NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2012/06/08
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Are antievolution efforts on the horizon in Kansas, and have creationists won a victory in South Korea? Plus AAAS's STEM.edu blog talks to teachers about challenges to evolution and climate education; Gallup releases the results of its latest poll on evolution; and NCSE offers a free preview of Ian Tattersall's Masters of the Planet.
TROUBLE ON THE KANSAS HORIZON? "Kansas is headed toward another debate over how evolution is taught in its public schools," the Associated Press (June 6, 2012) reports, "with a State Board of Education member saying Wednesday that science standards under development are 'very problematic' for describing the theory as a well-established, core scientific concept." The standards in question are the Next Generation Science Standards, a first draft of which was released for public comment in May 2012. Evolution is prominent throughout the relevant portions of the NGSS: in life sciences, for example, Natural Selection and Evolution is one of five main topics at the high school level, and Natural Selection and Adaptations is one of five main topics at the middle school level. Kansas is among the twenty-six "lead state partners" of the NGSS development process, officially assisting in the development, adoption, and implementation of the standards; although the lead state partners are not required to adopt the standards, they have agreed to give them "serious consideration" for adoption when they emerge in their final form -- which may be as soon as the end of 2012. But Kansas state board of education member Ken Willard told the Associated Press that the draft embraces naturalism and secular humanism, which he described as "very problematic" and as "preferring one religious position over another"; he intends to raise the issue on June 12, 2012, when the board is scheduled to hear a presentation on the present status of the NGSS. "In the past," the Associated Press noted, "Willard has supported standards for Kansas with material that questions evolution; guidelines that he and other conservatives approved in 2005 were supplanted by the current ones." As NCSE reported, in November 2005, the Kansas state board of education voted 6-4 to adopt the draft set of state science standards that were rewritten, under the tutelage of local "intelligent design" activists, to impugn the scientific status of evolution -- a decision roundly condemned by state and national scientific and education groups. After the antievolution faction on the board, which included Willard, lost its majority in the 2006 elections, the board reversed the decision in February 2007; the antievolution version of the standards was not in place long enough to be felt in the classrooms. For the Associated Press's story (via the Washington Post), visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/kansas-headed-toward-another-evolution-debate-as-school-board-reviews-new-science-standards/2012/06/06/gJQAKTcAJV_story.html For information about the Next Generation Science Standards, visit: http://www.nextgenscience.org/ And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Kansas, visit: http://ncse.com/news/kansas CREATIONIST SUCCESS IN SOUTH KOREA? A creationist campaign to remove references to evolution from high school biology textbooks in South Korea succeeded in May 2012, according to a report in Nature (June 5, 2012), when "the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology revealed that many of the publishers would produce revised editions that exclude examples of the evolution of the horse or of avian ancestor Archaeopteryx." Also in the sights of the creationist campaign are references to the evolution of humans and the adaptations of the beak of the finch. All four are favorite targets of creationists, including the "intelligent design" movement. South Korean biologists are complaining that they were not consulted about the revisions; Dayk Jang, an evolutionary scientist at Seoul National University, told Nature, "The ministry just sent the petition out to the publishing companies and let them judge." The campaign was led by the Committee to Revise Evolution In Textbooks (which Nature calls "the Society for Textbook Revise"), an independent offshoot of the Korea Association for Creation Research. Support for creationism in South Korea is high: in The Creationists (Harvard University Press, 2006), Ronald L. Numbers described the country as "the creationist powerhouse" in Asia. And acceptance of evolution is comparatively low: 64% of South Koreans agreed with "human beings are developed from earlier species of animals" in 2002, as compared to 44% of respondents in the United States in 2004, 70% of respondents in China in 2001, and 78% of respondents in Japan in 2001. Dayk Jang faulted the South Korean scientific community for its inaction and is now organizing a group of experts to counter the creationist campaign. "When something like this comes to fruition, the scientific community can be caught flat-footed," NCSE's Josh Rosenau told the New York Daily News (June 6, 2012). "Scientists are not by their nature political." South Korea is an up-and-coming scientific powerhouse, Rosenau said, adding that it's crucial to continue to teach evolution in schools if the county wants to compete on the international stage. "Evolution is the core of modern biological science," he said. For the report in Nature, visit: http://www.nature.com/news/south-korea-surrenders-to-creationist-demands-1.10773 For the cited poll data (PDF), visit: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/append/c7/at07-10.pdf For the story in the New York Daily News, visit: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/south-korea-set-remove-examples-evolution-textbooks-article-1.1091083 "CLASSROOM CLASHES" "Clashroom Clashes" -- a two-part series by Carrie Madren posted on the American Association for the Advancement of Science's STEM.edu blog -- "talks with middle and high school teachers across the country to find out what it's like to be on the frontlines of two often-controversial science topics -- evolution and climate change -- and how they deal with the pushback." Since NCSE provides advice, support, and resources to teachers facing challenges to evolution education -- and, starting in 2012, to teachers facing challenges to climate science education ? it's not surprising to find NCSE staff represented throughout! The first part (May 29, 2012) focuses on evolution. "Evolution debates have simmered since Darwin's time, and even now, many states and school districts have varied ideas on how evolution should be presented," Madren writes. "In addition, parents or communities with a range of views can make it difficult for