Texas Citizens for Science
P. O. Box 13022
Odessa, TX 79768-3022
Final Comments of
Steven D. Schafersman, Ph.D.
President, Texas Citizens for Science
October 3, 2003
Dear Members of the State Board of Education:
This letter contains my final comments to you about the adoption of biology textbooks in November. I will be brief because I know you have a lot to read from many people and organizations. So let me summarize my remarks in a few points:
1. As I stated would be the case in my written testimony, every Texas scientist who addressed you on September 10 supported the Texas Citizens for Science (TCS) position on the biology textbooks, that they should not be revised, changed, censored, or have bogus "weaknesses" added (except for changes requested by the official TEA reviewers for TEKS conformity and presence of any factual errors). Just to remind you, 136 University of Texas at Austin professors (mostly scientists, including one Nobel laureate) and 17 members of the National Academy of Sciences (including four Nobel laureates) working in North Texas signed two statements supporting this position. I have included their statements at the conclusion of this letter (the originals are linked on the TCS website). The entire Texas scientific community wants you to leave the biology textbooks alone and not force their authors or publishers to insert unscientific material that weakens the presentation of evolution and the origin of life.
2. At the request of UT-Austin biology professor David Hillis, a number of UT-Austin biology professors spoke to you on September 10, each addressing a specific scientific topic that the Discovery Institute said needed to be revised and "weaknesses" added. Each scientist, an expert in the appropriate field, presented the correct scientific understanding of the topic, explained to you why the biology textbooks presented the material correctly or didn't have to be changed to present the material correctly, and explained why the anti-evolutionists had misrepresented or distorted the topic in their presentations. These science specialists know much more about these topics than I do, and each fully supported the analysis prepared for you by TCS.
3. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) biology textbook review panel, in their "Proclamation 2001-Updated Preliminary Recommendations for Instructional Materials," reported to you last month that all eleven biology textbooks fully conformed to the Texas Essentials of Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), our state's science curriculum. All the biology textbooks are conforming as judged by your own appointed experts. I am aware that several of you believe the panel members were improperly briefed by the TEA staff, but this is not the case. All the textbook panels were briefed correctly and consistently, and this is proved by the ultimate conclusion of the biology textbook review panel that all eleven books are conforming, which precisely matches the evaluation of the many scientists and science educators--including myself--who independently reviewed them and reported this fact to you in their individual testimonies. Claims that the TEA staff did not appropriately brief the biology textbooks review panel about the requirements of TEKS--especially about clause (3)A--are misguided and ideologically motivated, and reflect a personal bias against the accurate presentation of science in public schools and an animosity toward those individuals who work to preserve such a presentation.
4. All the biology textbooks already do contain material presenting both the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. The books present the historical weaknesses of Darwin's theory, specifically his misunderstanding of genetics and the lack of evolutionary processes in addition to the ones known to Darwin: natural selection, random mutation, and individual genetic variability within species populations. The books then discuss the additional evolutionary mechanisms and modern genetic processes and structures that greatly improve evolutionary theory and strengthen it. These strengths and weaknesses are the scientifically correct ones that all biology texts contain and should contain.
5. The Discovery Institute (DI) claims and testimony has been analyzed and totally refuted. Much of this analysis was conducted by myself. The fellows and officers of the DI have consistently prevaricated about the issues and their own intentions. Such mendacious behavior is unethical and should accordingly be condemned and rejected by every person with integrity. Here are some examples:A. In a Houston Chronicle op-ed column (www.txscience.org/files/meyer.htm), Stephen Meyer, the Director of the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute, said that "numerous Texas scientists, educators and students asked the board to insist that textbooks comply with state law by correcting factual errors in current biology textbooks and by presenting both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory." This is untrue: every Texas scientist testified just the opposite, against having the Board change the textbooks. In addition, almost all Texas educators testified similarly.
B. Let's continue with Stephen Meyer. He says, "The theory of intelligent design is not based on religious doctrine. It's based on scientific evidence." This is false: there is no scientific evidence for intelligent design. To the contrary, every legitimate scientist that has examined the idea of intelligent design creationism in the history of life on Earth has rejected it. This includes many scientists who are religious themselves. The reason is simple: the evidence for evolutionary theory is overwhelming.
C. Meyer again: "Peer-reviewed scientific literature now documents the existence of many problems with current evolutionary theory and with the textbook presentations of that theory." False. The DI tried this tactic in Ohio, where scientists and educators organized to oppose and refute them. The peer-reviewed scientific literature documents some--not many--problems with current evolutionary theory (as is the case with every scientific theory because scientists are not omniscient and nature is subtle), and these are problems with details, not with substantive topics covered in textbook presentations of the theory. As I documented in detail in my written testimony, the presentation of evolution and its theory in introductory biology textbooks consists of reliable knowledge--material that has been fully tested and corroborated--not with content that might be controversial or problematic.
