Stand up for REAL science. Critically analyze ALL theories.
Teach the ACTUAL Controversies.
Critically Analyze ALL Theories.

Attention: The URL for this blog has changed.
It can now be found here:
REAL Science Blog

REAL Science Home

Contact Webmaster

Link to This Website

RSS Feed

Our YouTube Channel

Read this FREE online!

Thursday, July 31, 2008
. . . and scientists are called arrogant?

"I feel the current science standards shut off evidence that doesn't support evolution, the main stream scientific view." - Kathy Martin

The current science standards also shut off evidence that doesn't support a round earth, the existence of atoms, the absence of the luminiferous aether, the germ theory of disease instead of demonic possession . . . you get the idea. Like evolution, these are mainstream science. They're in mainstream science because of picky lil' ol' things like data. You know, evidence, corroboration from diverse fields of study. Why does Kathy Martin think that concepts without evidentiary support as judged by those folks who actually know a lot about the topic should be taught as science?

The article goes on to note that

Martin said she has 24 college credits in science and is certified to teach science for grades K-9.

. . . and because of this paltry background, she considers herself more qualified than Ph.D.-level scientists to judge the validity of any particular scientific theory. Puh-leeze. I only have about 60-65 hours in physics, 40-50 in math, 30-40 in chemistry, grad plus undergrad, but I'm not about to presume to know more than those who've studied it a lot more extensively than I have.

Mark 7:21-23 quotes Christ as He addressed His disciples after yet another round with the Pharisees:

21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'

Any person who makes such a big deal about being a Good ChristianTM needs to make sure they're heeding Christ's words against arrogance.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Out and About in District 6

My kids and I had the chance to travel through part of northeastern Kansas yesterday. As we zoomed along the "fun hills" of highways 99, 63, 16, 177, and 24, we counted only 5 signs in Pottawatomie and Riley counties boosting Bill Pannbacker for the state board of education .

But there were NO signs along the way supporting anti-science incumbent Kathy Martin. Not even on the main drags through staunchly conservative St. Mary's, where many yards bloomed with bountiful crops of yard signs for Jim Ryun. (Ryun is running . . . for U.S. Congress again.)

Be sure to VOTE in the primary next Tuesday. Advance voting is available NOW!

Added in edit: I've been informed that the town of Manhattan has numerous signs for Martin and only a few for Pannbacker.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Evolution Lectures from University of Arizona

Recently, I watched the first lecture in this series and found it to be very informative.

In this lecture, Joanna Masel, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, discusses how evolutionary processes can produce living things that look as if they were designed, whether humans are still evolving, and the differences between science and religion.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
All Eyes on the History Channel Tonight

Evolve, the History Channel's new series about evolution, premieres tonight.

Tonight's episode is about the evolution of eyes:

They are one of evolution's most useful and prevalent inventions. Ninety five percent of living species are equipped with eyes and they exist in many different forms. Learn how the ancestors of jellyfish may have been the first to evolve light-sensitive cells. Discover how dinosaur's evolved eyes that helped them become successful hunters. Finally, learn how primates evolved unique adaptations to their eyes that allowed them to better exploit their new habitat, and how the ability to see colors helped them find food.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Junk science, or junk countertops?

How can a non-scientist figure out which news reports to believe?

Wine is good for you. Wine is bad for you. Carbohydrates should be avoided. Carbohydrates aren't as bad as red meat. An aspirin a day will help you live longer. Aspirin can hurt you.

Most of us aren't science researchers - how are we supposed to tell the good news from the junk?

Although my mother had exquisite taste in interior design, I've never been one to follow trends in home decor. What I like, I like, and I don't usually worry about whether anyone outside our family approves of what we've done with our home. We recently finished remodeling three bathrooms and our kitchen, and I have to admit I did adopt one trend in kitchen design: we had granite countertops installed. I was sold on the fact that they're heat-resistant, easy to clean, and impervious to the younger kids' climbing adventures. Add to that my long love affair with natural materials, and granite was a logical choice.

But is the granite safe?

Recently, reports have surfaced that some granite countertops emit high levels of radon, a naturally-occurring (not man-made) radioactive (spontaneously emits energy or particles) inert (doesn't react with other substances) gas (easily inhaled). Radon exposure has been linked to increased occurrences of lung cancer.

How can a homeowner decide what to do?

This quote from the New York Times article What's Lurking in Your Countertop? contains some telling information [boldfaced by me], sandwiched in between quotes from granite suppliers and non-granite-countertop suppliers:

Allegations that granite countertops may emit dangerous levels of radon and radiation have been raised periodically over the past decade, mostly by makers and distributors of competing countertop materials. The Marble Institute of America has said such claims are "ludicrous" because although granite is known to contain uranium and other radioactive materials like thorium and potassium, the amounts in countertops are not enough to pose a health threat.

Indeed, health physicists and radiation experts agree that most granite countertops emit radiation and radon at extremely low levels. They say these emissions are insignificant compared with so-called background radiation that is constantly raining down from outer space or seeping up from the earth's crust, not to mention emanating from manmade sources like X-rays, luminous watches and smoke detectors.

Although consensus science isn't foolproof - it always comes back to evidence - when a layperson doesn't know beans about a topic, listening to what the recognized experts have to say is a wise choice. That's why we trust our mechanic to tune up our cars and surgeons to operate on our bodies, not the other way around.

My mother died of cancer one year ago today, and one of her few laments had to do with well-meaning friends who were as helpless as she was to stop the disease. They'd bring articles to her about strange and exotic cures, and anecdotes about how a certain diet saved a friend of a friend of a friend. "Why can't they trust my doctors to know what they're doing?" was her comment to me. Of course, she was much too polite to do any more than smile and say "Thank you" when yet another vitamin/herb/diet solution was proposed. Mom certainly wouldn't have let me risk her grandkids' health for a pretty countertop. She was smart enough to recognize when she needed to rely on the experts, when she needed to pray for guidance, and when headlines were written to excite rather than inform.

So Mom, here's to you and the rebels you raised - thanks for teaching us how to figure out difference between the gold and the dross!

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Saturday, July 26, 2008
Messin' With Texas

Texas State Board of Education Chairman Dr. Don McLeroy is at it again. This time, he has been reading everything he can get his hands on. He has even been listening to podcasts!

Andrea Grimes of The Austin Chronicle reports:

The first of several hearings on the science curricula updates occurred July 17 and 18, with this first meeting dedicated only to the delicate bureaucratic process of planning on how to plan those updates. According to SBOE chair and College Station dentist Dr. Don McLeroy, this year's "battle is to bring in some of the weaknesses of evolution," to ninth- and 10th-grade biology classrooms, retaining language requiring that teachers instruct students in the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories.

More below the fold.

According to the article, Dr. McLeroy lists gaps in the fossil record as one of three "weaknesses" of evolution that should be taught in Texas Biology classrooms.

Since McLeroy has expressed an interest in reading about the topic, I would like to suggest a couple of helpful resources:

First, I recommend this wonderful booklet (pdf) entitled Evolution and the Fossil Record from the American Geological Institute. The free-to-download booklet briefly describes a small portion of the evidence of evolution as documented by the fossil record. It also succinctly outlines the processes involved in evolution. Paleontological research advances at a rapid pace, so the 2001 booklet is already quite outdated. Nevertheless, it still provides an excellent summary of the vast amount of fossil evidence that demonstrates evolutionary change over time.

Second, I recently ran across this very informative Geek Counterpoint podcast explaining why gaps in the fossil record are expected based on what scientists know about the process of fossilization.

You can either listen to it right here:


Download the mp3 file here.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Friday, July 25, 2008
Science Café Hays

Do you know someone who's scared of science? Someone who experiences nothing but terror and loathing at the thought of test tubes, dusty columns of data, or white lab coats?

