Live Blogs of the Texas State Board of Education Meeting
2009 March 25-27
Steven D. Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
2009 March 31
New Reports and Editorials about the SBOE meetings are available from TCS
Official SBOE Minutes are available for March 26 and soon for March 27 from TCS
mp3 audio files of the SBOE meetings are available from Curricublog
Videos of Don McLeroy talking about evolution
National Center for Science Education YouTube Channel
I will be live blogging the Texas State Board of Education meeting of 2009 March 25-27 in this column. This includes the hearing devoted to public testimony beginning at 12:00 noon on Wednesday, March 25. I will stay through the final vote on Friday, March 27.
Go to the following webpages for further information:
State Board of Education
March 25-26 SBOE Meeting Agenda
March 25 Public Hearing with Testimony, 12:00 noon
State Board rules for Public Testimony
Current Science TEKS as revised in 2009 January
State Board of Education live audio feed via the Web
Go to http://www.tea.state.tx.us/ for the link.
Archived Audio Files of State Board of Education Meetings
Archived Minutes of State Board of Education Meetings
Wednesday, March 25, Hearing Room, TEA Travis Building, Austin
12:15 p.m. - I have started the live blogging. Chair McLeroy announced that the Elementary and Middle School education testifiers would go first to save their time, since almost everyone wants to discuss the high school standards and "strengths and weaknesses" (S&W). As it turns out, some of these are Creationists in favor of keeping S&W and the unscientific January amendments.
I participated in the 11:30 a.m. press conference set up by TFN for the scientists and we ended right at noon, so I got a late start. The press conference went well. Speakers included TFN President Kathy Miller, Kevin Fisher, and Drs. Larry Krauss, David Hillis, Ron Wetherington, Gerald Skoog, and myself. Just before our press conference, the Free Market Foundation of Focus on the Family had their press conference. They claimed the scientists were censoring science by not teaching the S&W of evolution! They used the same old tired arguments that we hear all the time. These arguments never get old because they are convincing to people who know nothing about science.
The meeting begins at 12:10 p.m. Don McLeroy is on the far right. Behind him with the red tie is Robert Scott, Commissioner of Education.
Many of the initial testifiers were Creationists who testified that they wanted the phrase S&W put back into the standards. They argued that S&W concerns ALL scientific theories and hypotheses and has been used for two decades with no problems, and that it does not refer to just evolution, so the phrase is scientific and should be included. Of course, these arguments are disingenuous, untrue, and not relevant. S&W has been used over the years to attack only evolution in Biology textbooks. In fact, there have been problems with the language, since Creationists have used S&W to attack science content in science textbooks.
Juli Berwald is a freelance writer for a science textbook publisher. She testified that she knows of no weaknesses for the theory of evolution. This statement brought forth a loud outburst from the many Creationists in the hearing room. McLeroy brought down the gavel and threatened to clear the entire room if this happens again.
Dr. Randy Linder, Associate Professor of Evolution in the UT Austin Department of Integrative Biology, said there is no scientific evidence to support the alleged "weaknesses" of evolution. He urged the SBOE to reject amendments to teach the S&W and accept the science standards as they were originally written.
1:20 p.m. - Kyle Lewellen, Exxon geophysicist and member of the Earth and Space Science writing panel, urged the SBOE to adopt the standards as originally written and not as revised by SBOE amendments in January. He criticized the January amendments made by SBOE member Barbara Cargill, although he did not mention her by name. He was asked specifically about the very bad amendment to 8A which discusses the evolution of fossils. He said specifically that the amended standard should be returned to its original language. But Cynthia Dunbar asked him a series of leading questions about the second verb (assess) added by the Cargill amendment, which Kyle had said should be omitted for proper standard form, and asked Kyle if his preference would be to separate the two verb phrases into separate standards. Kyle correctly stated that his preference was to remove the second phrase added by the Cargill amendment, so attorney Dunbar, sensing a chance to make a duplicitous point, asked him again that if that were not done, would he prefer the two phrases be made into two separate standards. He then said yes.
