Biology Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Biology Educators. "Louisiana's 'job killing' creationism law undermines our education system and drives science and technology based companies away from Louisiana," Peterson said in a press release dated April 17, 2011, with Kopplin adding, "Louisiana public school students deserve to be taught accurate and evidence based science which will prepare them to take competitive jobs." The press release pointedly asked further, "How many businesses will locate elsewhere because they want well trained scientists? How many researchers will take their talents elsewhere or never come to Louisiana because of this anti-science law?" The targeted law calls on state and local education administrators to help to promote "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning"; these four topics were described as controversial in the original draft of the legislation. It also allows teachers to use "supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner" if so permitted by their local school boards. Since 2008, antievolutionists have not only sought to undermine the law's provision allowing challenges to unsuitable supplementary materials but have also reportedly invoked the law to support proposals to teach creationism in at least two parishes -- Livingston and Tangipahoa -- and to attack the treatment of evolution in biology textbooks proposed for adoption by the state. Meanwhile, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology urged Louisianans to repeal the law in 2008, and the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology decided to hold its conferences elsewhere while the law remains on the books. The Louisiana Coalition for Science, in a press release dated April 18, 2011, wrote, "In solidarity with Baton Rouge Magnet High School senior Zachary Kopplin's effort to repeal the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act ..., the Louisiana Coalition for Science supports Senator Karen Carter Peterson's bill, SB 70, which will repeal the law in its entirety. In the interest of Louisiana public school students, the legislature should pass the bill and Gov. Jindal should sign it," urging concerned Louisianans to "call Senate Education Committee members and their respective House and Senate representatives and ask them to vote in favor of SB 70." For Louisiana's SB 70 (PDF), visit: http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/streamdocument.asp?did=740920 For Repeal Creationism's press release, visit: http://www.repealcreationism.com/390/legislation-filed-to-repeal-louisiana%E2%80%99s-creationism-law/ For the Louisiana Coalition for Science's press release, visit: http://lasciencecoalition.org/2011/04/18/press-release-lcfs-supports-sb-70 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Louisiana, visit: http://ncse.com/news/louisiana AT LAST: RNCSE ON-LINE! NCSE is pleased at last to announce the first issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education in its new on-line format. The issue -- volume 31, number 1 -- includes Michael A. Buratovich's "Recent Advances on the Origin of Life -- Making Biological Polymers"; Kevin C. Armitage's "How to Humanize Knowledge, or CSI: Evolution and Climate Change"; and, in his regular People and Places column, Randy Moore's "Don Aguillard." Plus Mike Klymkowsky reviews Matt Young and Paul K. Strode's Why Evolution Works (and Creationism Fails); Joel W. Martin reviews Francisco Ayala's Am I a Monkey?; David A. Reid reviews Randy Moore, Mark Decker, and Sehoya Cotner's Chronology of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy; Robert H. Rothman reviews Allene S. Phy-Olsen's Evolution, Creationism, and Intelligent Design; Stephen P. Weldon reviews Mano Singham's God vs. Darwin; and Matt Young reviews Joel W. Martin's The Prism and the Rainbow. All of these articles, features, and reviews are freely available in PDF form from http://reports.ncse.com. Members of NCSE will shortly be receiving in the mail the print supplement to Reports 31:1, which contains, in addition to summaries of the on-line material, news from the membership, a new column in which NCSE staffers offer personal reports on what they've been doing to defend the teaching of evolution, and thanks to our donors and supporters. (Not a member? Join today!) For the table of contents for RNCSE 31:1, visit: http://reports.ncse.com/index.php/rncse/issue/current/showToc For information about joining NCSE, visit: http://ncse.com/membership 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