NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2012/04/13
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.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/join