The Skeptical Teacher

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

Archive for January, 2014

Creationism in Charter Schools: A Follow-Up

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 30, 2014

My most recent post – Texas Charter Schools Teaching Creationism? – outlined news that the charter school network in Texas is using public tax dollars to push religious dogma (specifically, fundamentalist Christianity) in public schools.  That, of course, is a real no-no legally, as outlined in the 1987 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Edwards v. Aguillard; it is also a no-no scientifically, as it has been shown, repeatedly and clearly, that creationism is not scientific and therefore shouldn’t be taught as such.

As a follow up to my recent post, I’d like to add on a couple of interesting data points.  The first is an article from wherein they outline the fact that this isn’t just a problem in Texas:

Slate charter Creationism Map

Image Source

… A large, publicly funded charter school system in Texas is teaching creationism to its students, Zack Kopplin recently reported in Slate. Creationist teachers don’t even need to be sneaky about it—the Texas state science education standards, as well as recent laws in Louisiana and Tennessee, permit public school teachers to teach “alternatives” to evolution. Meanwhile, in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, taxpayer money is funding creationist private schools through state tuition voucher or scholarship programs. As the map below illustrates, creationism in schools isn’t restricted to schoolhouses in remote villages where the separation of church and state is considered less sacred. If you live in any of these states, there’s a good chance your tax money is helping to convince some hapless students that evolution (the basis of all modern biological science, supported by everything we know about geology, genetics, paleontology, and other fields) is some sort of highly contested scientific hypothesis as credible as “God did it.” …

As I and others have warned previously, because these questions are settled law (and that settled by the Supreme Court) then any school district participating in these shenanigans is likely to run afoul of some very unpleasant lawsuits.  Well, now it appears that shoe is dropping…

Texas Charter School System’s Use Of Creationist Textbooks Violates The Constitution, Americans United Says

Church-State Watchdog Asks Texas Education Agency To Prohibit Responsive Education Solutions’ Use of Anti-Science Materials Or Revoke Its Charter

Jan 30, 2014

The biology curriculum used by a system of taxpayer-supported charter schools in Texas promotes creationism in violation of the U.S. Constitution, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a letter today to the Texas Education Agency’s Division of Charter School Administration, Americans United warned officials that Responsive Education Solutions must not be permitted to continue to aggressively undermine the theory of evolution while receiving public funds. Americans United told the agency to either prohibit the use of this curriculum or revoke Responsive Education Solutions’ charter.

“The U.S. Supreme Court said more than 25 years ago that creationism is a religious dogma that cannot be promoted by public schools,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “It amazes me that we are still fighting this battle in 2014, yet here we are.” …

Yup, here we are… once again… fighting a battle in the 21st century against those with an outdated and defunct 18th century view of science.

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Texas Charter Schools Teaching Creationism?

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 27, 2014

You have to give it to creationists, they certainly are persistent.  And none seem to be more persistent than those creationists in Texas who continue to evolve their tactics in an effort to insert their religious fundamentalism into the public schools at the expense of students’ education in science and critical thinking in general.  As our friends at the National Center for Science Education report, the newest battle front appears to be in the Texas charter school system:

“When public-school students enrolled in Texas'[s] largest charter program open their biology workbooks, they will read that the fossil record is ‘sketchy.’ That evolution is ‘dogma’ and an ‘unproved theory’ with no experimental basis. They will be told that leading scientists dispute the mechanisms of evolution and the age of the Earth,” according to Zack Kopplin, writing in Slate (January 16, 2014). “These are all lies.”

Kopplin’s article reports on his investigation into Responsive Ed, which operates more than sixty-five charter schools in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, and receives more than $82 million in public funds to do so. Examining workbooks used in Responsive Ed’s schools, Kopplin concluded, “These workbooks both overtly and underhandedly discredit evidence-based science and allow creationism into public-school classrooms.”

