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NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2012/04/13

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(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

The "monkey bill" in Tennessee is enacted, although without the
governor's signature. Plenty of boos for the new law ensued.
Previously there were continued calls from the state's newspapers and
a petition signed by thousands of concerned Tennesseans urging a veto
of the bill. Plus the Steveometer passes 1200, and scientific and
educational organizations are voicing their opposition to the latest
antiscience legislative effort in Oklahoma.

"MONKEY BILL" ENACTED IN TENNESSEE

Governor Bill Haslam allowed Tennessee's House Bill 368 to become law
without his signature on April 10, 2012, according to the Memphis
Commercial Appeal (April 10, 2012). The law encourages teachers to
present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics
that arouse "debate and disputation" such as "biological evolution,
the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

In a statement, Haslam explained, ?I have reviewed the final language
of HB 368/SB 893 and assessed the legislation's impact. I have also
evaluated the concerns that have been raised by the bill. I do not
believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that
are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our
teachers. However, I also don't believe that it accomplishes anything
that isn't already acceptable in our schools. The bill received strong
bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by a three-to-one
margin, but good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion.
My concern is that this bill has not met this objective. For that
reason, I will not sign the bill but will allow it to become law
without my signature.?

"This is the first bill in Haslam's nearly 15 months in office that he
has allowed to become law without his signature," the Commercial
Appeal noted, adding, "Although the governor didn't say so, a veto
would likely not have killed the bill" because the legislature can
override a gubernatorial veto by a majority vote in both chambers.

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott expressed disappointment,
warning, "Telling students that evolution and climate change are
scientifically controversial is miseducating them. Good science
teachers know that. But the Tennessee legislature has now made it
significantly harder to ensure that science is taught responsibly in
the state's public schools." Citing a recent article in Inside Vandy
(April 8, 2012) reporting disagreement among the bill's sponsors about
whether "intelligent design" creationism was covered, she argued, "if
the people who are responsible for passing the law can't agree on what
it covers, they shouldn't be saddling teachers and school districts
with the task of figuring out what it means."

Probably contributing to Haslam's unwillingness to sign the bill were
the protests from state and national civil liberties, educational, and
scientific groups, the editorials against the bill from the state's
major newspapers, and the petition effort organized by Larisa DeSantis
of Vanderbilt University, which garnered thousands of signatures
calling for a veto of HB 368.

For the story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, visit:
http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/apr/10/tennessee-evolution-bill-becomes-law-without-gover/?CID=happeningnow 

For the story in Inside Vandy, visit:
http://www.insidevandy.com/opinion/article_558b6af4-81d3-11e1-b303-001a4bcf6878.html 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/tennessee 

BOOS FOR TENNESSEE'S MONKEY LAW

With Governor Bill Haslam's April 10, 2012, decision to allow
Tennessee's House Bill 368 -- nicknamed "the monkey bill" -- to become
law without his signature, comment is coming fast and furious. The new
law encourages teachers in the state's public schools to present the
"scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics that arouse
"debate and disputation" such as "biological evolution, the chemical
origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." A sampling of the
commentary follows.

* "The American Society of Human Genetics ... is disappointed with
Tennessee's enactment of a bill that will weaken science instruction
in Tennessee's public schools and possibly serve as a model for other
states. The law claims to support the development of critical-thinking
skills, but the effect of the 'strengths and weaknesses' argument used
in the law will be to weaken students' already poor understanding of
evolution -- the foundation of modern biology." -- The American
Society of Human Genetics, in a statement issued on April 11, 2012

* "Because of the press surrounding the past Monkey bill, the
evolution bill now makes it look as if Tennessee has moved backwards
instead of forwards in terms of science education. ... Anything that
takes time away from teaching sound science is going to hurt students
and their abilities to understand the rest of science." -- Larisa
DeSantis of the Department of Earth and Environment at Vanderbilt
University, quoted in Inside Vandy (April 11, 2012)

* "Previous attempts over evolution have been soundly defeated over
and over again ...They say bringing up these controversies will help
your mind, as if these kids are in any position to judge the merits of
this or anything else controversial." -- David Hill, quoted in the
Memphis Commercial Appeal (April 10, 2012).

