The National Center For Science Education

The NCSE is the premier organization in this country promoting legitimate science in public schools and in the public forum. They are a 501 (c) (3) organization, deserving of your contributions. I give money to the NCSE. You should, too.

Following is a recent notice from the NCSE:

1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600 Oakland, CA 94612-2922

510.601.7203 • www.ncse.com

With the unprecedented 2016 election finally behind us, we can all turn our attention back to issues that haven’t been in the spotlight lately. Like science education. As you’ll read below, there’s plenty to be concerned about. But NCSE has not taken its eye off the ball, and our new programs are really starting to pay off. I hope that you’ll consider joining our effort to help teachers cover evolution and climate change confidently and completely.

When you consider the state of science education today, it’s easy to be disappointed, disturbed, and dismayed. Consider the following recent incidents.

  • In Alabama, the state board of education voted to continue to mandate a disclaimer about evolution in the state’s textbooks. Such disclaimers date back to 1996. But even after Alabama adopted a new set of state science standards in 2005, that described evolution as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence,” the board disappointingly voted to retain the scientifically unwarranted and pedagogically irresponsible message.
  • A national survey conducted by NCSE with researchers at Pennsylvania State University, which asked 1500 science teachers in public middle and high schools about their attitudes toward and practice in teaching climate change, found disturbing gaps in their knowledge. For example, less than half of the teachers realized that more than 80% of climate scientists agree that recent global warming is caused primarily by human activities.
  • In Kentucky, a young-earth creationist ministry opened a Noah’s-ark-themed amusement park. The truly  dismaying aspect of Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter was its invitation to local public schools to flout the principle of church/state separation by bringing students there on field trips, at a special discounted rate. Judging from reports received by NCSE over the years, public school excursions to creationist attractions are dismayingly common.

Dealing, and helping people to deal, with such assaults on science education is all in a day’s work for us at NCSE.

But as you know, that’s not all that we’re doing. A suite of innovative new programs is aimed at reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally:

  • NCSEteach (http://ncseteach.com/), NCSE’s network to support climate change and evolution educators, now includes nearly 6,000 teachers, each of whom receive regular advice and resources from NCSE aimed at improving their scientific knowledge and pedagogical confidence. And they now know that NCSE will have their backs when they encounter challenges to the teaching of evolution or climate change!
  • NCSEteach’s “Scientists in the Classroom” program is bringing eager and energetic early career research scientists into middle and high school classrooms across the country to enrich students’ climate change and evolution learning experiences. Over one hundred teacher—scientist partnerships have already been formed, to the great and continuing benefit of all involved. More are in the works.
  • NCSE’s Science Booster Club project, piloting in Iowa, has provided fun, hands-on, and accurate educational activities on evolution and climate change to over 50,000 participants at local events in the last year, and raised funds to purchase science equipment for the benefit of over 3,000 local students. In 2016, the project not only exhibited at county and state fairs but also hosted a free summer science camp to provide rural low-income students with evolution education.

Are these programs working? Judging from the heartfelt expressions of thanks from teachers who have participated in NCSEteach, from teacher/scientist partners who have participated in Scientists in the Classroom, and from thousands of Iowans involved with a Science Booster Club, yes!

But to science fans like you and me, what’s even more convincing than testimonials is data. The Science Booster Club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, administered a twenty-four-question science literacy survey at its public events throughout the year. And voilà:

scienceliteracycedarrapids

That’s significant—literally (p = 0.03) and figuratively. Working with a low budget but a high degree of enthusiasm, the science boosters in Cedar Rapids—and elsewhere in Iowa—are making a measurable difference.

I’m excited about these efforts, and I hope that you are, too. We want to extend these programs to communities across the country. To do so, we need your support. Your gift to NCSE will help us help teachers to present science properly.

You can donate on-line at ncse.com/join. A gift of only $500 will allow us to provide a new booster club with all the materials needed to provide hands-on evolution or climate change activities to 10,000 participants! Or consider a recurring gift of $10 or $20 per month; such donations help make our budget more predictable so we can start new projects with confidence. A gift of any size will go directly to improving science education.

By reinforcing the confidence of teachers, recruiting scientists to help, and rallying communities to support science education locally, NCSE is helping to ensure that science will be taught honestly, accurately, and confidently. Please help us to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Ann Reid

Executive Director, NCSE

 

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NCSE Updates

NCSEReports

This is one of a continuing series. I receive Reports of the National Center for Science Education regularly and always go to the Updates section to see what’s going on with the anti-science crowd. When I find something of interest I like to pass it on to readers. This is an item about proposed legislation in Alabama from the July-August 2015 edition.

Full disclosure: I contribute money to the NCSE, and you should, as well. The NCSE is the primary organization in this country working to combat anti-science encroachments into our public schools. Log onto their site at http://ncse.com and contribute. Subscribe, and you will receive your own issues of Reports. Read on:

Alabama: House Bill 592, introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives on April 30, 2015, and referred to the House Committee on Education Policy, would if enacted undermine the integrity of science education in the state by encouraging science teachers with idiosyncratic opinions to teach whatever they pleased while preventing responsible educational authorities from intervening. Topics identified in the bill as likely to “cause debate and disputation” are “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning.”

The bill’s lead sponsor is Mack Butler (R-District 30), who, discussing a different bill of his with al.com (2015 Jan 21), commented, “It takes a lot more faith to believe in evolution.” Except for a failed bill to establish a credit-for-creationism scheme in 2012, HB 592 is the first antiscience bill in the Alabama legislature since 2009, when HB 300, the last in a long string of “academic freedom” bills in Alabama, failed to win passage.

Explaining his motivation, Butler revealingly told the Anniston Star (2015 May 7), “There is animosity to anything Christian. … I’m just trying to bring back a little balance.” Raw Story (2015 May 7) noted that Butler explained on his Facebook page that his bill would “encourage debate if a student has a problem learning he came from a monkey rather than an intelligent design!”

Susan Watson, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, told al.com (2015 May 7), “This is a thinly-veiled attempt to open the door to religious fanatics who don’t believe in evolution, climate change or other scientifically-based teaching in our schools.” She added, “It also opens Alabama to costly litigation that it just cannot afford.”

NCSE’s Josh Rosenau told the Anniston Star, “Evolution is recognized as the foundation of modern biology. To single it out as if it’s scientifically controversial is misleading and encourages teachers to skip out on this concept that students need if they want to be doctors or even patients in the 21st century.”

Rosenau also observed that, with no credible evidence that Alabama teachers are prevented from teaching science effectively, the bill seemed to be “a solution in search of a problem.” Similarly, he told al.com that the bill would make it harder for teachers and administrators “to stand up for the standards and what they know the best science to be.”

Subsequently, al.com (2015 May 8) editorialized, “The point is, what is the point of this bill? … Can we just give Butler an “I love God” badge and let that be it? … Let’s focus on the real problems facing our state, rather than meddling in the classroom, where I’m sure there’s been no groundswell from teachers complaining that they aren’t free to discredit evolution,”

Similarly, a columnist for the Montgomery Advertiser (2015 May 8) argued, “The goal of Butler’s bill .. , was to make it OK for some two-bit religious zealot posing as a biology teacher to fill kids’ heads with debunked and ridiculous ideas, That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that this bill, should it pass, will open the door to giving religious ideas the same standing in a classroom as scientific theory,”

Some of this calls for Skeptical Analysis.

Let’s start with the bill’s topics of interest: “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning.” Particularly, consider human cloning. It’s been a long time since I took high school biology, but I am sure the topic of human cloning never came up. A second question would be, “Do any high school biology classes advocate for human cloning?” Could be that Representative Butler wants it covered in the law in case some errant teacher decides to show students how to do it.