Among the claims that he cited as problematic: that there is no “single source for all the rock layers”; that “[s]ome scientists” question the established age of the earth; that evolution cannot be tested; that there is a “lack of transitional fossils,” which is a “problem for evolutionists who hold a view of uninterrupted evolution over long periods of time.” The section on the origin of life quotes Genesis 1:1.

Responsive Ed’s vice president of academic affairs was quoted as saying that the curriculum “teaches evolution, noting, but not exploring, the existence of competing theories.” Unreassured, Kopplin commented, “Bringing creationism into a classroom by undermining evolution and ‘noting … competing theories’ is still unconstitutional,” citing the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.

Asked for his appraisal of the situation, NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau commented, “Some people don’t realize that the First Amendment applies to charter schools just as much as to any other public school. Teaching creationism or other sectarian religious claims as if they were science is wrong anywhere, but it’s especially bad to use tax dollars to force one person’s religion onto school kids.” … [emphasis added]

I wanted to emphasize the wording in bold above: when many people hear the term “charter” school, they mistakenly think that it means the school is private.  Thus, if it is a “private charter” school, then they can teach whatever they wish, right?  Wrong.

In the United States (and last I looked Texas was still part of the Union), a charter school is one which is a kind of public/private partnership; but the key point is that charter schools are still a part of the public school system.  And as such, they must adhere to the same rules as the rest of the public school system, the key one in this case being that it is against the law to teach creationism as science in public schools.

To my knowledge, while the issue has been clearly hashed out in the courts involving cases of the broader public school system, I don’t know of a case yet where this question has come up in a charter school system.  If I had to gamble, I would bet that the courts would rule against creationists in such a case specific to charter schools; but, despite all that, it seems that the creationists in Texas are happy to spend taxpayer money in what is certain to be a futile attempt to circumvent both the law and good science education.

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“An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi” Project is in the Home Stretch

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2014

One year ago, I wrote a post about a kickstarter project to help fund a film on the life of that skeptical giant, James Randi.  The film is titled “An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi”, and I’m happy to report that it is nearing completion!  But in order to bring it across the finish line, the film’s producers need a little more financial help.  Read on for details, and please consider donating if you are able…


The finish line is approaching and we wanted to let you, our supporters, know about our progress. We’ve now completed a fine-cut of the documentary and will be locking it in shortly.

We have now scheduled our post-production (conform, color correct, audio mix, final output etc.) for mid-March and are officially going to complete the film by the end of March, with the aim to premiere An Honest Liar at film festivals beginning in April.

Between now and then, we’ll be refining the edit, working with our composer on the score, sourcing the archival footage we use (there’s a TON…) transferring it and re-inserting it into the cut, completing graphics, animations, and titles, and when it’s all done, popping open a bottle of champagne.

(BTW – if you have any videotapes of old Randi shows, let us know!)

EXCEPT for people getting the digital download/DVD/Blu-ray and movie posters, everyone should have gotten their Kickstarter rewards. We have gotten a number of returned packages for people who may have moved, so if you haven’t gotten your reward please message us.

We still need additional support. The licensing of some of the archival footage is incredibly expensive, but it’s rare and great material that we can’t pass up. If you missed out on donating or know someone who wanted to, we can still use help. Plus, you can still get many of the Kickstarter rewards we offered – while they still last. Just go to our website to donate and choose rewards.

Finally, below is a bonus clip that isn’t going to be in the final film, but we just couldn’t leave on the edit room floor.

Thanks again to all our supporters!

– The Honest Liar team

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XKCD: Evidence (or Lack Thereof) Wins Out

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 14, 2014

In a way that only that most famous of Internet comics can say it…


‘Nuff said 🙂

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Global Warming Deniers Confuse Climate with Weather, AGAIN

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 7, 2014

If you live in North America, then no doubt you’re aware of the so-called polar vortex which has come down from the Arctic to freeze the hell out of the continent.  And, just as surely as the temperatures started to drop, global warming deniers began to shout about how this supposedly proves that global warming isn’t real.