The second standard would then read: "Assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of the fossil evidence." The problems with this phrase are that there is no scientific evidence against common descent, and fossil evidence is not used to infer common descent. Common descent or ancestry is inferred from the morphological and genetic characteristics of living organisms. The fossil record is too incomplete and coarse to infer common descent from it, although it certainly provides some information about the timing of the splitting of lineages and clades during evolution. After common descent was inferred from living organisms in the nineteenth century, the fossil record was used to help document the descent of fossil-only organisms. Today, the finest resolution of evolutionary descent through life's history for both living and fossil species is made by analysis of molecular genetic sequences of living organisms.
1:35 p.m. - Ray Bohlin, a well-known Dallas Creationist who has his own Christian and Creationist ministry, Probe Ministries, mentioned his science degrees but not what he does to make a living. He spoke about the limits to biological change and argued against evolution. McLeroy quoted Ken Miller, who believes that evolution will inevitably evolve an intelligent organism. He asked Bohlin if he agreed. Bohlin's reply was incoherent. He mentioned that Steve Gould disagreed with Miller's belief. Bohlin quoted Dr. Jerry Coyne that natural selection is a mindless, mechanistic process. Bohlin says that he did not require evolution when he conducted his own graduate biology research, and he claimed this was often the case.
We are taking a 15 minute break at 2:15 p.m. I'm sorry, but I can't write about every speaker. Please listen to the audio stream if you want to hear everything.
2:55 p.m. - I'm back. Barbara Cargill is talking. She is saying once again, as she often does, that she has a science degree, she has taught science, and she wants the best science taught in Texas public schools. Then without a breath she says, "and that's why we want the strengths and weaknesses of evolution taught." Barbara is a Young Earth Creationist who is very anti-science, so her frequent statements to the contrary are curious. The current speaker, whom I came in upon, was in favor of teaching S&W, too. Their argument is that presenting more information to students rather than less is good for education. They neglect to say that presenting false and misleading information to students is a pretty bad and uneducational policy that has no basis in good pedagogy.
3:00 - The current speaker is Mrs. Austen Williams, whose affiliation is "Mrs. Arlington/Mrs. Texas." This beauty pageant queen is in favor of teaching both strengths and weaknesses in high school biology. She said she had only been introduced to S&W last year, and it "changed her life." What precisely she learned, she admitted during questioning, was the concept of irreducible complexity. She was told about the bacterial flagellum and was explained how its interconnected parts could not coexist in useful form outside of the complete structure, so the flagellum is "irreducibly complex." It was apparent that the lovely Ms. Williams has never been informed of the many refutations of this classic ID Creationist argument of Michael Behe's. The counter argument is a key subject in PowerPoint presentations by Kenneth Miller. Just Google "bacterial flagellum irreducible complexity" and you will get thousands of hits, including those by legitimate scientists who refute the ID Creationist claims.
Karen Hewett and a group of five additional science teachers who represent STAT, the Science Teachers Association of Texas, appeared and asked the SBOE to adopt the science standards as written by the science writing panels. Karen Hewett is a past president of STAT. Testifying for her entire group, Karen said that S&W is not a scientific concept. She said biology teachers spend about three days on evolution and teach it as a theory. She said that biology students ask "what if" questions all the time and teachers answer them, but have to eventually limit their responses because of class time. Dunbar asked her if she doesn't have time to teach the gaps in knowledge or unknowns about evolution, and Hewett answered yes, she doesn't have the time. Although she didn't state this explicitly, I think she meant that there is so little time to teach any scientific topic in class that teachers only have the time to teach the highlights, i.e. the strengths or what is really known, about evolution or any other biologic topic. I have been a college and university teacher for 25 years and that is certainly my experience. Time is too limited to go into great detail about many topics, such as evolution, that have great depth and complexity. The unknowns or gaps in knowledge about evolution certainly exist, but deal with topics that are too complex and advanced to be taught to high school students.
Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute was next. He handed out a collection of papers that documented the mistakes in the testimony and writings of Profs. Ron Wetherington and David Hillis. Luskin spoke fast, loudly, and directly into the microphone, so his voice was extremely loud. I will attempt to get a copy of the "documented mistakes" in Wetherington and Hillis's testimony. Luskin's testimony consisted of the same deceptive information and specious arguments he uses in his well-known Creationist blog on the DI's Evolution News & Views. I talked with him later, we traded cards, and he seemed like a nice guy. Perhaps I will talk to him again. I will have to read his blog tonight and see what he wrote about. [Update: I was able to get copies of his "documented mistakes" and will send copies to the professors.]