* "It was presented as giving more flexibility to teachers to discuss
controversies, but really this has always been about evolution ...
This has always been a way for teachers to interject their religious
viewpoints if they contradict evolution." -- Barry Lynn, executive
director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State,
quoted by the Nashville Tennessean (April 11, 2012)

* "This new law allows -- indeed, encourages -- teachers who are
already inclined to attack evolution and climate science to do so.
Unlucky students may be subjected to creationist or
climate-change-denying rants from their teachers. And if students or
parents object, the law forbids school boards and administrators from
doing anything about it." -- NCSE's Steven Newton, writing at the
Huffington Post (April 11, 2012)

* "I think two 'monkey bills' in a century has got to be up there in
terms of how people see Tennessee, and that's unfortunate because
there's great science that goes on there." -- NCSE's Joshua Rosenau,
quoted in the Chattanooga Times Free Press (April 11, 2012)

* "HB 368 and other bills like it are a permission slip for teachers
to bring creationism, climate-change denial and other non-science into
science classrooms." -- NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, quoted in Nature
(April 11, 2012)

* "The new Tennessee law does not ban the teaching of evolution as the
old law had. Its supporters contend that it will allow the expansion
of scientific views in the classroom. What it does do is allow doubt
to be injected into areas of science in which scientists say there
really isn't any. It allows creationism and evolution to be debated
side by side in a science classroom, which is just plain wrong, even
if the Tennessee legislature thinks otherwise." -- Valerie Strauss,
writing in the Washington Post (April 11, 2012)

* "We respect Governor Haslam for showing leadership in not signing
this legislation. ... But that doesn't change the fact that Tennessee
now has a law on the books essentially granting permission for
teachers to violate the First Amendment by introducing their own
personal religious beliefs on the origin of life into the classroom."
-- Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties
Union of Tennessee, quoted in the Los Angeles Times (April 11, 2012)

* "With all the emphasis now on science, math and technology, this
seems like a real step backwards ... Tennessee was the focus of this
debate in the 1920s and we don't need to be turning the clock back
now." -- Jerry Winters, director of government relations for the
Tennessee Education Association, quoted by Reuters (April 11, 2012)

For the source of these quotations, visit:
http://www.ashg.org/pdf/policy/ASHG_PS_April2012.pdf 
http://www.insidevandy.com/news/article_d56486b6-83fe-11e1-8e4c-001a4bcf6878.html 
http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/apr/10/tennessee-evolution-bill-becomes-law-without-gover 
http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120411/NEWS0201/304110094/Gov-Haslam-allows-evolution-bill-become-TN-law 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-newton/tennessee-volunteers-for-_b_1416360.html 
http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/apr/11/haslam-doesnt-sign-evolution-bill-but-its/ 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/tennessee-back-to-the-future-with-new-anti-evolution-law/2012/04/11/gIQAJb7g9S_blog.html 
http://www.nature.com/news/tennessee-monkey-bill-becomes-law-1.10423 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-tennessee-climate-law-20120411,0,665705.story 
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/11/us-usa-education-tennessee-idUSBRE83A00720120411 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/tennessee 

CONTINUED CALLS FOR "MONKEY BILL" VETO

With Tennessee's "monkey bill" still on Governor Bill Haslam's desk,
columnists in the state's newspapers continue to criticize the bill
and call for a veto. House Bill 368, would, if enacted, encourage
teachers to present the "scientific strengths and scientific
weaknesses" of topics that arouse "debate and disputation" such as
"biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming,
and human cloning." The deadline for Haslam to sign the bill, allow it
to become law without his signature, or veto it is April 10, 2012.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal (April 6, 2012) editorially wrote, "Gov.
Bill Haslam should heed the appeal of more than 3,000 petitioners and
veto a bill that would protect Tennessee teachers who allow students
to criticize evolution and other scientific theories," adding, "in a
time when a firm knowledge of science is an important element in our
students being prepared to compete in the global marketplace, passage
of this kind of legislation is baffling." The editorial concluded,
"Haslam said he will sign the bill. He should reconsider."

Frank Daniels III, writing in the Nashville Tennessean (April 8,
2012), urged, "as an aspiring educational leader he should veto the
'evolution' bill that has been thrust down the throat of our state by
legislators pretending to be in favor of 'open debate' in the
classroom," adding, "The bill, one of a plethora of model bills ginned
up by national know-nothing organizations that our legislators are
swilling, is not about promoting freedom of debate in the classroom.
The bill represents a deliberate attack on behalf of a specific
ideology that wants to substitute speculation for science."

Also opposing the bill have been the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union of
Tennessee, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, Americans
United for Separation of Church and State, the Knoxville News
Sentinel, the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal, the Nashville
Tennessean, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the
National Earth Science Teachers Association, the Tennessee Educational
Association, and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association.

For the editorial in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, visit:
http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2012/apr/06/veto-science-bill/ 

For Frank Daniel III's column in the Nashville Tennessean, visit:
http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120408/COLUMNIST0111/304080040/Frank-Daniels-III-Evolution-bill-detracts-from-educational-mission 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/tennessee 

GOVERNOR PETITIONED TO VETO "MONKEY BILL"

A petition urging the veto of House Bill 368, signed by thousands of
concerned Tennesseans, was delivered to Governor Bill Haslam's office
on April 5, 2012, MSNBC reports (April 5, 2012). Nicknamed the "monkey
bill," HB 368 would, if enacted, encourage teachers to present the
"scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics that arouse
"debate and disputation" such as "biological evolution, the chemical
origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

Explaining her opposition to the bill, petition organizer Larisa
DeSantis, who teaches in the Department of Earth and Environment at
Vanderbilt University, told MSNBC, "What it does is bring the
political controversy into the classroom, where there is no scientific
controversy," adding, "As a science teacher I would say there is no
controversy over evolution or climate change in the scientific
literature ... Sure, we argue about the details. But these are core
ideas ? that are not controversial."