Never fear - Science Café is here!

Science Cafés aren't your typical science gig:

* By taking place in a venue where the audience is accustomed to meeting friends, science cafés present science as a reason to get together and socialize.
* Unlike a typical lecture, people leave science cafés feeling like they had a personal interaction with a scientist.
* Science cafés can draw in people who normally do not seek out science events, while also providing an event that science enthusiasts are excited to invite friends to.
* Musicians can momentarily transfix a crowd. A televised sporting event can make a room erupt with energy. Science cafés can demonstrate that science talk has similar effects on par with these other social gatherings.

Starting in September, Hays Kansas will be home to a series of Science Cafés. The first discussion will involve global climate change, with help from John Heinrichs and his own personal experiences with sea ice. It'll be held Wednesday, September 17, 7:30 pm at Cafe Semolino [MySpace, Facebook] in Hays. Hays is also known as "that wide spot in the road halfway between Denver and Kansas City."

The series is getting off the ground with help from FHSU's Science and Mathematics Education Center and Kansas Citizens for Science. We hope to get ongoing support from NOVA's ScienceNOW.

Other upcoming topics will include the value of alternative medicine, satellite missions which study the upper atmosphere, wind energy and biofuels, and a yet-to-be-announced astronomy topic. Here's to the spread of REAL Science!

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Ongoing Examples of Evolution

Olivia Judson has written an enlightening fourth post in her series celebrating Charles Darwin.

A brief excerpt:

For although we tend to think of evolutionary change as being something that only takes place over the course of millions of years, it isn't. It's going on here, now, all around us. So, this week, I thought I'd round up some examples of recent evolutionary change in nature. (What do I mean by recent? Within the last 40 years.)

I'm not intending to be comprehensive - that would take a book or two. Instead, I want to sketch a few examples of natural selection that have caught my fancy, and through them consider different aspects of evolutionary change, and what it takes to show it.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

Monday, July 21, 2008
Bad Physics, Cool Toys, Great Movie

Usually when a movie is hyped as much as "The Dark Knight," there's a certain letdown when you actually get to see the thing. Think of Pirates of the Caribbean's "Dead Man's Chest." Or that horrible electromagnetically-impaired opening bit in the last Indiana Jones, "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

"Dark Knight" was such a compelling story that the physics goofs that usually turn me off barely even registered. The writing, directing, and nightmare-invoking performances of Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart overshadowed the sheer improbability of some of the stunts. Our sole local theater ran the flick on both of its biggest screens and still turned away hundreds of people over the weekend, according to an employee.

Batman's toys always rock, and they're lightyears beyond anything Q cobbled together for James Bond. Physics professor James Kakalios has written "The Physics of Superheroes" and he describes how Batman's uber-cool toys aren't so far-fetched.

Take the cape, for example. Kakalios said the movie made clear that the cape was supposedly capable of changing from loose-flowing to aerodynamically stiff with a mere jolt of electricity.

"That is definitely within the realm of technological plausibility," he said. "Although there is no specific material that can do that, there are materials that produce structural changes upon the application of an electric field. They're called piezoelectric materials."

On the other hand, Kakalios notes that the human body isn't as tough as the toys:

"Consider the number of times that Batman has been knocked unconscious in his over 60 years of fighting crime, and it is clear that he should be severely brain-damaged by now."

Keep in mind your own physical weaknesses when you get to the theater: you won't want to get a large soda before the movie, 'cause you don't want to risk missing one bit of it.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

When 6 + 4 = How Science Is Taught

Today's Lawrence Journal-World puts it succinctly:

In the State Board of Education races, simple math could start another round in the long-running fight in Kansas about evolution.

For the past two years, the moderates have held a breathtakingly slim 6-4 majority on the Kansas State Board of Education. Three of the 5 positions up for grabs this year are now held by moderates who aren't running for re-election. They've done an admirable job of trying to keep pseudo-science out of the classrooms, but it's time for other moderates to take the reins. The math isn't encouraging:

"I'm a little nervous about whether we will keep a moderate majority on the board." - Kathy Cook, executive director, Kansas Families for Education.

The primary is August 5th.

TODAY is the last day to get registered to vote in the primary.

You don't have to trek down to your county courthouse to register. Here are a few simple steps to follow:
1. Download and print this pdf form.
2. Fill in the blanks.
3. Mail it to your county election official, postmarked by midnight tonight.
4. Show up at the polls August 5th!

Past elections have shown that Kansans' voting apathy is directly proportional to the anti-evolution activity on the state board of education:

Apathy ∝ anti-evolution activity

If you'd rather not see this issue stretch into ∞, then let n = the number of moderates on the state board of education

n + (10 - n) = 10

Please do your part to make sure n ∈ {6, 7, 8, 9, 10}.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
"Get Rid of Darwinism"

Olivia Judson in yesterday's New York Times:

I'd like to abolish the insidious terms Darwinism, Darwinist and Darwinian. They suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology, as though it was the brainchild of a single person 150 years ago, rather than a vast, complex and evolving subject to which many other great figures have contributed. (The science would be in a sorry state if one man 150 years ago had, in fact, discovered everything there was to say.) Obsessively focusing on Darwin, perpetually asking whether he was right about this or that, implies that the discovery of something he didn't think of or know about somehow undermines or threatens the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology today.

The Discovery Institute's Wedge Document makes brilliant use of this tactic. Calling evolutionary biology "Darwinism" casts science as an ideology rather than a process of discovery. It belittles scientists as mere unthinking worshipers of a very mortal Darwin. It also labels the users of that term as scientifically illiterate, in that few scientists themselves refer to the modern evolutionary theory as "Darwinism."

Darwin was an amazing man, and the principal founder of evolutionary biology. But his was the first major statement on the subject, not the last. Calling evolutionary biology "Darwinism," and evolution by natural selection "Darwinian" evolution, is like calling aeronautical engineering "Wrightism," and fixed-wing aircraft "Wrightian" planes, after those pioneers of fixed-wing flight, the Wright brothers. The best tribute we could give Darwin is to call him the founder - and leave it at that. Plenty of people in history have had an -ism named after them. Only a handful can claim truly to have given birth to an entire field of modern science.

The entire piece would make an excellent exercise in analysis for high school students.

Time to take a break and do some lesson planning. You know, find more effective ways to teach Newtonism, Galileonism, Kirchoffism, Rayleighism, Wegnerism, Maxwellism, Thomsonism, Bohrism . . .

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Is there such a thing as a stupid question?

The July 13th edition of Science News reports that a senior Bush administration official with substantial influence on US climate mitigation policy doesn't understand basic middle-school science.

The official, OMB's Jeffrey Rosen, asked whether the molecules of CO2 emitted from the tailpipes of cars are just like the molecules of CO2 released from fossil-fueled power plants.

The short, correct answer? - YES.

For Rosen's benefit, let's go back to the basics.

All matter is made up of tiny particles called atoms. There are about 90 different "kinds" of atoms found in nature. Some of these "kinds" of atoms ("elements") are familiar: oxygen, carbon, iodine, helium, mercury, lead, gold, platinum, silver, copper, etc. All atoms of a particular element have one thing in common: the number of positively-charged particles in their midsections - in their "nuclei." So all oxygen atoms have 8 positively-charged particles ("protons"), all helium atoms have 2 protons, all uranium atoms have 88 protons.

Each element has its own set of particular characteristics, like melting point. Boiling point. How much energy it takes to change it from a liquid to a gas. How many bonds - connections with other atoms - it will tend to form. (For a not-showable-in-class dramatization of bonding, see )

Carbon likes* to make four bonds. Oxygen likes* to make two bonds. When carbon and oxygen get together with plenty of oxygen around, each carbon atom will join with - "bond with" - two other oxygen atoms.

