Live Blogs of the Texas State Board of Education Meeting
2009 January 21-23

Steven D. Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
2009 January 25

New Reports and Editorials about the SBOE meetings are available from TCS

A complete list of documents and resources is available from TCS

mp3 audio files of the SBOE meetings are available from Curricublog
for Wednesday, January 21, and Thursday, January 22

Archived audio files of the SBOE meetings are available from TEA

Wednesday, 2009 January 21, Texas Education Agency, William Travis Building, Austin

This is the live blog of the Texas State Board of Education in Austin. I will be here all day to keep you informed of what is happening with your SBOE.

To access the live audio feed via the Web, go to for the link. The direct link is

The seats in the SBOE hearing room begin to fill up.

Newly-elected SBOE members are sworn in.

8:34 a.m.

The first speaker is Sharon Sparlin, a science playwright, who spoke in favor of adopting the science standards as submitted by the science standards-writing panels.

Next, Kevin Fisher, a Texas science educator for 30 years, also asked that the science standards be adopted without change. He says the science TEKS this time is better than the 1997 TEKS. It has more specific standards, it defines scientific theory correctly, and describes the nature of science for the first time in the introduction. The alignment of the standard--having subjects presented sequentially in good order through the grades for maximum education--was improved. Pat Hardy, SBOE member, asked a question about the reasoning behind why the "strengths and weaknesses" was removed and replaced with the much better phrase to use empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and scientific testing to evaluate scientific explanations.

Patty Quinzi of the Texas American Federation of Teachers asked that the new science standards be adopted without revision by the SBOE.

Sandra West worked on the Middle School science TEKS writing panel and recommended that the Middle School science standards be adopted without change.

Cristopher Marshall was a member of the Earth and Space Science writing panel. He described the changes made from the old GMO course to make the new ESS better. He called the ESS course one that would set the Earth science standards for the next generation. He concluded that the new ESS standards should be adopted without change. He did not, however, say anything about the minority report written by the two Creationists on the ESS panel, or anything about the majority report that he and the other ESS standard writers signed. Both of these reports have been sent to the SBOE, but it appears that many of them have not seen either. I have written an earlier column in the blog about these two reports.

The SBOE hearing room has completely filled up by this time, 9:15 a.m. I am sitting at the chair in the lower left corner with the laptop in front of it on a small laptop table. Sitting nest to me from left to right are Josh Rosenau, Steve Newton, and Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education.

Here they are again: Genie Scott, Steve Newton, and Josh Rosenau. The empty seat on the right is mine.

Another view of the hearing room with every seat filled and people standing against the wall.

The SBOE members sit in their large chairs in a circle at their respective desks. The audience members sit in uncomfortable folding chairs.

Terri Leo made the comment--often heard from Creationists on the State Board, including Ken Mercer--that the presence of "strength and weaknesses" has not generated any lawsuits against the TEA or SBOE, so the phrase is not illegal. In fact, the only time the SBOE has ever tried to enforce standard 3A with the "strengths and weaknesses" language was to try to force bogus "weaknesses" about evolution into biology textbooks in 2003. They failed to do this because the scientific and business communities in Texas came together to oppose this nonsense. If they had succeeded, the biology book publishers would have sued the TEA and SBOE because forcing false "weaknesses" into the biology texts would have violated the Establishment Clause.

The phrase "strengths and weaknesses" in the science standards is legal as long as it is never enforced. If actually enforced, and science books compromised, the rule would be illegal. There has to be an actionable cause for litigation to begin, and there never has been such a cause in the ten years since rule 3A was part of the TEKS. The rule was in science standards prior to 1998 (beginning in 1991) in other ad hoc science standard documents, such as the textbook proclamations. All during this time, phony weaknesses of evolution have never been required in biology textbooks by SBOE threats to reject biology texts, so publishers have never had to sue.

I should mention that weaknesses of early, pre-modern evolutionary theories, such as Lamarck's theory and Darwin's original theory, have been covered by biology textbooks to comply with the rule.

David Bradley just made the remark that he tried to get Ben Stein to come to Austin and speak in front of the SBOE, but they couldn't afford his fees! This comment is just priceless, since Ben Stein has absolutely no scientific or educational qualifications whatsoever, except his brief appearance as a public school teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986). His pseudo-documentary, Expelled, has been justly decried as a fascist, ignorant diatribe against evolution. The movie producer used every dirty trick to fool the scientists who were asked to appear in it on camera. Stein himself indulges in despicable tactics to mislead and deceive his audience about the truth. David Bradley wants to do the same.

10:05 a.m. - Chair Don McLeroy just made the comment that Darwin himself had a chapter in his book about the "difficulties of his theory so he believed in strengths and weaknesses." In fact, Darwin's "theory" at that time was a scientific hypothesis, not a scientific theory, so discussing its potential weaknesses was relevant and good science. As we know, several aspects of Darwin's original hypothesis were wrong and never made it into the modern scientific theory of evolution. Today, having students examine or critique the "weaknesses" of the scientific theory of evolution is nonsense. They actually can't even analyze or critique modern hypotheses about evolution, since in Texas they are so poorly educated about evolution due to the constant pressure and intimidation of teachers by the SBOE.

I just learned that the Discovery Institute had a press conference at 10:00 a.m. Casey Luskin, almost their top polemicist (let's call him Polemicist second class) spoke to one camera. The press conference lasted two whole minutes.

Josh Rosenau is live blogging this hearing at the same time as me. His much-better known and highly-regarded blog is Thoughts From Kansas at However, he doesn't have photos! TFN is also live blogging this meeting at

10:20 a.m. - Arturo De Lozanne, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, testified that the "strengths and weaknesses" language had been correctly removed from the proposed recommended science standards by science panel science teachers and scientists. He said the phrase is unscientific and is used by opponents of evolution to damage biology textbooks and promote pseudoscience. He spoke against the Discovery Institute's new book Explore Evolution, which he said has many inaccuracies about evolution and science, and is a book that teaches pseudoscientific nonsense to any person who reads it. The SBOE members asked Dr. De Lozanne many questions. He responded to one question that scientific hypotheses have weaknesses that need to be evaluated and tested. He responded to a question from Creationist SBOE member Terri Leo that there has not yet been any litigation about evolution content in Texas because books such as Explore Evolution have never been adopted. If they were, they would be litigated because they attempt to injure science instruction to support pseudoscientific Intelligent Design Creationism.

10:25 a.m. - Chair Don McLeroy again mentioned AAAS Executive Director Alan Leshner's quote that supports the teaching of "strengths and weaknesses" in science. I provided a response to this ridiculous ploy before. McLeroy is taking Leshner's statement out of context in a major way. In fact, Alan Leshner strongly supports teaching about evolution and not teaching ID Creationism. He is a major opponent of Intelligent Design Creationism and would oppose teaching false "weaknesses" of evolution that undermine science education. Also, Dr. Leshner was referring to scientific hypotheses, not scientific theories. He would agree that the theory of evolution has no weaknesses, but new hypotheses about evolution do and should be tested. He would also agree that the theory is incomplete.