Accompanying the petition was a letter from DeSantis to Governor
Haslam, posted at the Nashville Scene (April 6, 2012), in which
DeSantis warned, "If this bill is signed into law, students in schools
throughout Tennessee ... will suffer the consequences. Scientific
literacy is an increasingly important factor for college acceptance
and job prospects. ... At a time when we all need to be taking great
leaps forward in our collective understanding of a rapidly changing
world, this bill will be pulling us back."

Also opposing the bill have been the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union of
Tennessee, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, Americans
United for Separation of Church and State, the Knoxville News
Sentinel, the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal, the Nashville
Tennessean, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the
National Earth Science Teachers Association, and the Tennessee Science
Teachers Association.

Additionally, Gera Summerford, the president of the Tennessee
Education Association, which represents public teachers in the
Volunteer State, told the Wall Street Journal (April 5, 2012) that her
organization regards the bill as "unnecessary legislation" that
attempts to "micromanage curriculum": "There's no need for this," she
said. Nevertheless, Governor Haslam, who must sign the bill, allow it
to become law without his signature, or veto it by April 10, 2012, is
expected to sign it, a spokesperson told the newspaper.

For the story from MSNBC, visit:
http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/05/11040270-activists-cry-foul-as-tenn-science-education-bill-hits-governors-desk 

For the story from the Nashville Scene, visit:
http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2012/04/06/vanderbilt-professor-and-3200-tennesseans-urge-haslam-to-veto-science-education-bill 

For the story from the Wall Street Journal, visit:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304072004577326060629555968.html?mod=googlenews_wsj 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Tennessee, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/tennessee 

PROJECT STEVE: N > 1200

With the addition of Steven Piantadosi on April 6, 2012, NCSE's
Project Steve attained its 1200th signatory. A tongue-in-cheek parody
of the long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of
"scientists who doubt evolution" or "scientists who dissent from
Darwinism," Project Steve mocks such lists by restricting its
signatories to scientists with PhDs whose first name is Steve.
(Cognates are also accepted, such as Stephanie, Esteban, Istvan,
Stefano, or even Tapani -- the Finnish equivalent.) About 1% of the
United States population possesses such a first name, so each
signatory represents about 100 potential signatories. ("Steve" was
selected in honor of the late Stephen Jay Gould, a Supporter of NCSE
and a dauntless defender of evolution education.)

Although the idea of Project Steve is frivolous, the statement is
serious. It reads, "Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying
principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is
overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a
common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the
patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific
doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major
mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and
pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including
but not limited to 'intelligent design,' to be introduced into the
science curricula of our nation's public schools."

Among the 1202 current signatories to Project Steve are 100% of
eligible Nobel laureates (Steven Weinberg and Steven Chu), 100% of
eligible members of President Obama's Cabinet (Steven Chu, the
Secretary of Energy), at least ten members of the National Academy of
Sciences, the authors of popular science books such as A Brief History
of Time, How the Mind Works, and Darwin's Archipelago, a
brother-and-sister pair (Steve G. Belovich and Stephanie J. Belovich),
and a father-and-son pair (Steven Piantadosi and Steven T.
Piantadosi). When last surveyed in February 2006, 54% of the
signatories worked in the biological sciences proper; 61% worked in
related fields in the life sciences.

For information about Project Steve, visit:
http://ncse.com/taking-action/project-steve 

ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH IN OKLAHOMA

Scientific and educational organizations are again expressing their
opposition to antiscience legislation in the Sooner State. As NCSE
previously reported, although Oklahoma's House Bill 1551 died in
committee, there is now a proposal to amend House Bill 2341 with the
addition of a new section containing the very same language,
encouraging teachers to present the "scientific strengths and
scientific weaknesses" of "controversial" topics such as "biological
evolution" and "global warming."

Statements opposing the proposed amendment to HB 2341 have been issued
by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National
Association of Geoscience Teachers, and the National Association of
Biology Teachers. Those organizations, as well as the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, previously issued
statements opposing HB 1551. The proposal to amend HB 2341 will be
considered when the bill comes to a floor vote in the Senate; it is
currently on the Senate calendar, but not on the Senate agenda, for
April 16, 2012.

For the AIBS, NAGT, NABT, and AAAS statements (all PDF), visit:
http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1770 
http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1771 
http://ncse.com/webfm_send/1772 
http://www.aaas.org/programs/centers/pe/news_svc/media/2012/ok_hb_1551_senate_edu_march_2012.pdf 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/oklahoma 

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 and climate education and threats to them.

-- 
Sincerely,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com 
http://ncse.com 

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