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Monday, June 30, 2008
Popular does not mean correct

The KRA blog has a survey question up on its front page:

Were you aware that 64% of Kansans want the last say before increasing taxes and 60% believe evolution and intelligent design should be taught together?

Is the KRA aware that 50% of Americans aren't aware that the earth orbits the sun and takes one year to do so? Teach the controversy!

Is the KRA aware that 30% of Americans believe that alien spacecraft visit the earth on a regular basis? Teach the controversy!

Is the KRA aware that 44% of Americans believe that astrology is "very" or "somewhat" scientific? Teach the controversy! (Oops, Michael Behe already tried that one.)

Does the KRA know that half of our citizens believe that magnet therapy is "sort of" or "very scientific"? Teach the controversy, and make sure to show that ridiculous opening sequence from the latest Indiana Jones movie!

73% of Americans believe in at least one of the following: Extrasensory perception (ESP), haunted houses, ghosts, mental telepathy, clairvoyance, astrology, witches, reincarnation, or channeling. Does the KRA endorse teaching these ideas as well?

Fifty years ago, a substantial portion of Americans believed that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites. Would the KRA have endorsed teaching that idea during the 1950's?

Just because an idea is popular does not mean it is correct. Let's make sure we keep the focus on teaching REAL science in Kansas classrooms.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Brandon Kenig Responds

We ended our earlier post about Brandon Kenig by listing three issues that still troubled us concerning his stated positions on the Kansas Science Standards issue.

Kenig quickly and courteously responded to those issues and gave us permission to post his response here. His email is reproduced below the fold in its entirety.

Some answers to your questions...

1. We asked Kenig why he was inclined to believe the earth is 10 or 15 thousand years old, rather than ~4.5 billion as determined by geologists and accepted by 99.9% of scientists in the field. He did not respond to this question. When I stated this on my personal blog, this was my own personal religious belief. I have not yet completely reconciled the overwhelming scentific evidence of the age of the earth with my religious beliefs and teachings, but that it is inconsequential, because I do not think my personal, religious belief should be taught in the classroom. This is a personal issue and I may resign myself to the fact that they may never be reconciled. But that is too be expected--religion and science complement eachother, but we must accept that we cannot always reconcile the two--each has its place in our lives and in society.

2. In his response to our questions, Kenig asserted that "scientific critiques of evolution or missing data or holes in the theory can and should be discussed and taught if they are scientific in nature and technical--and that is consistent with my stated position all along." Unfortunately, Kenig did not explain which "scientific critiques" of evolutionary theory he thinks should be discussed and taught. After all, the 2005 standards included a litany of so-called "critiques" of evolutionary theory that had already been thoroughly refuted and rejected by the scientific community. We cannot help but wonder, are these the kind of "scientific critiques" that Kenig has in mind? No, this is not what I have in mind. Any missing data or critiques or new information that comes along must be supported by a consensus of the scientific community. Critiques in the 2005 standards attempted to shroud themselves in scientific reasoning, but they were undoubtedly religious and philosophical-based. To be completely honest, I am unsure of specific, scientific advances or changes to the current theory that have been embraced by the scientific community, but if these modifications or addtions come along and are supported by a consensus of the scientific community, they should be taught in the classroom. Discoveries such as the one that led to the finding and naming of the skeleton "Lucy," or findings that found additional hominid species or discounted ideas believed about the discovery of an existing hominid would be worthy of being taught if they were supported by a consenus of scientists. I would imagine that if they were, these new insights would also start appearing in scientific textbooks.

3. Throughout Kenig's Facebook group page, a recurring theme seems to be that local school districts should be able to ignore state mandates whenever they so choose. He even specifically lists evolution as one of the topics for which state mandates should be reduced. This is in direct opposition to Kenig's stated support of the current science standards. Indeed, this same "local control" stance was promoted by the instigators of the infamous 1999 standards. That is completely untrue. I don't think local school districts should be able to ignore state mandates, I just think they should have the ability to augment state mandates as they see fit. On my Facebook page, I say "I want to give control to local boards and local districts to add or expand on these topics as to how they see fit." Not once do I say that local boards or districts should have the power to detract from existing standards or water them down or reduce them in any way. Any attempt to teach creationism in the classroom would be a reduction in science standards, as would any attempt to detract from evolution or downgrade it or teach any less of it then required by the state. I just want local schools and districts to have the power to go above and beyond in certain areas. In areas like appropriating state funding, extra-curricular activities, preparation for state testing--local districts and boards should be able to innovate and adjust to the state's policies in the ways they see fit. With sex education and evolution--these policies are directly related to the curriculum and must be mandated by the state, so school districts must follow the state's mandates in these areas, but there is still room for some local control--in sex education, some school districts and boards may choose to provide more information beyond the state board's broad policy. In the teaching of evolution, some schools or districts may choose to offer an entire class on evolutionary biology or supplement in-class teaching on the subject with a visits to research centers or natural history museums. Obviously, the state mandate on evolution is much more specific, so there is less opportunity to expand it and supplement it in a pro-science approach, but teachers and schools should still be able to engage students in the topic in exciting ways without fear of reprisal or reprimand by parents or anti-evolutionists who counter that these schools and districts are going beyond the intent of the state's mandate.

I hope this helps. I'm not inconsistent. I've never run for office before, but I'm learning quickly and I will try to be much more clear on these issues. I see that my position on local control in many areas is too unspecific and some believe that I'm for local control in all areas or unconditional local control which isn't true. No matter what, no district or local board should have the power to ignore or dilute an existing state mandate--they should only have the power to expand or augment an existing state mandate. I'm learning a lot about how words can be interpreted and how statements can be phrased incorrectly and I will do my best to articulate my positions much more clearly in the upcoming months. Also, please remember that I've "evolved" on this topic as well. You have to remember, as a high school student taking biology, the pro-science majority was in control, so the controversy was at bay and my education was unaffected, so it was not something I initially thought about or was concerned about. Two years ago, I was 20 years old, and while I had a pro-evolution stance, I was still not 100 percent informed on the exact nature of the controversy and what was happening in KS. After doing my homework and realizing how serious this was and the extent to which some of the board members were willing to dilute real science and use standards that no other state in the country was following, I gradually realized this was of greater importance that I thought, especially when I learned exactly what the board was trying to do back in 2005 and how that really affected students and teachers in the classroom as well as outsiders' perceptions of Kansas.


I've attended Shawnee Mission Public Schools from K-12th grade and I'm proud of the education I received. I want to ensure that other students receive the same type of education, and strong science standards grounded in science, not ideology, are the only way to ensure this.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Cutting Through the Obfuscation

Stephanie Grace of The Times-Picayune has recently witnessed some creative semantic and lexical contortions of the English language.

Has she discovered a new and emerging dialect?

No, she has merely been watching the Louisiana State Legislature over the last several weeks.

