The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Archive for September, 2013

Creationists in Kansas Come Full Circle: They File a Lawsuit Against the Teaching of Evolution

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2013

Have you ever heard that phrase: truth can be stranger than fiction?  Well, the topic of this blog post seems to fit that statement.  In the history of creationism vs. evolutionary science, there have been all kinds of shenanigans played by creationists in their attempts to promote their religion as science; in the beginning, this often took the form of outright bans against the teaching of evolution.  In fact, it was just such a state ban in Tennessee that led to the now famous Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.

Well, here we are nearly nine decades after that opening salvo in the creationist/evolution battles, and creationists in Kansas are taking a page from the old (and I mean OLD) playbook… they are filing a lawsuit to stop the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (since the NGSS promotes the teaching of evolution, which they claim “promotes atheism and materialism”).  Read this report from the National Center for Science Education for more details:

Anti-NGSS lawsuit filed in Kansas

Are the Next Generation Science Standards unconstitutional? A complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas on September 26, 2013, alleges so. The complaint inCOPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al.contends (PDF) that the NGSS and the Framework for K-12 Science Education (on which the NGSS are based) “will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview … in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment” (pp. 1-2). The plaintiffs ask for a declaratory judgment in their favor and for an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the NGSS in Kansas or, failing that, an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the sections of the NGSS to which they object.

NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau told the Associated Press (September 26, 2013) that it was a familiar argument, but “no one in the legal community has put much stock in it.” He added, “They’re trying to say anything that’s not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion,” and dismissed the argument as “silly.” Steven Case, director of the University of Kansas’s Center for Science Education, concurred, citing previous court rulings as evidence that the new lawsuit “won’t hold up.” “This is about as frivolous as lawsuits get,” Case told the Associated Press. The Kansas state board of education voted 8-2 to accept the Next Generation Science Standards on June 11, 2013, as NCSE previously reported, and the lawsuit is evidently attempting to undo the decision. … [emphasis added]

I would like to speak to Josh Rosneau’s comment that I put in bold above; this really is the kind of thinking employed by creationists.  They believe that you’re either with them or against them, and there’s no such thing as a grey area within their black and white thinking.  Therefore, if you are not actively promoting their religious beliefs, then you are by default promoting the opposite of their religious beliefs which is atheism.  Never mind that one can hold religious beliefs, even adhere to Christianity, and still accept evolutionary science; these creationists think that there can be no room at all for modern science within their belief system.  So, if they view science as the enemy – as arch-creationist Ken Ham and his followers appear to believe – then science must be fought at every turn.  Hence stupidity like this lawsuit…

thestupiditburns

Of course, I have no doubt that this lawsuit will go down in flames, as it should.  And I have no doubt that it will prove to be yet another embarrassing blow to the creationist movement, maybe becoming as famous as the Dover vs. Kitzmiller trial a few years ago.  But I also have no doubt that these creationists will not stop there; they will attempt to thwart every effort to teach good science in our public schools.  And because of that fact, we must be ever vigilant.

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Creationist Update: Creationism Loses Popularity, Texas Creationists Are Honest, and More Financial Shenanigans from Ken Ham

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 23, 2013

So much has been going on in the world of creationism lately that it’s been touch to keep track of it all, so I just want to give you a quick summary of three news items…

1.  Creationism Loses Popularity?

According to this blog post over at Patheos.com, it seems that creationism (and by “creationism” I mostly mean young-Earth creationism) may just be, slowly but surely, losing support among the public in the United States:

Just when we start to think the regressive policies of red states mean the battle is becoming harder, the secular movement gets more proof that what we’re doing really does matter.

poll of 1,000 people conducted by the Internet-based market research firm YouGovearlier this month indicates that since 2004, the level of public acceptance of creationism and the level for support for teaching creationism in U.S. public schools are down, and the level of acceptance of the theory of evolution is up.

Coming the week marking the 88th anniversary of the Scopes Monkey Trial, this is good news indeed. The numbers are far lower than what they need to be, though. While nearly half of the respondents agreed that evolution, whether guided by a deity or not, resulted in homo sapiens sapiens, significantly more than a third rejected evolution altogether and the remaining 17% claimed uncertainty.