D. Meyer yet again: ". . . at least three of the texts currently used in Texas use discredited 19th century diagrams of embryos as support for Darwin's universal common ancestry thesis." True and false. Some of the eight-year old biology texts used in Texas have the inaccurate embryos illustrated, but the new ones submitted for adoption have removed these inaccurate pictures and replaced them with corrected ones. Ernst Haeckel drew these embryo pictures to support his own Law of Biogenesis ("Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny"), not Darwin's theory of evolution including common ancestry, which was already completely accepted by the biological community in the 19th century when Haeckel published his exaggerated drawings. Scientists, not DI pseudoscientists, revealed the faulty Haeckel drawings to the scientific community in 1997; after that, textbook authors began to remove the drawings from subsequent editions of their textbooks. Haeckel's drawings are no impediment to adoption of the current crop of biology textbooks.
E. Bruce Chapman, Founder and President of the Discovery Institute, said, "Darwinism is a theory in crisis. More and more scientists question the Darwinian claim that all of life's complexity is the result of natural selection working on random mutations. Nearly 300 scientists, including 40 Texans, have signed a statement expressing such skepticism." This is extraordinarily misleading. Modern evolutionary theory is not a "theory in crisis." It is widely accepted by the planet's scientific community. Biologists have never believed that life's complexity is the result of only "natural selection working on random mutations." Much more is involved, but this in no way merits "skepticism" about the occurrence of evolution and the presentation of its theory in biology texts. Such misrepresentation is mendacious.
F. Chapman again: "Other scientists, such as Dr. J. Y. Chen [sic] of China, one of the world's leading paleontologists, have argued that the fossil record from the 'Cambrian explosion' of animal life is basically in conflict with Darwinian evolution." False on many accounts: Dr. Chien is not one of the "world's leading paleontologists"; in fact, he is practically unknown except to those who hold him in disrepute for organizing a paleontological conference in China--dealing with the important Cambrian fossils found there--with an intelligent design viewpoint. Not a single legitimate paleontologist in the world thinks that the Cambrian Explosion is in conflict with modern evolutionary theory; many think that it remains unexplained, and some think it can only be explained by new theoretical evolutionary processes, but those are different statements than what Chapman disingenuously claims.
G. The Discovery Institute repeatedly claims it is not a creationist organization, but this is false. The DI promotes intelligent design, a modern and sophisticated form of creationism. DI fellows constantly attempt to hide the identity of their "intelligent designer," but many critics have revealed that the DI members believe it is the Deity and say so in some of their less public writings. Injecting supernaturalism into this process is creationism, not science.
H. Finally, the DI has revealed in its "Wedge Strategy" that it intends to achieve its goals of destroying scientific materialism and evolution with rhetoric, marketing, publicity, and political pressure, not traditional scientific research, peer-review publication, and gaining consensus within the scientific community. This strategy makes a mockery of any claims the DI has that it represents science or possesses scientific credibility. DI fellows have scientific training, but they are using their training disingenuously and mischievously, using pseudoscholarship in pursuit of pseudoscientific goals. Thus, their entire program is both mendacious and dishonorable. No public official should want to be associated with such a program.
6. The Discovery Institute went all out to make their case to insert "weaknesses" into the Texas biology textbooks. They paid for almost all their major officers and many of their fellows to travel to Austin and testify at the hearing. Why would they go to such an effort to accomplish seemingly so little? The DI officers and fellows claim they want evolution to be taught, that they are not asking for intelligent design to be inserted into the textbooks, but such claims are disingenuous. They actually expect to gain much more:A. The DI wants evolution taught with their bogus "weaknesses" to make the topic both controversial and weakened in the textbooks. Note that no other biological topic would be subjected to this diminished treatment--only evolution and the origin of life. This is blatant anti-evolutionism, and it violates both the intent and language of the TEKS, which mandates that legitimate science be taught in our public schools.
B. Weakening evolution alone will focus attention on it, intimidating teachers to avoid the topic, and confusing students about the topic's scientific acceptability. Many students in the United States are told in their churches and Sunday schools that evolution is not reliable, that it is being questioned by scientists, and it is a theory in crisis. These claims are completely false, but it would take little reinforcement by a censored public school biology textbook, and little discouragement by an intimidated and disillusioned biology teacher, to confirm these claims in students' minds. This is the DI's true goal: making evolution disreputable in public schools.
C. The DI's efforts to degrade and discredit evolutionary theory in a state's science curriculum lost in both Kansas, Ohio, and most recently in New Mexico, so now it is looking to Texas for their best chance to eke out a single small victory. The Texas State Board of Education is known to be socially conservative and it has always has creationists and anti-evolutionists on it, so the DI believes they can win by appealing to their ideological biases, no matter how much the state's scientific community organizes against it. If they are successful in this endeavor, the DI's next step will be more substantive: it's members will try to add intelligent design to the TEKS science curriculum, something they have so far failed to do in any state. This is the DI's ultimate goal, as revealed by Associate Director of Science and Culture John West under questioning in the September 10 hearing.