In a column concerning Governor Bobby Jindal's recent signing of the Louisiana Science Education Act, Grace writes:

Now, nobody's likely to take issue with the idea of "science education." Nor is the bill's specific wording offensive on its face. The act allows teachers to bring supplemental materials into the classroom to promote "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning" -- never mind that any decent school should be promoting those things already.

It's what the bill doesn't say that has prompted criticism by, among others, the New York Times editorial page and one of Jindal's own biology professors at Brown University, who spoke on behalf of the Louisiana Coalition for Science.

The bill never mentions that evolution is almost universally accepted among scientists as the basis for modern biology.

And it skips right over the key fact that the effort is backed by the same archconservatives who've trying to force religiously based doubts over the theory, either in the form of creationism or its successor "intelligent design," into science classrooms for years now.

Those efforts have been consistently rejected by the courts, which explains another artful bit of misdirection: The bill explicitly disavows the promotion of any particular set of religious beliefs. That directly contradicts the goal of its most ardent supporters, including the Louisiana Family Forum, which in and of itself should raise plenty of questions over just what was going on here.

Still, the obfuscation made it hard to argue the merits of the bill, and in the end, even many of the lawmakers who knew better threw up their hands and voted yes.

For further analysis of the bill, see these enlightening comments on The Panda's Thumb.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Sunday, June 29, 2008
Dr. Walt Chappell

Although District 8 (Wichita) state board of education candidate Walt Chappell gave indications early on he was a REAL science candidate, we were hesitant to give him our backing because he hadn't responded to an email we'd sent asking him about these issues.

We're very happy to learn that Chappell has provided abundantly clear responses to substantive questions. At his website are his responses to questionnaires from interested organizations.

Some examples follow:

In response to the Mainstream Coalition:

2) Q: Are you opposed to the teaching of biblical creation or intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes?
A: Yes

From the Kansas Families for Education:

8) Do you support biblical creationism, or intelligent design theory, as an alternative or in addition to the evolution theory in the science curricula

Answer: Absolutely NOT!!

From the Wichita Eagle:

Q. Should the board revise its science standards to include criticism of evolution? If so, why, and in what way? If not, why not?

A. NO!! I have taught evolution in Kansas middle and high school science classes plus served on the College of Medicine faculty at the University of Iowa. Each major religion and culture has its own explanation of how the universe was created. No one knows how it began. But, the millions of years of scientific evidence of evolution on Earth are well documented and must be taught in our classrooms.

Jeremy & I are confident that Dr. Chappell's consistent, coherent, unequivocal responses indicate that he's a REAL science candidate, and our map has been changed accordingly.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

A Case of Mistaken Identity?

Brandon Kenig is a District 2 candidate for the Kansas State Board of Education. Last Friday morning, Kenig sent us an email in which he said that we had "completely distorted" his position on evolution by including the following quote from his blog on our map:

"The theory of evolution should be taught in classrooms, but not forced upon students. Holes in the current evolution theory and alternative theories (such as intelligent design) should be mentioned."

Did we distort Kenig's position? Was this truly a case of mistaken identity?

Keep reading to follow the evidence where it leads . . .

[Added in edit: Brandon Kenig Responds]

At the time we made our endorsements, there was admittedly little information available concerning Kenig's positions. All we had to go on was a two-year-old post on Kenig's blog (archived) in which he described his position on evolution.

Evolution--Let me just say that I'm Catholic, and I believe in evolution somewhat and that creation can go hand-in-hand with evolution. I think evolutionists have done a poor job by trying to leave God out of the equation (I don't think the earth's 6 billion years old--more like 10 or 15 thousand years old). The theory of evolution should be taught in classrooms, but not forced upon students. Holes in the current evolution theory and alternative theories (such as intelligent design) should be mentioned. This isn't about teaching the Bible in the classroom, it's about examining scientific evidence, critiquing it, and looking at alternative evidence. Science isn't perfect and we should be prepared to examine all the evidence and not try to ignore obvious problems in current evolutionary theory and the opposition to it. Having said that, attempts by school boards and politicians to downplay evolution or ban it entirely are also ridiculous. The classroom is an open forum. And I believe that evolution and creationism can co-exist (In fact, I personally think they're both compatible).

Kenig has since clarified his position to us via email, and he gave us permission to quote from those emails.

First, he acknowledged that his stance was confusing:

I wrote that blog entry two years ago and it was stream-of-consciousness thought at the time, and I realized after reading your interpretation of it and others' interpretations that it was unclear. I meant for it to read that intelligent design in light of the current controversy should be mentioned, but this is not the same thing as teaching it. This is not anything new--in fact, when I was in high school, virtually all of the biology teachers in my school made a statement or alluded to the controversy over teaching evolution and how some wanted intelligent design or creationism taught. Then, the teacher would proceed to teach about evolution and only evolution. So what I stated is not shocking or anything new--most people already know about the controversy but for students who don't, a brief statement acknowledging the controversy would give students some perspective and let them know what is happening.

He went on to state his unequivocal support for the current science standards:

I fully support the current standards re-written by the board in 2007. I feel fortunate that in the 2nd district we've had Sue Gamble as our board member and she's been a great voice for our district. This controversy has hurt Kansas nationally, and economically, we've suffered--I've heard stories of several companies that hesitated before re-locating to Kansas because of the State Board's debacle in weakening the science standards. Corporations and national organizations look at the quality of the education systems and schools where they re-locate as a major factor in their decision-making process. Religion and philosophy belong in religion and philosophy classes and science belongs in science classes. It's as simple as that.

One of the questions we asked Kenig concerned his public statement at a recent candidate forum in Prairie Village. Due to a personal conflict, Kenig was unable to attend the forum, but he did send along a statement to be read by the moderator. In that statement, Kenig said that he would like to give school districts more local control over the teaching of "controversial" scientific topics. We asked him whether he considered evolution to be one of those controversial topics.

In response to this question, Kenig wrote:

In my statement concerning local conrol [sic] over controversial topics, I now realize I was too vague. I was not attempting to describe evolution as one of those topics--I think topics like sex education and suitable reading for English classes should be decided on a local level. I think larger, more urban and suburban districts should have the ability to go beyond the abstinence-only policy set forth by the state board and include other aspects of sex education as they see fit. These are the issues I think should be handled locally. Evolution, however, is a major component of the biology curriculum and as such, it should be consistent across the board and across the state.

We wrote back, pointing out the following "Theme" listed on the Facebook group Brandon Kenig for Kansas State Board of Education:

Believer in local control (reducing mandates on how certain subjects are taught in favor of local control and letting local boards augment/adjust existing state standards for their own needs--evolution, sex ed., etc., . . .

Kenig responded, writing:

I read what my facebook blog entry said and and [sic] what I meant was that teachers should be able to augment the teaching of evolution with additional details.