YouGov’s poll marks substantial change from a similar CBS poll conducted in 2004. Thirteen percent of CBS’s 2004 respondents agreed with the statement. “Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process.” In 2013 the figure jumped to 21%. Correspondingly, strong creationism has taken the hardest hit. In 2004, 55% of respondents said that ”God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years,” and 5% said they were undecided. The strict creationists now account for 37% of the respondents. … [emphasis added]

Personally, I’ll take whatever good news I can get on this front, but I would like to see more than one poll yield the same information before I go celebrating too much.  Still, these results are pleasing 🙂

2.  Texas Creationists Get Honest

If you’ve followed the ongoing saga of creationism’s attempts to get into public schools, you probably know that the intent of creationists on school boards for decades, whether they espoused “teach the controversy”, “equal time”, or “academic freedom”, really meant “don’t teach evolution, instead teach (our view of) creationism.  Well, at least now the creationists who are attempting to manipulate the Texas Board of Education are now being open and honest about it (from Patheos.com) …

It used to be that creationists were sneaky.  They knew teaching creationism was against the law, so they tried to dress it up as science, or as teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.  It wasn’t exactly crafty, and it certainly wasn’t honest.

And the reason they weren’t honest is because playing fairly would result in immediate defeat (it turns out creationists don’t get to break the law more than anybody else).  This is a lesson the creationists on the Texas board of education are about to learn.  Karen Beathard, one of the reviewers, made a misstep by telling the truth.

“Religious conservatives serving on state textbook review panels have criticized several proposed high school biology textbooks for not including arguments against Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The review panels include several creationists. They urge the State Board of Education to reject the books unless publishers include more disclaimers on key concepts of evolution.

One reviewer even suggested a rule requiring that each biology book cover “creation science.” That would run counter to a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The decision banned the teaching of creationism in public school science classes. 

“I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution,” said Texas A&M University nutritionist Karen Beathard, one of the biology textbook reviewers. “At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I feel very firmly that creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.” [emphasis in the original]

Whoops.  That’s going to look pretty embarrassing for the creationists when they inevitably get hauled into court.  Can’t help fools… at least these are honest fools.

3.  Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Government Bailout?

It seems that despite all the rosy financial projections of a few years ago, uber-creationist Ken Ham is having even more difficulty than previously thought raising funds for the newest attraction at his Creation Museum, the “Ark Encounter”.  He has resorted to some questionable methods of raising money, seemingly putting the public on the hook by dipping into taxpayer funding in Kentucky (from NCSE):

When Answers in Genesis chief Ken Ham isn’t dealing with employees being zotted by lightning, or getting schooled on theology by a college student, he’s trying to build an amusement park centered on Noah’s Ark. He wants it to be full-sized (assuming they’re right about how long a cubit was), he wants it to be built by Amish carpenters (just like Noah’s was), he wants a mock first-century village, he wants to charge admission, and, as Daniel Phelps reports at Panda’s Thumb he hopes taxpayers as well as private citizens will cover part of the bill.

The project has already been promised a tourism-related state tax rebate and state road crews will widen the road leading to the park, but apparently the campaign to raise capital for construction has not been meeting expectations (neither has Creation Museum attendance, reportedly). So Ken Ham is looking for a new way to scare up money. He sent out an appeal to the Answers in Genesis mailing list offering people a chance to buy bonds to fund the park, bonds issued by the city of Williamstown, Kentucky. …

From the Panda’s Thumb link, I found the following comment to be of particular interest:

… Unfortunately, what it sounds like is that the City of Williamstown is going to issue some type of municipal bonds.

Municipal bonds are a loan made by a public entity. If you buy the bonds, you get a stream of “coupon” payments, as with any other type of bonds (“zero coupon” structure is just a variant of a coupon stream). You can think of the coupon payments as interest on the loan, even though it works slightly differently than the variable interest savings account that most people are more familiar with. Bottom line, a municipality borrows money and taxpayers pay the interest.

The hypocrisy here is unbelievable. I’m going to use the term “corruption” as well. There may or may not be anything technically illegal going on. But if this a surreptitious issuing of municipal bonds to fund a religious display, that may raise legal issues, and absolutely raises ethical issues. …

Ethical issues, indeed.  In my mind, the more I look at this entire situation with Ken Ham and his attempts to use public money to fund his creationist theme-park, the more I am reminded of this famous scene from The Simpsons:

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Opinion Survey on Vaccines Published by JREF and WT,Inc

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 18, 2013

I am very pleased to announce that a ground-breaking survey conducted on the issue of people’s opinions regarding vaccines and vaccination has been published; the work was a joint project of the James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. and it gets to the heart of how those of us who support good science-based medicine can communicate a more positive message on vaccines.