Okay, so you see here’s the thing… it’s called *global* warming because the whole globe, on average, is getting warmer.  Saying that a cold snap disproves global warming is like saying that the IRS no longer exists because you got a tax refund once.


See all that red?  Yeah, that’s where the climate is getting warmer.  And notice how there’s more red than blue? [image source]

I’ve blogged about this very topic before, namely that “climate” isn’t the same thing as “weather”, but seeing as how the deniers are once again spouting their nonsense, it bears repeating…

Winter is NOT “Proof” of Global Cooling

… The primary flaw in this argument is good ol’ fashioned cherry-picking of data: the “coolers” are choosing to focus only upon data which supports their claims, while ignoring the vast amount of data which points in exactly the opposite direction. By focusing on just the weather reports over the last couple of weeks, or for only a certain part of the planet, they leave out the fact that climate is a phenomenon which is global in nature and that climate science is concerned with long term trends.  Essentially, they are confusing weather with climate.  Climate experts recently made this point in an Associated Press article which has been widely circulated.

Bottom line: when taking all of the data into account, both concerning the timeline as well as the Earth as a whole, there is a clear warming trend. …

There are some other really good articles about this latest confusion regarding how the polar vortex fits into the broader picture of global warming.  For your reference, I’ll suggest two of them:

1. Can global warming be real if it’s cold in the U.S.? Um… yes!

This article is really good because it goes through some of the basics about global warming and climate change in general, and then it emphasizes the importance of temperature trends and statistical analysis of the data.  My favorite part is as follows:

Global warming isn’t expected to abolish winters in the U.S. anytime soon. Right now, climate experts are worried about a 2°C to 4°C rise in global average temperatures by the end of the century. That would create all sorts of disruptive changes. But those few degrees aren’t enough to completely undo the larger swings in temperature we see each year between summer and winter in many parts of the world.

Indeed, many climate models suggest that we’ll still see record cold snaps in the United States as the planet heats up. They’ll just become much less frequent over time — while record heat waves will become increasingly common. See this paper in Geophysical Research Letters from 2009: Over the past decade, it notes, the U.S. has experienced about two daily record high temperatures for every record low. If the planet keeps heating up, that ratio will shift to 20:1 by mid-century. There will still be record lows in many areas. They’ll just be rarer. …

2. Go home, Arctic, You’re Drunk.

This is a humorous and informative post from my skeptical colleague Greg Laden wherein he lays out just how it’s possible for global warming to actually account for the polar vortex phenomenon:

… The apparent contrast between extreme cold and global warming is actually an illusion. If we look at the local weather in many parts of the US we see a giant blob of cold “Arctic air” moving south to engulf our humble hamlets and cities, as though the Arctic Coldness that we know is sitting on the top of our planet, like a giant frosty hat, is growing in size. How can such a thing happen with global warming?

Actually, if you think about it, how can such a thing happen at all? Imagine a somewhat different scenario. Imagine the giant global hulu-hoop of warmth we know of as the tropics suddenly expanding in size to engulf the United States, Europe, Asia, and in the south, southern South America, southern Africa, Australia, etc. for a week or so, then contract back to where it came from. How could that happen? Where would all the heat necessary for that to happen come from? That seems to be a violation of some basic laws of physics. Now, cold is not a thing — it is the absence of heat — but the same problem emerges when we imagine the giant frosty hat of arctic air simply getting many hundreds of percent larger, enough to engulf the temperate regions of the planet. As easy as it might be to imagine such a thing given the images we see on regional weather maps, it is in fact not possible. The physics simply does not work that way.

What is happening instead is the cold air mass that usually sits up on the Arctic during the northern Winter has moved, drooped, shifted, gone off center, to engulf part of the temperate region. Here in the Twin Cities, it is about 8 below zero F as I write this. If I go north towards the famous locality of International Falls (famous for its cold temperature readings often mentioned on the national news) it will in fact be colder. If I go even farther north, at some point it will start to get warm again, as we leave the giant blob of cold air that has engulfed us. In fact, it is relatively warm up on the North Pole right now. Alaska and Europe are relatively warm as well.