10:50 a.m.- After a break, a pro-Creationist speaker, Cory Cunningham, again brought up a well-known Darwin quote that superficially supports his cause: "A fair result can only be obtained by fairly stating and balancing the facts and difficulties on both sides of a controversial question." In the context of the quote, Darwin is apologizing for writing only an "abstract" of his ideas, and he is not describing a fair method to evaluate a claim. But even if you read it this way, Darwin was correct, since his "theory" was actually a hypothesis and at the time he wrote his statement. His hypothesis had weaknesses, it's facts and difficulties were later evaluated and tested, and their weaknesses were revealed and removed. The parts of his original hypothesis that were correct are now part of the Scientific Theory of Evolution. This scientific theory has no weaknesses, because it is composed of ONLY hypotheses that have been tested and corroborated.

The next speaker, Eric Hennenhoefer, was a member of the business community. He explained to the SBOE members how their political manipulation of the science standards, and their stated intention of voting to return the phrases "strengths and weaknesses" to the standards, would have a negative effect on science education in Texas. He asked that the science standards be adopted by the SBOE in the form they were recommended by the science panels in unchanged form. Next, he strongly challenged the methods used by the Discovery Institute to mislead and confuse citizens and decision makers. He correctly observed that the DI uses PR tactics: they market their beliefs to the public using a series of non-scientific techniques. He was very critical of the DI's methods and of their book Explore Evolution.

11:10 a.m. - Dr. Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, spoke next. She briefly reviewed what science and evolution are, and explained how Creationists use a variety of methods and tactics to attack evolution instruction. One of these methods is trying to force bogus "weaknesses" of evolution into biology textbooks to denigrate science instruction in those books. She quoted from a letter by Werner Arber, a Nobel Laureate, who views were misquoted and misrepresented by the Institute for Creation Research. Such misrepresentation is a common Creationist tactic to suggest to the public that evolution is controversial among scientists, when in fact it is not.

Dr. Scott was questioned at length by most of the SBOE members. The Creationists on the Board grilled her about their usual concerns developed from their reading of Young Earth Creationist literature, which they implicitly believe. Ken Mercer asked about evolutionary frauds, such as Haeckel's embryos and Piltdown Man. Genie replied that these could be mentioned, but they provide no evidence or reasons against modern evolution. She said the Haeckel vertebrate embryo controversy in no way helps Creationists, and has been used as a bogus "weakness" of evolution that should not be used to misrepresent the scientific theory. Another member, either Terri Leo or Cynthia Dunbar, asked her why there has been no court litigation against "strengths and weaknesses" if the "Darwinists" claim that it is bad for science and promotes sectarian Creationism as charged. She replied that so far the critics of evolution have failed to get their bogus weaknesses into the biology textbooks, so there has never been a reason to challenge the rule in court. If the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase is kept in the standards, and this standard is used in the future to damage biology textbooks, "you will have problems." She means, of course, that the TEA and SBOE will be sued on Establishment Clause grounds, because the entire history of the political effort to put the language into the standards and force phony "weaknesses" into biology textbooks is religiously motivated. This history and motivation make the rule illegal, no matter what the proponents of the rule state.

Several Creationists testified next, but I am not going to immortalize them by posting their photos in my nationally-consulted and archived blog. They made their usual disingenuous arguments that removing "strengths and weaknesses" would promote censorship, that it would hurt students' ability to exercise critical thinking because they would not be able to ask questions and examine both sides of the controversy. In reality, there is no scientific controversy about the facts of evolution, students will be able to ask questions quite well without the "strengths and weaknesses" language in the standards, and students' critical thinking skills will be improved best by teaching them accurate and reliable science rather than confusing and misleading them with false "weaknesses."

Ryan Valentine of Texas Freedom Network testified next. He pointed out that some of the best science educators in Texas wrote the proposed recommended science standards and requested that their efforts be honored and accepted, not like the English teachers during the adoption of ELAR standards last year. He also defended the many scientists who testified in favor of the standards and asked that they be adopted without revision by the State Board.

Dr. Daniel Bolnick of the University of Texas at Austin spoke and said all the scientists of Texas advocate that the science standards be adopted by the State Board without revision to add back "strengths and weaknesses." He said that "weaknesses" is a loaded term adopted by Creationists to try to get their same claims against evolution introduced into biology classrooms and textbooks. He did a search of the biological literature and found thousands of papers on evolution, but only four on the alleged "weaknesses" of evolution, and all of these were critical of the motive and writings of the proponents of evolutionary "weaknesses." He criticized previous Creationist speakers who made absurd claims about the motives and actions of scientists and science professors. For example, one Creationist claimed that Genie Scott and others who oppose Creationism don't want the process of science taught. Dr. Bolnick said this was nonsense.

Jonathan Saenz, attorney with the Free Market Institute, the Texas representative of Focus on the Family, testified next. Despite the fact that he testified on November 19, he was allowed to testify again while all the other individuals who spoke in November were moved to the bottom of the list and thus will not be able to speak. This violation of his own rules shows that Chair Don McLeroy is biased and not a fair administrator of his State Board. This is very unfair and I want to state my objection here.

In fact, several of the Creationist-Religious Right SBOE members were allowed to move up other of their speakers from down on the list and permit them to speak during extra time added at the end of the public testimony. However, while these were Creationists who had no understanding of evolution or science, they had not testified in November and this was the first time they addressed the Board about this topic. Only Jonathan Saenz was allowed to repeat his testimony from November. No scientist received this consideration. I came prepared to speak and registered early, but was was relegated like others who spoke in November. Every Texas citizen should be outraged at this example of unfairness.

Saenz made only one point in his brief testimony--one he has made several times before. It is the argument that because the very perceptive and very litigious ACLU has never challenged the "strength and weaknesses" rule 3A in court, it must be legal. That argument is nonsense, of course, since there has never been an actionable cause on which to challenge the rule. Every attempt by public officials to enforce the rule in negative, anti-scientific ways has failed, and textbook publishers and authors have never been forced to add unscientific material, such as Creationist-inspired and bogus "weaknesses" of evolution. I have argued that the imposition of "strengths of weaknesses" by the Creationist SBOE members is to preserve the opportunity to go after the biology textbooks in 2011, just as they did in 2003. "Strengths and weaknesses" is a time-bomb set to explode in a future year. It has been dormant for six years, unchallenged, unused, but also undead, until the opportunity arrives to use it again.

Textbooks of several science disciplines have been adopted since 2003 without controversy because they don't cover evolution or the origin of life. If they did, the Radical Religious Right SBOE members would have gone after them. These textbooks discuss hundreds of corroborated scientific hypotheses in several major theories, but there has never been an attempt to force chemistry, physics, or IPC to contain the "weaknesses" of their theories. In reality, the historical record is clear: keeping and using "strengths and weaknesses" is only used to attack evolution and other subjects that Biblical Literalists object to, so their effort would violate the Establishment Clause if it ever succeeded.

12:30 p.m.

Texas Freedom Network Press Conference: A Photo Exhibition

Kathy Miller, President of the Texas Freedom Network

Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education

Dr. Ron Wetherington, Professor at Southern Methodist University

Dr. Daniel Bolnick, Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin

A poster constructed by Richard and Nancy Neavel (who are pictured behind the speaker in the previous photos) that illustrates the scientific explanation for the alleged "polystrate" fossil whale in the Miocene Lompoc Formation. The whale looked like it extended upright through strata, however, it is not polystrate, but conformable with its surrounding strata which have been tilted. The "polystrate whale fossil" is a common Creationist argument, and Gail Lowe sprung it on Richard Neavel when he testified on November 19. He didn't know the details of this specific example then and couldn't give Gail Lowe a good reply, so he and his wife made a poster to illustrate the facts.