This item highlights a recurring theme of these state bills. They drill down on a handful of topics, principal being biological evolution, origin of life, and (besides cloning) modern cosmology. Discussion of the age of the Earth is another topic that has been singled out. And the question has to be, “Why?” What is it about these topics that gets a target painted on them? Representative Butler provides a clue:

“There is animosity to anything Christian. … I’m just trying to bring back a little balance.”

All right! There possibly could be “animosity to anything Christian” somewhere. Some people don’t think highly of Christians. Some of these are Jews. Some are Muslims. Some are atheists. Some may even be Christians. And this is the exact place to “bring back a little balance.” Here in a high school science class, where religion supposedly never comes up.

Butler wants his bill to “encourage debate if a student has a problem learning he came from a monkey rather than an intelligent design!” On a particular point Representative Butler and I are in agreement. If students are being taught that the human race derived from monkeys they are being sorely abused. This matter additionally points out a problem with Mr. Butler’s own education. A smattering of learning about biological evolution would have advised better on the topic. The best science regarding origins of the human species holds that we are not descended from monkeys. Mr. Butler, get thee to a high school biology class.

Alabama is not the only state or region featured in the Updates section. Also getting scrutiny are the states of California, Massachusetts, Missouri, South Dakota, and West Virginia. The United States may be rare among nations of the world in having a religious independence clause in its constitution. That clause, almost alone, protects our schools from some forms of anti-science. Reports also details problems in the UK and Australia with creationism in publicly-funded institutions. In these places protections are not cemented into the foundation document, but must be guaranteed by legislation.

Keep reading. Something new from the NCSE is always coming up, and if you don’t have your own subscription you can always come here for the highlights.

Other Failed States

NCSEReports

I just published an excerpt from the most recent edition of Reports of the National Center for Science Education. Again, full disclosure: I give money to the NCSE. You should, too.

Besides the review of the Texas text book review process from last year, this issue of Reports has another item of interest. As before, I am reprinting the item in its entirety:

Iraq and Syria: According to a report from the Associated Press (2014 Sep 15), the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which controls areas of Iraq and Syria, is targeting education—including evolution, “It recently imposed a curriculum in schools in its Syrian stronghold, Raqqa, scrapping subjects such as philosophy and chemistry, and fine-tuning the sciences to fit with its ideology,” while in Mosul, Iraq, “[t]he new curriculum even went so far as to explicitly ban Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution-although it was not previously taught in Iraqi schools.” The Telegraph (2014 Sep 16) added, “Teachers, and others, who disobey the new instructions will be subject to unspecified “punishment.”

I have previously commented on the exploits of these creationists in other parts of the world, particularly in France. Fortunately, in the United States creationists only resort to misinformation and public harassment. Maybe we should be grateful for what we have.

NCSE Updates

NCSEReports

Texas edition

Full disclosure. I give money to the National Center for Science Education. You should, too. The NCSE is the premier organization in this country defending the teaching of valid science in the public schools. After decades of taking on the creationists and their efforts to push creationism, or at least to dumb down teaching of evolution, the NCSE has recently taken on the climate science deniers.

I receive periodically a copy of their Reports a few printed pages on recent events, book reviews and such. Most interesting is the Updates section. What’s been going on. I reprint here in its entirety a recount of last year’s episode with the Texas text book review process:

Texas: The Texas state board of education voted to adopt a slate of social studies textbooks on November 21, 2014. Among the books approved for use in the state were several textbooks that, after criticism from NCSE and its allies in the scientific, educational, and civil liberties communities, were revised by their publishers (including Pearson and McGraw-Hill) to eliminate misrepresentations of climate science.

A number of problematic claims were present in the textbooks as submitted for approval, including a statement that fossil fuel emissions have caused a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, a claim that scientists “disagree about what is causing climate change,” and a quotation from a notorious climate change denial organization presented in rebuttal of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

NCSE, together with the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), drew attention to these claims in a press release and analysis issued on September 15. 2014. The analysis (available at http://ncse.com/files/Texas-social-studies-report-2014.pdf) received wide coverage in the press, including the National Journal and Ars Technica (both 2014 Sep 15), as well as the Houston Press, Texas Public Radio, the Guardian, Newsweek, and Mother Jones (all 2014 Sep 16).

The analysis was issued in time for a preliminary hearing on the textbooks, on September 16, 2014, during which Charles Jackson, a research scientist at the University of Texas’s Institute for Geophysics, criticized “inaccurate textbook coverage casting doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a serious and growing threat,” according to TFN’s live-blog of the hearing (2014 Sep 16).

Later, NCSE’s Josh Rosenau and Mark McCaffrey were invited by the Houston Chronicle (2014 Sep 30) to discuss the controversy. “Today, climate change isn’t just a scientific issue,” they explained: “critical debates about our response to climate change belong in textbooks covering civics, economics, history and geography, rooted in the social and political context while always informed by accurate science.”

“Unfortunately, many of the social studies textbooks under consideration simply ignore climate change,” they continued. “But there’s a problem that publishers and the board can solve today: the factual errors in the books that cover climate change. Most egregiously, several of these books claim that there is active dispute among scientists about the primary cause of climate change. That’s simply wrong.”

They concluded. “Tomorrow’s Texans will have big decisions to make—in deciding how to confront rising seas and declining freshwater, in choosing between the fuels of the future and those of the past, in creating new businesses and new kinds of jobs in the new world ahead. Social studies classrooms and textbooks are the perfect place to explore those questions and to prepare our students to build the future they deserve.”

Meanwhile, NCSE, TFN, and Climate Parents organized a petition calling on the state board of education to require the corrections of the textbooks. Signed by over 24 000 Texans, the petitions were delivered to the board and the publishers on October 20, 2014. In a press release, Rosenau explained, These petitions show that parents, teachers, students, and voters across Texas will make sure the board doesn’t let these errors slip into their classrooms.”

Additional organizations separately urging the state board of education to require the publishers to fix these errors included the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Ecological Society of America, the Geological Society of America, and the National Resources Defense Council.

As the time of the board’s final vote approached, Camille Parmesan and Alan I Leshner, writing in the Austin American-Statesman (2014 Nov 6), called on the Texas state board of education to insist on the correction of the textbooks: “Texas educators should reject the new textbooks unless they are edited to address the serious concerns outlined by the National Center for Science Education.”

“Children cannot compete in the global marketplace of the future unless they achieve science literacy,” they concluded. “Students deserve to know the true scientific facts about human-caused climate change.” Parmesan is a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas, Austin; Leshner is the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In a press conference on November 12, 2014, NCSE, TFN, and Climate Parents charged that textbooks published by McGraw-Hill and Pearson were still problematic. Speaking to the Austin Chronicle (2014, Nov 12), NCSE’s Josh Rosenau observed that science textbooks from the same publishers manage to represent the scientific consensus on climate change correctly and described the social studies textbooks as “irresponsible” in contrast, adding that it’s “hard to understand how the social studies books went so far [a]field.”

Also released was a letter urging the publishers to “correct all factual errors regarding climate change in draft textbooks for K-12 students in Texas.” Signing the letter, besides NCSE, TFN, and Climate Parents, were the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Alliance for Climate Education, the National Resources Defense Council, Bill Nye, Sojourners, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Subsequently, Pearson revised a passage in its fifth-grade social studies textbook that initially claimed, “Some scientists believe that this carbon dioxide could lead to a slow heating of Earth’s overall climate. This temperature change is known as global warming or climate change. Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” As revised, the passage reads, “Carbon dioxide, which occurs both naturally and through human activities, is called a greenhouse gas, because it traps heat. As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society.”

“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Rosenau told the National Journal (2014 Nov 13). “The revised textbook [from Pearson] provides students with the reliable science they need to understand the social debates surrounding climate change and does so without manufacturing a scientific debate.” He also criticized McGraw-Hill, whose sixth-grade social studies textbook remained flawed.