Dr. David E. Daniel, President of the The Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas (TAMEST) spoke next. Dr. Daniel is also president of UT Dallas although he did not mention this for some reason. He spoke against "strengths and weaknesses" and said that the words give the wrong impression about how science works. Under questioning, Dr. Daniels said that the standards as submitted by the science panels have plenty of room for discussing scientific weaknesses and lack of knowledge. He also said that the words "analyze" and "evaluate" are words widely used in the scientific community, and that when issues in science are analyzed and evaluated the strengths and weaknesses will assuredly come out (if they are really there, of course).
3:38 p.m. - Dr. Alison Henning of Rice University was also a member of the Earth and Space Science standards writing panel. She teaches middle and high school Earth science teachers in Rice's Education School. She testified that the ESS panel members wrote a rigorous and exciting but still reasonable curriculum standards document. These standards were amended in January by the SBOE by five amendments that passed. The ESS panel believes that these amendments were not scientific and need to be revised by additional amendments to bring them back to scientific accuracy. The ESS panel has given the SBOE members a copy of the proposed amendments and requests that they be adopted on Thursday and Friday.
3:42 p.m. - Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education urged the Board to reject the claims of Creationists to add S&W back to the science standards. He also asked them to reject the unscientific amendments made in January to the standards and revert to the original language. Then he presented an inch-thick collection of statements and letters from national and state science associations that support these requests. Perhaps the most important letter was from the American Association for the Advancement of Science which had signatures of dozens of the top scientists in Texas, including some Noble Laureates.
4:17 p.m. - Kelly Coghlan, Christian (and Creationist) Attorney (http://www.christianattorney.com), told us the last bill he wrote (the infamous, unconstitutional, and what will ultimately be rejected by one federal court or another Texas Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, which created a mechanism for religious viewpoint discrimination against students and parents who don't want to hear religious speech at secular public school functions) is now part of Texas Educational Law. He says that the word "weaknesses" is legal, legitimate, and has stood the test of time. It has never been responsible for any problems during its 20 year history. He said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Coghlan says that if the ACLU thought anything was wrong with the S&W language in the science standards, they would have litigated to get it removed years ago. Of course, Coghlan doesn't know what he is talking about. Apparently I know more about First Amendment law than Coghlan does. There are no grounds for litigation if a law or rule sits idle for years and raises no controversy, so the ACLU has had no good reason to challenge the law. Creationists tried to use rule 3A (the S&W standard) in 1997 and 2003 and they failed. If they had succeeded in having biology textbooks censored or rejected, the publishers would have sued using Establishment Clause grounds. The truth about S&W is that the rule sits in the standards unused and inconsequential except when biology textbooks are up for adoption.
The rule is ignored in physics and chemistry textbooks and no one complains. In biology, the rule is invoked only for evolution by demands to include the weaknesses of evolution, and in fact this rule is satisfied when old evolution theories, such as Lamarck's, are used as examples of "weak" evolutionary theories. There are several others in addition to Lamarck's theory, but these are never mentioned in high school textbooks, nor should they. They aren't even covered in university undergraduate and graduate courses, since they are wrong; only historians of science write about them. The rule is unscientific and is only used to attack the evolution content of biology textbooks, so it should be removed, just as the science panels all decided.
Coghlan said, in answer to a comment from Terri Leo, that taking out the word "weaknesses" could likely be illegal and the SBOE and TEA could be sued. He said the State of Texas is about to get into litigation over this issue if you take S&W out. If you can believe this, Coghlan says that Attorney General Greg Abbot, if asked, would say the SBOE would be more likely to be sued if they took the word "weaknesses" out. So he is turning the argument about potential litigation on its head and is now making reverse threats, using the Texas AG to help make them. Instead of saying that he would sue somebody or his usual claim that the ACLU will sue somebody, he is now threatening that some unknown third party will sue the SBOE if they remove S&W. The science side, on the other hand, says that if S&W stays in and it ultimately damages a biology textbook or some other science textbook, there will be litigation.
