September 10, 2003
President, Texas Association of Biology Teachers
My name is Robert Dennison. I have been teaching biology in Texas for the past 25 years and I am currently the president of the Texas Association of Biology Teachers. Furthermore, I have been fortunate to have been recognized numerous times in my career as an outstanding biology teacher. These honors include awards from both the National and Texas Associations of Biology Teachers, The Texas Medical Association, The National Science Foundation and President Ronald Reagan, to name just a few. Thank you for allowing me to speak with you today.
I am here to strongly encourage the board to adopt the texts currently on the 2003 Biology Textbook list, thereby providing Texas teachers with numerous quality books from which to choose. I have reviewed these specific textbooks and find all of them worthy of inclusion on the conforming list for adoption by the state of Texas.
As a biology teacher, I am confident there is no more important field for my students to understand than the study of life itself. Furthermore, it is imperative that our students acquire scientific literacy in order to compete in todays world. To that end, I want my students to be provided with a textbook that accurately reflects the current consensus among biologists regarding all aspects of the study of life. To quote the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), "To become informed and responsible citizens in our contemporary technological world, students need to study the theories and empirical evidence central to current scientific understanding." The textbooks before you today provide students with the means to carry out those studies and, in turn, help assure them of success in that world.
However, I am sure that some individuals will testify that most, if not all, of these textbooks are not currently suitable for use in Texas due to their coverage of evolution. Specifically, I have read the Discovery Institutes written testimony purporting to show factual errors in every single one of these textbooks coverage of evolution. These critics claim they only want to increase and improve the coverage of evolution by removing these "errors" and thereby exposing the so-called weaknesses of evolutionary theory. I grant that biologists do debate some of the mechanisms of evolution. However, none of the current debates among evolutionary biologists involve any of the alleged errors presented by the Discovery Institute. By focusing on a few alleged errors and then correctly pointing out that biologists debate about evolution, the authors of the Discovery Institute reviews are using a "bait and switch" tactic in an attempt to discredit all of evolutionary theory, ignoring the many, many lines of evidence which converge to support the modern evolutionary view of the living world.
The greatest rewards in science come from overturning accepted doctrine and thereby improving our understanding of the natural world.
If the Discovery Institute and its members have actually discovered viable scientific evidence that would overthrow, or even alter, currently accepted evolutionary theory, they should be submitting their research to major scientific journals for peer-review. That is the mechanism which makes science the self-correcting endeavor we find so powerful. The rewards for a successful effort in this proper arena would be tremendous. A natural result of that success would be the inclusion of those ideas in science textbooks.
This is not the approach favored by the Discovery Institute, or any of those allegedly conducting research into "intelligent design." It certainly appears that they are not willing to subject themselves to the long, arduous process used by scientists. Instead, they do their best to circumvent that process by going straight to local communities and making attempts to force the insertion of their ideas directly into science textbooks without any input from practicing biologists. Then, in the greatest irony, they appeal to fair play arguments expecting us not to notice it is they who are being unfair by trying to "cut in line", so to speak, skipping over the steps true scientists use to receive acceptance in the scientific community.
If the Discovery Institute is sincere in its belief that their work and ideas are scientific, then the proper path is clear. Do the work, have it peer-reviewed in scientific journals and get it accepted by scientists. Then their ideas will automatically be included in science textbooks. That is the way of science and it is an insult to all of us for them to attempt to get their views in textbooks any other way.
Finally, as a successful biology teacher, I want to assure you that there is no concept more important to my students understanding of the study of life than evolution. It is the theory of evolution which allows us to see biology as the unified discipline it is today. The theory of evolution has been and continues to be one of the most robust and fruitful theories in all of science. No other theory has sparked more productive research into the diverse fields of biology: research which benefits all of us and which our students must understand in order to successfully continue the work done before them.
The textbooks being considered for adoption do an admirable job of presenting the theory of evolution in a manner befitting its importance to biology. I close by again urging the board to adopt the 2003 Biology Textbook List without requiring any changes in those books which would weaken their coverage of evolution. Any such changes would do an injustice to the students of the state of Texas. Thank you for your kind attention.