The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Kitzmiller’

Big Win for Science Education in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 27, 2013

I have written here many times in the past about how creationists have tried to use the textbook adoption process in Texas to attempt to dumb down science texts. And the recent textbook adoption process wrapping up in Texas is no different; even if you don’t live in Texas, this is potentially an issue for your school district, because since the textbook market is so large, book publishers often feel pressure to change their textbooks nationwide based upon feedback and criticism from the Texas Board of Education. And, unfortunately, too many times in the past creationists and other science-deniers have been successful in their efforts.

However, this time I am more than happy to report that the creationists in Texas have lost, and they’ve lost big time. And that means it’s a big win for the rest of us :)

Our good friends at the National Center for Science Education have a full report, which I list below in two parts:

Texas Creationists Beware: The Posse’s Comin’

By Josh Rosneau

After last month’s Texas textbook vote, I was ready to declare total victory. I wrote:

“It’s a joy to be able to report on a sweeping victory for science education in Texas, and to be able to give an eyewitness report of the fight over the textbooks that will be used in that massive textbook market for years to come.”

But there was a shoe left to drop, a panel that the board would appoint to review a disputed list of purported errors in the Pearson/Prentice-Hall Biology textbook written by Ken Miller and Joe Levine. As New York Times reporter Motoko Rich explained:

“The Texas Board of Education on Friday delayed final approval of a widely used biology textbook because of concerns raised by one reviewer that it presents evolution as fact rather than theory. …

the state board, which includes several members who hold creationist views, voted to recommend 14 textbooks in biology and environmental science. But its approval of “Biology,” a highly regarded textbook by Kenneth R. Miller, a biologist at Brown University, and Joseph S. Levine, a science journalist, and published by Pearson Education, was contingent upon an expert panel determining whether any corrections are warranted. Until the panel rules on the alleged errors, Pearson will not be able to market its book as approved by the board to school districts in Texas.”

Well, the panel of experts has returned with their conclusions to the Board, and the news is good. The NCSE has a full rundown:

A final victory in Texas

… As NCSE previously reported, at its November 22, 2013, meeting, the board quarreled about whether to heed a review panel’s criticisms of Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine’s popular biology textbook, published by Pearson, but decided to adopt it, contingent on the outcome of a further review by a panel of three outside experts. Subsequently, the names of the experts were divulged: Ronald Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University and a recipient of NCSE’s Friend of Darwin award; Arturo De Lozanne, a professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at the University of Texas, Austin; and Vincent Cassone, a professor of biology at the University of Kentucky (and formerly at Texas A&M University). As NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau commented at the Science League of America blog (December 11, 2013), “it’ll take about 5 minutes for them to dismiss the claims leveled against Pearson’s Biology.”

According to TFN, “A Texas Education Agency (TEA) spokesperson told us that it has forwarded the panel’s report to Pearson. TEA won’t release the report publicly until Pearson has had a chance to review it, but our sources said all three panelists dismissed the claims of factual errors and recommended no changes to the textbook.” Assessing the outcome, TFN contended, “The panel’s approval of the Pearson textbook essentially marks the end of efforts by anti-evolution activists to hijack this year’s science textbook adoption. Throughout the process, they and their board allies — including [the board's chair Barbara] Cargill — tried to pressure publishers into watering down and distorting the science on evolution and climate change. They failed completely when publishers resisted their pressure while TFN, the National Center for Science Education and other science education advocates rallied support for the textbooks.” …

So if you’re looking for a worthy organization to donate to for your end-of-the-year giving, and you value good public science education, I suggest donating a few bucks to the NCSE. It’ll be money well spent :)

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Creationism Coming to Your Backyard?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 19, 2011

Think that your school district is immune from the pressures of pseudoscientific nonsense such as creationism?  Think again…

This image is edited from the hilarious original :)

It can happen anywhere, and I say that with all sincerity because it looks like creationism could very well be creeping very near to my own backyard.  Specifically, there is a school board election coming up soon in a nearby district, and I was tipped off to this fact by an online pro-science group I’m part of called Darwin’s Bulldogs.