One carbon atom. With two oxygen atoms. It's called "carbon dioxide" because it has one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. All carbon dioxide combinations - "molecules" - have just one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms.

Period. End of story. It doesn't make any sense to me that a government official who is trying to influence climate-change policy doesn't understand this.

Well, almost the end of the story.

Remember how all atoms of an element have the same number of protons in their nuclei? There's another big particle found in the nuclei called the "neutron" - called that because it doesn't have any electrical charge - not positive, not negative, but neutral. (Which means that this subatomic particle wasn't found until about 40 years after the first subatomic particle.)

An element can have atoms with different numbers of neutrons even though all of the atoms have the same number of protons. For example, oxygen always has 8 protons in its nucleus. Always, every time; if it's not 8 protons it ain't oxygen. But those neutral particles, those neutrons . . . oxygen can have 8 of them (O-16). Or it can have 10 (O-18). Or 9 (O-17). Each different type of oxygen is called an isotope, and it's the existence of those isotopes that make some of the numbers on the periodic table look really complex. A typical 11th-grade chemistry problem is to figure out the average atomic-level mass given the relative abundance of these isotopes. That average atomic mass is the decimal-heavy number at each element's spot on the periodic table.

Still, CO2 is CO2, whether it's from tailpipes or smokestacks or your breath or in the bubbles in your glass of beer.

Where it gets kinda interesting is that if Rosen knew his stuff, he'd understand that the presence of the O-18 and O-16 isotopes helps paleoclimatologists - scientists who study ancient climates - do their job. (Go here for a well-written lay-level description of why this works.) They use long cores of ice drilled from glaciers to figure out how much O-18 was present in the ancient atmosphere compared to the amount of O-16.

Oxygen isotope analysis and CO2 analysis of ice cores are used along with records found in coral, cave rocks, and tree rings, to provide multiple lines of evidence showing that (a) global warming is now occurring rapidly compared to previous warmings, (b) CO2 has been a contributing factor to past global warmings and (c) our atmosphere has more CO2 present now than at any other time during the past 750,000 years.

If Rosen had paid attention in chemistry instead of regarding it as just another potential drag on his GPA, he could ask intelligent questions instead of stupid ones.

*We all understand anthropomorphizing, right?

Image from The Stern Storm


posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Missing the Wrist, Dissing the Rest

Once again, I'm reminded why Carl Zimmer is one of our best science communicators. His latest "Missing the Wrist" at Discover Magazine provides a cogent summary of the idiocy of the "teach the controversy" movement espoused by the Discovery Institute and its fans, with my emphasis:

We're all for open and objective discussions of scientific theories, right? Who wouldn't be? If your kids are taking physics in high school, you want them to read critiques of gravity, right? After all, shouldn't they know that there are some serious weaknesses in the theory of gravity? Right? For instance, the theory of gravity says that gravity makes things fall down. But planets don't fall into the sun. They go around it. So which is it - down or around? Clearly the theory of gravity is deficient. Right?

Wrong, of course. You don't teach critical thinking with patent nonsense.

Zimmer patiently and civilly eviscerates the latest non-science criticism of Tiktaalik from the non-scientists at the DI. Zimmer illuminates the difference between actually doing science, as Shubin and the other professionals do, and resorting to factually-deficient challenges. Those erstwhile challenges emphasize the necessity of actually undergoing extensive scientific training and study before venturing to criticize the work of other experts in the field.

If Luskin were offering a real scientific hypothesis, he could do an anlysis of lungfish, Tiktaalik, tetrapods, and other vertebrates - comparing not just their limbs but their heads, spines, and so on to figure out their evolutionary relationships. That's exactly what Shubin and his colleagues did in their original paper on Tiktaalik. They compared 114 traits on species from nine different lineages of tetrapods and their aquatic relatives, including the lineage that produced today's lungfish. And that analysis shows that Tiktaalik is more closely related to us than to lungfish.

Luskin apparently doesn't need to do this sort of science. He can just announce what seems right to him personally.

If this is the sort of stuff that's used to promote "critical thinking" in Louisiana classrooms, don't be surprised to hear about the great gravity hoax.

If you're a fan of intelligent yet accessible science writing, check out Zimmer's site.

Please note - I won't be around the 'net for the rest of the day. Please keep the comments civil.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Friday, July 11, 2008
Intelligent Falling Redux

The "Theory of Intelligent Falling" was postulated by The Onion in August of 2005, just as the Kansas State School Board adopted ID-friendly science standards for the second time in six years. In typical Onion style, it neatly parodied the Intelligent Design movement's machinations in Kansas at that time. Josh Rosenau had noted an earlier form - a transitional, if you will - of the burgeoning theory at his blog "Thoughts from Kansas in May of 2005.

Basically, Intelligent Falling (IF) claims that since Newton's theory of gravitational interactions cannot explain all motions of an object, then Newton's construct is a "theory in crisis." Those gaps in the Newtonian theory are best explained by the actions of a higher intelligence. An object doesn't fall to the ground because of the interaction between the earth and the object; it does so because an unnamed, unspecified Intelligence is pushing on it.

Puttering around the 'net today I happened on this comment delving into the ol' micro versus macro myth. Gravity, that is: micro-gravity v. macro-gravity. Enjoy this bit after the fold . . .

Intelligent Motion does not deny that natural gravitation exists. We deny only that it has the power asserted by naturalistic physicists. Therefore, we divide gravitation into two parts, micro-gravity and macro-gravity.

Micro-gravity is observable. Drop an anvil on your foot to observe it in action. Natural forces are adequate to explain the attraction of small objects to earth. We admit that recent research has extended observations of micro-gravity to objects relatively large by a human scale; even tall buildings may fall by its power.

However, atheistic physicists claim that naturalistic gravity also makes the planets “fall” in their orbits. This is demonstrably false. The moon, for example does not fall, but remains suspended in the heavens. There is simply no such thing as macro-gravity. The only explanation is the existence of an Intelligent Designer that established the orbits of celestial objects. Even Newton, the founder of the now discredited theory of gravity, believed that God (his version of the Designer) keeps orbits from collapsing, when his calculations showed that they were unstable.

Claiming that observable micro-gravity and hypothetical, unproven macro-gravity arise from the same naturalistic force is as untenable as atheistic biologists’ claim that a single mechanism of evolution suffices for observable changes in finches and the development of the human spleen from a bit of primitive algae. Micro-gravity, like micro-evolution, may possibly arise from natural forces. But macro-gravity cannot.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

REAL Science: Evolution of Flatfish

National Geographic's headline reads "Odd Fish Find Contradicts Intelligent-Design Argument." That's because evolutionary theory predicted these existence of these transitional flatfish, whereas intelligent design simply postulates "God did it" and stops asking questions.

The discovery of a missing link in the evolution of bizarre flatfishes-each of which has both eyes on the same side of its head-could give intelligent design advocates a sinking feeling.

CT scans of 50-million-year-old fossils have revealed an intermediate species between primitive flatfishes (with eyes on both sides of their heads) and the modern, lopsided versions, which include sole, flounder, and halibut.

So the change happened gradually, in a way consistent with evolution via natural selection-not suddenly, as researchers once had little choice but to believe, the authors of the new study say.

The article also describes the process of science, the sheer hard work that research requires, and the creationists' predictable response - "Fish have always been fish" - made without having done any such work themselves. REAL scientists understand the importance of asking questions and doing the hard work to find the answers.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Thursday, July 10, 2008
Map Change

District 8 Kansas State Board of Education candidate Charlie Wiggins has been booted out of the race because he'd already filed as a candidate for a local office. The State Objections Board upheld Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh's ruling that since Wiggins' had already filed to run for Minnehaha township trustee, he cannot run for the state board of education.