2:45 p.m.

The State Board chose their officers who then give members their committee assignments.

Pat Hardy was outraged that seniority was not followed in the assignment of committee assignments. She and Mary Helen Berlanga, who both have seniority, were not placed on the committee of their choice, when they should have been appointed to different committees than what they intended. Mary Helen said, "This Board has just ignored its own rules that it recently adopted." Next, Geraldine Miller stated her opposition to what happened. "Why even have rules if you are going to ignore them, " she asked. She spoke directly to Chairman McLeroy: "You are making a mockery of democracy when you handle issues in this way. Will the same thing happen next week, next month?" Mary Helen Berlanga pointed out that she meets all the requirements for preference and she got none of her committee choices. She asked why this is the case? These three ladies--with many years on the State Board and thus much seniority--were denied their requested committee positions. They were legitimately angry that the rules were not followed.

3:15 p.m.

The expert testimony begins, i.e. the Great Texas Evolution Smackdown. This farce was designed by Chair McLeroy to give the impression that there are equal numbers of advocates on both sides of the evolution/anti-evolution question. Today there will be. 3 v. 3. In reality, evolution is accepted as a factual natural process by just about every legitimate scientist. Each speaker gets 15 minutes to present his testimony.

First up is Dr. Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute, who says that the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase should be returned to the Texas science standards. He also said that Biology's evolution standards are now too dogmatic and should be changed. They ask that the students "review" information about evolution rather than "evaluate and analyze" this information, which he considers a step back. He gave a PowerPoint presentation to explain why S&W should be returned to several places in the TEKS, especially to rule c3A. He claimed that earlier scientific theories, now known to be wrong, had weaknesses. He mentioned the phlogiston theory of chemistry, geosynclinal theory of geology, and Newton's theory of gravity. In fact, phlogiston and geosynclines were hypotheses that never became scientific theories, and Newton's theory is still accepted today, so Meyer was wrong on every count.

Dr. Meyer claimed that the theory of evolution has weaknesses. One was the problem of the Cambrian Explosion. Steve Meyer, who has a degree in geology, often uses this example to make his case that the theory of evolution has problems, weaknesses, and controversies. In reality, he misled the listeners on the facts about the Cambrian Explosion. He claimed that what evolution predicts is not what is found. He misrepresented both the fossil data and what paleontologists expect. He said that the fossils appear in the Cambrian in ways that aren't explained well by evolution, an untrue statement. I hope one of the scientist speakers refutes him on these claims.

Dr. Gerald Skoog of Texas Tech University spoke next. Dr. Skoog first presented documents from the Texas Academy of Science and other science organizations that ask the State Board to adopt the science standards as submitted, without modification. He made the excellent point that academic freedom means that teachers can present scientific information without external interference from political officials and policy makers. He stated that in Texas for many decades, public officials have interfered with teachers' academic freedom to teach good science. This is where the State Board should really look at academic freedom, not the false one of giving students the right to question scientific material they are taught.

Piltdown Man is a "hoax or joke gone sour, and students have no need to study hoaxes or jokes gone sour." The Discovery Institute's book Explore Evolution would be required to contain the true and legitimate strengths of evolution, which it does not now. He said that the State Board members should ignore polls that show that most Texas citizens want the "strengths and weaknesses" taught in science class. Terri Leo asked Dr. Skoog if they should also ignore the poll that Texas Freedom Network did that showed that 98.5% of science professors want evolution to be taught and the words "strengths and weaknesses" removed. Unfortunately, Dr. Skoog could not hear the question well and couldn't answer.

Dr. Ralph Seelke of the University of Wisconsin-Superior presented next. His research asks the question, "What can evolution really do?" He says he teaches his students to ask, "How do we know that?" And to view science as open-ended, and to be aware of the abuse of science by scientists and non-scientists. I agree with him that both groups contain individuals who abuse science, and Dr. Seelke himself is in the former group. He commented that he found two problems with the science standards, one that hurt the critical thinking requirement, rule 3A, and the other for the uncritical requirements for evolution in Biology.

Why include "strengths and weaknesses?" Dr. Seelke says that "strengths and weaknesses" should be left in the science standards. He claims that this is a common way to evaluate scientific theories, that it's common sense, that it addresses how science advances, and that it makes for good stories that students remember. If Dr. Seelke changed his reasons to refer to scientific hypotheses, as he should because that is actually how scientists evaluate explanation and science advances, then his reasons would be correct. But he applies his reasons specifically to the scientific theory of evolution, which consists of hypotheses that have already been tested and have had their legitimate weaknesses removed by the scientific method. Seelke explained his research and his conclusion is that evolution cannot do two things at once, so evolution has weaknesses. During questions, he also insulted all biological scientists by stating that, "if you tell students that evolution is not controversial, they know that is not true; you are telling them something untrue, and that is just wrong." He criticized teaching students the scientific consensus about scientific information, which is a highly unusual--indeed, idiosyncratic--position. I know of no other science educator who would advocate not teaching the scientific consensus to students. What else can you teach them? Your personal opinion informed by your religion and ideology?

Dr. Ron Wetherington, Professor at Southern Methodist University, testified next. He is a physical anthropologist and the director of SMU's science education center. He described the difference between scientific theories and hypotheses, defining both in ways recognized by scientists that would be news to some of the Board members, who think that scientific theories can be criticized by high school students. He used two examples, phlogiston "theory" and Darwinian "theory." Both were hypotheses that had problems, weaknesses, were incomplete, and had to undergo many tests. The phlogiston hypothesis was ultimately rejected after repeated experiments provided a better explanation that explained the effects that phlogiston explained. Darwin's "theory"--actually a hypothesis-was heavily revised and parts falsified during the succeeding decades, but his central hypothesis of natural selection and other ideas have been spectacularly confirmed.

During questions, Dr. Wetherington explained why the common Creationist description of the Cambrian Explosion as a "weakness" of evolution is wrong. There is no weakness with the theory, but a weakness with the data. Evolutionary transitions, adaptive radiations, and "explosions" are well-known in the fossil record and not controversial. The Cambrian Explosion once had few good fossils to show the transitions that could explain the appearance of new phyla, but this has been changing for many years with spectacular new discoveries. Dr. Wetherington correctly pointed out that Cambrian "Explosion" took place over 25-60 million years; the length of time is debatable, but even the shortest period is still quite long enough to generate the diversity we see by evolutionary processes now known. He criticized those Creationists that keep using this technique of ignoring paleontological examples which have abundant evidence and focusing on the one example which has fewer fossils due to the fact that many had not evolved hard skeletons, so they were not fossilized. "No transitional fossils, missing links, gaps in the record--this is the litany of criticism from Creationists, and their claims are not valid.

The next speaker is Dr. Charles Garner of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is a chemist who harshly criticized the Biology and Earth and Space Science standards. As is the case with Drs. Stephen Meyer and Ralph Seelke, he is an anti-evolutionist and Creationist. He gave a brief chemistry lecture, using stereo-specificity of polymers, to show how the discussion of weaknesses improves education. Of course, Dr. Garner is talking about scientific hypotheses, not theories. He and his students should discuss the weaknesses of stereochemical hypotheses--and all other hypotheses--in the classroom and laboratory. But would he discuss the "weaknesses" of thermodynamic theory or quantum theory? I doubt it, for those are very strong theories whose weaknesses have been removed by testing over the decades and centuries. Both of these theories are incomplete, so new hypotheses are needed to enlarge and improve them, and these are proposed and tested.