In this article in a local paper, it is outlined quite clearly that the intentions of two candidates for the school board (one of whom is the current president!) are to have their religious beliefs taught as science…

Candidates: Teach creationism in science classes

Two candidates for the Fremont School District 79 board — including the panel’s current president — believe creationism should be taught alongside evolution in science classes.

The revelations were made Monday morning during candidate interviews at the Daily Herald’s Lake County office.

“I think from a scientific standpoint it can be given as a viewpoint,” board President Sandra Bickley said in the interview. “(It’s) another theory to consider.” …

Well, I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow that to happen.  I’ve already written a letter to the paper which published this article.  Here it is…

Creationism should not be taught as science

As a physics teacher/professor and taxpayer, I was appalled to read your Feb. 14 article “Candidates: Teach creationism in science classes” about the Fremont school board election.

According to your article, candidates Sandra Bickley and Kim Hansen said that creationism is “another theory to consider” and that it “should be presented in a very broad type of curriculum or structure”.  They also said that “there is no right or wrong” regarding people’s beliefs.

Well, I don’t know about the right or wrong of one’s beliefs, but I can tell you that there most certainly are right and wrong answers in science.  And the evidence overwhelmingly shows that creationism, as science, is dead wrong.  If there were anything substantial, in a scientific sense, to creationism, why is it that we don’t use creationism to make modern vaccines & antibiotics, as we do with evolutionary biology?  We don’t because creationism doesn’t work as science, period.

As for the “teach all views” argument, which version of creationism should we teach?  Should it be young-Earth (the Earth is 6000 years old) or old-Earth (the Earth is billions of years old) creationism?  What about teaching non-Christian versions, such as Raelianism (they believe we were created by aliens, not God)?  Perhaps after we get done “teaching all views”, the students might have a couple of weeks left in the school year to learn real science.

They don’t waste time with this nonsense in science classes in China & India, whose populations are becoming better educated & more competitive with the United States every year.  I suggest the taxpayers consider that fact when casting their votes in the upcoming school board election.

I’m not sure if my letter will get published, but I’ll fight this thing tooth & toenail if I have to, and I have allies in that fight.  That includes regular readers of this blog, whom I encourage to contact me, most especially if you live in the area, for advice on dealing with issues such as these.  This is important because one things creationists do is track each others’ success with things like this; if they have even mild success in an area, they will make a concerted push in that area (and others).  If you don’t beat them back quickly, they’ll multiply and try to take over the school board; then, the next thing you know, you’ve got another Dover trial on your hands.

This should serve as a cautionary tale, folks: it CAN happen anywhere, and it WILL happen if those of us on the side of science & skepticism let our guard down.  So be on the lookout & watch your local school board.

Posted in creationism, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Majority of U.S. Biology Teachers Don’t Teach Evolution Adequately

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 7, 2011

Sometimes science supporters lament some very stubborn statistics, specifically those regarding the public acceptance of evolutionary science in the United States.  Rather consistently, for many decades, the number of people in the U.S. who are outright ignorant or mistrustful of evolutionary science hovers at around the 40-45% mark, with most of those identifying as Young-Earth creationists (i.e. those who believe the Earth is ~10,000 years old as espoused by certain Biblical interpretations).  Fortunately, recent research has shown this number slowly declining, but it is a really slow decline.

And many times, those of us in the pro-science crowd have wondered why it is that, despite amazing advances in evolutionary science and defeat after defeat for creationism in the federal courts, this blatant ignorance of (or outright animosity towards) evolution still exists to such a large degree?  Well, some recent survey research may provide some clue as to an answer, and it – sadly – involves the nation’s teachers…

13% of H.S. Biology Teachers Advocate Creationism in Class

The majority of high-school biology teachers don’t take a solid stance on evolution with their students, mostly to avoid conflicts, and fewer than 30 percent of teachers take an adamant pro-evolutionary stance on the topic, a new study finds. Also, 13 percent of these teachers advocate creationism in their classrooms.