He went on to say:

I apologize if this appeared inconsistent--I had not intended for it to be. It is ultimately my fault because I was not more specific to begin with. But to recap: the current science standards (sans creationism or intelligent design) must remain in place, and local teachers should be given the flexibility to expand and teach the topic beyond what is offered on the state assessment (discussing different periods, different hominid forms, different research and researchers on the subject) but in no way, shape, or form should this be interpreted or used to REDUCE or DILUTE the existing pro-science standards--it should only be used to ENHANCE them.

We are grateful that Kenig has taken the time to more fully explain his positions.

However, we are still troubled by a few issues:

1. We asked Kenig why he was inclined to believe the earth is 10 or 15 thousand years old, rather than ~4.5 billion as determined by geologists and accepted by 99.9% of scientists in the field. He did not respond to this question.

2. In his response to our questions, Kenig asserted that "scientific critiques of evolution or missing data or holes in the theory can and should be discussed and taught if they are scientific in nature and technical--and that is consistent with my stated position all along." Unfortunately, Kenig did not explain which "scientific critiques" of evolutionary theory he thinks should be discussed and taught. After all, the 2005 standards included a litany of so-called "critiques" of evolutionary theory that had already been thoroughly refuted and rejected by the scientific community. We cannot help but wonder, are these the kind of "scientific critiques" that Kenig has in mind?

3. Throughout Kenig's Facebook group page, a recurring theme seems to be that local school districts should be able to ignore state mandates whenever they so choose. He even specifically lists evolution as one of the topics for which state mandates should be reduced. This is in direct opposition to Kenig's stated support of the current science standards. Indeed, this same "local control" stance was promoted by the instigators of the infamous 1999 standards.

Are these seemingly contradictory statements the result of a candidate who is trying to obfuscate the issues, or are they products of a campaign that just isn't very well organized and coherent at this point? Frankly, it's hard to tell.

The bottom line is this: we are not convinced that Kenig is a REAL science candidate, so we are changing his designation to "Unknown" with a link back to this post. We are hoping that Kenig will clarify these issues for us soon.

We promise to keep you informed, and to continue following the evidence where it leads.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Friday, June 27, 2008
The Trap Is Set

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law the Louisiana Science Education Act.

An extensive list of reactions is available from the National Center for Science Education.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Snooze Alarm

Mike Hendricks of the Kansas City Star asks:

. . . why should anybody give the [Kansas state] school board races any thought this year?

Simple, said Jack Krebs, [former] president of Kansas Citizens for Science.

"Because the conservatives have led us astray two times when we haven't been paying attention," he told me.

Yes, that's the lesson Kansans keep forgetting. It's off years like this one that make possible all those embarrassing headlines later on.

It's in these off years when candidates aligned with the religious right tend to win in the Republican primary because the moderates are napping.

This graphic sums it up:

1999: EvoWars I - evolution, history of the earth, history of the universe taken out of the state standards
2000: Voters replace most creationists on the state board with moderates.
2001: Good science standards adopted.
2002: Voter apathy. Two creationists elected to state board.
2004: Voter apathy. One more creationist elected to state board. Creationists now in majority.
2005: EvoWars II - ID-friendly standards adopted
2006: Voters replace most creationists on the state board with moderates.
2007: Good science standards adopted.

Why don't we break the cycle this year? Let's change it to . . .

. . . and stop relying on a snooze alarm. The time to wake up and vote for REAL science is NOW.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Ken Hubert - A Stand Up Guy

Here is an interview with Ken Hubert, a high school Biology teacher from Faribault, Minnesota.

From Randy Moore, the interviewer:

When classes began at Faribault (Minnesota) High School in the fall of 1997, high school biology teacher Ken Hubert was looking forward to a productive year. However, early in 1998 Ken became concerned that a colleague - first-year biology teacher Rodney LeVake - was not teaching evolution as prescribed in the school's curriculum. When Ken confronted Rod with his concerns, Ken learned that his concerns were justified-Rod told Ken, "I can't teach evolution." When Rod was later reassigned to a physical science class for refusing to follow the school's curriculum, he filed a lawsuit that ended in early 2002 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused, without comment, to hear Rod's case.

I knew about this case, but I did not know the back-story concerning how Mr. LaVake came to be reassigned to teach physical science.

I personally admire the principled stances taken by those involved in this situation. It seems to me that the school did what was best for students by ensuring that they have an opportunity to learn REAL science.

Hat-tip: Greg Laden

posted by Jeremy Mohn

What is REAL science?

On this blog, we advocate for the teaching of REAL science in public school science classrooms.

But what is REAL science?

REAL science...

Recognizes its limits - Science only works with phenomena that can be independently verified by observations or empirical tests. This is a practical approach to the study of the natural world that has proven to be extremely conducive to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Since this approach does not rule out the existence of non-verifiable phenomena, any claims about the existence or non-existence of such phenomena are not scientific.

Enriches our understanding of the universe - Science enhances our appreciation of ourselves and of the world around us. It does not attempt to supplant or displace other ways of knowing, such as philosophy, religion, or ethics. Knowledge gained through scientific investigation is transferable to other contexts, but science does not invalidate other modes of human inquiry.

Approximates reality - Science is not an attempt to prove hypotheses, but rather an attempt to falsify them. The purpose of a scientific model is to provide a conceptual framework that guides and directs future research. Although all foundational scientific models have been extensively tested, no scientific model should ever be viewed as absolute truth. All scientific models are tentative and subject to potential modification as new empirical evidence becomes available.

Leads to new knowledge - Science is a systematic approach to developing physical, mathematical, and conceptual models for understanding the natural world. The best scientific models are those that have both explanatory and predictive power. In other words, scientific models should not only explain what is currently known, they should routinely generate new hypotheses for further research.

Everyone in this debate wants a better world, and we can all benefit from the knowledge gained through the application of the scientific method. When it comes to science education, our goal should be to teach our children to understand and appreciate the scientific method so that it can be utilized for the benefit of all humanity. Consequently, we must not allow the quality of science education in our public schools to be compromised by the current culture war concerning who holds "the Truth."

We have an obligation to our children to pursue only the best available science. We should accept nothing less than REAL science in our public school science classrooms.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Sunday, June 22, 2008
Sparks and Boasting Tongues

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. - James 3:5 (New International Version)

I've been trying to figure out why the John Freshwater situation has me so bothered.

It's not as though child abuse is uncommon - unfortunately. The fact that this man is forcing his beliefs on everyone else's kids . . . that's commonplace as well. And although I don't like it when my kid is hurt accidentally at school, I don't fly off the handle and start threatening litigation.

Some of Freshwater's defenders claim that the burnings are being publicized as a smokescreen for what they say is the real issue - Freshwater's refusal to remove his personal Bible from his desk. This refusal just doesn't bother me, except that his defenders are using it to turn the situation into a discussion about religious persecution instead of what constitutes proper behavior for a science teacher. A student reading his/her Bible during non-instructional school time - lunch, passing time, recess - is constitutionally kosher, even though emails continue to circulate false rumors that the ACLU has banned the Bible from public schools.