Wiggins faces no opposition in the township race. The remaining two candidates for the state board of education for that district are Walt Chappell and Dennis Hedke, both of Wichita.

Our REAL science map has been updated to reflect this change.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Candidates show their colors

Three candidates. Three distinct points of view. Three possible directions for the Kansas State Board of Education.

The abstract: Kathy Martin stuck to her anti-evolution, anti-sex-ed, pro-voucher guns. Bill Pannbacker emphasized his non-educator status. Chris Renner was prepared, polished, and professional.

But there were a few priceless moments during this evening's District 6 Kansas State Board of Education candidate forum at the Manhattan Public Library.

The event was sponsored by Kansas Citizens for Science, the Mainstream Coalition Foundation and Kansas Families for Education. These groups have been labeled variously as moderate, liberal, and progressive in a state where the latter two descriptions are viewed with great suspicion by most voters and the first one usually generates a half-raised eyebrow.

Please note that all responses are paraphrases except for the direct quotes.

Charlie Griffin of Kansas State University's Center for Civic Discourse and Democracy was the evening's moderator. Griffin noted that the mission of the Institute is to increase involvement in the public process and to support respectful dialogue so that voters are well-informed.

Please introduce yourself, giving your name and the background you bring to educational policy.
Martin: I currently represent you on the state school board. I taught in Clay County schools, early primary grades and ran my own private preschool. I'm currently substitute teaching in three area districts. I hope to represent you for 4 more years.
Pannbacker: I'm a farmer from Washington County with a degree in veterinary medicine; I practiced for 7 years in St. Francis. My interest in the state school board goes back 20 years to when I was chair of Washington County extension council. Budget cuts forced the extension to cut 18 positions resulting in loss of expertise. The public school Vo-Ag offered a similar program, also tax-funded, but with considerably less expertise. This redundancy didn't make any sense to me. Fighting turf battles with tax money isn't efficient. Back then, the state board had a history of being in the shadows. Running for state board of education is on my "bucket list."
Renner: I've spent most of my life in education, growing up in Marshall county. I earned a BA 1978 then worked with at-risk youth. After Reagan's budget cuts, I had to find other employment so I taught English As A Foreign Language at the University of Naples, Italy. I'm active in educational organizations and I've written 2 textbooks. Back in the US, I'm now teaching grad courses specializing in English Language Learners, and I've worked with Kan-Ed project. I'm running because I believe in the possibilities that education opens up to our citizens. During the last 10 years, elements opposed to public education have been working to destroy free public education. In Italy, 8th graders choose technical school or college-prep and then parents must start paying for their education. Education necessary for democracy. Horace Mann saw common school as great equalizer and predicted that poverty would disappear and our nation would become richer. There's plenty of data correlating education & income; reading level at 2nd grade is large predictor of life outcomes - socioeconomic level, criminal convictions.

1. What are the key issues that you think the board of education needs to address?
Renner: Our teacher shortage in Kansas is connected to pay - we're 37th in the nation. We have declining demographics across state so we have to figure out a way to deliver education to all kids. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) should be reauthorized but with great modifications. A school has 46 ways to be marked as failing, but only one way to succeed and that's by meeting all 46 of those criteria.
Pannbacker: Our most pressing issues are in staffing, particularly the quality of teachers. We should address this by looking at supply/demand by subject area and pay more for teachers in shortage areas. We must maximize productivity for tax $$$, keeping in mind the limited resources of our state treasury. I'm not part of the educational community, I have no agenda, I have no bias, but I have an open mind. I'd like to observe data and information to make best decisions.
Martin: Our most pressing issue is our teacher shortage. Kansas has 26,000 teachers licensed but not currently teaching in KS. The KSDE is developing a leadership path for teachers to get that endorsement and increase their pay while serving their schools. We need to look at delivering services around the state, virtual schools, keeping students engaged in body and mind via technical and applied activities along with core classes using problem-based learning. High school and middle school teachers tend to teach subjects instead of students and don't try to make their subjects relevant to students. [Martin obviously hasn't been in many high school or middle school classrooms, and she offered no data to support her contention -csa] Education already receives 2/3 of the state budget, so districts need to learn to use their money wisely.

2. What are *your* key priorities that distinguish you from the other candidates?
Pannbacker: NCLB was a noble effort w/unintended consequences.
Martin: NCLB gave every state the power to measure and define its own progress. We've done well in KS with local control. Standardized testing never told me anything about a child that I didn't already know. If the media would address NCLB as an accountability issue then teachers wouldn't have such a problem with it. Things are working out better under that law. Testing does take time away from teaching time in the spring; testing is just one part of a student's educational experience and shouldn't overwhelm the rest.
Renner: I'd like to work with legislature to fund public schools. Working on reforming NCLB because small districts will hit the wall where one or two students could cause the entire district to fail one of the 46 areas, meaning that the entire district is placed on the failing list. We need to adopt growth models where multiple criteria determine annual yearly progress (AYP). I'd like to address the teacher shortage - the few teachers we produce are lost to higher-paying states. We should set up a pipeline starting in about 5th grade to get more K12 students interested in teaching. We need to set up scholarships for education majors so they're not trying to pay off huge college loans with their 37th-in-the-nation salaries.

3. Any additional comments on NCLB? How should it be reformed?
Martin: We need to be able to increase flexibility of testing in terms of who we test and course design. One good result of NCLB is that achievement gap has narrowed. A multi-tiered system of support for students of all abilities is being phased in. This system should decrease need for special ed if implemented very early on.
Pannbacker: We spend an inordinate amount of time with the lower-ability students compared to higher-potential students. We need to maximize ability of every student and keep in mind that some students have different abilities. Am I being politically correct?
Renner: AYP (annual yearly progress) & QPA (quality performance accreditation) are tied too closely. We need to take the emphasis off reading and place emphasis on social studies, civics, media literacy, needed for successful democracy. Reading is taught throughout the curriculum but NCLB doesn't support that.

4. What can be done about disparities in educational outcomes to promote more equal outcomes?
Renner: Most disparities are related to socioeconomic factors. Middle-class families encourage reading, literacy. Economically disadvantaged families don't have the resources to do this, so these students aren't ready to read to learn when they enter school. We can work more with PATHs (Parents as Teachers) to get services to the populations with the greatest need.
Pannbacker: We must find ways to maximize every student's potential, recognizing their different capabilities. One of my helpers might not get past junior high; local school district didn't address his needs or help him meet his maximum potential. Other candidates have more experience in education; as an outsider, I can see and evaluate situations and ask "why are we doing what we're doing?"
Martin: We need to start working with kids earlier, I know this because I taught elementary school. 85% of Kansas districts are now offering all-day kindergarten.

5. Funding: Resources and educational system for the state. In general what is the KSBE's role in working to increase funding? Any particular upcoming issue?
Pannbacker: Another reason I'm running is because education appropriations resorted to a court case. I have problems with a non-elected body establishing funding levels. Communications apparently broke down between educators & legislation. Where did the breakdown occur? Where did the legislature lose confidence in the educational community that they funded education the way they did?
Renner: I will work with the legislature for more funding. In KS, teacher pay - 37th in the nation - carries over into quality of teachers in the classroom. We need to think outside the box on issues of administration. Not to pick on Doniphan county, but this smallest Kansas county has 4 superintendents. In western KS - Mankato & Jewell shared superintendent and did so successfully. We can reduce some overhead costs to put into classroom instruction by using the educational service centers to help purchasing efficiency. Many districts need support to explore alternatives to petrol transportation. While the KSBE can't do a whole lot to influence funding, it can provide research and studies to help districts make decisions.
Martin: Already KS has the highest taxes in and region and the highest base state aid per pupil. Turf battle between Supreme Court and legislature. We should tie any changes in base state aid to the consumer price index. "School districts will have to learn to live within a budget." We should make district budgets more transparent, allow for more flexibility, more local control of budgets so that voters can decide where funding should be allocated.