But shortly thereafter, McGraw-Hill confirmed that it would remove the deeply problematic lesson that equated unsupported arguments from a special interest-funded political advocacy group, the Heartland Institute, with data-backed material from the IPCC, a Nobel-winning organization of scientists from around the world, from its textbook.

Rosenau praised the publishers for their decision, telling the National Journal (2014 Nov 17), “Pearson, McGraw-Hill and the other publishers did the right thing by making these changes. They listened to us and the nation’s leading scientific and educational societies, ensuring that students will learn the truth about the greatest challenge they’ll confront as citizens of the 21st century.”

There were expressions of discontent at the board’s November 18, 2014, meeting that “the other side” of the debate over climate change was not presented in the textbooks. as the TFN noted on its blog (2014 Nov 18), Nevertheless, the board approved a set of books for use, including the revised versions of Pearson’s and McGraw-Hill’s, on November 21, 2014, with a 10-5 vote.

Political Science

ScienceLiberalConspiracy

Earlier this week I posted comments on an item that’s in the most recent edition of Reports of the National Center for Science Education. It’s Science and Society: Evolution and Student Voting Patterns, and it’s by Sehoya H Cotner, D Christopher Brooks, and Randy Moore:

Sehoya Cotner is an associate professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She has written several articles and books on evolution, including (with Randy Moore and Mark Decker) Chronology of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy (Santa Barbara [CA]: Greenwood Press, 2010), and (with Randy Moore) Understanding Galápagos: What You’ll See and What it Means (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013).
Randy Moore is a professor in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. His recent books include (with Mark Decker), More than Darwin (Santa Barbara [CA]: Greenwood Press, 2008), and (with Sehoya Cotner) Arguing for Evolution (Santa Barbara [CA]: Greenwood Press, 2011).
D Christopher Brooks is a Senior Research Fellow with EDUCAUSE. He is co-author of a several articles on teaching and learning and is co-editor of Active Learning Spaces: New Directions for Teaching and Learning. He has also recently served as a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Skipping over the central points the authors address in this article, I want to focus on a side issue. While American presidents have for past decades been devout Christians, their acceptance of science that conflicts with the Bible is varied. What is most significant has been how their views have tracked with their political conservatism. Here’s the table of quotes from the article:

Figure 2 . Presidential words on science, religion, and the teaching of evolution

“Of course, like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.”
—Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), letter to Winterton C Curtis, August 29, 1922
“There is no need to teach that stars can fall out of the sky and land on a flat Earth in order to
defend our religious faith.”
—Jimmy Carter (born 1924), quoted in “Carter slams Georgia’s ‘evolution’ proposal,” CNN, 2004 Jan 30
“But if it was going to be taught in the schools, then I think that also the biblical theory of creation, which is not a theory but the biblical story of creation, should also be taught.”
—Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), quoted in “Republican candidate picks fight with Darwin,” Science 1980;209:1214
“Well, the jury is still out on evolution, you know,” and “I felt like both sides ought to be properly taught.”
George W Bush (born 1946), quoted in The New York Times, 2000 Oct 29 and 2005 Aug 3
“I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there’s a difference between science and faith.”
Barack Obama (born 1961), quoted in the York (PA) Daily Record 2008 Mar 30

Before going on, let’s pause to reflect on President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was a Democratic president, but this was back during the time the Democratic Party harbored a strong conservative faction. So, was Wilson actually a conservative president who aligned with modern science when it was becoming unfashionable to do so? Some Skeptical Analysis is in order. I will pick from the historical record, as recorded by Wikipedia:

  • Richard Hofstadter has written “Woodrow Wilson: The Conservative as Liberal” in The American Political Tradition (1948).
  • He organized the Liberal Debating Society and later coached the Whig–Clio Debate Panel.
  • Wilson appointed three Associate Justices to the Supreme Court, including “Louis Dembitz Brandeis in 1916. A liberal, and the first Jew appointed to the Court, he served 22 years and wrote landmark opinions on free speech and right to privacy.”
  • Ronald Pestritto has written Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield (2005).

These are just vignettes, but they expose a considerable liberal bent. At the same time, Wilson’s remarks regarding evolution are contra to what was at the time a trending conservative opposition to Darwinian evolution.

One of the most liberal Democratic president’s of modern times has been Bill Clinton. There was not a lot about his take on creationism in my searches, but his response to the creationist legislation enacted in Arkansas over 30 years ago provides a hint. In 1981 the Arkansas legislature passed the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act (Act 590). This law required that teaching creationism be given equal treatment with the teaching of evolution. The case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education was decided in 1982 against the creationists in federal court. Governor Bill Clinton had been voted out of office, but he regained the governorship in a subsequent election, and he vetoed a substitute bill passed by the legislature that would have re-instated the case for the creationists.

This bothersome trend continues to date. During the nomination process for the presidency two years ago a mass of Republican candidates vied for the top job. When they were polled only Jon Huntsman voiced support for evolution. He was quickly eliminated from the running.

Texas Public Policy Foundation

TextBooks

A few days ago I posted an item inspired by a report from the Texas Freedom Network.

Founded in 1995, the Texas Freedom Network is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization of more than 85,000 religious and community leaders. Based in Austin, the Texas Freedom Network acts as the state’s watchdog, monitoring far-right issues, organizations, money and leaders. The organization has been instrumental in defeating initiatives backed by the religious right in Texas, including private school vouchers and textbook censorship at the Texas State Board of Education.

Having followed for the past 25 years the efforts of creationists to bend public education to their way of thinking, I am keenly interested in our state’s textbook review process. Creationists such as Mel and Norma Gabler have in the past had a great influence on the curriculum. This husband and wife pair of young Earth creationists were long and prominent in Texas curriculum reviews.

Melvin Nolan Freeman Gabler (January 5, 1915 – December 19, 2004) and his wife, Norma Elizabeth Rhodes Gabler (June 16, 1923 – July 22, 2007) were campaigners against public school text books which they regarded as “anti-family” or “anti-Christian”.

Mel Gabler claimed much modern education was designed to undermine traditional, moral absolutist education with a viewpoint based on moral relativism: “Allowing a student to come to his own conclusion about abstracts and concepts creates frustration. Ideas, situation ethics, values, anti-God humanism – that’s what the schools are teaching. And concepts. Well, a concept will never do anyone as much good as a fact”. The Gablers also claimed humanism as a “religion” that taught ideas such as evolution, sex education, internationalism and an optimistic view of human nature. According to writer Randy Moore, in addition to opposing textbooks that taught evolution, the Gablers also objected to “statements about religions other than Christianity, statements emphasizing contributions by minorities, and statements critical of slave owners.”

[Some links deleted]

The National Center for Science Education also noted the Gabler’s opposition to the teaching of evolution:

The Gablers have consistently opposed evolution. For example, in 1991, when Texas Proclamation 66 required evolution as a major theme in biology texts, pressure from the Gablers and other anti-evolutionists led to a lastminute revision calling for inclusion of “scientific evidence of evolution and other reliable scientific theories, if any” (RNCSE 10[6]:10). In 1998, ERA rated textbooks according to how much they “harp on” evolution (RNCSE 19[1]:10). In a section of their website titled “God-given victories”, they claim credit for a drop in sales of the book which had received their lowest rating. To see this web page, go to , click on “God-given Victories!”, see subhead “credibility with classroom teachers”. The same document claims credit for “detection of subtle subversion” in social studies texts.