So why is this situation giving me nightmares?

What keeps coming back to me are memories of the methods course all aspiring science teachers had to take. Much of the class was focused on using lab apparatus & supplies safely. How to get kids to wear goggles over their eyes instead of on their foreheads. How to store and handle acids. The importance of limiting class size. How to repair electrical equipment. How not to do the "Bed of Nails" demonstration. Why we don't have kids handle mercury anymore. Why we don't show Jearl Walker's hand-dipped-in-molten-lead demonstration. How to walk across hot coals safely, and why you bother to do so. The emphasis was always on keeping the students safe.

This focus on student safety goes beyond the science classrooms. I've observed day-to-day school operations for 20+ years of teaching across the Midwest, and the first priority is always, always, always student safety. Fire and tornado drills, drug dog protocols, practice for Columbine-type incidents, cleaning up hallway spills immediately . . . the list goes on and on. We devote much time and effort to keeping these kids safe, and it's always fine by me that we use a bit of class time to help make sure kids remain safe.

And what did this teacher do? He burned kids. On purpose.

He violated the basic trust inherent in in loco parentis - in the absence of the parents, the school district is responsible for the safety of those kids.

It didn't matter that the owner's manual for the device stated in no uncertain terms that contact with the body was to be avoided. Because he thought he knew more than the device's manufacturer, kids were hurt.

And because he thought he knew more than the established science community, his boasting tongue lied to students about science.

The 50,000-V sparks he applied to those kids have started a fire of his own making. He abused the trust parents placed in him, and his career should rightfully go down in a great forest of flames.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Saturday, June 21, 2008
Expelled Frozen Out in Canada

From Peter McKnight of the Vancouver Sun:

The makers of Expelled, including Ben Stein, have not let facts stand in the way of their anti-Darwin screed

McKnight goes on to describe how the producers quote-mined reality in making this film. To summarize, he notes

In effect, then, the producers are doing precisely what the Nazis did: Distorting Darwin's writing in order to justify their beliefs. On this point, there may be hope for [narrator/star Ben] Stein yet: When I alerted him to the alteration of the Darwin quote and read him the full passage, he said he was "kind of dismayed if that's true." He also said he would check it out, so I look forward to Stein disavowing at least that part of the movie.

I don't, however, expect the producers to disavow any part of the movie because their disdain for truth comes through loud and clear. Consequently, I'm not particularly bothered by the existence of Expelled. For it displays, in a way a movie review never could, the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the ID movement which, unable to construct a convincing argument, resorts to dishonesty and deceit.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Friday, June 20, 2008
John Derbyshire Nails It

In a National Review Online blog post entitled "Governor Jindal, Veto This Bill!," John Derbyshire explains what the Louisiana Science Education Act is really all about:

The entire effect of this law, if Gov. Jindal signs it, will be that one cartload of Louisiana taxpayers' money will go to the Discovery Institute for their mendacious "textbooks," then another cartload will go into the pockets of lawyers to defend the inevitable challenge to the law in federal courts, which will inevitably be successful, as they always are, and should be.

Could this really be all about selling textbooks?

I honestly don't know.

However, one of the authors of the book is a freelance technical writer named Jonathan Moneymaker.

That can't be just a coincidence, right?

posted by Jeremy Mohn

How to get away with teaching creationism

Just ask John Freshwater, who was fired today after 11 years of complaints that he was pushing creationism on his 8th grade science students.

In the end, it wasn't his classroom preaching that got him canned.

It was the fact that he used a device like a Tesla coil to burn crosses into the skin of several students during the course of those years.

So what's the moral of the story? Go ahead and hand out creationist literature in lieu of science lessons. Brag about your upcoming abortion-clinic protest. Teach your science students about the meaning of the Resurrection during class time. Lie to your administrator and deny that you're teaching creationism. Let those kids know that homosexuality is always, always a sin. Train those students to be argumentative with and hostile to any future teachers who try to teach them REAL science.
[added in edit: yes, Freshwater did all of these things as a public school teacher. See the independent investigator's report here (pdf).]

Just don't inflict visible bodily harm on students whose parents might object to you burning their offspring.

You have to wonder how many kids would have been saved from abuse if the district hadn't waited 11 years to take appropriate action.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Thursday, June 19, 2008
Who Said It?

"The Act provides Louisiana schoolteachers with no new authority. Thus the stated purpose is not furthered by it."

Go ahead and take a guess in the comments. I'll post the answer below the fold.

It was William J. Brennan, the
United States Supreme Court Justice and author of the Majority Opinion in Edwards v. Aguillard. This was the case that struck down a Louisiana law that required creationism to be taught along with evolution.

Deja vu?

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Wednesday, June 18, 2008
So the KRA likes these candidates . . .

The Kansas Republican Assembly is the haven of far-right Republicans like Kris Van Meteren, Phill Kline, Steve Abrams, Kathy Martin, and Connie Morris. The KRA seems to think it's the sole spiritual home of True ConservativesTM and dismisses any Republicans who don't agree with their platform as RINOs - Republicans In Name Only. They've forgotten that true conservatives are resistant to change, not radical enforcers of it.

In the past, their endorsements for the Kansas Board of Education have been unflinchingly anti-evolution: Abrams, Martin, Morris, John Bacon, Ken Willard . . .

On Saturday, the KRA released its litany of preferred candidates. In particular, for our state board of education:

SBOE 2 Brandon Kenig
SBOE 4 Robert Meissner
SBOE 6 Kathy Martin
SBOE 8 Dennis E. Hedke
SBOE 10 Marty Marshall

When it comes to the state board of education, the KRA's backing is the kiss of death to any support from moderate and pro-science voters in the state.

Interestingly enough, three known creationists are running for the Kansas Senate: Steve Abrams, Iris Van Meter (Kris Van Meteren's mother), and Larry Salmans. Why would open, avowed creationists bother to run for office after Kansas voters rejected that ideology in 2000 & 2006?

It seems obvious that the Discovery Institute is determined to bring the game back to Kansas, the game Rev. Douglas Phenix so aptly described as baseball forced to play by the rules of tennis. I'm betting that the DI & the KRA-endorsed candidates will bring an "Academic Freedom From Learning" bill to the Kansas House and/or Senate.

The KRA's favored candidates for the Kansas House and Senate are below the fold. Read 'em and note 'em.