6. Staffing:
Martin: Some schools still have teachers without KS licenses. Shortages in certain subjects & locales must be addressed by local districts. Wichita had 80 long-term subs at the beginning of last school year because of the shortage of licensed teachers. If we could "incent" those 26,000 licensed teachers in Kansas to get back into the profession it would go a long way to solving the problem.
Pannbacker: We should base pay on the law of supply and demand. Some disciplines are different standards to attain; we only graduated 2 physics teachers in state of KS in 2007. Folks gravitate to money, so use it to address shortage subjects. As far as subs go, it's whoever you can find.
Renner: Substitutes should have same requirements as regular teacher, because so many long-term subs are being used. Teacher pay - need to look at pipeline approach. Scholarship funds, loan programs; non-teaching male grad earns 60% more than teaching male. For college graduates, real dollar pay has dropped 18% for females and 9% for males. We need to combat the myth of short, easy teaching schedule and bring KS from 37th in the nation to within top 15 for pay. Texas average teaching salary is $70K, Kansas is $41K.

7. How do we teach science? How do we bring science standards into the classroom? How do we teach evolution, creationism, intelligent design, origin science? Please address very specifically.
Renner: I support the current science standards, especially mainstream evolutionary science. I understand that neither intelligent design nor young-earth creationism is scientifically legitimate. We do have a separation of religion and government; all religions have creation stories and we're a pluralistic society. In science, we study science. Study religion or anthropology or ID in social studies. I accept that the earth is 4.6 billion years old, that all life on earth shares a common ancestry. My life experiences have taught me that there's more than one way . . . . [sorry, lost this part - csa] Engaging in constructive dialogue supports the dignity of all involved.
Pannbacker: Only that scientific knowledge gained through accepted scientific protocols should be taught in public schools. Supernatural events shouldn't be taught as science - science is study of natural events. It is important that students understand different religions and tenets that we believe.
Martin: In 2004, this was the main issue in my first campaign. ["Evolution has been proven false. ID is science-based and strong in facts." -csa] In 2005 we approved objective standards. In 2007, the board changed and standards which support naturalism were adopted. All of the standards are voluntary for school districts and teachers to adopt. Where evolution is concerned - don't censor any scientific data and if it's derived by using scientific methods, it should be allowed even if it doesn't support naturalism. Supporting naturalism violates church/state separation. There's a difference between historical vs. empirical evidence, where evidence isn't 100% proof there's room for all viewpoints to be allowed.

8. Kitzmiller decision - are there lessons we've learned from the court decision? To what degree should our BOE be defining science curriculum?
Pannbacker: The function of education is to produce an informed electorate - if we would teach science in 4 different areas - energy, environment, food, health - and keep coming back to those, we'd have a well informed electorate. Two words: "Sunflower" and "ethanol."
Renner: The science standards were developed by science teachers; the state board chose to accept or modify what teachers brought forth. The board should rely on the knowledge base of teachers. Since the teachers said evolution should be included, the state board should accept that. As far as Kitzmiller case, that case threw out the creationist approach to science. Afterward, that school board was thrown out, the school board which cost the district $1 million to push political agenda. That's not a proper use of tax monies. We should accept the recommendations of teachers.
Martin: There many different areas in science and no perfect standards exist. The current standards were largely developed by teachers, but there were also professionals. "I see two different issues - microevolution versus macroevolution." [this remark gave rise to numerous chuckles from the audience, which I found out later was comprised of many KSU biology faculty. - csa]

9. If district or teacher is uncomfortable teaching standards, to what degree should local staff have the option to opt out of the state standards?
Martin: The state standards are voluntary and districts do not have to follow them. The problem is that for the state science assessment certain topics - the "deltas" - need to be addressed for success. Community should decide.
Pannbacker: Again, since the goal of education is to produce an informed electorate - if we're teaching things not in accordance to electorate then the voters can change the folks who are making those decisions.
Renner: The electorate must be informed; parents need to know if evolution isn't being taught because this places kids at a later disadvantage.

10. Sex ed: abstinence-only or abstinence-plus?
Renner: Oh, I get this first, eh? Well, I'm a certified sexuality instructor. There's substantial evidence showing the effectiveness of comprehensive sex ed - age appropriate and abstinent - developmentally appropriate, resisting peer pressure. Although the parents are primary educators, I've learned that parents need support. Abstinence is 100% effective birth control. The problem is that "young people aren't always thinking of 100% effective approaches." We need to "encourage them to delay sexual activity. Mass media sexualizes everything; it's a challenge to give young people quality information." 2007 research shows that our federal government pumped over $1 billion into abstinence-only programs that aren't working.
Pannbacker: Our society can invest in education. We also invest in welfare, food stamps, and prisons. Students need to understand what's going on. "To me, sex education is called biology."
Martin: The Kansas legislature no longer requires sex education. This should be taught at home, and it's unfortunate that we're teaching sex education in the public schools. We should be teaching that students should abstain until marriage, and then remain faithful to their spouse. In Kansas it's against the law for students to have sex; we shouldn't promote using condoms, given the 85% failure rates of condoms. [According to the Centers for Disease Control, condoms are 85%-98% effective in preventing pregnancy. -csa]

11. Homeschooling, private schools, virtual schools . . . are you comfortable with the current leadership and vision of the KSDE?
Martin: We do have a knowledgeable, energetic commissioner. Her expertise is in special education, but she's also emphasized technology and we're moving in the right direction.
Pannbacker: Although I've heard bad things about the state board of education, I have not heard leadership of KSDE criticized at all, recently. For an outsider, it's a comforting thought to know we have dedicated people doing their best for our interest.
Renner: "Given that she had to clean up Bob Corkins' mess, she's done a heckuva job." [applause at this - csa]

12. Please give 5-minute closing statement: What would distinguish you as a candidate for this position?
Renner: I've had a lifelong passion for education. I'm a Sunday school teacher, and have a radio program through which I educate the public. I am completely committed to education. Education is a lifelong process, 2010 commission, preK20 initiative. KS is very interconnected with the world today; must be working, make sure kids have skills and knowledge to be part of this world. Education in Kansas has lots of issues, and we need creativity; I see the board as being that agent to insure our young people will have the quality education they need to be creative and think outside the box to solve these problems. When I was growing up in a small town, one of the businessmen would occasionally give us kids a $50 bill with the words "now get out of the county for awhile." Our kids need to experience the world, then come back and share. I'm a strong advocate for education, kids, and teacher.
Pannbacker: I'm not an extemporaneous speaker, all I have is sweaty palms instead of notes in front of me like the other candidates. The demographics of KS education are changing. I had 1 grandparent graduate from high school. After 8 years of education, my grandma was teaching at the age of 16. They moved away from that district so that their kids could go to better schools. Education is important to my family; both of my own kids are elementary education majors specializing in science. I asked my son, "when are you taking chemistry?" "It's not required, Dad." "Oh yes it is!" He needs to have that broad base in science and go the extra mile. I bring a different viewpoint as an education consumer; our businesses consume what Kansas schools produce. We must find creative ways to address the challenges we have. St. Francis - Cheylin - went to a 4 day week, saved money with no loss of productivity. There are folks out there who have good ideas, and the state board should use these.
Martin: Kansas has excellent public schools. We rank in the top 10 of all national measures. Sometimes we miss the mark - it's the students that are important. ["We are not going to give up until the standards say what we want them to say." ". . . I've not read [the draft of the science standards] word for word myself." -csa] We need to support parents who decide public education isn't for their kids. Local control should determine controversial issues. I have experience, and common sense because I know what's happening in classrooms.