The Gablers were notably successful, and rightly so, in highlighting the poor scholarship of many texts submitted by publishers:

In 2001, Time magazine reported that the Gablers’ “scroll of shame” of textbook mistakes since 1961 was fifty-four feet long. They even once found a book which claimed that U.S. President Harry Truman ordered atomic weapons to end the Korean War. In the early 1990s, Texas fined publishers about $1 million for failing to remove hundreds of factual errors that the Gablers had found in eleven history books. Some publishers even sent drafts of textbooks to the Gablers for their pre-clearance so as to avoid costly delays and challenges to being included on the state-approved list. Among some of the more glaring textbook errors found by the Gablers were:
♦Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo. (Waterloo was Napleon’s worst defeat)
♦In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. (Sputnik was a satellite, not a missile, and it carried no payload)
♦Bill Clinton is the first Democrat to be elected President of the United States since the Second World War. (Jimmy Carter and John Kennedy were Democrat predecessors to Clinton who had also been elected to office)

[Some links deleted]

I have also participated in the review process for this state, working as a volunteer reviewing physics and math texts for the Texas Education Agency. In that capacity I have witnessed a few glaring discrepancies that should have been caught by the most cursory proof reading. I once picked up a text on forensic science and turned to a random page. A paragraph explained the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building bombing and noted the amount of explosive material used. The amount was stated in tons and also in kilograms. The two values were divergent by a factor of ten.

The Gablers have now passed from the scene, but their kind of activism, both beneficial and farcical, is carried on by other groups. In particular the TFN mentioned the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In my previous post I had this to say:

Also in 2002 the Texas Public Policy Foundation took an interest in the texts under review[.]

There was a link to their site to the 2002 reviews, but I was unable to obtain the linked material at the time:

Unfortunately the link to file is broken. I phoned their office in Austin and inquired about the missing link. The woman I talked to later phoned me back and told me somebody was looking into the problem, and I should have the link sometime next week. I will post an update when I get the new material.

The link to the referenced material is still dead, but the woman I talked to turned out to be Carine Martinez-Gouhier, and she graciously sent me a copy. The material comprises a number of files, including:

  • Composite Reviews
  • Publisher Responses
  • Rating Reports
  • Testimony
  • Text book review fact sheet
  • Text book review reviewer bio information
  • Text book review text book factual errors
  • Text book review text book reviewers

I was particularly interested in the list of factual errors, since the TFN had reported a number of complaints that appeared to be politically motivated:

  • Publishers of world geography textbooks agreed to revise references to the formation of fossil fuels, glaciers and landscape features occurring “millions of years ago” to read instead “in the distant past” and “over time.” The revised passages then would not conflict with the beliefs of creationists that Earth is less than 10,000 years old.
  • A publisher agreed to remove links to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website after a critic complained that a textbook passage on the environment contained “too much trash” and “promotes activism and sends students to EPA websites.”
  • A publisher agreed to change “many scientists” to “some scientists” in a discussion of scientists who accept the overwhelming evidence about the greenhouse effect and climate change.
  • A publisher agreed to delete a sentence reading “Acid rain that is produced in the United States and carried north by wind is a major environmental problem for Canada.” A critic had objected to the negative impact of acid rain being discussed as a fact and to the implication that America was responsible.
  • Publishers altered common descriptions of the Constitution as a “living document” (in some cases deleting the term) because right-wing critics claimed that the term was hostile to a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
  • A publisher agreed to delete “In the United States, everyone has a right to free public education” from a textbook after a critic argued that the sentence suggested education is an entitlement.
  • A publisher agreed to delete a Critical Thinking question asking students whether they think civil rights activists were justified in breaking the law in their struggle for equality. In fact, many civil rights activists, such as Martin Luther King Jr., engaged in civil disobedience and were arrested for violating laws regarding segregation and public protests. But a critic argued that the question encouraged students to break the law.
  • A publisher agreed to delete a sentence reading “Christians would later accept slavery in other contexts.” This came after a critic argued that textbook discussions of slavery in the United States were too negative and anti-Christian.
  • After a critic called the sentence “more propaganda” for Islam, a publisher agreed to delete a sentence that read: ““[M]any other teachings in the Quran, such as the importance of honesty, honor, giving to others and having love and respect for their families, govern their daily lives.”
  • A publisher altered a passage that discussed how Osama bin Laden’s instructions to kill Americans were not supported by the Quran, which tells soldiers to treat civilians with kindness and justice. A critic insisted that the passage was an example of textbooks “going to great length to put a positive light on Muslim teachings.” The publisher changed the passage so that it said simply that not all Muslims agreed with bin Laden’s beliefs.

Searching the list I did find factual errors, for which the public should be grateful to the TPPF for identifying and getting corrected. Some were minor, but still worth correcting. Reviewing America: Pathways to the Present by Prentice Hall:

2. p. 270 T,S “Cow Towns” claims Texas cattle were first driven “all the way to their markets,” then Abilene offered an alternative. Texas cattle were not driven to Chicago prior to 1867, they were instead driven to the
nearest railhead—Sedalia, Missouri. The only drives direct to “market” were early ones to New Orleans prior in the Spanish period up to the Civil War.

Some were more egregious. Again reviewing America: Pathways to the Present:

37. p. 457 T,S Lindbergh did not receive the Congressional Medal of Honor
for flying across the Atlantic solo.

66. p. 896 T “American Heritage” archive bit has Clinton’s term in office
beginning in 1992. It began in 1993.

Reviewing Our World Today: People Places and Issues, Texas Edition by Glencoe/McGraw Hill:

4. P. 91 Error. It was Emperor Theodosius who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman
Empire in 381 AD. Constantine issued the edict of toleration at Milan in 313, thus ending the
persecution (as the authors correctly note), but this didn’t make Christianity the religion of the state,
only one among many tolerated faiths. The authors do later (at p. 239) partially correct this
mistake.

Some of the TPPF’s complaints are not so much factual errors as matters of political perspective, of which side the TPPF supports a politically conservative stance. Reviewing Holt American Government by Holt Rinehart & Winston:

4. p. 56 – The argument that the Constitution is a “living document” that has lasted a long time because it is easily adapted to modern times is debatable. This suggests that the document itself it meant to be reinterpreted in different ways across the ages. One could just as easily suggest that the reason it has lasted so long is because it contains timeless principles that are not open to revision. Perhaps students could draft up 10 rules for good classroom behavior and then debate the extent to which these rules should remain fixed over time or be flexible. If fixed, will they become too rigid or outdated as time passes? If flexible, are they in danger of becoming meaningless, as students will simply amend them to get away with whatever they want? More discussion is needed.

In this argument the TPPF is considerably out of line with many prominent constitutional scholars. David A. Strauss gives this analysis:

Do we have a living Constitution? Do we want to have a living Constitution? A living Constitution is one that evolves, changes over time, and adapts to new circumstances, without being formally amended. On the one hand, the answer has to be yes: there’s no realistic alternative to a living Constitution. Our written Constitution, the document under glass in the National Archives, was adopted 220 years ago. It can be amended, but the amendment process is very difficult. The most important amendments were added to the Constitution almost a century and a half ago, in the wake of the Civil War, and since that time many of the amendments have dealt with relatively minor matters.

Meanwhile, the world has changed in incalculable ways. The nation has grown in territory and its population has multiplied several times over. Technology has changed, the international situation has changed, the economy has changed, social mores have changed, all in ways that no one could have foreseen when the Constitution was drafted. And it is just not realistic to expect the cumbersome amendment process to keep up with these changes.

I have had college classes in American government, and one thing that came out is that we are fortunate the authors of the Constitution did not codify everything. Much is left to interpretation in the context of the times. Furthermore, the interpretation is not made by the populace, the students in the TPPF’s example, but by the courts. Not that the Constitution gave Congress the power to declare war, but this nation has gone to war multiple times without a congressional declaration. Good? Bad? Realistic.