Coghlan is an aggressive guy. As I was speaking to a SBOE member in private conversation, he butted in between us and began to glad-handle the SBOE member, telling him how much he looked forward to meeting him and that he had heard nice things about him. He asked the SB member to be sure to contact him if he had any legal questions. After he left, the SB member and I had a quiet laugh.
Still later I went up to Coghlan, whom I had never met, and talked about some non-serious things. When I mentioned his Religious Viewpoints Act, however, he became irritated. I merely said I thought it is unconstitutional and will eventually be litigated. At this, his voice became louder and he insisted the bill was fully constitutional. He said it was vetted by all sorts of Constitutional specialists. He also said that the state ACLU officer at the hearing for the bill told him that they should support him because the bill protected religious expression, something the ACLU supports, but that ultimately the state ACLU did not get national ACLU approval to support the bill. I mentioned that I used to be on the Greater Houston ACLU board in the 1980s so I knew something about Establishment Clause law (the primary defense against Creationism in the U.S., so I better know it), and he said, "You guys always threaten to sue." I said that I didn't threaten anything, but that he had just threatened the State Board with litigation earlier this afternoon if they didn't put S&W back in the science standards. This really got him angry and he accused me of breaking up a pleasant conversation. He insisted we shake hands and part without saying a further word, which we did.
Later that evening, by pure coincidence, I went to Scholz Garten for dinner and found the state ACLU mid-legislative session get-together in progress. I joined some old friends there with a beer and mentioned my new Coghlan story to one of the state officers. I was told that what Coghlan told me about the ACLU wanting to support the Religious Expression bill wasn't true. This is just too hilarious.
5:00 p.m. - I have learned that if a motion to amend fails Thursday--which it may because the votes for the two sides will be 7-7--it can be moved again on Friday when all 15 members will be able to vote. Two members will apparently be physically absent Thursday, but one will be able to vote. The other will be able to vote on Friday. (Don't ask me to explain the reasons for this--I don't know). Both will be following the procedures by audio feed and communicate by telephone. The two members (whom I won't name now in case they are able to be present in person later) both have good reasons to be absent, and both are pro-science SB members so we desperately need their votes.
I must tell you frankly--and I said this in my very brief testimony at the press conference--that the vote may be close and I'm not sure how things will turn out. If we lose, the scientists, science teachers, and science textbook publishers will have to reevaluate how they want to teach science in Texas. To me, it is still amazing that we are dealing with religious objections to evolution in 2009. Texas is always a few years behind LA and NYC in fashion, but to be 170 years behind in high school science education is pretty remarkable.
I have also just learned that I will be able to speak under personal privilege of one of the 15 SBOE members. I am far down near the bottom of the 160 person list even though I registered early on Friday morning. Genie Scott and some other individuals who represent science organizations will now get to speak. We were put near the bottom by the mandate of Chair Don McLeroy who didn't want the usual people to speak. So listen for me when my name is announced.
5:20 - Dr. Genie Scott spoke about keeping science standards as written by the science panels. When Genie pointed out that teaching of religion in schools is unconstitutional, SB Member Cynthia Dunbar retorted that inhibition of religion is also unconstitutional. Genie's response: "Yes, that is also true. Does that mean weaknesses are religious?" Laughter was heard, followed by McLeroy: "We ask the questions here."
5:35 - Don Patton, a well-known Young Earth Creationist who thinks the Paluxy River dinosaur tracks near Glen Rose, Texas, in Cretaceous Limestone also contain trails of human tracks, the Giant Man Tracks (note: these are really dinosaur tracks that have been partially filled in so they have an elongate shape with a very superficial human appearance, but no one who knows human anatomy or real human and dinosaur tracks would be fooled). Patton said that "humanistic naturalism" has been defined by the supreme court as a religion, a common Fundamentalist slander. He also said that evolution is a religion, citing philosopher of science Michael Ruse for this. At this point, SB member Ken Mercer told Patton that he has the greatest respect for him and his accomplishments. Michael Ruse is a friend of mine, so I know he does not believe that evolution is a religion or secular humanism is a religion. Humanism could be termed a personal philosophy or worldview, which does share some similarities with religion, but the differences are huge. And evolution is a natural process, not a religion or world view, although some secular worldviews have claimed evolution as an important element of their philosophies. I've often thought that Creationism is the real religion of Creationists, not Fundamentalist Protestant Christianity, since they are obsessed with anti-evolution fervor and devote their lives to misrepresenting science. Creationism, not Christianity, is obviously their object of ultimate concern.