KS Senate 1 Dennis D. Pyle
KS Senate 5 Steve Fitzgerald
KS Senate 8 Benjamin B. Hodge
KS Senate 9 Julia Lynn
KS Senate 10 Mary Pilcher Cook
KS Senate 11 Jerry Clinton
KS Senate 13 Jacob LaTurner
KS Senate 14 Iris M. VanMeter
KS Senate 16 Ty Masterson
KS Senate 17 Jim Barnett
KS Senate 18 James J. (Jim) Zeller
KS Senate 19 Shari Weber
KS Senate 21 Paul E. Barkey
KS Senate 24 Tom Arpke
KS Senate 26 Dick Kelsey
KS Senate 27 Leslie D. "Les" Donovan Sr.
KS Senate 28 Mike Petersen
KS Senate 29 Kenya Cox
KS Senate 30 Susan Wagle
KS Senate 31 Carolyn McGinn
KS Senate 32 Steve E Abrams
KS Senate 33 Andrew Evans
KS Senate 36 Larry D. Salmans
KS Senate 37 Jeff Colyer
KS Senate 38 Tim Huelskamp
KS Senate 40 Ralph Ostmeyer

KS House 2 Jeffrey Grant Locke
KS House 3 Thomas A Price
KS House 4 Lynne D. Oharah
KS House 5 Cynthia "Cara" Polsley
KS House 6 Jene Vickrey
KS House 9 Bill Otto
KS House 11 Virgil Peck Jr.
KS House 13 Forrest Knox
KS House 14 Lance Kinzer
KS House 15 Arlen H. Siegfreid
KS House 18 John Rubin
KS House 22 Joy E. Bourdess
KS House 26 Rob Olson
KS House 27 Ray Merrick
KS House 38 Anthony R. Brown
KS House 39 Owen Donohoe
KS House 41 Jana Taylor Goodman
KS House 42 Connie O'Brien
KS House 43 S. Mike Kiegerl
KS House 47 Lee Tafanelli
KS House 51 Mike Burgess
KS House 53 Cecil T. Washington Jr.
KS House 54 Joe Patton
KS House 57 Cheryl Reynolds
KS House 61 Richard Carlson
KS House 62 Roy Claycamp
KS House 67 Dick Miller
KS House 72 Marc Rhoades
KS House 73 Clark Shultz
KS House 74 Don Schroeder
KS House 76 Peggy L. Mast
KS House 79 Kasha Kelley
KS House 81 Peter DeGraaf
KS House 82 Don V. Myers
KS House 85 Steven Brunk
KS House 90 Steve Huebert
KS House 91 Brenda Landwehr
KS House 93 Dan Kerschen
KS House 96 Phil Hermanson
KS House 100 Mario Goico
KS House 104 Michael R. "Mike" O'Neal
KS House 105 Jason P. Watkins
KS House 106 Sharon Schwartz
KS House 108 Dave Smith
KS House 113 Bob Bethell
KS House 114 Mitch Holmes
KS House 118 Virginia B. Beamer
KS House 119 Pat George
KS House 120 John M. Faber
KS House 121 Jim Morrison
KS House 122 Gary K. Hayzlett
KS House 123 Jeff Whitham
KS House 124 Gene J Schwein

If the KRA prefers these candidates, the safe bet is that the candidates will support an "Academic Freedom From Learning" bill.

Of course, I could be waaaaay off-base about the implications of the KRA imprimatur and/or the DI's intentions in Kansas.

I hope so. If it turns out that I'm wrong about either of these, praise God. And I'll gladly buy the first round.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

URGENT: Louisiana Needs Help!

Image from

Science education in Louisiana is about to undergo destruction that rivals Katrina's impact on the Gulf Coast.

Although I'm pessimistic about Gov. Jindal actually vetoing the academic freedom from learning bill, pro-science folks down there have asked that we all contact the governor with a message NOW that this bill should be vetoed. Think of your email as providing the future plaintiffs with more ammo showing that the Governor signed this monstrosity into law knowing full well that the experts in the field regard "teach the controversy" as intelligent design creationism in sheep's clothing.

Some points to consider:

Point 1: The Louisiana law, SB 733, the LA Science Education Act, has national implications. So far, this legislation has failed in every other
state where it was proposed, except in Michigan, where it remains in committee. By passing SB 733, Louisiana has set a dangerous precedent that will benefit the Discovery Institute by helping them to advance their strategy to get intelligent design creationism into public schools. Louisiana is only the beginning. Other states [like Kansas - with creationists Steve Abrams & Iris VanMeter running for state senate - csa] will now be encouraged to pass such legislation, and the Discovery Institute has already said that they will continue their push to get such legislation passed.

Point 2: Since Gov. Jindal's support for teaching ID clearly helped to get this bill passed in the first place, his decision to veto it will stick if he lets the legislature know that he wants it to stick.

Point 3: Simply allowing the bill to become law without his signature does not absolve the governor of the responsibility for protecting the public school science classes of Louisiana. He must veto the bill to show that he is serious about improving Louisiana by improving education. Anything less than a veto means that the governor is giving a green light to creationists to undermine the education of Louisiana children.

I'd add point 4: If Jindal has any hopes of running with McCain, he'd do well to consider that the three Republican evolution deniers - Huckabee, Brownback, and . . . whatsisname - are now former future presidential candidates.

Don't delay - send that email NOW. Thanks to Stacy S. for providing contact information.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Upcoming BOE Candidate Forums

Do you care about education in Kansas? Are you tired of the anti-evolutionists on the state board of education letting ideology get in the way of expertise?

Chances are if you're a reader of this blog you're already pretty well informed on the science education issues. There are other important issues, too, so we need to get lots of pro-education people to attend these candidate forums being held across the state during the next few weeks. The candidates need to know, in no uncertain terms, that you and your voting friends care about their stance on other issues as well: How should sex ed be taught? Should the public schools be forced to do the job of the INS when it comes to determining who gets to learn in Kansas? Is lowering the qualifications for teachers a legitimate solution to the teacher shortage?

So get together with a few carloads of friends and choose your venue!

June 24
Asbury United Methodist Church Auditorium
5400 W. 75th, Prairie Village Map
7-8:30 pm
District 2 (Currently Sue Gamble's position. Sue is not running)

June 25
Lawrence High School Auditorium
Enter parking lot from 20th & Louisiana Map
7-8:30 pm
District 4 (Currently Bill Wagnon's position. Bill is not running)

June 30
Allison Middle School Auditorium
221 S. Seneca, Wichita Map
7-8:30 pm
District 8 (Currently Carol Rupe's position. Carol is not running.)
District 10 (Currently Steve Abram's position. Steve is not running.)

July 8
Manhattan Public Library
629 Poyntz Ave, Manhattan, KS Map
7-8:30 pm
Distric 6 (Currently Kathy Martin's position. Kathy is running for re-election.)

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Monday, June 16, 2008
It's a Trap!

It happened in Ohio and Kansas. It now appears likely to happen in Louisiana. KPLC 7 News has the story:

Executive Director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Rev. Barry Lynn said, "Frankly, I think that this Science Education Act is likely to lead to some very bad science being taught in Louisiana schools. My fear is that we are going to see a lot of anti-evolution books, dvds by fundamentalist Christian groups, opposing evolution and providing information that is not scientific. Then all of this will eventually lead to an expensive law suit, which the state of Louisiana is almost certain to lose."