Reviewing Magrudger’s American Government by Prentice Hall:

19. p. 542T – The Background Note states that “this country was not founded as a Christian nation” and to think so is a misconception. The sidebar needs more explanation. First, the writer seems to have confused differences between denominations and religions. Much of the debate over religion and the decision to protect religious diversity in the First Amendment was due to disagreement between Christian denominations – Catholics from Maryland,
Anglicans from Virginia, Puritans from Massachusetts, etc. The Founders feared that a state religion would in fact lead to tyranny against these other religions. However, Christianity was the dominate religion of the day, the
intent of the First Amendment was to protect the diversity of Christian denominations at the state level from the National government. Second, the claim that Jefferson was not a Christian is subject to some debate.

This complaint has the purpose of protecting religious proselytizing in public schools. When non-Christians, including Jews and atheists complain about teachers advocating reverence for Jesus, one stock response is that this is a Christian nation. An examination of the facts and the consensus of top scholars of American history is that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation in any sense of the term.

It is apparent that, while doing a great public service by identifying factual errors in texts submitted for adoption this politically motivated organization is also seeking to serve its own agenda, at times contrary to the interests of Texas students. This year social studies texts are again up for adoption, and it is likely the TPPF will be weighing in with its list of factual, and not so factual, errors. I expect to see suggestions, even demands, for revisions that slant the curriculum more to their liking.

I have the full set of documentation from the TPPF review for 2002, and I will email a copy to the first 1000 responders.

Echoes of Dover

 

This is good. Today I received another edition of Reports of the National Center for Science Education. I send money to the NCSE. You should, too.

The previous edition included an item in the Updates section concerning a company called Responsive Ed. Responsive Ed “operates operates more than sixty-five charter schools in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, and receives more than $82 million in public funds to do so.” The problem is, when it comes to science, the Responsive Ed curriculum contains a wad of anti-science and a hefty dose of religion:

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. ‘These are all lies.

Texas does not own a lock on these shenanigans. The newest edition of Reports features an item about our neighbor state, Louisiana. As before, I will post the item in its entirety:

Louisiana: A sixth-grade teacher’s advocacy of creationism is at the center of a lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on January 22, 2014. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana on behalf of Scott Lane, Sharon Lane, and their three children, including their son, CC, a Buddhist of Thai heritage. Documents from the case, Lane et al v Sabine Parish School Board et al, are available from the ACLU’s website (https://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/lane-v-sabine-parish-school-board).

According to the complaint, CC’s former sixth-grade teacher “treats the Bible as scientific fact, telling students that the Big Bang never happened and that evolution is a ‘stupid’ theory that ‘stupid people made up because they don’t want to believe in God.'” She tells her students that “if evolution were real, it would still be happening: Apes would still be turning into humans today.” She “repeatedly instructed students that evolution is not valid as a scientific theory and that God made the world 6000 years ago.” She skipped the chapter on evolution in the science textbook and she includes religious material on her science tests. On one examination, students were expected to fill in the blank in the sentence “ISN’T IT AMAZING WHAT THE _____________ MADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” CC was penalized for not supplying the word “LORD.” The teacher similarly grants extra credit for writing “Isn’t it amazing what the Lord has made” on assignments and examinations.

Although CC’s parents complained of his teacher’s misbehavior, the superintendent was not responsive telling them “this is the Bible Belt” and suggesting that CC change his religion. The complaint cites the teachers behavior, the superintendent’s response, and a pattern of “official promotion and inculcation of religion generally, and Christianity, specifically” on the part of the district. A complaint was also filed with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

According to the Associated Press (2014 Jan 23). the school board issued a statement reading, “The Sabine Parish School Board has only recently been made aware of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU. A lawsuit only represents one side’s allegations, and the board is disappointed that the ACLU chose to file suit without even contacting it regarding the facts. The school system recognizes the rights of all students to exercise the religion of their choice and will defend the lawsuit vigorously.”

At this point we need to collectively catch our breath. Some Skeptical Analysis is in order.

First: “advocacy of creationism?” The issue is much deeper. This teacher is not merely confusing pseudo science with fact. She is not just unfamiliar with the time line of natural history. This woman—one Rita Roark—is preaching from the front of a public classroom.

The school superintendent goes it one better:

When Plaintiffs objected, Sabine Parish Superintendent, Sara Ebarb, told them that “this is the Bible belt.” She suggested that C.C. should “change” his faith or transfer to another district school 25 miles away where, in her words, “there are more Asians.” Ultimately, C.C.’s parents did transfer him to another school to protect him, but school officials at that school also unconstitutionally promote religion.

[Emphasis added]

How many different ways are there to spell official oppression?

T.P.I. — CRIM. 25.02

OFFICIAL OPPRESSION

Any public servant who commits the offense of official oppression is guilty of a crime.

For you to find the defendant guilty of this offense, the state must have proven beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of the following essential elements:

(1) that the defendant was a public servant acting under color of office or employment;

and

(2)(a) that the defendant intentionally subjected another to mistreatment or to arrest, detention, stop, frisk, halt, search, seizure, dispossession, assessment, or lien that the defendant knew was unlawful;

or

(b) that the defendant intentionally denied or impeded another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power or immunity, when the defendant knew the conduct was unlawful.

You don’t need the ACLU for this. You only need to head down to the nearest police substation or to the state attorney general’s office and file a criminal complaint. Somebody will go to jail. Does Superintendent Sara Ebarb think she will ever be able to get another public service job with a criminal conviction on her record?

We also get to wondering whether people in Sabine Parish, Louisiana, ever read the newspapers. Or watch cable TV. Even Fox News:

Teaching “intelligent design” to high school biology students violates laws prohibiting the endorsement of religion in public schools, a federal judge ruled Tuesday. The ruling in Pennsylvania is a major defeat for proponents of the controversial alternative theory about the origins of life.

“The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID [intelligent design] is nothing less than the progeny of creationism,” wrote U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III.

He said the Dover Area School District‘s mandatory policy of reading a statement on intelligent design before teaching the theory of evolution to ninth-grade biology students violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

That was over eight years ago, and some people still have not caught onto the fact that teaching creationism in public schools is against the law. The sad facts of the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case are that rogue public officials, William Buckingham and Alan Bonsell, goaded on by a sympathetic electorate, pushed for teaching Intelligent Design, and knowingly invited a law suit. Buckingham was notably oblivious to the consequences. When it became apparent the school district would face a lawsuit, he was characteristically defiant:

But in the event of a lawsuit, one persistent reporter asked, wouldn’t Dover have to pay its opponents’ legal bills if intelligent design went down in flames? “My response to that is, ‘What price freedom?’” Buckingham said. “Sometimes you have to take a stand.”

Humes, Edward (2009-10-13). Monkey Girl (p. 101). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

MonkeyGirl

Intelligent Design did go down in flames, and Buckingham (plus Bonsell) avoided all liability. Their school district and the taxpayers were stuck with the bill.

Citizens of Sabine Parish, you need to take notice. You may think teacher Rita Roark and Superintendent Sara Ebarb are only doing your bidding, but you need to realize they are in fact playing fast and loose with your money. Be prepared to pony up.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the sixth of the series of reviews of Expelled, the video produced by Premise Media and featuring Ben Stein. In the previous installment I reviewed the case of Pamela Winnick, a journalist supposedly “expelled” for even mentioning the term “Intelligent Design.”

Winnick has written the book A Jealous God: Science’s Crusade Against Religion, published in 2005 by Thomas Nelson and sold by HarperCollins Christian Publishing (established in 2012). Thomas Nelson is a centuries-old publishing concern that now has a presence in America:

Thomas Nelson, now based in Nashville, publishes leading Christian authors, including Billy Graham, Max Lucado, John Eldredge, John Maxwell, Charles Stanley, Michael A. O’Donnell, Ted Dekker, John Townsend, and Dave Stone.