“The survey left space for [the teachers] to share their experiences. That’s where we picked up a lot of a sense about how they play to the test and tell students they can figure it out for themselves,” Michael Berkman, co-author of the study with Penn State University colleague Eric Plutzer, told Livescience. “Our general sense is they lack the knowledge and confidence to go in there and teach evolution, which makes them risk-averse.” …

So it seems that part of the problem is that many biology teachers themselves are not adequately prepared to teach about evolution.  However, this is a problem which can (and should) be corrected by making adjustments to the university curriculum & training for prospective biology teachers, giving them (well, the 87% who are NOT creationist) the appropriate skills & training in the subject matter.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a deeper problem: that of intimidation, either explicit or implicit, of biology teachers who actually want to teach evolution…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Dover vs. Kitzmiller Decision is Five Years Old!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2010

Five years ago, on Dec. 20th, 2005, one of the most influential court rulings regarding the evolution & creationism battles in the public schools came down – it was the Dover vs. Kitzmiller decision, and it was a devastating blow to the intelligent design movement (IDM). The IDM had been making some serious inroads in various venues in the early part of the decade, and this court case was seen as a critical tipping point as to whether or not ID-creationism would pass muster in public school science classes.  Fortunately, it lost and lost badly :)

So, happy birthday Dover vs. Kitzmiller!  In case you’re interested in seeing where things stand five years on, as well as hearing from some of the key players in the case, check out this article…

After 5 years, Dover intelligent design ruling’s impact still felt

Tammy Kitzmiller’s family jokingly refers to Dec. 20 as “Kitzmas.”

Five years ago on that day, U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III handed down a 139-page ruling on her eponymous case, Kitzmiller v. Dover.

The case made Kitzmiller — and Dover — world famous in a legal battle versus Dover Area school board on whether intelligent design could be taught as an accepted scientific theory.

The battle ended with Jones banning Dover schools from ever enforcing an intelligent design policy and ruled intelligent design is religion, not science. …

Interestingly, some recent polling from Gallup seems to indicate that within recent years fewer Americans are accepting creationism and more are accepting the science of evolution as an explanation for the development of life:

Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God’s involvement.

Folks, I think this is welcome improvement – nearly 55% of Americans accept some form of evolution (theistic or atheistic) while only about 40% accept creationism.  That latter number is still too high, in my opinion, but things look like they’re heading in the right direction, and I like to think that the Dover vs. Kitzmiller decision had at least a little something to do with that.

The entire Gallup poll can be accessed here. Nice to see that on Dover vs. Kitzmiller’s fifth birthday we have something to celebrate :)

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

More Creationist Shenanigans in Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 21, 2009

Well, there seems to be an interesting mix of sanity & lunacy coming to Texas.  I am referring to the recent effort by creationists with the Institute for Creationist Research (ICR) to demand the state recognize their “Master’s degree in science education.” Needless to say, had the ICR been successful, this would have been an absolute disaster.  Fortunately, the ICR lost their bid with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

Well, true to form, the ICR is not going away quietly.  Instead, they are now threatening to sue the THECB…

The complaint, filed on April 16, 2009, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, named Raymund Paredes, the Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and its members as defendants, in both their official and individual capacities, accusing them of imposing “an unconstitutional and prejudicial burden against ICRGS’s academic freedom and religious liberties” (p. 63) and asking the court for declarative and injunctive relief.

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Implications from Texas

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 17, 2009

Well, now that the dust seems to have settled in the latest round of what I’m calling the Texas Science Wars, it is worth examining in more detail how things shook out.

At the time of the adoption of the current standards, I was guardedly optimistic about the outcome. Upon further analysis, however, I think that the creationists on the Texas BoEd have yet again muddied the water of science education in an attempt to give their ideological & religious allies cover for pushing nonsense in science classrooms (and, by extension through their textbook adoption, to other states as well).