No matter which candidate you prefer - pro-science folks know who shouldn't be on the state board of education - we can be grateful to the folks at Kansas Citizens for Science, Mainstream Coalition and Kansas Families for Education Foundation for sponsoring this series of discussions around the state. Props to Keith Miller, Mike Herman and Bruce Glymour for their legwork in getting this event set up.

Added in edit: About 60 people attended, aside from the candidates and the organizers.

[edited for clarity]

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Monday, July 7, 2008
Defusing the Religion Issue . . . Again

Back in February, I took Dr. John G. West to task for falsely claiming that supporters of REAL science are promoting religious instruction in public school science classrooms.

In a Discovery Institute lecture, West laid out the accusation:

Public schools are certainly allowed to hold objective discussions of competing religious beliefs, in relevant courses, but that's not what the defenders of evolution are proposing. They are pushing one-sided, really, religious indoctrination with the clear intent of changing the religious beliefs of students, not just the science beliefs, but changing and molding the religious beliefs of students.

In order to make his case, West selectively quoted from an article written by Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). As I tried to demonstrate back in February, West disregarded the stated goal of the instructional activities described in the article. It should be clear to anyone who reads the entire article that the activities described therein are not intended to promote one religious view over another. Indeed, their sole purpose is clearly stated in the article itself: "to inform [students], in a comparative sense, of the existence of more than one religious perspective on creation and evolution."

At the time, I thought that my detailed analysis of West's deceptive presentation would put an end to this disingenuous canard. I now realize that I misjudged the dogged persistence of those within the anti-evolution movement.

Case in point:

Larry Caldwell (yes, that Larry Caldwell).

In a June 28 post on the Discovery Institute's "Evolution News and Views" website, Caldwell repeated the canard by quoting from the same article by Eugenie Scott.

Caldwell began his post by "wholeheartedly" agreeing with a quote from an open letter to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal from Barbara Forrest and the Louisiana Coalition for Science:

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is violated when the government endorses a sectarian doctrine. . .

Later in the post, Caldwell repeated West's accusation that defenders of evolution are promoting religious indoctrination:

The truth is that Forrest and her colleagues at NCSE have no problem with government endorsing religious doctrine in relation to evolution, as long as it is a religious doctrine they agree with.

Forrest and her colleague Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of NCSE, also have no problem with injecting religion into biology class. Indeed, NCSE Executive Director Scott authored an article available on the UC Understanding Evolution website in which she recommends that public school teachers initiate discussions of religion in their biology classes.

Caldwell went on to support this assertion with a long quote from the aforementioned article:

As an example of a recommended strategy, the article relates the experience of teachers who
have had good results when they begin the year by asking students to brainstorm what they think the words "evolution" and "creationism" mean. . . . Don't be surprised to find some variant of, "You can't believe in God" or some similar statement of supposed incompatibility between religion and evolution. Under "creationism" expect to find more consistency: "God"; "Adam and Eve," "Genesis," etc. The next step in constructing student understanding of concepts is to guide them towards a more accurate view. . . . After one such initial brainstorming session, one teacher presented students with a short quiz wherein they were asked, "Which statement was made by the Pope?" or "which statement was made by an Episcopal Bishop?" and given an "a, b, c" multiple choice selection. All the statements from theologians, of course, stressed the compatibility of theology with the science of evolution. This generated discussion about what evolution was versus what students thought it was. By making the students aware of the diversity of opinion towards evolution extant in Christian theology, the teacher helped them understand that they didn't have to make a choice between evolution and religious faith. A teacher in Minnesota . . . had good luck sending his students out at the beginning of the semester to interview their pastors and priests about evolution. They came back somewhat astonished, "Hey! Evolution is OK!" Even when there was diversity in opinion, with some religious leaders accepting evolution as compatible with their theology and others rejecting it, it was educational for the students to find out for themselves that there was no single Christian perspective on evolution. The survey-of-ministers approach may not work if the community is religiously homogeneous, especially if that homogeneity is conservative Christian, but it is something that some teachers might consider. . . .
[emphasis added by Caldwell]

Based on this quote, Caldwell concluded:

Despite Forrest's current public posturing to the contrary, she and her colleagues at the NCSE really believe that a good "science" education should include a healthy dose of religious instruction in biology class.

Perhaps that's why Forrest's colleague, Scott, sometimes refers to herself as the "Evolution Evangelist."

Those of us familiar with the rhetorical strategies used by anti-evolutionists have learned to be wary of their use of ellipses in quotations. Upon reading the above quote, I immediately went to the original article to read the words that Caldwell intentionally chose to omit.

As it turns out, my wariness was justified.

Like John West before him, Caldwell utilized selective quotation to obscure the clearly stated purpose of the instructional activities described in the article. For example, Caldwell used the second set of ellipses to completely omit the following sentence:

One goal of this exercise is to help [the students] see the diversity of religious attitudes towards evolution.

Why did Caldwell choose to omit this particular sentence? Perhaps it's because this part of the quoted passage contradicts his assertion concerning the intended purpose of the exercise.

In addition, Caldwell ended the quoted passage with a final set of ellipses in order to remove another clear statement of the purpose of the instructional activities. Here is the entire final sentence:

The survey-of-ministers approach may not work if the community is religiously homogeneous, especially if that homogeneity is conservative Christian, but it is something that some teachers might consider as a way of getting students' fingers out of their ears.

(emphasis added)

As with the first example, this omitted section also contradicts Caldwell's assertion that the instructional activities were intended to promote one religious view over another.

As I pointed out in my earlier post on this topic, instructional activities like the ones described by Scott are solely intended to defuse the religious objections to evolution that students bring in from outside of the classroom so that authentic learning can take place inside of it. Indeed, Eugenie Scott made exactly this point towards the end of the quoted article:

Many religious students have never been exposed to a continuum of religious views, and in a very real sense, you are giving them an opportunity to listen to you and not shut you out. Note that you are not to promote theistic evolution: the schools must be religiously neutral. The purpose of this exercise is to give the student some critically important information so that he or she will be more willing to listen to the scientific information you will present.

Ironically, in his deliberate attempt to relight the fuse, Larry Caldwell has provided yet another vivid illustration of why such activities are necessary.

There is a lingering question that remains . . .

Why would promoters of Intelligent Design oppose efforts by teachers to inform students of the diversity of religious viewpoints concerning evolution?

I have an idea concerning what the answer might be.

After their utter failure to produce anything that even remotely resembles REAL science, the people at the Discovery Institute have come to realize that religious objections to evolution are among their only remaining lines of attack.

At this point, stoking the religious flames may be the only way to prolong their flickering movement.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

How REAL science gets done

Artist's conception
from NRAO
Let's face it - gravity is weird. Sure, we have enough everyday experience with Earth's little gravitational field that most of us have figured how to function within it. But at the extremes of existence - at the scale of the very small, or the extremely dense - its actions aren't predicted by the centuries-old Newtonian construct.

Along comes Einstein . . .

It's not that he overthrew Newton - he supplanted Newton, because any observations explained by Newton's version of gravity must also be explained by Einstein's theory, known as General Relativity theory. GR is deemed to be a stronger, more powerful theory of gravity because it also explains phenomena [eta: at large scales] that Newton's version could not.

Pulsars are extremely dense remnants of collapsed massive stars, spinning around hundreds of times each second. Their intense magnetic field enables beacons of radio-frequency waves to sweep through the sky at regular, predictable intervals - a discovery made by Jocelyn Bell Burnell in 1967, thanks to an experiment designed by her graduate advisor.*

These extremely dense objects - each so dense that it would be like squishing the mass of our Sun into a region the size of Kansas City - are so dense that when they're close to each other, they affect each other and move in ways not predicted by Newtonian gravitational theory. The mathematics of Einstein's theory of General Relativity predicts that one pulsar's gravitational pull, along with its spinning, should produce a "tug" on the other pulsar that could be measured by how the second pulsar's spin changes.