I have also examined the written testimony of two representatives (Frank Mayo and Mark Ramsey) of Texans for Better Science Education (TBSE) submitted for the September 10 hearing. The members of this group (I have personally met and talked with five of them, plus have examined all their public writings) are young-Earth creationists, the most credulous, aggressive, and unscientific type of creationist. Their detailed critiques of the biology textbooks are totally without merit, and reflect their complete ignorance of modern evolutionary science and a blatant animosity to scientific method and practice. Their analyses and suggestions for "correcting" the biology texts are anti-scientific and reflect a mean-spirited bias against science. It is amazing, in this modern era, that such ignorant and pseudoscientific material can be written and seriously submitted to a body that manages public education in a large state. You should totally disregard their submissions, whose main purpose is to damage and dumb-down the accurate scientific quality of the biology books.
Recently, 136 University of Texas at Austin professors, mostly scientists, signed an open letter (written by Prof. Sahotra Sarkar) to you. In case you have forgotten, here is what it said:We, the undersigned faculty members of the University of Texas at Austin, view with dismay the unnecessary controversy that has arisen over the selection of textbooks for use in high schools in Texas. The scientific education of students should be as thorough and rigorous as possible. This means that students should have full exposure to contemporary evolutionary theory from which there is no scientifically credible dissent nor is there any empirical evidence that would make such dissent plausible.
We also believe that scientific methodology should be adequately taught to high school students, as required by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Spurious challenges to evolutionary theory do not belong in the textbooks used in classes. They confuse central issues of scientific methodology and theory. Texas students deserve to learn and must learn the basics of sound science, if they are to be competitive in today's ever more challenging job market, a market which demands considerable scientific sophistication from employees. We therefore urge the Texas State Board of Education to reject attempts made by individuals and groups such as the Discovery Institute to inject false or misleading materials into the textbooks.
In addition, 17 North Texas scientists, all members of the National Academy of Science or Institutes of Medicine, recently signed the following statement (written by Prof. Alfred Gilman):We urge board members to use the next several weeks to review the science and, ultimately, to render a decision based solely on whether the texts are scientifically accurate. To do otherwise would undermine the integrity of expert panels that already have indicated the books pass scientific muster. The textbooks in question are used only in science courses, and science must be the basis of their information.
Some individuals and organizations have long opposed teaching only scientific bases for the appearance and evolution of life on earth. Those opponents claim that scientific texts systematically misinform readers. Why? Because, according to the critics, the books in question don't expound upon supposed weaknesses in the theory of evolution.
Those assertions have been refuted in great detail by scientists in testimony prepared for the state board and in analyses of the central arguments raised by opponents of the texts. (See www.txscience.org/files/icons-revealed/ and www.ncseweb.org/icons/ on the Web.)
We note that those supposedly scientific challenges are directed selectively at the theory of evolution. There are no similar campaigns being waged against textbooks that don't discuss alleged weaknesses in other major scientific theories, such as gravitation or relativity. Clearly, the motivation for the current challenges lies not in science, and the scientific classroom is not the proper forum for such a debate.
The modern theory of evolution has undergone 140 years of testing. It now is so well established that its veracity and robustness are accepted as fact by the overwhelming majority of scientists in this country and around the world. In the scientific community, the unanswered questions surrounding evolution concern not the fact of evolution but rather the mechanisms by which evolution operates.
We are very concerned that any action by the board to exclude science textbooks that have been determined to be scientifically accurate &emdash; by independent review panels of scientists and science educators and by expert review committees appointed by the Texas Education Agency &emdash; sets a very dangerous precedent.
If successful, such an action would prevent the state's students from being exposed to one of the most tested theories in science and would place them at a disadvantage in relation to their peers in most other states, where scientific approaches to evolution would continue to be taught. Without a basic knowledge of evolution, how could they begin to comprehend high school or college biology classes?
The above two statements eloquently describe the issues and ask you to do the right thing. In summary, I ask the members of the Board to leave the biology textbooks alone, and allow all of them to be adopted on the conforming list. Texas legislators are watching you, Texas businessmen are watching you, Texas public school science teachers are watching you, and Texas science students are watching you. Indeed, the eyes of Texas are upon you, and Texans expect you to do the right thing and allow good, accurate science to be taught in Texas, not return to the bad, old days in the 1970's and early 1980's in our state, when evolution was systematically diminished, avoided, and removed in our science textbooks and classrooms due to the ideologically-inspired efforts of your predecessors. Twenty years ago I pointed out to those former State Board members that Texas students scored among the lowest of all states on standardized science tests, and recent headlines reveal that this is still the case. Until you start spending your energies improving science education in our state, instead of degrading it, this disgraceful trend will continue. If this state of affairs and the reasons for it were better known to Texas citizens, I believe that more public interest would be devoted to your elected offices. Until this is the case, I will just have to continue writing and publicizing this as best I can.
Thank you for your kind attention to this letter.
Steven D. Schafersman
Texas Citizens for Science