Patton says that several well-known paleontologists question the existence of transitional fossils, including Steven Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge, and Steven Stanley. This is untrue, of course, but Patton loves to tell untruths. He may actually believe them. He said that Steve Gould didn't believe that Archaeopteryx is a transitional fossil. What the late Steve Gould (another and lamentably former friend of mine) really said is that Archaeopteryx may not be a direct ancestor of birds but is a member of the clade that is transitional between dinosaurs and birds. Patton next said that the fossil record mainly consists of "clams, clams, and more clams," which is hilariously untrue, but Patton was serious! SB member David Bradley said that he has been present at many of Don Patton's workshops and presentations and that he has enjoyed them and learned from them. That remark explains a great deal. Don Patton is one of the most ignorant, biased, unscrupulous, untruthful, and anti-scientific Young Earth Creationists in the country. He is on a mission to promote Biblical Literalism and pseudoscience, but David Bradley praises him.
Since I knew Patton from the early days of wide-open Texas Creationism (those were the days, looking for dinosaur and man tracks together on the banks of the Paluxy River!), I talked to him later. I asked if he was still working on the Paluxy and he replied that he hasn't been there in some time. But he said he had some amazing new evidence of human fossils that prove humans lived with dinosaurs. Since I wasn't interested in this (I was tired by this time), I begged off saying, "Don, I don't want to hear it." He probably wanted to tell me about the Mineral Wells man/dino track. I plan to write about this object when I have time in the future.
A Rice University PhD grad named Sara Hicks now gives the most amazing testimony. She is a Creationist who got her PhD in the Rice Dept of Ecology and Evolution. She disagrees with apparently everything she learned at Rice. She says another grad student in the Ecology and Evolution Department was thrown out by the professors and she was frightened that the same could happen to her. Cargill asks her for good "weaknesses" of evolution and all Hicks can think of is peppered moths and Haeckel's embryos. That's really pretty bad; I can think of ten examples. I got my PhD at Rice and many of the professors in this Rice department are friends of mine. I respect them very much. There must be more to this story than what was just related.
I gave my presentation and the three minutes went by much faster than I thought. I just barely got through telling what was wrong with Barbara Cargill's amendment to standard 8A in the ESS TEKS when the bell rang, and I couldn't talk about what was wrong with Don McLeroy's amendment to standard 7B in the Biology TEKS. More tomorrow.
This concludes the live blog for today. The live blog is finished at 6:55 p.m.
Thursday, March 26
9:05 a.m. - I am in Austin and sitting in the hearing room. I will not provide photos unless necessary.
There is a video camera and screen arrangement for Mavis Knight of Dallas to participate using distance technologies. Mavis is in the Dallas Region 10 Educational Service Center which has distance education capability. The TEA tech people have set up a connection to the hearing room. I have never seen this arrangement used before at a SBOE hearing.
McLeroy went directly to item 6, a review of the TEKS process. Anita Givens, the newly promoted permanent Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Instruction and Curriculum, is speaking.
Here's an interesting item. During the meetings of 2008 November and 2009 January, a table was set up in the corner for bloggers to use with their laptops. I actually sat at this table in January for two days. When I arrived yesterday, I noticed the table was gone but didn't know why. Last night I read the Texas Freedom Network's blog that Dan Quinn writes. He mentioned that SBOE Chair Don McLeroy specifically ordered the TEA staff to remove the table. His justification was that some SB members were disturbed by its presence (even though it is far behind them in the back corner), but Dan wrote that he thought it might be that McLeroy and some others didn't like what he was writing about the members, so they wanted to make it more difficult for him. Dan brought a folding coffee table to use for his laptop, so he was not thwarted. I brought a small portable laptop table for my use.
9:25 - All members are present except Mary Helen Berlanga who has a good reason to not be present. I am sure she is listening to the meeting via the web audio feed, but she is not connected with a similar video setup to the one Mavis Knight is using.