science teachers to do their jobs. The controversy has made evolution a hot-button topic that's either lightly touched on or avoided altogether. Oftentimes, that means students don't get the scientific education they need to become well-rounded citizens." Making the point vivid, Jeremy Mohn, a biology teacher in Overland Park, Kansas, suggests, "Teaching biology without evolution is like teaching American history without the Civil War." "Each year, many states revisit the teaching of evolution," Madren explains, with Louisiana and Tennessee enacting antievolution legislation in 2008 and 2012, and with Texas constantly experiencing battles over the place of evolution in the state science standards. The advent of the Next Generation Science Standards, which emphasize evolution as a central idea of the life sciences, may help to defuse controversy at the state level, NCSE's Steven Newton commented. Individual teachers have developed ways of defusing controversy in their own classrooms: by discussing the creation/evolution continuum, for example, or by starting the biology course with a discussion of the nature of science. The second part (June 4, 2012) focuses on climate change. Madren observes, "climate change has become the latest topic to spark classroom disagreements. Despite near-consensus in the scientific community, questions about the validity of climate change science and global warming continue to circulate in mainstream media, news, blogs, and publications," adding, "As long as individuals continue to debate climate change validity on news stations, radio shows, and online, students will bring these biases into the classroom. That means science teachers across the country must defend science to preserve the truth about climate change -- as well as the way the next generation views it. Even though climate scientists and thousands of studies back them up, teachers still face pushback." Moreover, there are teachers who have acceded to the idea that climate change is scientifically controversial. NCSE's Mark McCaffrey explained, ?Some teachers teach both sides of what is really a phony debate. In their minds it's fair and balanced but in fact it leads to confusion rather than clarity." As AAAS's chief executive officer Alan I. Leshner recently admonished the governor of Tennessee when he was presented with a bill undermining the teaching of evolution and of climate change in the state's public schools, "Implying that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are not will only confuse students, not enlighten them." For the two parts of "Clashroom Clashes" on AAAS's STEM.edu blog, visit: http://membercentral.aaas.org/blogs/stemedu/classroom-clashes-pt-1-teaching-evolution http://membercentral.aaas.org/blogs/stemedu/classroom-clashes-pt-2-teaching-climate-change THE LATEST GALLUP POLL ON EVOLUTION A new Gallup poll on public opinion about evolution suggests that the rate of acceptance of evolution in the United States is "essentially unchanged" over the years. Asked in May 2012 "[w]hich of the following statements comes closest to your views on the origin and development of human beings," 32% of the respondents accepted "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process," 15% accepted "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process," and 46% accepted "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." The same question has been used by Gallup to poll about evolution since 1982. "Although the percentages choosing each view have varied from survey to survey, the 46% who today choose the creationist explanation is virtually the same as the 45% average over that period -- and very similar to the 44% who chose that explanation in 1982. The 32% who choose the 'theistic evolution' view that humans evolved under God's guidance is slightly below the 30-year average of 37%, while the 15% choosing the secular evolution view is slightly higher (12%)." As usual, acceptance of the creationist option was associated with a lower degree of education, a higher rate of church attendance, and affiliation with the Republican party. According to Gallup, the poll results are "based on telephone interviews conducted May 10-13, 2012, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia"; the samples were weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household and phone status. The maximum range of sampling error for the total sample was +/- 4%. Conveniently, Gallup provides a graph showing the results from its polls using the same question since 1982. A collection of material -- including NCSE's coverage, articles from RNCSE, and links -- relevant to polls and surveys concerning the creationism/evolution controversy is available on the NCSE website. For Gallup's report, visit: http://www.gallup.com/poll/155003/Hold-Creationist-View-Human-Origins.aspx For NCSE's collection of poll and survey material, visit: http://ncse.com/creationism/polls-surveys A PREVIEW OF MASTERS OF THE PLANET NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Ian Tattersall's Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). The excerpt consists of chapter 10, "Who Were the Neanderthals?" Tattertall writes, "Homo neanderthalensis occupies a very special place in the hominid pantheon because it was the first extinct hominid species to be discovered and named, back in the mid-nineteenth century. Largely as a result of this accident of history, the Neanderthals have always loomed very large in considerations of our own evolution -- although it has for long been evident that they were not direct human precursors as was suggested early on, and there is fairly general agreement by now that they deserve recognition as a distinctive hominid species in their own right." The reviewer for Nature described Masters of the Planet as "succinct and masterful," adding, "Tattersall takes us from 6 million years ago in Africa's Rift Valley to the present day. On the way, he brilliantly describes humanity's cousins and rivals, from apes to the other hominins that competed with H. sapiens as, tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors made the cognitive leap to symbolic thought." And Nick Lane praised it as "a book full of wisdom: the distillation of a lifetime's experience combined with finely honed critical faculties. ... The best guide to human origins that I have ever read." Tattersall is a Curator in the Division of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History, where he co-curates the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. For the preview of Masters of the Planet (PDF), visit: http://ncse.com/book-excerpt For information about the book from its publisher, visit: http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?pid=479206 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