Dr. Garner said that when you deal with the ancient past, such as astronomy, geology, and paleontology do, you cannot make direct observations and thus cannot make determinative statements. You cannot prove something but must demonstrate it. This description of science is a very false view of how science works, and it is a very arrogant one. Dr. Garner made a similar statement in his criticism of the new Earth and Space Science Course. He see chemistry and physics as being higher and more substantive sciences than the ones that deal with the past. He is oblivious to the fact that all scientific observations are indirect, and that all scientific conclusions must be demonstrated by testing. He said the existence of theories of dark matter and dark energy have weaknesses and should be examined critically examined. They should, of course, because they are hypotheses, not theories.

Dr. Garner said he had never heard the phrase, "Scientific theories have no weaknesses" before last year. He doesn't believe it and thinks the weaknesses of theories should be mandated by the political process. Garner is obviously uncertain of the difference between a scientific theory and a scientific hypothesis. He said that the scientists who have testified to keep out the term "weaknesses" are giving it a protected status similar to a religion. He stated that religions forbid questioning, but not science, and scientific theories should not be immune to questioning. They are not, of course; he is constructing a straw man. Scientific theories are subject to questions and questioning by scientists. However, they have no "weaknesses" that can be "critiqued" by high school students. Keeping in a science standard requirement that asks students to critique scientific theories disingenuously promotes the denigration of evolution, the single theory subject to having "weaknesses" forced on it. This, in turn, promotes Creationism, the only alternative to evolution present in our culture. That is the true goal of Dr. Garner and his colleagues.

6:30 p.m.

The last expert, Dr. David Hillis of the University of Texas at Austin, is showing another PowerPoint presentation. His presentation first demonstrated the extreme importance of learning about evolutionary biology in high school and university. He said that the nineteenth century arguments against "Darwinism" and evolution are simply irrelevant to the 21st century. The arguments were dealt with and refuted long ago, and there is no need to deal with them again.

Dr. Hillis continued by refuting some of the alleged "weaknesses" of evolution. He disposed of irreducible complexity by quoting from the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision, in which the trial judge concluded that irreducible complexity is meaningless within modern science and has no legitimate validity. He refuted the Cambrian Explosion argument by stating that many of its claims are wrong: it took place over tens of millions of years, and the evolution of many phyla--including many of the most evolutionary most important taxa--took place later.

Dr. Hillis recounted his memory of the 2003 biology textbook hearing. He stated, quite correctly, that four of the SBOE members now present in this room tried to reject all the biology textbooks except the weakest, because they refused to compromise on the topic of evolution. They did not include the bogus "weaknesses" of evolution demanded by the Creationist organizations--such as the Discovery Institute--and by the four SBOE members (McLeroy, Leo, Bradley, and Lowe; these four are now joined by Dunbar, Mercer, and Cargill). This antagonism to evolution is the only reason he knows of that supports the insistence that the "weaknesses" of evolution.

In answer to a question, he eviscerated Dr. Ralph Seelke's statement that his experiments prove a weakness of evolution--that he couldn't get two simultaneous mutations in his bacteria. Dr. Hillis said these experiments have been performed by others, including by science professors working across the street at the University of Texas, with complete success. He recounted how other scientists at UT Austin have run virtual models of evolution, allowing only mutations and natural selection, and achieved specific RNA sequences after only a few iterations of the program. He also said he took his first evolution course at Baylor University, whose Biology Department teaches evolution. He said its then president, Abner McCall, replied to complaints about this, that "There is no Baptist version of evolution."

Dr. Hillis mentioned that intimidation of biology teachers is common in Texas public schools. They are intimidated by the political controversy at the State Board of Education level as well as by parents and school officials. He also said he could not understand why the SBOE members would waste one day of their time hearing testimony about this issue. They gave the task of writing science standards to the scientists and science teachers--the experts--and then they still want to review and edit their work, and not in good ways. Dr. Hillis thought this political manipulation of science is "idiocy." Barbara Cargill said she has 6,000 email messages asking her to make sure that "strengths and weaknesses" stays in the science standards. Also, she said, they ask that the science standards "show more humility" and not be so "disrespectful." Yes, science should respect and be humble in front of the great idol of willful ignorance and abject superstition that some members of the SBOE worship before.

After Dr. Hillis finished, Stephen Meyer returned to the podium at the request of Terri Leo. He first asked the few SBOE members remaining if they knew what an argument from authority is. Next, he characterized the testimony of Drs. Wetherington and Hillis as all arguments from authority. Well, I would like to ask the members of the SBOE if they know what sophistry is, because Meyer's entire presentation and his subsequent rebuttal is one massive pile of sophistry. He himself has absolutely no scientific credentials, since his experience and training is entirely in rhetoric, polemics, and specious reasoning. He basically told serial and iterative untruths to the SBOE members about scientific fact. Finally, Meyer termed one of Hillis's statements a "half-baked idea." This is truly amazing considering Hillis is one of the planet's top scientists in his area of molecular phylogenetic analysis, while Meyer is one of the planet's top Creationist rhetoricians specializing in distorting the truth. A Hillis half-baked idea should be taken by Meyer and thoughtfully considered for a month--then he might learn something.

Meyer defended his description of the Cambrian Explosion as a weakness of evolution. He castigated the idea that the increase in atmospheric oxygen content increased the biological information necessary for all the new phyla and other taxa to appear so quickly. He also said that Dr. Hillis's statement that the Cambrian Explosion had tens of millions of years to occur is wrong. Instead, Meyer said, the most recent research says that the Cambrian Explosion took place in about five million years, and certainly no more than ten million. I am an evolutionary paleontologist and stratigrapher, and I can say without qualification that Stephen Meyer is totally and completely wrong. He really doesn't know what he's talking about, and he characterizes himself as an expert in paleontology and geology. His incompetence and lack of knowledge--or willingness to deceive--is simply spectacular. I began a long analysis of his feedback to the SBOE about the Texas science standards, but events and time constraints forced me to finish other projects. Now, when I return home, I will finish it as soon as possible to reveal his enormous disingenuousness, illogic, and misrepresentation of scientific information in the furtherance of his pseudoscience. His testimony was truly an appalling spectacle--one that only a true pseudoscientist would appreciate.

This concludes today's live blog. 8:00 p.m. Good night, readers.

Thursday, 2009 January 22

Live Blog of the Texas State Board of Education Meeting, Thursday, 2009 January 22

9:00 a.m. - This is the live blog of the Texas State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, January 22. I will keep you up to date about what is happening at your State Board of Education: all the nonsense, anti-science, and anti-education actiivity of the Creationist members.

I am in Austin in the Travis Building, just two blocks from the Capitol. The building is shared by the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Railroad Commission. The bottom floor contains a large hearing room which, for important meetings such as this one, is completely filled with people. There are photos of the hearing room in my blog from yesterday.