Right now, Brooke Dollens of the James Leininger-funded, right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation, a speaker who is defending the free enterprise system is complaining that some key words that support the free enterprise system have been removed from the general TEKS. This brought up a discussion from SB members that "history is being rewritten without notice to SB members" as Ken Mercer put it. He suggested that the original 1997 TEKS be submitted with "proposed amendments" written by TEKS-writing panels, so the SBOE could decide what changes are made to TEKS. The unstated justification for this, of course, is that the seven radical religious right members were very angry that the TEKS revision process allowed the English Language Arts and Science TEKS-writing teams to rewrite the ELA and Science TEKS and then submit them to the SB as a complete document that the Board was then forced to remove items by motions to amend rather than add only the items they want. The extreme right members want to have greater control of Texas educational standards and to make it easier for them to censor the document.
9:50 - I finally made the Big Time! Today the Discovery Institute's Evolution News and Views has finally decided to recognize me with a John West-written column at http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/03/the_evolving_dr_schafersman_ag.html. Needless to say, I am flattered and gratified that my work is finally being noticed by the national Creationist decision makers.
The theme of West's column is that I have been inconsistent in my statements about whether there are really "weaknesses" about evolution, sometimes saying there are and sometimes saying there are not. I will answer his column in more detail later, but right now let me just say that all of the many quotes from me that West assiduously collected, some from 2003, are being interpreted out of context. I do think that I have been completely consistent over the years, but I can understand why John West is confused. The subject of "weaknesses" of evolution or evolutionary theory is complex and difficult.
First, the word "weaknesses" is not a word that scientists use, so attempting to interpret science within a context of "weaknesses" is bound to be fraught with problems. I did the best I could.
Now, let me write this as clearly as possible. I don't believe that scientific theories have weaknesses, because they are constructed of reliable knowledge gained by the testing of scientific hypotheses. However, scientific theories are incomplete, so if someone equates incompleteness with weakness, then I would say that, for them, scientific theories have weaknesses. I don't equate incompleteness with weakness. I look at scientific theories as a glass half full, not half empty.
At the K-12 level and even 13-16 (college undergraduate) level, science is taught at the scientific theory level, so there are no weaknesses with any scientific theory taught or discussed in high school and college. In this context, my statement that there are no "weaknesses" or "controversy involving evolution" is correct. At professional science levels, graduate school and university research, the incompleteness of evolutionary theory is addressed, and here the alleged "weaknesses" (if one wants to equate incompleteness with weakness) are legitimate objects of study. I acknowledge that good students in high school and college can certainly understand and look into the incompleteness of scientific theories.
With regard to scientific hypotheses, these are untested, undergoing testing, or have underwent testing and been rejected or recently corroborated. In all these cases, the hypotheses are controversial and may have weaknesses and problems. Students of high school level and beyond can deal with the weaknesses and controversies of scientific hypotheses, especially student-generated hypotheses. If rule 3A had specified only "scientific hypotheses" for its S&W treatment, I would not have objected to its inclusion.
But rule 3A specifically stated both theories and hypotheses are subject to critique according to their "strengths and weaknesses," and whenever the rule was used by enemies of science to attack evolution, the attack was directed at the scientific theory of evolution, not at legitimately controversial and problematic scientific hypotheses. The long list of evolutionary controversies that West copies from an early presentation of mine all deal with hypotheses that are not yet universally accepted by the scientific community but are currently being investigated and debated.
Once hypotheses have been corroborated and perhaps retested and corroborated by a second lab or investigator, they become part of a scientific theory and I would not think of them as being "weak."
Note added: I thought EN&V recognized me for the first time today, but my friend Josh Rosenau of NCSE, who is here in Austin with Genie Scott, told me that he thought I had been mentioned before in a brief column. Sure enough, on January 20, Robert Crowther at http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/01/dr_schafersman_has_evolved_his.html wrote a paragraph that announces that John West discusses my "evolving" statements and "changing rhetoric" about evolutionary weaknesses in a radio interview with Anika Smith on January 19 at http://www.idthefuture.com/2009/01/the_curious_case_of_the_evolvi.html. I confess that I missed this interview and announcement. My excuse is that I am a working scientist who doesn't have the time to read the IDC blogs such as EN&V systematically as major and professional bloggers do. If I had seen this in January, I would surely have listened to the mp3 file and written a reply. I thank John West for putting his analysis of my "evolving rhetoric" in print for easier access by me. I promise to address it in more detail later, since the subject of weaknesses or controversies involving scientific theories is an important matter.