So why am I bringing all this up? Maybe it’s because I find it curious that an author setting out a case against modern science is seeming to market her work to a Christian readership. Her response to a critique by Wesley Ellsberry is also enlightening:

 Those of you out there accusing me of being a creationist merely because I gave the PBS series a bad review (deservedly so) and have a foundation to explore, from a media standpoint, the evolution debate out to know that I’m a practicing Jew and a liberal Democrat and a native of New York City.

I am also an attorney.

Also FYI, the paper I write for, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has strongly endorsed the teaching of evolution (and properly so in my opion)–primarily because I was the only reporter in all of PA who scooped the story of how PA almost adopted standards that might have allowed the teaching of evolution.

I am, however, writing a book about the subject showing how the media and scientific elite has stifled meaningful debate on the subject. In doing so, I am indeed supported ($25,000) by the Phillips Foundation, an organization which takes absolutely no position on the subject of evolution, but which seeks to promote fair and balanced reporting in all subject areas.

Whoever out there who is mis-identifying my purpose a ought to have the courage to identify him/herself. There is terribly reminiscent of the McCarthy period and reflects terribly on all of who seek to defend Darwinism.

[This was an RSS post, apparently written in haste. I have left the typos in place.]

A liberal Democrat? That is interesting. I have been in the creationism business for 25 years, and I have found few Democrats and fewer liberals siding with creationism. I was not able to track down Ellsberry’s original critique, but his response to Winnick’s response is available. Some of his remarks are notable:

The Phillips Foundation clearly states that the fellowship is about exploring the lack of “tolerance” for “teaching creationism”. It says nothing about “meaningful debate”. This contradicts Winnick’s claim that the Phillips Foundation takes “absolutely no position on the subject of evolution”.

Further, the content of the Phillips Foundation site gives no support to the claim by Winnick that the Phillips Foundation’s only concern is promoting fair and balanced reporting. Consider, for instance, this page, which repeats the phrase, “liberal bias”, throughout.

Other pages which belie the stated goal of “objective journalism” include this page, which lists the projects picked out by the 1999 fellowship recipients. It’s not just me who can see this, for this page on Contests and Scholarships: Free-Market Conservatism lists the fellowship program of the Phillips Foundation right at the top.

Full disclosure: I am a Wesley Ellsberry fan. He worked with the National Center for Science Education in preparing a case for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case, and we have hosted him at the North Texas Skeptics in years back. It will be interesting in future posts to explore the Pamela Winnick controversy at greater length.

In the mean time I will get on to the next and the final of the souls who suffered expulsion in the Ben Stein video.

Michael Egnor

Dr. Michael Egnor on creationism website

Dr. Michael Egnor on creationism website

Michael Egnor is a prominent neurosurgeon and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook University. He became inoculated against evolution (the science of biological evolution) after reading  Michael Denton‘s book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Egnor has aligned himself with the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC), one of the leading creationist organizations in this country and likely the absolute leader in support of the Intelligent Design version of creationism. An excerpt from one of his posts on the CSC’s Evolution News blog may be characteristic:

Scopes was put on trial for violating the Butler Act, which prohibited teaching human evolution to schoolchildren in Tennessee. What Scopes actually taught, if anything, is unclear, because Scopes was untruthful about what he did, and the trial was a legal ploy to spur a Supreme Court ruling. The truth was a secondary consideration at best to Scopes and to his team.

Hunter’s textbook Civic Biology was racist and taught eugenics. It was vile stuff. If a teacher taught from it today, he would not be prosecuted for violating the Butler Act. He would be prosecuted for federal civil rights violations.

If Dr. Egnor had a great interest in laying out the facts about the Scopes Trial he could have further elaborated:

  • The ACLU advertised for somebody to participate in a test case of the Butler Act.
  • John T. Scopes was a college student at the time, on a break in his education, teaching high school physics in Dayton, Tennessee. He was also the baseball coach.
  • Prominent citizens in the town decided to bring the ACLU case to Dayton, and the persuaded Scopes to volunteer as the subject.
  • Scopes did not teach evolution. That was never a secret. The high school principal taught the section on evolution, but nobody wanted him to be prosecuted.
  • Students of Scopes were tutored by the defense not to reveal that Scopes had not taught evolution. This was an open secret, because everybody involved wanted a trial.

What is refreshing is that Dr. Egnor did go to the trouble to read George William Hunter’s A Civic Biology. The original copyright is 100 years old this year, and Amazon’s Kindle edition became available two years ago, with a free version appearing on Amazon in December of last year. Being on a tight budget (currently unemployed) I obtained the free version. The book contains 11 uses of the word “eugenics.” In one case the word is used twice in reference to selective breeding of plants and animals (not people). There is one section on eugenics involving people. The remaining uses of the word are in references to other publications and in the index. Here is an excerpt on human eugenics:

Eugenics.—When people marry there are certain things that the individual as well as the race should demand. The most important of these is freedom from germ diseases which might be handed down to the offspring. Tuberculosis, syphilis, that dread disease which cripples and kills hundreds of thousands of innocent children, epilepsy, and feeble-mindedness are handicaps which it is not only unfair but criminal to hand down to posterity. The science of being well born is called eugenics.

Hunter, George William (2012-12-18). A Civic Biology Presented in Problems (Kindle Locations 3261-3264). . Kindle Edition.

The section goes on to describe stories of two famous families, one exhibiting the flower of human intellect and achievement and the other exposing the worst of human nature. I will send a copy of the full text of this section to anybody who requests one.

In his desire to enlighten his readers Dr. Egnor has glossed over a number of points:

  • John Scopes did not write this book.
  • John Scopes did not cause this book to be purchased for the school. The Dayton, Tennessee, school system did.
  • John Scopes was not the biology teacher. He taught only some classes.
  • Eugenics has nothing to do with Darwinian evolution. Darwinian evolution relates to evolution facilitated by natural selection. Selective breeding of plants, animals and even humans is not natural selection.

Then what was it that got Dr. Egnor expelled?

Summary

The Alliance for Science, a citizen’s group in Virginia, sponsored an essay contest for high school students on the topic “Why I would want my doctor to have studied evolution,” to highlight the important role of evolution in the medical sciences. Physician Michael Egnor posted an essay on an intelligent design blog in response, claiming that evolution was irrelevant to medicine. This was more a statement of Egnor’s ignorance about evolution than a reflection on evolution’s place in medicine.

The Claim

“When neurosurgeon Michael Egnor wrote an essay for high school students saying doctors didn’t need to study evolution in order to practice medicine, the Darwinists were quick to try and exterminate this new threat.” (Ben Stein, Expelled)

This is from the NCSE Expelled Exposed site. They provide some additional elaboration:

The Claim

Michael Egnor says in Expelled that he expected criticism, but was shocked by the “viciousness” and “baseness” of the response.

The Facts

Michael Egnor had apparently never been on the Internet before.

Yes, tell me about it, Dr. Egnor.

Back in 2007 Burt Humburg posted on The Panda’s Thumb blog a doctor’s response to Dr. Egnor’s assertion that physicians do not study evolution and do not need to know or accept evolution:

[Egnor]

Isn’t it “a funny question” whether we would want physicians to know evolution? There are basic sciences that are taught in medical school that must be “important to medicine” like anatomy and physiology. Doctors don’t “study evolution in medical school”, “there are no courses in medical school on evolution,” “there are no professors of evolution” in medical schools,” and “there are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools,” and “no evolutionary biologists” would provide useful information to a medical team in hospital. Therefore, evolution just isn’t important to the practice of medicine. I call upon my “20 years [of performing] over 4000 brain operations” to attest that I have never once used evolutionary biology in my work. How could I since evolution is random and doctors look for patterns, patterns that lie far afield from the randomness that is evolution? “I do use many” understandings provided by basic science in my work, such as population biology, “[but] evolutionary biology itself, as distinct from these scientific fields, contributes nothing to modern medicine.” “No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology.” So I wouldn’t want my doctor to have studied evolution; that answer wouldn’t win the “Alliance for Science” prize, but it would be the truth.