Chairman Don McLeroy just announced that the meeting of the full board will not begin until approximately 10:00 a.m. This is because the interviews for consultants of the Permanent School Fund were cancelled yesterday due to the length of the expert testimony. So they rescheduled the interviews this morning at 8:00 a.m. and they are still continuing.

My camera's batteries ran out yesterday and I had to borrow a couple from a friend to take photos of the last three expert reviewers. This morning, I have to buy some new ones from the State Museum across the street. Then I will have more pictures for today. [Update: The State History Museum does not sell camera batteries in its store, so no pictures today.]

Another important item you need to know is that the science standards will be discussed on only one agenda item. I will live blog that but not the rest of the meeting. I don't know when the science standards item will come up.

I have just learned that the New York Times has an article about our hearing yesterday that contained the public and expert testimony. It is at The article contains two photos, one of Clare Wuellner and the other of Dick Neavel. Both are good friends of mine; in fact, I am staying at Dick Neavel's home while I am in Austin. I can tell you that he will be thrilled when he finds out that his picture is in the NYT. The article also has quotes from three other good friends of mine: Dr. Genie Scott, Dr. David Hillis, and Kevin Fisher. All three testified on behalf of science and asked that the words "strengths and weaknesses" not be returned to the science standards as the SBOE Chair Don McLeroy and six of his radical religious right colleagues wish to do. All seven are Creationists who would rather waste the Board's time debating this absurd issue rather than just adopt the science standards written by the science panel experts.

To access the live audio feed via the Web, go to for the link.The direct link is

Josh Rosenau is live blogging this hearning at Thoughts From Kansas at Texas Freedom Network is also live blogging this meeting at

10:00 a.m. - The meeting of the Full Board has just begun. They are going through the agenda items in sequence. The Commissioner of Education Robert Scott made his comments and we are now on agenda item no. 2. The science standards are item 7; we may not get to it until after lunch.

10:55 a.m. - After a recess, the Board is starting agenda item 3. By the way, you can obtain the agenda by going to this page:

11:05 - The Board has just moved to agenda item 6 about math standards. They can jump ahead as they wish, so agenda item 7 could be next.

The article in the New York Times is also in today's print edition. The photo of the back of Clare Wuellner is enormous, about 1/4 of the page. She is attired in a Victorian teacher's blouse and skirt (she has a Ph.D. in Biology). She wears outfits to attract press attention, an excellent idea; I must find something unusual to dress in while I blog. On her back she wears a sign that reads "Evolution was controversial ...150 years ago. It's not anymore."

There is also a much smaller picture of Dick Neavel in his green tee-shirt that reads "Back off, man. I'm a scientist." And he is a scientist, Ph.D. in geology, retired coal geologist with Exxon. He, his wife Nancy, and their Lompoc non-polystrate whale poster are pictured in yesterday's blog. Dick has long supported good science in Texas as an advocate. He has supported the Texas Center for Science Education (Dr. Steven Schafersman, President), the Center for Inquiry-Austin (Dr. Clare Wuellner, Executive Director), and the Texas Freedom Network (Cathy Miller, President). As people know, these three state organizations plus the National Center for Science Education (Dr. Genie Scott, Executive Director) work together to promote accurate and reliable science education in Texas.

I just noticed that the person standing between Clare Wuellner and Joe Lapp, who is on the far left in the photo in a gray pullover, is Mark Ramsey, the anti-scientific engineer who is head of the Greater Houston Creation Association and Texans for Better Science Education. Mark has been edging up to members of our four groups as we discuss events and strategy, silently joining our private conversations with each other and even with State Board members. He also brought a video camera and is taping us. He is spying on us and hopes to pick up interesting tidbits of information that he can use to disrupt our plans. I had to confront him this morning when his presence disrupted one of our private discussions. He got angry and raised his voice when I accused him of spying. He said, quite correctly, that the hearing room is public property and he has the right to stand anywhere he wants. That's true: his actions are legal, but not honorable or ethical. I don't edge up to Steve Meyer and Casey Luskin when they are discussing events or strategy, because I have a moral sense.

After that exchange, Ramsey wanted to engage me in conversation. I permitted this so that the other members of my group could move away and continue their private conversation (for which they thanked me later). Mark wanted to know where the information in DNA came from. I don't know for sure, I replied. I did say that RNA evolved before DNA, so DNA got its information from RNA. The correct question is where did RNA get its information. I then suggested that virtual experiments conducted by scientists have shown that with a certain minimum amount of random variation and selection pressure, data that looks exactly like natural information can be produced. I also said that scientific papers have been written about the origin of both DNA and the genetic code, DNA's information, and that he should consult these. I also said that university molecular biology textbooks discuss this problem. However, I was not up to date on this subject so I couldn't provide a more detailed response. If anyone reading this blog knows where the information in DNA comes from, please provide that answer in the comments.

11:10 - The Board adjourned until the full Board could be established later.

11:45 - Chairman McLeroy has declared a lunch break. We will resume no earlier than 12:45 p.m., with agenda item 4. It is likely the meeting will not resume until 1:00. I am off-line until then.

1:05 p.m. - The Board meeting resumes with agenda item 4.

1:10 - The Board has moved to item 5. Item 6 was already considered, so the important item 7 is next. Stay tuned.

This live blog is linked at this moment on the front page of the Houston Chronicle online, at Perhaps now I will get some readers and comments. [I did get plenty. Thanks.]

1:15 - Now we are on agenda item 7, the science standards. Cynthia Dunbar made the motion to return the original "strengths and weaknesses" language to rule 3A of the science TEKS. Her reasons are that keeping the original language will help the TEA avoid future litigations because the wording has been in the science TEKS for almost 20 years and never been challenged in court. This is a completely illogical argument, of course, since the rule has never been successfully used to force anti-scientific material into textbooks. If this had occurred, the rule would have been challenged in court. Removing the phrase now actually prevents future litigation, not the opposite as Dunbar maintains.

First Mavis Knight and then Bob Craig spoke against the amendment. Craig says that the argument that the S&W language promotes academic freedom is a "bogus argument." His main argument is that the SBOE needs to adopt the science standards written by the state science experts. The SBOE should respect their work, unlike what they did with the English teachers.

Pat Hardy then addressed the amendment. She said she had been told in 2003 by SBOE members "now in this room" that the S&W should be used to make sure the scientific theory of evolution in biology textbooks was worded to include weaknesses, specifically, the ones identified by the Discovery Institute that mislead students about evolution and promote ID Creationism by default. Now, she says, the meaning and intention of the S&W language has been changed from once meaning that Intelligent Design Creationism should be included to now meaning that it should not. Her implication is that those on the State Board who are today promoting S&W are being hypocritical and disingenuous. The purpose of the rule is to injure and denigrate evolution in particular, not any other scientific theory.

Barbara Cargill said she has heard from "thousands" of citizens and science teachers who want the S&W language included in the standards. She said the experts she heard had disagreements about the weaknesses of evolution, some saying that evolution had weaknesses and some saying that the scientific theory had no weaknesses. She considered this a controversy that must be taught in schools.