10:05 - McLeroy has now moved to item 5, the science standards item. Ken Mercer has just made an amendment to return "strengths and weaknesses" (S&W) to the science TEKS. Mercer is now arguing in favor of his amendment. He says that the word "weaknesses" has been good for Texas science education. He now is going through the history of the changes made to the science TEKS over three drafts. In some cases, S&W was changed to "strengths and limitations." He said he has received about 10,000 messages to keep S&W so he has no problem advocating it. He says we heard testifiers and scientists say there questions about evolution. These hundreds of scientists say there are weaknesses and disagreements about evolution. He says there used to be 700 but now 1000 scientists who signed the DI Darwinism statement that say there are problems, weaknesses, and controversies. Mercer names these: the feathered dinosaur out of China, Haeckel's embryos, Piltdown Man, peppered moths, the Cambrian Explosion, microevolution and macroevolution, and similar things. Where have I heard these items before?
Mercer continues with stories about scientists who made the mistake of asking questions about evolution who were fired, denied tenure, dismissed from graduate school, and denied their degree. They felt threatened and intimidated to speak out. He says, "we are no longer living in the United States of America if students can't ask questions about evolution in class without being threatened." I would just like to live in a country--or even a state--where students in class can learn about evolution without it being censored.
We advocates are getting copies of all the proposed amendments as they are being made. Bob Craig in now amending the current language to replace Mercer's with a motion to add a sentence to the current scientifically-appropriate language of rule 3A: "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." The additional sentence is to add, "including discussing what is not fully understood so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Craig's intent is to make it clear that students can discuss and ask questions about any scientific topic, so the word "weaknesses" is not necessary.
Several SB members first pointed out that Mercer's original amendment has inaccurate numbering of sections and an incorrect list of science courses. I noticed this, too, and chalked it up to Mercer's idiocy. He used an old version of the science TEKS to write his amendment, not the one up for consideration and adoption by the SBOE. That's how on the ball he is.
Tincy Miller is now making an impassioned appeal in favor of Craig's amendment. She says that science and religion can coexist successfully. She says she is a Christian who has learned that there are religious scientists who see no barrier between science and religion. She says the word "weakness" has been perverted in the context of science standards. Weakness means imperfect, which is not true of scientific theories. She says that the scientists said they test, evaluate, and analyze everything. Students can ask questions and always have. Next, Mavis Knight is speaking in favor of Craig's amendment. She also said that the word "weaknesses" has had its meaning changed over the years and now means something that attacks science, not promote questioning. Now Pat Hardy is supporting Bob Craig's motion to amend.
Terri Leo is opposing the motion. She says Craig's sentence is ambiguous and lacks specific and direction, totally unlike the word "weaknesses" which in her mind is unambiguous, specific, and gives publishers direction. She directly contrasted the ambiguity of Craig's amended sentence with "weaknesses." Unbelievable.
Lawrence Allen supports the amendment and Cynthia Dunbar opposes it. Dunbar says we have heard in the media that the word "weaknesses" is tainted. Dunbar says she sympathizes with Mrs. Miller's religious beliefs but we can't use that as a justification for our actions. She opposes the motion.
Rick Agosto opposes Craig's motion. His justification is that the "language doesn't feel right. It is not clear, and if it's not clear, it is not science. If I can't understand it, to me it's not science. This amendment does not fit what I feel to be adequate. I think it might lead to discussing intelligent design and creationism in the classroom, which are religious, not testable, and so are not science." So he opposed the amendment. I understand his point of view, which I did not anticipate. I admit I interpreted Craig's language in terms of science class discussion, not religious discussion. Perhaps Craig's motion should have specified "fully understood *in science*."