Meanwhile, Norma Guillory, the Science Director at Calcasieu Parish Schools says the bill as it is written really doesn't change a thing.

"Our legislators obviously don't know that our teachers have always had intellectual freedom to bring in other resources than the text book," Guillory said.

She added, "the text book is not our curriculum. Life is our curriculum. Our students are allowed to discuss creationism, as long as it is supported by scientific knowledge."

As I have pointed out before on this blog, the passage of this bill could embolden local Louisiana public school teachers with Creationist leanings to bring religiously-based Creationist material into the classroom under the guise of "critical thinking." At that point, the local district would make itself the potential target for a costly lawsuit, similar to what happened in Dover, Pennsylvania.

Luckily, the Dover traps in Ohio and Kansas were never sprung. It is still possible for Louisiana to avoid the trap, if Governor Bobby Jindal recognizes the danger and vetoes the bill.

Added in edit: Contact Governor Jindal and encourage him to veto this bill (Thanks Stacy S.).

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Saturday, June 14, 2008
Ken Miller: Critical Analysis = Intellectual Welfare

"So what you have is a group that basically rejects a couple of the central ideas of mainstream science, ideas that have really won the day within the scientific community, and these include climate change and they include evolutionary theory. Under the guise of critical analysis what they really want to do is to bring evidence into the classroom that has been thoroughly discredited within the scientific community in the name of fairness and critical analysis. To be perfectly honest, that's not fair! Because these ideas have failed the test of ideas in the scientific community so that propping them up by legislative act, which is really what these ideas are doing, is in effect a kind of what you might call an "intellectual welfare" for a failed idea that can't make it on it's own."

Ken Miller
NPR's Science Friday

Kenneth R. Miller

Kenneth R. Miller's new book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul, hit bookstores a couple of days ago. Miller is now hitting the airwaves and promoting the book.

First, you can check him out on yesterday's Science Friday. I'm listening to it right now

Next, set your DVRs because Miller will make a return appearance on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report this coming Monday evening.

If, like me, you haven't had a chance yet to pick up the book, here's a brief exerpt to tide you over.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Thursday, June 12, 2008
Louisiana Coalition for (REAL) Science

"...ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the [Intelligent Design Movement] is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID."

Judge John E. Jones III,
Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District

The newly formed Lousiana Coalition for Science has called on members of the Lousiana Senate to reject Senate Bill No. 733 because it inappropriately singles out evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning for special criticism. Their press release quotes a veteran Biology teacher named Patsye Peebles:

"I was a biology teacher for 22 years, and I never needed the legislature to tell me how to present anything. This bill doesn't solve any of the problems classroom teachers face, and it will make it harder for us to keep the focus on accurate science in science classrooms. Evolution isn't scientifically controversial, and we don't need the legislature substituting its judgment for the scientists and science teachers who actually know the subject."

If the Louisiana Senate approves the bill, it will be setting up a "Dover Trap" for local public school boards in the Bayou State. If a local public school board chooses to promote sectarian Creationist pseudoscience under the guise of "critical thinking," then the Louisiana Legislature cannot prevent the inevitable lawsuit. Some unfortunate local community would likely be saddled with a tremendous financial burden.

One revealing part of the language of the bill is the unacknowledged assumption that supplemental instructional materials are necessary because standard textbooks do not present evolution in an "objective manner."

"C. A teacher shall teach the material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the city, parish, or other local public school board."

posted by Jeremy Mohn


In an apparent move to ward off more hurricanes, the Louisiana House of Representatives yesterday approved their version of an academic freedom from learning bill.

Remember back when Rev. Franklin Graham stated:

"There's been a black spiritual cloud over New Orleans for years. They believe God is going to use that storm to bring revival."

And who can forget this gem, from Pastor John Hagee:

"All hurricanes are acts of God because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that."

As justification for the bill, Jason Stern, Vice President of the Louisiana Family Forum, a conservative group pushing the bill, opined that

"a survey of Louisiana public school science teachers a few years ago showed that many felt uncomfortable teaching evolution, global warming and other topics that 'tend to be taught from only one perspective.' "

What Stern doesn't mention, of course, is that many teachers feel "uncomfortable" because of intense pressure from their community to downplay or downright ignore those topics.

In days past, chickens would be sacrificed in that region to ward off unwanted events. Nowadays, Louisiana legislators are more likely to sacrifice their kids' science education.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Kansas BOE Up for Grabs

As some readers of this blog may know, this website was created in response to the intelligent design movement's effort to influence the outcome of Kansas State Board of Education primary elections during the Summer of 2006. Fortunately, that campaign was unsuccessful, and the science standards issue was corrected.

While all of that took place well over a year ago, the ID movement's campaign finally ended just a few months ago.

With another election now on the horizon, we are still here standing up for REAL science.

Yesterday at noon was the deadline for Democrats & Republicans to file for the upcoming elections in Kansas. Below is a good summary of the Kansas State Board of Education races from the Topeka Capital-Journal. One notable development is that Steve Abrams, a notorious critic of evolution, is leaving the Board after a 14-year tenure.

Seeking the District 2 seat currently held by Sue Gamble: Sue Storm, D-Overland Park; Brandon Kenig, R-Shawnee; and Mary Ralstin, R-Shawnee.

Seeking the District 4 seat currently held by Bill Wagnon: Carolyn Campbell, D-Topeka; Alan Detrich, R-Lawrence; and Bob Meissner, R-Topeka.

Seeking the District 6 seat currently held by Kathy Martin: Christopher Renner, D-Manhattan; Kathy Martin, R-Clay Center; and Bill Pannbacker, R-Washington.

Seeking the District 8 seat currently held by Carol Rupe: Walt Chappell, D-Wichita; Charles Wiggins, D-Wichita; and Dennis E. Hedke, R-Wichita.

Seeking the District 10 seat currently held by Steve Abrams: Paul Casanova, D-Andover; David Dennis, R-Wichita; and Marty Marshall, R-Wichita.

Cheryl and I vow to keep you informed about these candidates and their positions on the teaching of REAL science in Kansas public schools. To that end, we have created a map that identifies the position of each candidate based on their public comments.

The map will be updated whenever new information about the candidates becomes available.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Memo to Meissner: Eliminate Obfuscation

Topeka dentist and Shawnee County Republican Party chair Robert Meissner wants to be a member of the Kansas State Board of Education.

District 4 - Shawnee, Wabaunsee [go Chargers!] and parts of Douglas and Osage counties - has been admirably represented by Bill Wagnon for the past 12 years. Dr. Wagnon, who has fought valiantly to keep Kansas science standards unsullied by anti-science sentiments, announced in 2005 that he would not seek re-election. Personally, I've found Dr. Wagnon to be a source of inspiration and encouragement during the past few years. He's not one to mince words and doesn't pussyfoot around the truth.

Meissner, on the other hand, is the epitome of coyness. Even the staid Topeka Capital-Journal reports that

[Meissner's] stance on the teaching of evolution is less clear. He said he takes an open-minded approach to decisions and carries no agenda on the topic.