The graphic above from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts shows what is happening. The Polar Vortex, a huge system of swirling air that normally contains the polar cold air has shifted so it is not sitting right on the pole as it usually does. We are not seeing an expansion of cold, an ice age, or an anti-global warming phenomenon. We are seeing the usual cold polar air taking an excursion. …

Of course, I don’t expect any of this to phase the hardcore global warming deniers, because they’re off in a fantasy world of their own.  No doubt that next time winter strikes the northern hemisphere, they’ll be back spouting this nonsense once again; it’s just plain sad and predictable.  I almost feel sorry for them.  I mean, how can you not feel sorry for them when this moron is one of their primary spokesmen?

trump daily show GW

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Chicago Skepticamp 2014 Needs Speakers!

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 6, 2014

The fine folks at Chicago Skeptics are currently in the early stages of organizing the Chicago Skepticamp 2014 conference, which is scheduled for Saturday April 5th at the Irish American Heritage Center, and one of the things they need most right now are speakers.  Please read their latest press release for more information on this, and consider getting involved or at least passing along the news:

skepticamp chicago

Saturday, April 5th
Irish American Heritage Center

Register here!
Registration will be open through March 1.

This year’s schedule:

10:00 am: Hello!

Here is the part of the schedule where there will be a whole bunch of awesome speakers, just like you!
So much like you, in fact, that one of them could BE you.

Speaker registration is now open! Get those brains a-stormin’. You don’t have to have your whole talk ready, but tell us what you’d like to speak about and we’ll get you signed up.
Speaker sign-up ends on February 1st.
(All final speaker materials must be submitted by March 1)

What is a Skepticamp?

Skepticamp is an opportunity for us to get together to learn about different ares of skepticism from our fellow group members. These talks give an opportunity for individuals to delve into particular areas of skepticism…both the tried and true topics and those that may not get as much attention in the regular blogs and articles. Skepticamps encourage as many people as possible to give a talk…and certainly encourages first-time speakers to try their hand at presenting in a friendly, supportive atmosphere.

For more info on skepticamps in general, visit:

One of the principles of Skepticamp is that everyone participates either by talking or helping in some way. We are already having planning committee meetings, and interested parties can still help. Other ways to help will be announced as we get closer to the date…setup and cleanup crews, distributing publicity, etc. (Nobody is going to be turned away because they don’t have a specific job, though.)

Skepticamp is a participant supported event. If you’d like to help offset some of the financial costs incurred by the organizers, please consider making a donation. We’ll also be accepting donations at the event.

Though Skepticamp is free to attend, there are several significant expenses for making it a reality. If you’d like to help, please click this link.

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Evolution and Creationism in 2013: The Year in Review

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 4, 2014

If you know anything about the evolution-creationism battle in the United States, you know that it is a long-running one.  You also know that the issue is heavily influenced by religious outlook (or lack thereof) and politics.  Some recent polling data has provided some very revealing information about trends in the U.S. on these issues: and a deeper analysis yields bad news for the creationists.

First, the poll itself: the Pew Research Center released their poll, titled “Public’s Views on Human Evolution” on Dec. 30th.  And it contains some interesting take-aways:


According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” …

One of the most interesting things to see in this poll is the breakdown of religious and political affiliation:

… These beliefs differ strongly by religious group. White evangelical Protestants are particularly likely to believe that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. Roughly two-thirds (64%) express this view, as do half of black Protestants (50%). By comparison, only 15% of white mainline Protestants share this opinion.

There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap. … [emphasis added]

Perhaps it’s no surprise that evangelical Protestants are the ones who reject evolution the most while the religiously unaffiliated (the so-called “nones”) embrace evolution.  The thing that is so surprising about this particular survey is the part I put in bold above: self-identifying Republicans are rejecting evolution in higher and higher numbers.  I think this presents a big problem for the Republican party, and my next discussion point illustrates why. Read the rest of this entry »

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