In addition, I am happy to say that I took a personal role in this research during my time with the Women Thinking, Inc. organization 🙂

[**Addendum: My skeptical colleague, Jamie Bernstein, wrote a wonderful piece on this survey research over at Skepchick, and she outlines there just how many people were involved in this process over the last few years.  Check it out!]

So, without further ado, I would like to link to the JREF’s press-release on the survey; please note that you can download the full paper at this link, so please share it!

Opinion Survey by JREF and Women Thinking Free Foundation Supports Childhood Immunization

The James Randi Educational Foundation and Women Thinking, Inc. have come together for an opinion survey aimed at better understanding the spread of the unfounded “vaccine panic” that prevents some parents from getting important immunizations for their children. The project, Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation, explores better ways to communicate a “vaccine-positive” message.

“Vaccine misconceptions have been running rampant, which should not only be concerning to science advocates but to parents and the greater public,” said WTinc President Louise Kellar. “Previously it had been unclear which misconceptions had been taking a toll on parents. Through this survey that the JREF funded, we hope that that science advocates and educators will be able to focus their outreach efforts, thereby helping children have the best start in life and hopefully saving some lives in the process.”

The joint project is an opinion survey that includes data from hundreds of parents of young children. The survey data was collected by volunteers at events where parents may be especially vulnerable to “anti-vaccine” messages. The JREF and Women Thinking, Inc. is happy to make the results freely available to public health and science advocates to help inform their efforts to support childhood immunity.

“There are some provocative conclusions that may be drawn from the survey data,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe. “Although the scientific community has done a good job refuting the misinformation of the most vocal anti-scientific anti-vaccine campaigners, the survey data suggests that most parents do understand the importance of ‘herd immunity,’ but just consider this a greater risk than possible harm to their children coming from vaccination. We hope the information from the survey will help science educators and activists better understand parents’ concerns in order to help them make the healthiest choices regarding childhood immunity from dangerous diseases.”

The JREF-WTinc survey, conducted over the last two years and released to the public today, aims to help science advocates fill gaps in the public’s understanding of the vaccine panic. The opinion survey asked specific questions about parents’ beliefs and fears about immunization, their media consumption, and their conversations with friends, family, and doctors. From the report: “The most effective anti-vaccination arguments are those that induce fear in parents by naming frightening ingredients and by greatly exaggerating the risks of vaccinations. The best pro-vaccination arguments were those that focused on a good-parenting message, such as suggesting that not immunizing your child is equivalent to putting them in a car without a car seat.”

You may download a copy of Immunization: Myths, Misconceptions, and Misinformation here.

Click here to read the rest of the press-release

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack Panel – Limits of Skepticism

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 6, 2013

The second panel in which I participated this past Labor Day weekend at DragonCon was a Skeptrack panel titled “Limits of Skepticism”.  I served as the moderator of the panel, which included philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, astronomer Pamela Gay, president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) DJ Grothe, Center For Inquiry activist Debbie Goddard, freethought activist Margaret Downey, and author of “What’s the Harm?” website Tim Farley.  In this discussion we ranged far and wide on the question of what is skepticism, what are the tools of skepticism, what are the limits of skepticism, and how skepticism can apply beyond the so-called “traditional” topics (UFOs, Bigfoot, creationism, etc).  I recorded the audio of the panel and share it with you below – enjoy!

Skeptrack
DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack – Limits of Skepticism

Posted in philosophy, religion, scientific method, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack Panel – Creationism and Intelligent Design

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 5, 2013

While at DragonCon this past Labor Day weekend, I had the good fortune to participate in two wonderful panels in the Skeptrack.  The first panel was titled “Creationism and Intelligent Design”, and it featured me as the moderator, philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, and science blogger Jon Voisey.  We had a wide ranging conversation on the topic of creationism, the tactics employed by creationists in their attempts to undermine science education, and related issues.  I recorded the audio of the panel and share it with you below – enjoy!

Skeptrack
DragonCon 2013 Skeptrack – Creationism and Intelligent Design

Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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