Back in 2004, Meissner challenged Wagnon for the same seat on the state school board but lost, although he still garnered 48.5% of the votes. During that campaign, he made some statements which were waffle-y at best:

Meissner said he would not rule out including intelligent design in science classrooms.

"I believe evolution is a scientifically credible theory that needs to be taught in its entirety in our schools," he said. "But I also believe there has to be the openness, the willingness, to evaluate the inclusion of other scientifically credible theories."

Meissner said after the debate that he had not decided whether he thought intelligent design was a credible scientific theory.

"To be honest, I haven't studied it that closely," he said. "I'm open to giving it careful consideration, but I'm totally unbiased at this point."

Keep in mind that ID proponents have maintained all along that ID is scientifically credible. Surely Meissner would know that ID is not accepted as science by the folks who actually, you know, do science.

But, that was in 2004. The Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling was still in the offing. Perhaps he was truly "totally unbiased" at that time. So let's look ahead a few years.
June 7, 2008:

"I do feel like whatever we teach has to be scientifically credible," Meissner said. "The tough thing is determining which experts you're going to believe."

"The tough thing is determining which experts you're going to believe."

Why does Meissner have qualms about accepting the findings of 99.9% of the world's experts in this particular field? Let me guess . . . he saw and swallowed Expelled.

Meissner's dance around the issue is troubling to those who support REAL science for Kansas' kids. Unfortunately, his dance looks like the all-too-familiar creationist shuffle.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Monday, June 9, 2008
Well, That's a Relief

JustSayHi - Science Quiz

How about we require school board members to pass this quiz before they can vote on science standards?

HT: Stacy S.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Saturday, June 7, 2008
Tackling Trivia and Missing the Point

When I was in high school, I started at offensive tackle and defensive end on our football team. At 5'11" and 185 pounds, I wasn't the most intimidating force on the field, but I hustled and was a decent player.

Our team played a basic 5-2 defense. As defensive end, I had one major assignment: to contain the quarterback. No matter what, it was my job to make sure the quarterback did not get past me, with our without the ball. That meant if the opposing team ran the option, it was my job to try to flatten the QB, preferably before he had the chance to pitch the ball.

On more than one occasion, I made what I thought was a great play when I took down the quarterback on an option, only to look up and realize that he had successfully pitched the ball and the running back was already well down the field.

Why do I bring this up?

Read the rest of this post to find out.

As I mentioned yesterday, a recent New York Times article incorrectly implied that the "strengths and weaknesses" ploy currently in play in Texas is a "new strategy." This trivial mistake inspired two separate posts on the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views comment-free "blog."

To kick things off, there was this post by Robert Crowther in which the Director of Communications tackled what he claimed to be the "central premise" of the New York Times article:

The central premise that teaching "strengths and weaknesses" of Darwin's theory (and chemical origin of life theories) is a new, post-Dover innovation is flagrantly false.

Was this the central premise of the article? Not to anyone who read the entire thing.

The major premise of the article was summarized in the opening sentence:

Opponents of teaching evolution, in a natural selection of sorts, have gradually shed those strategies that have not survived the courts.

The truth is that the "strengths and weaknesses" strategy is simply one of the few plays that the opponents of evolution currently have in their offensive play-book. It was unfortunate that the article implied that this was a "new strategy," but that mistake doesn't change the fact that the article correctly described the overall state of affairs in Texas.

Indeed, four paragraphs down from the section that Crowther quoted, an astute reader finds the following:

The "strengths and weaknesses" language was slipped into the curriculum standards in Texas to appease creationists when the State Board of Education first mandated the teaching of evolution in the late 1980s. It has had little effect because evolution skeptics have not had enough power on the education board to win the argument that textbooks do not adequately cover the weaknesses of evolution.

Yet even as courts steadily prohibited the outright teaching of creationism and intelligent design, creationists on the Texas board grew to a near majority. Seven of 15 members subscribe to the notion of intelligent design, and they have the blessings of Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.

It appears to this sports fan that Crowther may have tackled the wrong part of the article.

Not to be outdone, John West quickly wrapped up another reporter who supposedly repeated the same error:

Now, however, New Scientist's Celeste Biever ... has botched the story even further. She asserts that
this summer, the Texas state education board will decide whether the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution should be taught in public schools.

...critics say it is a new strategy taking shape across the nation to undermine the teaching of evolution, a way for students to hear religious objections under the heading of scientific discourse...

Changing the language to dodge the law is an age-old tradition for the anti-evolution movement.... [emphasis added]
Poor Celeste is even more fact-challenged than usual. She seems to think that the Texas Board of Education is debating whether to add strengths and weaknesses language to its science standards. In fact, the language has been in the standards for a decade! The debate is about whether to remove the language, and the people trying to "change" the language are the Darwinists.

(Note: The second quote offered by West is something Celeste Bevier quoted from the original New York Times article, and the third quote does not appear anywhere in the current version of the article on the New Scientist website.)

West, like his teammate Crowther, also seems to have tackled the wrong part of the article. Right after the second passage that West quoted, an astute reader finds the following:

Although "strengths and weaknesses" have been in the school standards since the 1980s, they have "had little effect because evolution skeptics have not had enough power on the education board to win the argument that textbooks do not adequately cover the weaknesses of evolution."

That doesn't sound to me like someone who thinks the Texas BOE is debating whether to add the "strengths and weaknesses" language to its science standards.

This all brings me back to my reminiscent introduction. Playing defensive end on a 5-2 defense can be a challenging assignment. Your job is to cover the quarterback, no matter what. Unfortunately, when your opponents run a successful play, you sometimes end up tackling the wrong player and looking kind of foolish.

It is obvious that Crowther and West have a similarly challenging assignment. They are stuck tackling trivia because they must stick to their assignment of covering their true motives. If they were to address the real point--that they have been forced to water down their language in order to insert discredited ideas into public school science classrooms--they just might give away the game.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Friday, June 6, 2008
Tremendous Editorial in Michigan Messenger

Photo from Nova

Robert T. Pennock is an evolutionary scientist and philosopher of science at Michigan State University. He is also the author of a very good book entitled Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism.

In a recent Michigan Messenger editorial, Pennock tells it like it is:

...ID is not science but just creationism in a new disguise. It is no surprise that "Expelled" says nothing about the "science" of ID besides the claim that God is responsible for life, for ID has no positive evidence to present. Like previous forms of creationism, ID is nothing more than an attempt to poke holes in evolution. Their arguments have been dissected and dismissed. The truth is, ID wasn't expelled; it flunked out.