Mercer says he and his colleagues have received 6,500 emails in the last two days from citizens that want S&W retained. He considers the S&W a matter of academic freedom and freedom of speech. He again used the bogus and misleading examples of Piltdown Man, Haeckel's vertebrate embryo drawings, the peppered moths that were glued to tree trunks, and the half-bird, half-dinosaur that were all "evolutionary frauds." Mercer's complete and total ignorance of science is just spellbinding. Three of these were not frauds. We now have excellent legitimate fossils of feathered dinosaurs that are on the lineage to become birds; the peppered moths are in no way a fraud but are still today accepted as good scientific research; the most recent interpretation of Haeckel indicates that he was not engaging in a fraud but used the best data he had. The Piltdown Man "fraud" was just a joke gone bad; it was not widely accepted by scientists and its hoax was revealed by scientists.

Laurence Allen said that 5,000 of the 6,500 emails were the same email sent repeatedly! He said the citizens and science teachers in his district asked him to vote against returning S&W back to the science standards.

Mary Helen Berlanga said we should respect the science experts who wrote the science standards and not impose our own beliefs on those science standards. She quoted Dr. Ron Wetherington's view about the definition of a scientific theory with approval.

Gail Lowe made the very misleading and false argument that since some of the science teachers wanted to include the phrase S&W in the earlier science standard drafts, we should recognize that there is a real difference of opinion. What this argument omits is that these few science teachers changed their minds after listening to the science professors who spoke in November 19 and carefully considered the best description of the scientific method and how it promotes critical thinking. Then they all agreed that the phrase "strengths and weaknesses" is not scientific language and should not be included in the science TEKS, but rather the overwhelming consensus language should be adopted.

David Bradley is "baffled" by the focus on the one word "weaknesses." The word, he claims, has had unanimous approval from science teachers for the last 20 years (this is in fact untrue). He said the zeal and energy of those who want this single word removed reminds him of a religion. If Bradley was self-reflective, he would recognize that his drive to keep this word in the science standards is equally religious, and in fact is more religious, since the word has been used several times in the past to try to force unscientific ideas into science standards that denigrate evolution and promote Creationism.

Rick Agosto says he has an open mind and had been on the Board for two years. He has listened to all the arguments and cannot support the motion. People in his district have asked him to support good science by voting against the motion to return "strengths and weaknesses" to the science standards. He said, "I want to vote with my constituents." This is extremely welcome news to all the scientists and science teachers in Texas, who should thank Rick Agosto for his vote that gives accurate and reliable science an 8-7 majority.

Geraldine Miller said we should go with what the science teachers and scientists have written. She respects the Texas scientists who spoke yesterday and remarked on how they expressed their "excitement and love" for their work. She said that the new wording of rule 3A to "analyze and evaluate" scientific explanations leaves open the opportunity to examine potential weaknesses of scientific hypotheses.

It has been pointed out that SBOE member Rene Nunez is not present. The vote will actually be 7-7, but that means the motion to amend will still fail, since it requires a majority to pass. I wish that Rene Nunez was present, since he has expressed his intention to vote with the scientists and science teachers to keep out the S&W language and would surely make the vote 8-7.

Cynthia Dunbar said her argument to return S&W to the science standards is logical and does not dishonor the work of the science panels. She said she understands how logical arguments can be difficult for some members to appreciate.

Mavis Knight spoke next and immediately said that her logic is working just fine! Then she reaffirmed her support for the new science standards and her opposition to the amendment.

Mercer said he did not enjoy the support of his two local newspapers but he did enjoy the support of his constituents. "This issue was a top issue in my district," he said.

Agosto asked for an opinion from the TEA staff attorney about the Attorney General's opinion regarding the effect of voting on rule 3A in all the science disciplines.

2:20 - The vote to amend the science standards failed on a 7-7 vote.

Cynthia Dunbar then made a second motion that she says is directly from Dr. Ron Wetherington in November. She wants 3A amended to be: "analyze and critique science explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing by examining scientific evidence supportive and not supportive." Dunbar says that this language would be supported by four of the science experts, the three Creationist "experts" and Dr. Ron Wetherington.

Pat Hardy said she spoke directly with Dr. Wetherington in November and asked him directly if he supports that language. He said that the language "opened up too many loose ends" and, upon reconsidering, he would not support it.

I think that Cynthia Dunbar is misrepresenting Ron Wetherington's true views. Bob Craig just said that Dr. Wetherington yesterday said he supports adopting the workgroup language as is, so we should do that. I think that is Dr. Wetherington's true view. [Note added later: Dr. Wetherington sent an email that said Ms. Dunbar is not presenting his true views. He is opposed to changing the science standards by adding qualifying language. He advocates that they be adopted without change.]

David Bradley said that we are using hearsay evidence if we go with what Pat Hardy said. Mavis Knight immediately destroyed Bradley's contention by asking for a point of information: "Are we in a court of law or are we a Board examining issues?" Chairman McLeroy had to admit that "we are a Board examining issues." So Bradley's hearsay argument is nonsense.

Rene Nunez is back in his chair and I expect the vote will now be 8-7 against the radical right amendments.

Dunbar and Leo then spoke and both made several disingenuous arguments in favor of the amendment.

Pat Hardy said her testimony has been "impugned by a colleague" (Bradley) about her conversation with Dr. Wetherington, who was the expert she nominated, and she is presenting his views fairly. She discussed his November testimony in some detail since she was searching for a compromise, but Dr. Wetherington decided his written language was unsuitable since it could be used in an anti-evolutionary way by those who don't have science's best interests at heart.

Another vote was held on Dunbar's second motion and it was defeated, 8-7.

Barbara Cargill now took the opportunity to try to eviscerate and really damage the new Earth and Space Science TEKS by introducing "qualifying language" to the TEKS with 13 proposed changes. In typical deceptive SBOE method, she sprung this series of detailed amendments on the Board suddenly with no possibility of preview or consultation with scientists who could advise them. Several Board members objected to having to vote on Cargill's amendments under these conditions, but McLeroy insisted that they continue because "this is how we agreed to evaluate and amend the standards." That is, individually and right now, with no time for consultation or review. This is incredibly poor policy-making but business as usual for our wonderful State Board of Education. I predict Cargill will mislead them with reasons to vote for anti-scientific amendments to ESS and some will fall prey to her persuasive rhetoric.

Cargill said we heard from many of our experts to introduce this language, to add "humility and tentativeness" to the ESS standards. I read all the expert feedback and I want to state that Cargill's claims are absolutely untrue! Her qualifying language was recommended only by Dr. Charles Garner, the chemistry professor at Baylor, and Dr. Stephen Meyer, the Discovery Institute pseudoscientist. There was NOT a lot of feedback from the public or the other four experts to make these changes to ESS. Only Meyer and especially Garner wanted to make significant changes. When I saw her list of 13 amendments, I recognized that all came from these two Creationists. This attempt to make the ESS standards more humble and tentative is just ridiculous. This is language that only anti-scientists and pseudoscientists would want. The ESS standards do not make extreme statements that are unscientific. In fact, the language was slightly weakened by the science panel to satisfy the two stealth Young Earth Creationists on the panel, but they couldn't achieve all the damage they wanted.

Barbara Cargill's attempt to gut the ESS standards is a betrayal of science of the highest order. I spoke to her yesterday and today and asked her to protect the new ESS course. She didn't promise she would, but listened to me. She had appointed two good members of the ESS panel who supported accurate and reliable science and stated their belief that the ESS standards should be adopted without change, and now she is denigrating their contribution. She is, in fact, voting against the product and recommendation of her own two expert. Why would anyone else with integrity want to be appointed to a TEA science panel by her if she deliberately goes against their professional advice and instead listens to pseudoscientists?