Here is a quick synopsis from the National Center for Science Education on the topic…

Consequences of the flawed standards in Texas?

Since the March 2009 decision of the Texas state board of education to adopt a set of flawed state science standards, media coverage has increasingly emphasized the possible consequences. As NCSE previously reported, although creationists on the board were unsuccessful in inserting the controversial “strengths and weaknesses” language from the old set of standards, they proposed a flurry of synonyms — such as “sufficiency or insufficiency” and “supportive and not supportive” — and eventually prevailed with a requirement that students examine “all sides of scientific evidence.” Additionally, the board voted to add or amend various standards in a way that encourages the presentation of creationist claims about the complexity of the cell, the completeness of the fossil record, and the age of the universe. The result, NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, was “a triumph of ideology and politics over science.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Darwin’s 200th – Happy Birthday Chuck!

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 12, 2009

Well, this Thursday is the BIG day – it’s the 200th anniversary of that famed naturalist, Charles Darwin, and it also happens to be the 150th anniversary of the publishing of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Seeing as how important the entire scientific concept of evolution is to our daily lives, and Darwin’s specific theory of evolution through natural selection in particular, I think it is only fitting that we pause to honor the man who helped to revolutionize biology & many other aspects of science. It should be noted that evolution is a concept that spans the sciences – in fact, it is so broad-reaching a concept that Scientific American magazine recently called evolution “the most powerful idea in science.”


In celebration of this event, there are events being organized all over the world. Here are some of the groups organizing these events, so feel free to browse and see if there’s something going on near you! In addition, I’ve included below a series of links specific to learning more about evolution and science in general…

Darwin Day
Evolution Weekend
National Center for Science Education
Understanding Evolution
Understanding Science
Evolution Series from PBS-NOVA

And if you are into taking on the pseudoscientific claims of creationists, then you might find these links of use…

15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense
TalkOrigins Archive
Answers In Genesis BUSTED!
Expelled Exposed: Why Expelled Flunks
Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Panda’s Thumb
Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Last, but not least, I wanted to provide you with a couple of special links. The first is a link to the TalkOrigins Archive and outlines the vast amount of evidence that clearly establishes the reality of evolution. Take some time to read that link (it’s a lot of material) and convince yourself that the evidence for evolution is rock solid.

The second is a hilarious video, basically a challenge to creationists from Answers In Genesis BUSTED!, that asks a lot of questions of creationists which they never seem to address…

In closing, take some time this weekend to celebrate Darwin’s birthday and his great achievements. Have a drink, throw a party, and tell your friends & family about the importance of the man and, more importantly, his contributions to science.

Happy Birthday, Chuck! Wheeeee! :D

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Creationism is Evolving Again

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 23, 2009

Well folks, those wacky creationists are at it again. Once more, their tactics to push their religious beliefs as science have evolved in response to the changing environment. Let’s take a brief look at the recent history of the creationist movement in the United States…

then a miracle occurs

1987 – In Edwards v. Aguillard, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “scientific creationism” (SC) was not science, but a religiously-motivated concept which had no place in public school science classes. This is because SC was based upon literal interpretations of the Bible as espoused by certain denominations of Christianity, so policies pushing SC in public school science classes were clearly a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

1987 to early 1990s – Shortly after this ruling, unable to thrive in the legal environment of the day, the creationist movement in the United States mutated to promote a new species of creationism, namely so-called “intelligent design” (ID). Interestingly, rather than formulate testable hypotheses, perform experiments, and publish the results in peer-reviewed scientific journals as a way of promoting their views, the creationists chose to simply re-label SC as ID (presumably because “intelligent design” sounded more scientific). The biggest push for ID came from an organization called the Discovery Institute, which clearly outlined its real goals (hint: it isn’t to teach science) in an internal memo – the now infamous Wedge Document (get an actual copy of the “Wedge” at this link). Among other things, the “Wedge” states…

Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.