I urge you to read the rest of Pennock's tremendous editorial.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

South Carolina Bill Dies in Committee

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) reports on the death of another so-called "academic freedom" bill:

When the South Carolina legislature adjourned on June 5, 2008, Senate Bill 1386 died in committee. If enacted, the bill would have amended the state's education code to provide: "The State Board of Education, superintendents of public school districts, and public school administrators may not prohibit a teacher in a public school of this State from helping his students understand, analyze, critique, and review the scientific strengths and weaknesses of biological and chemical evolution in an objective manner." Its main sponsor, Senator Michael Fair (R-District 6), spearheaded a number of previous antievolution efforts in the legislature; the Greenville News (May 1, 2003) reported that Fair said, with reference to a previous bill he sponsored, that "his intention is to show that Intelligent Design is a viable scientific alternative that should be taught in the public schools." South Carolina is the fourth state in which "academic freedom" antievolution legislation failed in 2008, after Florida, Alabama, and Missouri; similar legislation is still active in Louisiana and Michigan.

With each of these bills dying, it kind of makes you wonder...

Are state legislators really against academic freedom?

Or are these bills not really about academic freedom?

The answers to these questions are obvious to anyone who understands REAL science.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Anti-evolution Strategies Continue to Evolve

According to a recent article in the New York Times, evolution opponents have adopted a "new" strategy:

Opponents of teaching evolution, in a natural selection of sorts, have gradually shed those strategies that have not survived the courts. Over the last decade, creationism has given rise to "creation science," which became "intelligent design," which in 2005 was banned from the public school curriculum in Pennsylvania by a federal judge.

Now a battle looms in Texas over science textbooks that teach evolution, and the wrestle for control seizes on three words. None of them are "creationism" or "intelligent design" or even "creator."

The words are "strengths and weaknesses."

The "strengths and weaknesses" ploy is not new. It has actually been around for at least a decade. The politically active anti-evolution group Texans for Better Science Education even has the phrase as the URL for its website.

I wrote about the disingenuous use of this phrase in an earlier post on this blog. As I pointed out, there is something wrong when a call to teach both "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution focuses only on the alleged weaknesses and fails to mention any of the well-established strengths. Clearly, this dispute is not about scientific accuracy.

Interestingly, the article includes a quote from the chairman of the Texas Board of Education that may reveal the true motive behind this latest ploy:

In Texas, evolution foes do not have to win over the entire Legislature, only a majority of the education board; they are one vote away.

Dr. [Don] McLeroy, the board chairman, sees the debate as being between "two systems of science."

"You've got a creationist system and a naturalist system," he said.

In other words, McLeroy would like to see a creationist system of science promoted in Texas public schools. It seems that someone may not have gotten the memo.

Here's a novel idea: What if people with training in science were the ones in charge of setting the science curriculum? In line with that thought, the article ends with the following quote:

"When you consider evolution, there are certainly questions that have yet to be answered," said Mr. [Kevin] Fisher, science coordinator for the Lewisville Independent School District in North Texas.

But, he added, "a question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness."

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Thursday, June 5, 2008
Third Candidate Files in KBoE District 6

Kathy Martin now has both a Republican and a Democrat challenging her for her seat on the Kansas Board of Education. The Topeka Capitol-Journal reports:

To see why Christopher Renner is running for the Kansas State Board of Education, go back to 2005.

That is the year the conservative-dominated state board held a series of trial-like hearings on evolution as it considered a new round of evolution-critical science standards.

"The radical right has been doing things for the last eight years," said Renner, a Manhattan Democrat. "Education has suffered as a result."

Renner is running for the District 6 seat on the board, which represents northeast and central sections of the state. He is the third candidate to file for office. The incumbent, Kathy Martin, a conservative from Clay Center who played a key role in those hearings, already faces a Republican challenger in the August primary, Bill Pannbacker, of Washington.

"I just didn't want her not to have an opponent come November," Renner said.

Martin is known for her anti-evolution stance, as summarized in this quote from the Kansas City Star:

"It (evolution) has a lot of fallacies, and it's been disproven or remains unproven, but it's presented as fact," she said. "It was a good idea back in 1859 when it came out. Darwin and some of his cronies had some great ideas, but it can't be proven."


posted by Jeremy Mohn

How to NOT Jump to Conclusions

Although the Vice Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education thinks that science is all about jumping to conclusions -

"Evolution is not fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proven," he said. "Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions." - Texas State Board of Education Vice Chairman David Bradley, R-Beaumont.

- the fact remains that science teachers delight in helping students develop their reasoning skills. Before students can do that, though, they have to learn how to read and interpret data.

MY NASA DATA can help this process. This site contains a wealth of easily-accessible earth science and atmospheric data gathered from various satellite missions. Teachers and students alike can choose to display data from:
- the atmosphere (Aerosols, Air Quality, Atmospheric Pressure, Atmospheric Radiation, Atmospheric Temperature, Atmospheric Water Vapor, Clouds, Precipitation)
- the biosphere (Monthly Leaf Area Index (MISR), Monthly Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (MISR));
- the cryosphere (Monthly Snow/Ice Amount (ISCCP));
- the land surface (Surface, Surface Conditions, Surface Cover, Surface Radiation), and
- the oceans (5-day Sea Level Height (TOPEX/POSEIDON), Daily Sea Surface Temperature (MCSST), Monthly Ocean Wind Speed Vectors (NOAA NOMADS), Monthly Wind Speed - Climatology 1995 to 2005 (NOAA NCDC), Weekly Sea Surface Temperature (MCSST)).

Even young students - Kindergarten-4th grade - can use these real-world research results to learn how to read and interpret data. Here's a draft of an activity designed to help this age group learn that conclusions aren't "jumped to," they're derived from careful analysis. Please feel free to critique away in the comments!

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Jumping in Texas

Here's yet another person with control over science curriculum who knows very little about science:

"Evolution is not fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proven," he said. "Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions." - Texas State Board of Education Vice Chairman David Bradley, R-Beaumont.

Yep, that's right. Bradley goes beyond the standard theory-not-fact confusion, and evidently believes that science education is all about having students jump to conclusions.

Forget about formulating testable hypotheses. Forget figuring out a way to gather data. Just ignore the fact that a critical part of science education is teaching students to analyze data and make conclusions based on the data.

Let's have them miraculously jump to conclusions instead, okay?

In the same article, Bradley also states

"The only thing that this board is going to do is ask for accuracy."

Texans, it's time to let David Bradley know that you're more than willing to help him make sure the new standards are scientifically accurate. Contact Bradley at

Please let Texas know that you support their kids getting a solid, accurate science education - not one that's jumped the shark.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Sunday, June 1, 2008
Evolution is REAL Science #2

I finally finished my second video!

It has been a couple of months since I started working on it. Unfortunately, it got pushed to the back burner as the Spring sememster heated up. Now that summer has arrived, I have had time to finish it.

I posted the first video in this series back in March. This second video explains some the evidence of common ancestry provided by pseudogenes, sequences of DNA that are the remnants of broken genes.

If you liked this presentation, I encourage you to download it.

Video - (27.1 MB)

PowerPoint - (3.17 MB)

posted by Jeremy Mohn

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