RE: [asa] Texas Science Education (NCSE)

From: George Cooper <>
Date: Fri Jan 30 2009 - 17:38:31 EST

Thanks for the news, Dick.


I'm pleased to see it, though a little surprised considering some of the
people involved.




From: [] On
Behalf Of Dick Fischer
Sent: Friday, January 30, 2009 1:55 PM
Subject: [asa] Texas Science Education (NCSE)


FYI from NCSE:


A victory for science education in Texas, although the battle is not yet
over. The latest antievolution textbook is royally panned in a top
scientific journal. Three journals are joining in the celebrations of the
Darwin anniversaries with special issues and features. And Darwin Day
continues to approach.




In a close vote on January 23, 2009, the Texas state board of education
approved a revision of the state's science standards lacking the
controversial "strengths and weaknesses" language, which in 2003 was
selectively applied by members of the board attempting to dilute the
treatment of evolution in the biology textbooks then under consideration.
The removal of the "strengths and weaknesses" language represents a
tremendous victory for science education in Texas, with the Dallas Morning
News (January 23, 2009) describing the failure of a proposed amendment to
reintroduce it as "a major defeat for social conservatives." But the
struggle is not over, for a number of scientifically indefensible revisions
to the biology and earth and space science standards were adopted at the
last minute. Defenders of the integrity of science education in Texas plan
to expose the flaws in these revisions and hope for a reversal when the
board takes its final vote on the standards at its March 26-27, 2009,


The crucial vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language took
place on January 22, 2009, the second day of the board's meeting. During
the first day of the board's meeting, as NCSE previously reported, dozens of
witnesses expressed their views about the proposed standards, including
NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, who urged the board to heed the
advice of the scientific and educational experts who revised the standards
and decided to omit the "strengths and weaknesses" language. Board members
who opposed the amendment cited the need to respect the work of the experts,
according to the Morning News, with Mary Helen Berlanga commenting, "We need
to stay with our experts and respect what they have requested us to do," and
Geraldine Miller similarly commenting, "We need to respect what our teachers
have recommended to us." Similarly, Rick Agosto was quoted in the San
Antonio Express-News (January 23, 2009) as saying, "I have to consider the


Members of the board who favored the amendment seemed, however, to consider
themselves to be experts. Ken Mercer -- who is on record as claiming that
evolution is falsified by the absence of any transitional forms between cats
and dogs -- was reported by the Express-News as saying that he was not going
to rubber-stamp the recommendations of the experts who revised the
standards. And he was also quoted by the Morning News as complaining, "The
other side has a history of fraud. Those arguing against us have a bad
history of lies." Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, who was
blogging from the meeting, reported that Mercer cited "the bogus and
misleading examples of Piltdown Man, Haeckel's vertebrate embryo drawings,
the peppered moths that were glued to tree trunks, and the half-bird,
half-dinosaur that were all 'evolutionary frauds'" -- all of which are
familiar staples of creationist literature attempting to discredit



Ultimately, as the Morning News reported, "The amendment failed to pass on a
7-7 vote, with four Democrats and three Republicans voting no. Another
Democrat -- who would have opposed the amendment -- was absent." The
significance of the vote was apparent to the Texas media: for example, the
headline of the story in the Morning News was "Texas Board of Education
votes against teaching evolution weaknesses"; the San Antonio Express-News
began its story with the sentence, "A 20-year-old Texas tradition allowing
public schools to teach 'both the strengths and weaknesses' of evolution
succumbed to science Thursday when the State Board of Education voted to
abolish the wording from its curriculum standards"; and the headline of the
story in the Austin American-Statesman (January 23, 2009) was "State board
shuns disputed language on evolution."


And the momentousness of the vote was not lost on NCSE's executive director
Eugenie C. Scott, who explained in a January 23, 2009, press release: "The
misleading language [in the original science standards] has been a
creationist loophole in the science TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and
Skills] for decades. Its removal is a huge step forward." Similarly, the
Texas Freedom Network's Kathy Miller commented in a January 23, 2009,
statement, "This is a very important victory for sound science education. A
board majority stood firmly behind 21st-century science and should be
applauded." Even the Free Market Foundation -- the state affiliate of Focus
on the Family -- in effect conceded the significance of the vote by issuing
a press release on January 22, 2009, expressing outrage at the vote and
pointedly identifying the members of the board who voted for and against the
amendment to restore the "strengths and weaknesses" language.


The victory was not complete, however. A flurry of amendments introduced by
creationist members of the board sought to compromise the treatment of
evolution in the biology standards. Terri Leo successfully proposed a
revision to the standards to replace verbs such as "identify," "recognize,"
and "describe" in section 7 of the high school biology standards with
"analyze and evaluate" -- no other section of the standards was treated
similarly. Worse, Don McLeroy successfully proposed a revision to section 7
to require that students "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or
insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis
and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." It is significant
that "sudden appearance" is a creationist catchphrase, associated in
particular with young-earth creationist Wendell Bird. During oral arguments
in Edwards v. Aguillard, for example, Jay Topkis observed, "those buzzwords
come right out of Mr. Bird's lexicon. ... They're his."