[Humburg]

Section 1: Evolution is a Vital Basic Science for Medicine
I’ll start off my fisking by criticizing an aspect of medical practice and, to make sense of it, those who aren’t physicians need to know that there’s a great divide in the practice of medicine between the physicians who practice to simply the “standard of care,” (the kind of practice you’re expected to know for quizzes, tests, and boards and the level of care you need to meet to not get sued) and the physicians who know the basic science behind why the standards of care are what they are.

For example, when someone is having a heart attack (and daily after they have one), they need to be on aspirin because of the pathophysiology of heart attacks. (I review much of it that pathophysiology here.) Briefly, the aspirin irreversibly inhibits the platelet enzyme involved with forming clots. But you don’t have to know about the irreversible acetylation of cyclooxygenase that occurs in the presence of acetylsalycylic acid in platelets; all you have to do is give people aspirins after heart attacks. The “divide” I refer to is between the physicians who know the biochemistry behind that reaction and the doctors who are content to know only that they should give aspirins after heart attacks. Make no mistake: one can be a great doctor and simply practice to the standard of care knowing not a whit of the basic science that provides that standard’s underpinnings. But if you can know the reasons why the standard of care is the way it is, why on Earth would you limit yourself by choosing to not know it?

The example I’ve given here is limited to a single therapeutic regimen in cardiology, but ideally there’s basic science that undergirds everything we do in medicine. There’s a reason why it’s no big deal if you’re not wearing lead in the radiology suite (thanks to the inverse-square law, as long as you’re three or four feet away from the radiation source, the dose you get is negligible). There’s a reason why diazepam – a drug we use to treat seizures – can cause seizures (much of the brain’s neurons are inhibitory and their suppression leads to increased seizure activity). There’s a reason why two different rheumatological diseases can require separate therapies (diseases involving deposition of immune complexes wouldn’t likely be amenable to an exchange of antibiodies as much as they would be to suppression of the immune system overall). Again, there are doctors who know or want to know the reasons behind the practice and there are doctors who don’t know and/or don’t want to know those reasons.

Doctor Egnor seems to like being in that latter category. More than that, he seems to recommend not knowing the basic science that undergirds the practice of medicine, to the extent that he perceives evolution might have had a hand in developing the state of the art. I see his perspectives as nothing more than ignorance advocacy for the basic sciences, writ large and not limited whatsoever to evolution.

Michael Egnor has thrown in his lot with the science deprived at the CSC, and as a result a lot of shine has gone off his “M.D.” My personal perspective: I live in a city with (what seems to be) a highly religious population. My own personal physician asks me my religious affiliation. (?) I told him I am a Texan. My beloved spouse goes to a doctor in this city’s vast medical establishment. There are copies of prayers on the wall in the waiting room. I’m still alive and doing well, but I would get great comfort if my personal physician would talk dirty to me. Tell me about the biological origins of human diseases. All that nasty stuff. I think I know my doctor well enough to be sure he is up to speed and knows all about modern biology. That’s the assurance I need, not an appeal to some higher power that erupted in the brains of primitive tribes thousands of years ago.

More later on Michael Egnor. Next up I will renew my review of Expelled with a discussion of Hitler, the Holocaust and how Darwin is to blame.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Ferris Bueller Gets Expelled

This is the third in a continuing series.

Expelled

I am reviewing the video Expelled, produced by Premise Media and starring Ben Stein (see above). The subtitle is No Intelligence Allowed. The inside joke is this video is about the Intelligent Design brand of modern creationism. Previous reviews have dipped into the stories of two of the six who were supposedly “expelled,” Specifically Richard Sternberg and Caroline Crocker. Next up is Guillermo Gonzalez.

Guillermo Gonzalez

The book

The book

Gonzalez’ main claim to fame is a book he published and a video on the same subject. The book is The Privileged Planet, with the subtitle How Our Place In The Cosmos Was Designed For Discovery. I have the book and the video, and I promise a review in the future. When the video first came out I did a short review for The North Texas Skeptic, which I will repost here:

The Privileged Planet

by John Blanton

If you think Texas is Heaven on Earth, think larger. Apparently Earth is Heaven on Earth as well.

A new video from the Discovery Institute comes to us by way of Illustra Media, and it seeks to remind us how fortunate we are. Not just for living in Texas, but for being born on the planet Earth. Aliens, eat your hearts out, both of them.

Privileged Planet 
The Privileged Planet

By now, we are quite familiar with the Discovery Institute (DI). Its Center for Science and Culture is a think tank for the new creationism called Intelligent Design. Illustra Media, you will recall, is the production company that a few years back gave us another creationist video, Unlocking the Mystery of Life.

The Privileged Planet, as the title suggests, wants to make the case that not only are we lucky to have been born on this planet, but Earth is lucky to be here at all. It doesn’t take long for the narration to get around to reminding us that this was not all just dumb luck. Broad hints at a guiding hand are dropped everywhere.

Wilston Nkangoh is the president of the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Club on the University of Texas at Dallas campus, and he was kind enough to invite me to a showing of the video at their October meeting. Although IDEA clubs are promoted through the DI at campuses across the country, Wilston does not receive financial support, and he purchased his own copy of the DVD.

companion book of the same title is by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Wesley Richards, who also appear in the video. Dennis Danielson also appears in the video and has given the book a resounding endorsement:

“Impressively researched and lucidly written, The Privileged Planet will surely rattle if not finally dislodge a pet assumption held by many interpreters of modern science: the so-called Copernican Principle (which isn’t actually very Copernican!). But Gonzalez and Richards’ argument, though controversial, is so carefully and moderately presented that any reasonable critique of it must itself address the astonishing evidence which has for so long somehow escaped our notice. I therefore expect this book to renew-and to raise to a new level-the whole scientific and philosophic debate about earth’s cosmic significance. It is a high class piece of work that deserves the widest possible audience.”

This is impressive, considering Danielson is a professor of English at the University of British Columbia. He is also editor of The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking.

Gonzalez and Richardson are with DI and are featured prominently in the video. Although a number of other notables weigh in, it’s Gonzalez and Richardson who do all the heavy lifting.

It is hard to argue with the major points these creationist make here. Who would deny, for example, that if the sun were hotter, if the Earth were not the right distance from the sun, and if water weren’t wet, life in Texas would not be as we know it today. The video gives a list of these critical factors with a probability of 0.10 for each, and it is clearly demonstrated that when you multiply them all together our odds of being here are vanishingly small. You stand a better chance of finding a winning lottery ticket stuck under your windshield wiper.

I only had a chance to watch the video through one time, but I came away with the impression that Gonzalez and Richardson ran out of good ideas half way through and began to cast about for material to fill the rest of the time. Some of the later arguments could best have been left on the cutting room floor.

For example, the authors assert that things seem to have been engineered just right so our great thinkers and scientists would be set up to succeed. If Earth’s atmospheric characteristics were different, they say, we would have had a hard time seeing the stars, and I guess the science of astronomy would have been replaced by the science of peering into the murk. What the astrologers would have done for a living is anybody’s guess.

If we were not in such an opportune location within our own galaxy, it would have been a lot harder to figure out the Milky Way’s exact shape. Again, I am only guessing, but there would likely have been a Nobel Prize for solving that puzzle.

All those points aside, a key issue discussed is fine tuning. Again, few would doubt that if the constants of nature, those eight and nine-digit numbers we all learned to memorize for the strength of gravity and the mass of the electron, were just a little off, the Universe would be a whole new ball game, and you would not be reading this newsletter. Paul Davies is a real scientist and not associated with DI. He has written a number of books on the mysteries of the Universe, including The Forces of Nature. In the video he explains the delicate balance of these forces. There is no denying: Either these supposedly independent factors are all tied together somewhere off where we can’t see just yet, or we have indeed won the grand jackpot.