The usual suspects--Lowe, Dunbar, Mercer, Bradley, etc.--testified in favor of Cargill's motion. Mrs. Miller says she doesn't want to vote on any specific amendments to ESS without input from the experts.

The first item passed 8-7, Pat Hardy voting for the change. The next two failed. The fourth one passed. More to come.

During this process, Barbara Cargill is deliberately misleading the SBOE members about what scientists know about the subjects she is addressing. She repeatedly claimed that the "experts she spoke to" recommended the changes she is requesting. Her experts are well-known pseudoscientists (lke Meyer and Garner) and Young Earth Creationists, and she is ignoring the real experts on the ESS workgroup that wrote these standards, including the two she appointed herself, one a professional industry geoscientist and the other a university professor who teaches Earth science teachers and was a writer of the Texas College Readiness Standards. I worked closely with these two and several other ESS experts, and they were quite competent and knowledgeable. To ignore their product is just shameful.

What Cargill is doing is despicable. She is willfully undermining Earth and Space Science education in Texas. I can't believe that a majority of the SBOE are going along with her on some of her revisions. They are, in effect, voting about the details of ESS, something which none of them know anything about, simply on the basis of the very false and tiny bits of information Barbara is feeding them. They are relying on the repeated untruths and misrepresentations she is telling them. No real Earth scientist would recommend the changes that Barbara Cargill is proposing. This political process is just amazingly bad for Texas and for science education.

In answer to a wonderful question from Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Cargill admitted that her "two experts" were "Dr. Meyer and Dr. Garner." This is precisely what I thought. She used suggestions from two non-Earth scientists who both have religious and pseudoscientific agendas, but claimed that "all the experts she spoke to" recommended these changes. How profoundly duplicitous and ultimately damaging to Texas Earth science education. She falsely tried to give the impression that she consulted real experts on her suggested amendments, but in fact she did not. She consulted only ideologues who do not have the interests of Texas students at hear, but only wish to propagate their own pseudoscientific agendas. Barbara Cargill wants students who take this new course to be misled, exactly as she misled her State Board colleagues, and she sabotaged the ESS standards to accomplish this.

Every one of Cargill's amendments affects a standard that deals with origins and ancient time and life. Every one is about a topic that obsesses Young Earth Creationists. They are opposed to having students learn about the evidence that supports an ancient Earth, radiometric dating, the origin of life, the evolution of fossil life, the demonstrated existence of transitional fossils, the reality of common descent, etc. One of her amended revisions that passed will require that the ESS textbooks include information that is nonexistent, arguments against universal common descent. Barbara Cargill was able to win votes on five of her thirteen amendments. I will have to check later to see what the damage is, since I can't stop now to do this.

Don McLeroy made two motions to amend the science TEKS. Both passed. The first was not controversial. This was to add "Know the definition of science and understand its limitations" to all the science TEKS introductions. The second was more problematic. This was to add a student expectation to the Biology TEKS in section 7 on evolution. This new standard reads: "describe the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." I am not totally opposed to this since it requires that the evolution of fossil life be discussed in biology textbooks, something I have long advocated. I would have worded it differently since it is scientifically inaccurate as written. While most fossil lineages show stasis, many do show gradual change, and transitions from one species to another and different taxa to others are quite common. The biology texts would have to discuss these topics, too, to contrast this type of evolution with stasis and "sudden appearance." I could ask for nothing more.

The really bad language is the inclusion of the "sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry." The fact of common ancestry of all living and fossil species is not in doubt; there is no scientific "insufficiency" about it. Another problem is that common ancestry does not explain stasis, sudden appearance, gradual evolution, and other tempo and modes of evolution. Common ancestry is an inference from analysis of morphological and genetic information and the fact of genetic continuity of all life (life only comes from life, not non-life, except for the origin of life early in Earth's history). The tempo and mode of evolution (i.e. sudden appearance, stasis, gradual change, transitional fossils, etc.) is explained by speciation, fossilization, fossil preservation, the completeness of stratigraphic and fossil records, and other considerations. So the new student expectation, which did pass, is poorly worded in an ignorant and unscientific way.

Dr. McLeroy consulted all sorts of evolution books but failed to really understand them because he lacks a basic understanding of evolutionary theory and paleontology. If he understood these, he would have worded his student expectation better. I think the idea behind this new standard has merit, but it really needs to be reworded in a scientifically-acceptable fashion. I am not under any illusions. McLeroy's second proposal was written to suggest that there is evidence for Creationism in the fossil record. There is none, and his new student expectation will not accomplish what he intends. I think the Texas biological community will be upset with this proposal unless its wording is changed.

I was especially amused by his recitation of a long list of references he had read (but without any real understanding). The late Steve Gould would have been especially appalled that his hypothesis of punctuated equilibria was being misused--again--to promote Creationism. Gould's hypothesis, which is probably correct, is that the majority of fossil lineages show sudden appearance and stasis (because speciation usually takes place in subpopulations geographically-separated from the main population). Gould was well aware of the existence of transitional taxa, including species, and the gradual change of species in ecological time and sometimes in geologic time. He wrote essays about them.

Finally, the science standards passed on a unanimous voice vote. The "strengths and weaknesses" language was left out, but one or two standards in ESS and the second addition to evolution by McLeroy need to be rewritten or removed.

Here are the five changes to the ESS standards that Barbara Cargill was able to pass with the new wording. She proposed 13 but 8 failed; all were voted on individually and all were very close votes, some a tie vote which meant they failed. Compare this wording to that in the ESS proposed TEKS available on the web.

(4) Earth in Space and Time. The student knows how Earth-based and space-based astronomical observations reveal *differing theories about* the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe.

(5) Earth in Space and Time. The student *understands* the solar nebular accretionary disk model.

(5)(B) investigate sources of heat, including kinetic heat of impact accretion, gravitational compression, and radioactive decay, which *are thought to allow* protoplanet differentiation into layers;

(6)(D) *evaluate the evidence that the* Earth's cooling led to tectonic activity, resulting in continents and ocean basins.

(8)(A) evaluate a variety of fossil types, *proposed* transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits and *assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence*;

Some of these were minor changes but others are very unscientific, especially the change to 8A which promotes Creationism. There are no scientific arguments against common descent. The other four have qualifying language which makes the standard less certain and more tentative, something completely unwarranted.

I will scan and post both Barbara Cargill's and Don McLeroy's anti-scientific amendments and post them. I will put a link on a blog column.

I will be back tomorrow. Good night.

Friday, 2009 January 23

Live Blog of the Texas State Board of Education Meeting, Friday, 2009 January 23

The last day of the State Board of Education meeting begins. The Creationists lost big yesterday when "strengths and weaknesses" failed to be returned to the Texas science standards. However, some unscientific additions were made to the Earth and Space Science standards by Creationist Board member Barbara Cargill and one bad addition was made to the Biology standards by Creationist Chair Don McLeroy.

Dr. David Hillis, Professor of Integrative Biology at UT Austin, was so angry about Don McLeroy's successful insertion of a student expectation into the Biology TEKS in its evolution section that he suspended his morning class so he could be present to speak to the Board members. I'm not sure he will be allowed to speak formally, since the person who makes that decision is...Chair Don McLeroy!