Astronomers have measured this "tug" and found that it aligns perfectly with that predicted by GR.

"A system like this, with two very massive objects very close to each other, is precisely the kind of extreme "cosmic laboratory" needed to test Einstein's prediction," said Victoria Kaspi, leader of McGill University's Pulsar Group. Theories of gravity don't differ significantly in "ordinary" regions of space such as our own Solar System. In regions of extremely strong gravity fields, such as near a pair of close, massive objects, however, differences are expected to show up.

In the binary-pulsar study, General Relativity "passed the test" provided by such an extreme environment, the scientists said.

"It's not quite right to say that we have now 'proven' General Relativity," Breton said. "However, so far, Einstein's theory has passed all the tests that have been conducted, including ours."

The strength of any scientific theory lies in its ability to generate testable hypotheses. Intelligent design doesn't have that ability; instead, its proponents try to tear down evolutionary theory to suit their own religious agenda. ID proponents also try to paint science as dogmatic and unquestioning . . . apparently they don't have a clue as to how REAL science is done in the real world.

Congrats to the McGill group for several years of painstaking work.

Thanks to P.S. for the tip.

*ETA: To learn more about Jocelyn Bell Burnell's life and work and that of other outstanding scientists, check out Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles and Momentous Discoveries. It's a must-read!

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

America's Founding Creationists? Not. Hardly.

Noted B-movie martial arts actor scholar Chuck Norris opines in today's WorldNetDaily Townhall that "America's Founding Creationists" would have espoused the teaching of creationism in public schools instead of evolution.

Norris begins his article by praising Louisiana's recently-passed "Academic Freedom From Learning" act because "teachers could supplement evolutionary teachings with materials on Creationism or Intelligent Design." Apparently he didn't get the Discovery Institute's memo - ixnay on the eationismcray and ID-ay.

For that matter, the Founding Fathers didn't support using cars or plastics or cel phones or the internet, either. Norris uses the traditional anti-evolutionist assumption that evolution=atheism, and argues that since our forefathers were familiar with arguments against atheism they would now oppose teaching evolution. Norris fails to show that the Founding Fathers would have hardheadedly closed their minds to the massive amounts of evidence supporting evolution that has been uncovered since the Founding Fathers walked this earth.

To suggest that Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington would have us ignore scientific progress is ludicrous. Perhaps Norris should stick to advising stunt doubles instead of advocating against REAL science.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Thursday, July 3, 2008
Showdown in Texas: Christina Comer Sues the TEA

Video featuring Comer

Unlike others who can only claim to have been expelled, professional science educator Chris Comer was actually forced to resign from her position because of her stance on intelligent design.

Now she is fighting back.

In early November, 2007, Comer was forced to resign from her job as Science Curriculum Director at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) after forwarding an e-mail about an upcoming talk by Barbara Forrest. According to this story in the Dallas Morning News, Comer is suing the TEA and Education Commissioner Robert Scott for illegal termination.

Most importantly, the suit is specifically intended to bring about change by challenging the constitutionality of the requirement that TEA employees must remain neutral on the subject of Creationism. The entire lawsuit is 70 pages long and includes many new details concerning the case.

posted by Jeremy Mohn

On Freedoms

What is freedom?

Does freedom mean that we act as we please, regardless of the consequences? Does our own freedom give us the right to abridge the freedom of others?

I have a cousin who's serving in the Marines right now. My son has been besieged by military recruiters. I remember my uncle coming home on leave from Vietnam and how I worked so hard to learn to play the theme from "The Green Berets" to welcome him home. (As a kindergartner I didn't know the difference between the Navy & the Marines - oops!)* I remember elementary school classmates being worried about their fathers over there. I remember the fear I had at the beginning of Gulf I when my husband seriously considered enlisting and carrying on his family's tradition of service. Now I see former students who've served in Gulf I and/or Gulf II who are proud of their service and strong in their conviction that they've defended our freedoms.

We need to remember what freedom is all about. The so-called "Academic Freedom" bills popping up around the country have nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with false populism.

I don't know the original source of this quote but I found it here:

Real academic freedom is the freedom of scientists to ask questions. This bill is all about letting schools ignore the answers.

Short, sweet, and true. Have a safe Independence Day, and keep in mind what truly constitutes freedom.

*added in edit: . . . and obviously I still can't keep the services straight. The Green Berets = Army Special Forces. My apologies.

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

Wednesday, July 2, 2008
A North American Field Guide: Identifying Anti-evolutionistii stealthus

Anti-evolutionists who campaign for office have learned to camouflage their distaste for Darwin during the last few election cycles. Although their plumage has evolved and their calls can vary, anti-evolutionist scat shows that their basic physiological processes remain unchanged. This scat tends to blend easily into the background, often becoming odiferous only after the candidate has been elected to office.

Briefly, here are some identifying characteristics of Anti-evolutionistii stealthus:

1.Distinctive vocalizations, including calls for:
a. Local control
b. Teaching more about evolution, not less, or push to augment/modify the state curriculum; critical analysis/developing critical thinking skills
c. Academic Freedom/Academic Bill of Rights for K12 students/teachers
d. Treating "origins science" differently than other science topics
2. Social behavior: are Young-Earth Creationists, or will not give an opinion as to the age of the earth
3. Camouflage: They try to hide or downplay their association with anti-evolution groups
4. Avoidance behavior: Some will avoid public forums or press interviews.

Read on to learn more about identifying details for each characteristic.

1a. Calls for local control:
These candidates will often not specify exactly what items need to be placed under local control, nor do they demonstrate that local boards don't already have this control. During the 2000 KS school board race, one of the ringleaders of the 1999 creationism debacle had this to say:

But [Linda] Holloway contends she's not trying to ban the teaching of evolution, only leave it up to local boards of education.
"My question is, 'So, what's wrong with local control?'" she said.

More recently, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law in late June of this year with this comment:

"I will continue to consistently support the ability of school boards and BESE to make the best decisions to ensure a quality education for our children."

They're taking their cues from on high:

On teaching evolution in schools, Bush believes both evolution and creationism are valid educational subjects. "He believes it is a question for states and local school boards to decide but believes both ought to be taught," a spokeswoman said.

Granted there's nothing stealthy about that comment, but it shows that using the phrase "local control" can be a clue that a candidate would support the Discovery Institute's mantra of "teach the controversy." Republican strategist Ralph Reed described in May of 2007 how Republican candidates are advised to approach the evolution issue:

"The issue is that this ought to be a matter left to local school boards, teachers and parents. That's really where it is in our country. And I think where the president came down when he was running in '99 and 2000, and where I think the overwhelming majority of our candidates today stand, is, you know, this is an issue of academic freedom and local control. So, nobody wants to prevent evolution from being taught. We all agree that, when that went on earlier in our country, that was wrong.

"But we also think that, as a matter of academic freedom and local control, that, if a -- if a school or a teacher decides to present an alternative viewpoint, from a scientific standpoint, not teaching the Bible -- that's for religion class -- but presenting some scientific evidence of an alternative view of human origins, what's wrong with that? Let them be exposed to it. Let them come to their own conclusions."

Which brings us to:

1b. Calls to teach more about evolution, not less, or push to augment/modify the state curriculum; citing critical analysis/developing critical thinking skills

Many of these folks state that they only want to teach more about evolution, that they want to enhance or supplement science education, not diminish it. They emphasize "teaching critical analysis" or "developing the students' critical thinking skills," but they haven't shown why they're limiting that development to science classes and to evolution in particular. Lately, evolution has been joined by global warming, stem cell research, and human cloning as the only topics worthy of critical analysis within the entire high school curriculum.