Just as worrying were the amendments introduced by creationist members of
the board that sought to compromise the treatment of evolution and related
concepts in the earth and space science standards. Barbara Cargill
successfully proposed revisions to the standards to add, in her words,
"humility and tentativeness; in the view of Steven Schafersman of Texas
Citizens for Science, however, "All five of the changes ... are not needed
and were proposed to weaken and damage the ESS TEKS." The worst change was
to a requirement that students "evaluate a variety of fossil types,
transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with
regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate and diversity of
evolution," which now reads, "evaluate a variety of fossil types, proposed
transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits and
assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of
this fossil evidence."


NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, who was at the meeting and observed the board's
confusion over these amendments, commented in NCSE's January 23, 2009, press
release, "They didn't ... have time to talk to scientists about the
creationist-inspired amendments made at the last minute. Once they do, I
believe these inaccurate amendments will be removed." The Texas Freedom
Network concurred, observing on its blog, "Board members -- none of whom are
research scientists, much less biologists -- appeared confused when they
were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the
standards. That's why it's foolish to let dentists and insurance salesmen
play-pretend that they're scientists. The result is that the standards
draft includes language that is more tentative. Not good, but not
necessarily disastrous overall." With respect to McLeroy's revision, the
TFN added, "What we saw is what happens when a dentist pretends that he
knows more about science than scientists do."


All of the action -- the vote not to restore the "strengths and weaknesses"
language and the flurry of amendments from creationist members of the board
apparently eager to salvage a small victory from the defeat -- occurred on
the second day of the board's meeting. On the third day, January 23, 2009,
there was virtually no discussion as the board voted unanimously to adopt
the science standards as revised on the previous day, without hearing any
further comments from those in attendance. The vote, again, is only a
preliminary vote, with a final vote on the standards expected at the board's
March 26-27, 2009, meeting. The Houston Chronicle (January 23,

2009) reported, "Scientists vowed to fight the plan before the board takes
final action in March"; since a survey demonstrated that the vast majority
of biologists at universities in Texas rejected the idea of teaching the
supposed weaknesses of evolution, there ought to be no shortage of
scientifically competent advice for the board to heed.


Reports in the press recognized that the overall result was a qualified
victory for science, with the Houston Chronicle (January 23, 2009), for
example, reporting, "Texas schools wont have to teach the weaknesses of
evolution theories anymore, but the State Board of Education ushered in
other proposed changes Friday that some scientists say still undermine
evolution instruction and subject the state to ridicule," and reporting
Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science as concerned that McLeroy's
revision, if not reversed, would make the standards a laughingstock. David
Hillis, a distinguished biology professor at the University of Texas at
Austin, added, "This new proposed language is absurd. It shows very clearly
why the board should not be rewriting the science standards, especially when
they introduce new language that has not even been reviewed by a single
science expert. He also told The New York Times (January 24, 2009), "Its a
clear indication that the chairman of the state school board doesnt
understand the science."


In the same vein, editorials in Texas and nationally have praised the
omission of the "strengths and weaknesses" language but lamented the
creationist revisions. The Austin American-Statesman (January 24, 2009)
seemed pleased if not excited about what it termed "an incremental step away
from dogma-driven curriculum decision-making," while the Waco Tribune
(January 26, 2009) was happy about the omission of a phrase that "was meant
to open the door to the undermining of evolution theory" but dismayed by
McLeroy's revision, which it described as "a fall-back attempt by the right
wing of the board to hang tough in its effort to undermine evolution
theory." The New York Times (January 26, 2009), for its part,
editorialized, "The lesson we draw from these shenanigans is that
scientifically illiterate boards of education should leave the curriculum to
educators and scientists who know what constitutes a sound education."


In addition to the newspaper reports cited above, a variety of on-line
sources provided detailed, candid, and often uninhibited running commentary
on the proceedings: Texas Citizens for Science's Steven Schafersman
blogged, and posted photographs, on the Houston Chronicle's Evo.Sphere blog,
the Texas Freedom Network was blogging on its TFN Insider blog, NCSE's
Joshua Rosenau was blogging on his personal blog Thoughts from Kansas
(hosted by ScienceBlogs), and the Houston Press blogged the first day of the
meeting. For those wanting to get their information from the horse's mouth,
minutes and audio recordings of the board meeting will be available on the
Texas Education Agency's website. NCSE's previous reports on events in
Texas are available on-line, and of course NCSE will continue to monitor the
situation as well as to assist those defending the teaching of evolution in
the Lone Star State.




Dick Fischer, GPA president

Genesis Proclaimed Association

"Finding Harmony in Bible, Science and History"



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Received on Fri Jan 30 17:39:09 2009

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