I wrote a brief report on the five changes won by Barbara Cargill last night. I made copies for all the SBOE members and they were just handed out. I also gave copies to the press. However, I have only been able to speak to four members so far, since the morning has been quite busy with a wonderful skit performed by young charter school students from the Texas bay area near Houston. I also requested to speak, and my chances of doing this are even less than Dr. Hillis. Like David, I signed up for late registration this morning, but we speak at the pleasure of the Chair!

10:10 a.m. The State Board just adopted the science standards by unanimous voice vote without any consideration of the poor science standards. That's all, folks. No one will get to speak. Dr. Hillis has returned to his class, and I will be able to leave by noon. I am going to try to speak to some more of the SB members at the next break.

The next time we can address the miswritten science standards in ESS and Biology will be in March. If they are not corrected then, they will become part of the final state science standards and Texas will become the laughingstock of the nation. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that only one Biology standard and only one ESS standard were approved that promote Creationism, but seriously, that is two too many. Achieving the elimination of "strengths and weaknesses" is a major victory and was certainly my foremost goal, but I will not be satisfied until there are no anti-evolution standards in my state's science standards.

I am concentrating on the ill-written ESS standards that Barbara Cargill was able to get approved by the Full Board in committee. All were unnecessary, but of the five, one was okay, two were poor but not worth fighting over, the fourth was unscientific and should be challenged, and the fifth was extraordinarily bad because it directly denigrated the evolution of fossil life and promoted Creationism. Since I have the time now before I leave, I am going to post my brief report here and you can judge for yourself. Barbara Cargill tried to pass eight other anti-scientific or unnecessary changes that failed on recorded votes and I have the names of those who voted for them. I want to remind readers that the top geoscientists in Texas wrote to the SBOE members and asked them to adopt the ESS standards without change or modification. That was their message: "Don't Mess With Texas' ESS Standards." But Ms. Cargill deliberately ignored our state's foremost geoscientists, listening instead to two Creationists and placing her anti-evolution agenda above the welfare of our students' science education. And the SBOE members who voted with her did the same.

I admit I'm mystified by Cargill's behavior. She was one of the primary SBOE members who worked to get the ESS course approved, and I mentioned that in my earlier reports with approval. Now she has squandered that good reputation and good will with this stunt to damage the new ESS standards by weakening them in favor of Creationist bias. Did she never really care at all? I thought that Terri Leo would be the one to make the anti-evolution, anti-radiometric dating, and anti-fossil amendments, but instead it was Barbara Cargill who took on that task (while Leo made four relatively simple and less controversial amendments to the Biology evolution standards).

My report follows. You can download a Word document of this report that shows the strike-outs (which can't be formatted here) from

The State Board meeting ended at 12:00 noon, which is extremely early.


Report on the Five Changes to the Earth and Space Science TEKS Won by Barbara Cargill

by Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
Member of the ESS TEKS-Writing Workgroup
2009 January 22

I describe here which of the five changes passed by majority vote by the State Board of Education on January 22 are scientific and which are not. All five of the changes-indeed, all 13 of the proposed changes-are not needed and were proposed to weaken and damage the ESS TEKS. The reasons for the proposed changes were to “qualify” the ESS standards and add “humility and tentativeness” to them. These are not good scientific reasons to revise science standards, but just the opposite.

The standards were written by Earth science professionals and experts, but Mrs. Cargill took the advice of two non-Earth scientists to write her changes, Dr. Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute and Dr. Charles Garner of the Baylor University chemistry department. Neither of these two gentlemen is an “expert” in Earth and Space Science as claimed by Mrs. Cargill, and Dr. Meyer is not a scientist at all. To the contrary, both have religious and pseudoscientific agendas that wish to promote Intelligent Design Creationism, a non-scientific doctrine, and their suggestions have that effect on the ESS curriculum, the last one in particular.

Let's examine each revision in turn; the original standard is first, the revision second:

(4) Earth in space and time. The student knows how Earth-based and space-based astronomical observations reveal the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe.
(4) Earth in Space and Time. The student knows how Earth-based and space-based astronomical observations reveal differing theories about the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe.

This revision is scientifically awkward and unacceptable. There is only one scientific theory of the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe: the Big Bang Theory. There are no “differing theories” and it is unscientific to claim that there are. The purpose is to suggest that there are alternative explanations for these phenomena, but the only one is not a scientific theory but a religious one. An acceptable revision would be “The student knows how Earth-based and space-based astronomical observations reveal how the Big Bang Theory explains the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe.”

(5) Earth in space and time. The student knows that Earth's place in the solar system is explained by the solar nebular accretionary disk model.
(5) Earth in Space and Time. The student understands the solar nebular accretionary disk model.

Substituting “understands” for “knows” is acceptable; however, “that the Earth's place in the solar system is explained by” should not be removed, since this explains the context. The list provided to you by Mrs. Cargill was not clear that this phrase would be struck out.

(5)(B) investigate sources of heat, including kinetic heat of impact accretion, gravitational compression, and radioactive decay, which allows protoplanet differentiation into layers;
(5)(B) investigate sources of heat, including kinetic heat of impact accretion, gravitational compression, and radioactive decay, which are thought to allow protoplanet differentiation into layers;

This is a minor change which weakens the standard and is slightly unscientific. Scientists are very, very sure that Earth's internal heat allowed protoplanet Earth to differentiate. Indeed, there is no other known method, and none have been hypothesized, so it is silly and awkward to say that heat "are thought to allow” differentiation, but is not scientifically inaccurate. However, “allows” should be changed to “allow,” since it refers to “sources,” not “heat.” This mistake escaped the grammar checkers.

(6)(D) evaluate how Earth's cooling led to tectonic activity, resulting in continents and ocean basins.
(6)(D) evaluate the evidence that the Earth's cooling led to tectonic activity, resulting in continents and ocean basins.

This change is unnecessary but is not objectionable. It can remain.

(8)(A) evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate and diversity of evolution;
(8)(A) evaluate a variety of fossil types, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits and assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence;

This change is by far the most unscientific revision and is completely unacceptable. This is also an example of hiding the entire revision from the public officials that will make the decision, since several important words were struck by the revision that were not indicated on the list supplied by Mrs. Cargill (but are indicated here). First, transitional fossils are not “proposed.” There is no doubt about their existence; they exist in reality and are well-known by paleontologists, so insertion of the word “proposed” makes that part unscientific, since it suggests a false uncertainty.

Next, the phrase “with regard to their appearance, completeness, and rate of diversity of evolution” should not have been removed since it is essential to the purpose of the standard, which is to evaluate fossils and their evolution. The phrase was removed to specifically weaken and damage the evolution content of the standards, a notorious Creationist goal.

Finally, the phrase substituted for the struck phase is totally unscientific. There are no good arguments in modern science “against universal common descent,” which has been accepted by biologists for over 130 years, so the phrase is asking for something that authors and publishers cannot honestly supply, especially to high school students. The added phrase supports an anti-evolution intent which is not scientific. The original student expectation should be retained, and I strongly urge you to do this. This change in particular will make the entire ESS standards an object of ridicule, since it will reveal that the science standards of Texas are subject to ideological revision by public officials who ignore the good advice of the expert scientists they appointed to write science standards. This would set a poor example for Texas.

Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2009 April 2