And the “Wedge” illustrates as its 20-year goals:

* To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.
* To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics and cosmology in the natural sciences, psychology, ethics, politics, theology and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.
* To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life.

[emphasis mine]

Hmmm – so the creationists specifically want to see their version of Christianity “permeate our religious, cultural, moral and political life”? Yup, that sure sounds like science to me!

1990s to 2004 – ID is pushed hard by the Discovery Institute, and the creationists publish numerous popular books (not peer-reviewed articles in science journals) in an effort to advance their religious agenda.

2004-2005 – The creationists finally attempt to push ID in the public schools in Dover, PA. This move backfires on them badly, as evidenced by the smack-down they received in the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling by Judge John Jones in December of 2005. In part, Jones found that ID also violated the First Amendment by attempting to promote religion as science in public school classes. Here are some excerpts from the ruling (which can be found at this link in its entirety)…

“The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

“Throughout the trial and in various submissions to the Court, Defendants vigorously argue that the reading of the statement is not “teaching” ID but instead is merely “making students aware of it.” In fact, one consistency among the Dover School Board members’ testimony, which was marked by selective memories and outright lies under oath, as will be discussed in more detail below, is that they did not think they needed to be knowledgeable about ID because it was not being taught to the students. We disagree.”

And here’s the real money shot…

“After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980′s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

[emphasis mine]

So what happened next? Did the creationists at the Discovery Institute admit their views weren’t scientific? Did they respond by publishing rigorous, peer-reviewed research in science journals which supported ID? Nope!

2007-2008 – After a little time flailing in the wilderness, the creationists realize that the phrase “intelligent design” is synonymous with “scientific creationism”, so their tactics mutate once again. They decide to cease actively promoting ID (that is, their religious beliefs) in public science classes, and instead they push to “teach the weaknesses of evolution.” Of course, this is an obvious logical fallacy, because even if there were fatal “weaknesses” in evolutionary theory (there aren’t), it would do nothing to actually promote ID-creationism.

The creationist attack on science took another turn in 2008 with the release of the creationist propaganda “documentary” named, ironically, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Starring Ben Stein, the movie is a horrid compilation of standard creationist gobble-de-gook, revisionist history (“Darwin was responsible for the Holocaust”NOT!), and outright strawman arguments regarding those who accept evolutionary science (“accepting evolution makes you an atheist”NOT!).

Aside: To show just how nutty Ben Stein got when promoting Expelled, check out this story where Stein says, “Science leads you to killing people.”

At the same time Expelled came out, so-called “Academic Freedom” laws were being pushed in many states in mid-2008. The argument was that teachers should have the “freedom” to teach “alternate views” – such as crappy notions like ID-creationism. Such a law did pass in Louisiana, so now I assume that in addition to teaching ID-creationism in biology class, it’s now acceptable in Louisiana to teach geocentrism & astrology in earth science/astronomy classes, psychics & ESP in physics class, the debunked theory of phlogiston and the Four-Element version of chemistry, and so on! See here for more humorous examples of “academic freedom” gone wild.

2008 to present day – The creationists have further pushed their current agenda in the state of Texas. Because Texas is such a huge market for textbooks, the state has a disproportionate influence on nationwide textbook selection. Unfortunately, the governor of Texas (a staunch creationist) has tried to stack the State Board of Education with enough creationists to push their agenda in the textbook selection process. This battle in Texas is ongoing, with some interesting developments (some good, some bad) taking place just today. (If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, I strongly encourage you to look up the Texas Freedom Network or the Texas Citizens for Science, who are both fighting against this anti-scientific nonsense)

texas BoE

Last Word: Lest you think those wacky creationists are done, they’re not. In recent days, I’ve seen indications that our pals at the Discovery Institute are evolving their anti-science rhetoric yet again. What was once “scientific creationism” mutated into “intelligent design” – and it now seems that ID is mutating into “front-loaded evolution” (FLE). Be on the lookout for this latest bit of creationist-speak – it could pop up at a school board meeting near you.

Posted in creationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »


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