My guess is it is some of both. First of all, underlying tie-ins are the history of scientific discovery. Aside from that, it seems a bit self centered to believe a world unsuited for humans would be a tragedy of the first magnitude. It would appear the creationists are attempting to use their point to make their point. Nice try, though.

Notes:

1. You can purchase the books and videos mentioned in this article from Amazon.com by linking through the NTS Web site. Just go to www.ntskeptics.org and use the search feature to find the title and the Amazon link. This story will carry the links when it is posted on the Web at http://www.ntskeptics.org/2004/2004november/november2004.htm#planet.

2. We have previously discussed the UT Dallas IDEA Club in the April 2004 issue of this newsletter. A copy of that issue is available on the NTS Web site.

The Wikipedia entry for Guillermo Gonzalez is worth noting:

Gonzalez obtained a BS in 1987 in Physics & Astronomy from University of Arizona and his Ph. D. in Astronomy from the University of Washington in 1993 and has done post-doctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Washington. He has received fellowships, grants and awards from NASA, the University of Washington, Sigma Xi, and the National Science Foundation. He introduced the Galactic Habitable Zone concept. He currently teaches at Grove City College, an evangelical Christian school, and was previously an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa State University until May 2008.

Gonzalez was a regular contributor to Facts for Faith magazine produced by Reasons To Believe, an old earth creationist group. In addition to his work for the Discovery Institute and International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design, he is a researcher for the Biologic Institute, which is funded by the institute for research into intelligent design.

In 2004 he published The Privileged Planet and its accompanying video, which takes the arguments of the Rare Earth hypothesis and combines them with arguments that the Earth is in prime location for observing the universe. He then proposes that the Earth was intelligently designed. William H. Jefferys, a Professor of Astronomy at theUniversity of Texas at Austin, reviewed the book writing “the little that is new in this book isn’t interesting, and what is old is just old-hat creationism in a new, modern-looking astronomical costume.” Co-author Jay Richards responds to such criticism with the following statement: “It has absolutely nothing to do with biological evolution. We are talking about the things that you need to produce a habitable planet, which is a prerequisite for life. It doesn’t tell you anything about how life got here.” A documentary based on the book was produced by the Discovery Institute.

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Something to note: I met professor Jefferys when I worked at the UT Austin Astronomy Department and have since come to know him as an outspoken proponent of rational skepticism, just the kind of person to take issue with the pseudo science promoted by the Discovery Institute.

Regarding the comment by Jay Richards that “It has absolutely nothing to do with biological evolution,” I would then have to ask why Gonzalez, Richards and all those other creationists at the Discovery Institute are making such a fuss over the issue. Richards’ personal history does not seem to lend itself to purely scientific investigation:

Richards hold a B.A. with majors in political science and religion, and Master of Divinity (M.Div.) and Master of Theology (Th.M.) degrees. His Ph.D. (with honors) is in philosophy and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous scholarly and popular articles, as well as four books, including The Untamed God and The Privileged Planet. Richards has been known for his intelligent design advocacy since 1996. The Privileged Planet was co-authored with astronomer and fellow CSC Senior Fellow Guillermo Gonzalez.

Richards was the first fellow at the Discovery Institute to confirm the genuineness of the Wedge document. Science organizations then paid attention to the Institute after the document was published online, but Richards wrote “that the mission statement and goals had been posted on the CRSC‘s website since 1996.” Richards has expressed skepticism of global warming.

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The National Center for Science Education published rebuttals to all of the “expelled” stories in the Expelled video. Here is just part of what they had to say about the Gonzalez case:

The Claim

“According to a Smithsonian/NASA astrophysics database, Gonzalez’s scientific articles from 2001 to 2007 rank the highest among astronomers in his department according to a standard measure of how frequently they have been cited by other scientists. He has published 68 peer-reviewed articles, which beat the ISU department’s standard for tenure by 350 percent. He has also co-authored a standard astronomy textbook, published by Cambridge University Press, which his faculty colleagues use in their own classes.” (Klinghoffer, D. (2007) Tenure TroubleWeekly Standard: 8 June. Linked from the Expelled website)

The Facts

Gonzalez’s publication output dropped steadily during his time at ISU. The work he did publish was based on re-evaluations of data he had previously collected or analyses of other people’s data.

An assessment by the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) found that:

…a closer look at Mr. Gonzalez’s case raises some questions about his recent scholarship and whether he has lived up to his early promise. …

Under normal circumstances, Mr. Gonzalez’s publication record would be stellar and would warrant his earning tenure at most universities, according to Mr. Hirsch [a scholar who analyzed the publication record]. But Mr. Gonzalez completed the best scholarship, as judged by his peers, while doing postdoctoral work at the University of Texas at Austin and at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D. His record has trailed off since then.

“It looks like it slowed down considerably,” said Mr. Hirsch…. “It’s not clear that he started new things, or anything on his own, in the period he was an assistant professor at Iowa State.”

That pattern may have hurt his case. “Tenure review only deals with his work since he came to Iowa State,” said John McCarroll, a spokesman for the university.

When considering a tenure case, faculty committees try to anticipate what kind of work a professor will accomplish in the future. “The only reason the previous record is relevant is the extent to which it can predict future performance,” said Mr. Hirsch. “Generally, it’s a good indication, but in some cases it’s not.”

David L. Lambert, director of the McDonald Observatory at Texas, supervised Mr. Gonzalez during his postdoctoral fellowship there in the early to mid-1990s. … [H]e is not aware of any important new work by Mr. Gonzalez since he arrived at Iowa State, such as branching off into different directions of research. “I don’t know what else he has done,” Mr. Lambert said. …

Mr. Gonzalez said he does not have any grants through NASA or the National Science Foundation, the two agencies that would normally support his research…. He arrived at Iowa State in 2001, but none of his graduate students there have thus far completed their doctoral work

That even Gonzalez’s former academic advisors expressed doubts about his performance at ISU suggests that this is a serious issue. It is worth noting that the decline in his publication rate corresponds to the time when he started putting time into an intelligent design project that has produced no peer-reviewed results. This includes his work on The Privileged Planet and his collaboration with old-earth creationist Hugh Ross from the ministry Reasons to Believe (for instance: http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=2612 and http://www.reasons.org/resources/fff/2002issue09/index.shtml#rare_sun).

In wading through the video with Ben Stein I continue to encounter questions and statements regarding the unwillingness of mainstream science to consider the possibility of Intelligent Design. This issue is put forward as though there were some legitimate reason for considering Intelligent Design. My point is it is not a given that scientists should consider Intelligent Design.

  • Intelligent Design is a religious concept with no basis from any scientific research.
  • Addressing scientific issues with consideration for Intelligent Design has no purpose other than to promote a particular religious concept.
  • Proponents of Intelligent Design like to emphasize they are not proposing the God of Abraham as the designer, thus removing religion as their motivation. This position exhibits a large amount of deceit. The promotion of the God of Abraham (and by extension the divinity of Jesus) is the sole purpose behind the promotion of Intelligent Design. These people expend a large amount of effort and expense promoting Intelligent Design but would not walk across the street for Intelligent Design if it did not promote their religious faith.
  • Scientists do not consider a supernatural designer, because the phenomenon of a supernatural designer has never been observed.
  • Proponents of Intelligent Design do not even attempt to explain by what mechanism an intelligent designer could be tweaking natural law to produce the features they attribute to Intelligent Design. They do not attempt to explain Intelligent Design. They only attempt to get people to accept it. This is religious proselytizing only.

This series will continue a critique of the Ben Stein video. The next post will feature Robert Marks, who was “expelled.” That is, Baylor University shut down his research Web site.