During the past year, the Discovery Institute has instigated the introduction of various "Academic Freedom From Learning" acts in state legislatures across the country. Spokesman Casey Luskin opined:

"The Academic Freedom Act empowers teachers to teach more about evolution, not less."

Don Covington has been the vice president of networking with Intelligent Design Network with an office in Johnson County. He also stated in September of 2004

"We want to teach more about evolution, not less."

From current Kansas State Board member Kathy Martin's website:
"We should be taking a critical look at the evidence for all theories of origin, including both evolution and intelligent design."

Some of us remember Connie Morris' 2006 newsletter in which she asserted:

"In fact we want MORE science by CRITICALLY ANALIZING [sic] the evidence."

1c. Academic Freedom/Academic Bill of Rights for K12 students/teachers

This most recent ploy from the Discovery Institute will enable teachers to "augment" science instruction by teaching intelligent design and using Creationist teaching materials. Although the bills explicitly deny that religion is to be taught, the DI and its supporters have maintained all along that ID is scientific, not religious, and thus belongs in a science classroom. The Discovery Institute has provided a template for legislation, propaganda in the form of giving legislators free passes to Expelled, and advice from their staff.

1d. Singling out so-called "origins science" for special treatment.

Creationist Kansas state board of education member John Bacon told Science magazine in 2006:

"I've seen polls showing that the majority of people in the state want their kids to be exposed to all theories of origin science in the classroom," he says. "If evolution is a theory, they want it taught as a theory, not as a fact."

The Kansas Republican Assembly also indicates that the science curriculum should be determined by popularity. We also see in Bacon's statement the vestigial Creationist scam of "theory not fact," where the candidate deliberately conflates the scientific meaning of the word "theory" with the popular perception that a theory is nothing more than a hunch or a guess.

Anti-evolutionists adhere to an artificial separation of operational science from origin science. They believe that if a human didn't witness an event, it didn't happen. "Were you theeeere?" is a favorite tagline of Creationist leader Ken Ham. You have to wonder if the anti-evolutionists are familiar with forensic science or criminal trials, or if they've heard of CSI -- the TV series, that is. If they were on a jury for a trial in which the defendant had the means, motive, and opportunity to murder the victim, with reams of incriminating circumstantial evidence presented, but no eyewitnesses or confession . . . would they be able to find the defendant guilty?

2. Social behavior: Are Young-Earth Creationists, or will not give an opinion as to the age of the earth

Sometimes accompanied by, " . . . but it doesn't matter because I don't want my beliefs taught in the science classroom." Young-Earth Creationists include Connie Morris, John Bacon, Ken Willard, Kathy Martin, Steve Abrams, Barney Maddox, and Florida legislator/backer of "Academic Freedom From Learning Act" Ronda Storm. Most of the folks who gave testimonials in favor of teaching the "controversy" or "criticisms of evolution" at the May 2005 Topeka ID hearings either stated their belief in a ~10,000-year-old Earth or they refused to give an answer.

Let's make it very clear that Jeremy & I both agree that holding a personal belief in a literal interpretation of Genesis does not disqualify a person from public service. We should also make it clear that we will not support efforts to weaken REAL science education in Kansas. The John Freshwater case is a clear example of a Creationist teacher forcing his beliefs onto students and even into their skins. With 1 of 8 high school biology teachers endorsing creationism or intelligent design in the classroom, it is obvious that voters must be aware of Creationist teachers pushing personal beliefs onto everyone's children.

3. Camouflage: They try to hide or downplay their association with anti-evolution groups

During the 1999 creationism debacle, state board of education members Steve Abrams, Scott Hill and Harold Voth presented a set of standards they claimed to have authored. However, Jack Krebs provided solid evidence that the document had actually been written by Tom Willis, head of the Creation Science Association of Mid-America.

In July of 2006 Connie Morris personally delivered thousands of expensive, glossy inserts to at least two newspaper offices in her district a couple of weeks before her defeat in the primary. The publishers of the Hays and Liberal newspapers confirmed that the inserts were paid for by the Intelligent Design Network of Kansas, Inc., but the inserts didn't refer to that fact in any way.

The Discovery Institute tried a reverse-camouflage effect in July of 2006 when they launched a barrage of PR in Kansas touting the ID-friendly science standards in place at that time. This Seattle-based public relations outfit made a point of stating that they weren't trying to influence the elections which were four weeks away, although their efforts at "educating the voters" halted after the August election results indicated that their pet standards would soon be replaced. Apparently they didn't think Kansans were intelligent enough to see through their designs.

4. Avoidance behavior: Some will avoid public forums and press interviews.

Kris Van Meteren (KRA leader and PR guru) had his mother Iris Van Meter use this strategy effectively during the 2002 state school board elections. Van Meter turned down invitations to candidate forums, wouldn't give interviews, and pretty much stayed in hiding during the entire campaign. Two weeks before the election, a glossy, nicely-produced brochure went out to her district maligning her opponent Val DeFever as a supporter of atheism.

The Lawrence Journal-World noted the Van Meter/Van Meteren antics and the 2006 stealth attempt by Jesse Hall to defeat Janet Waugh:

In 2002, Iris Van Meter ran below the political radar in the Republican Party primary to unseat an incumbent member of the Kansas State Board of Education in southeast Kansas.

She then became a key vote in the 6-4 majority on the state education board that has attacked evolution, changed the availability of sex education and hired a critic of public schools as education commissioner . . . [Candidate Jesse] Hall hasn't appeared at any candidate forums and is backed by individuals associated with the religious right, [pro-science incumbent Janet] Waugh said.

"I have attended quite a few meetings, and I haven't seen him yet," Waugh said.

An email sent out across the state just before the 2006 primary -- even forwarded by some ministers to their congregations -- left little doubt that Hall was the anti-evolutionist's chosen candidate:

Celtie Johnson of Overland Park, an evolution opponent, recently circulated a letter urging people to contribute to Hall and other candidates aligned against evolution in the five state education board races. . . .

"If we can win all five seats, creating a 7-3 conservative majority in spite of all the media and academia against us, then the liberals and evolutionists would learn the undeniable message that they can no longer get away with cramming evolutionism down ours and our neighbors kids' throats!" she wrote.

Barney Maddox was a Creationist dentist in Texas who ran for the Texas state school board. Although he was comfortable calling Darwin's work a bunch of "pre-Civil War fairy tales" for the Institute for Creation Research, he also declined all media interviews.

Of course, no one of these indicators infallibly labels a candidate as a member of the Anti-evolutionistii stealthus species. But keep your eyes open, and ask your candidate these questions:

Do you support the current Kansas science standards?
Would you support an academic freedom bill such as the one recently enacted in Louisiana?
How old is the earth, and what leads you to that conclusion?
How should "local control" influence science curriculum issues?

. . . and don't let them get away with lulling Kansans into a false sense of security.

[edited to add links - csa]

posted by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams

December 2007  
January 2008  
February 2008  
March 2008  
April 2008  
May 2008  
June 2008  
July 2008  
August 2008  
September 2008  
October 2008  
November 2008  
December 2008  
January 2009  
February 2009  
March 2009  
April 2009  
May 2009  
June 2009  
July 2009  
August 2009  
September 2009  
October 2009  
November 2009  
December 2009  
January 2010  
February 2010  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Blog Contributors

What is REAL science?

The thoughts and opinions expressed on this blog are solely our own. They do not necessarily represent the views of our employers or any other organization with which we are affiliated.

Comment Policy:
One of the goals of this website is to foster constructive dialogue concerning science and science education. Comments not in line with this goal may be deleted.

Our Visitors:

Scientific criticism originates within the scientific literature, not outside of it.
© Jeremy Mohn, 2006