Mavis Knight is now addressing Craig's motion. She agrees with it, but wants to add "in all fields of science" after "fully understood." So Ms. Knight has exactly amended the motion in a way that specifies science clarifies the context in which the classroom discussion will take place. Needless to say, I fully support this motion to amend, which was accepted as a friendly amendment. Bob Craig's motion to substitute for Mercer's fails 6-8, with Rick Agosto voting No.
Mercer's motion to substitute S&W for the new rule 3A failed 7-7. Rick Agosto voted No for this. These motions will return tomorrow.
11:20 - After a break, the SB is moving to amendments to elementary school TEKS. All of these so far are from Barbara Cargill and do not seem to be controversial. However, I think some of them are unneeded and shouldn't even be considered at this high level. All of her amendments were approved.
There were no amendments to seventh and eighth grades. McLeroy then moved to high school amendments.
12:15 - Gail Lowe had a series of amendments to general science TEKS and a few specific sciences. Most of these are uncontroversial, but one adds "marketing materials" to the sources of scientific information that students can use to communicate and apply scientific information. Marketing materials should not be a source of scientific information for science students. Lowe has an amendment to Environmental Systems that passes without objection. I missed its wording but it was probably not bad.
Surprisingly, Mavis Knight now proposes an amendment to Environmental Systems, inserting this sentence into its standards: "Analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming." This is a really silly and even stupid amendment, since within science there are not now "different views" on global warming. Global warming is a fact. Perhaps she meant to say "anthropogenic global warming" (AGW). When asked to explain her motion, Ms. Knight said simply that there is a controversy about global warming and she believes students in Environmental Systems should discuss it.
Yes, there is a controversy, but it is a public or cultural controversy, not a scientific one, so she is forcing a science textbook to discuss a cultural controversy about climate change. This may actually be a good idea for science, since a textbook or curriculum will now be required to "analyze and evaluate" the many bogus arguments AGW denialists use in their writings and rhetoric. They can address each one and refute it. Once students learn about the good scientific knowledge about climate change, there will be no chance for confusion or non-acceptance of climate change and AGW. This addition to the Environmental Systems TEKS passed by unanimous consent. I'm sure the religious right Republicans on the Board thought it was a gift from heaven, since they have not been attacking climate change, only evolution. [Note added later: I asked some friends where Mavis got this amendment, since it so so silly and unnecessary that she didn't think of it herself. One said that some Dallas oil company executive must have have contacted her and asked her to insert it.]
1:40 - I'm back after the lunch break.
Terri Leo is amending Biology, and McLeroy intends to do so, too. Uh, oh.
Leo's Biology amendment: "(D) analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life."
Bob Craig asked Leo if this amendment has been discussed with any of the six science experts. Her answer was no. The amendment carried 9-5. Agosto and one other member voted with the seven radical religious right members. Once again, a change was made to the Biology standards by a religious right member with no scientific justification from a science expert to support it. On the face of it, the addition does not seem to be bad, certainly not as damaging to science as the two bad amendments made in January, but I am still very unhappy with the process. This is very unprofessional, having non-scientists adding specific standards to the Science TEKS.
Mavis Knight has now made the motion to amend the Biology standards by striking the 7B amendment made two months ago in January by Don McLeroy: "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;" Dunbar and McLeroy both objected to the motion. McLeroy called it a "very excellent standard that deserves to be supported." He mentioned Dr. Genie Scott's criticism of the new 7B standard, McLeroy's "very excellent standard." The vote to remove McLeroy's standard failed 6-7-1, Rick Agosto abstaining. You know where the seven No votes came from. The motion would have failed even if Agosto had voted Yes. We need Rick to vote Yes tomorrow or the science content of the Biology standards will be permanently damaged. The 7B standard is currently most excellently pseudoscientific.
McLeroy has a new standard to put into the Biology's evolution section: "7(G) analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell." This is obviously another Creationist-inspired amendment. McLeroy states that his January amendment was intended to attack what he describes as the first important principle of evolution, common ancestry. Now, he says, he’s going after the second evolutionary principle, natural selection. He says he wants the schools to be “honest” with kids. I think honesty should start at the top, beginning with McLeroy.
McLeroy cites Dr. Bruce Albert's article from 1998, "We have always underestimated cells. But, as it turned out, we can walk and talk, because the chemistry of the cell is much more complex than we ever thought..." This is completely crazy and so unprofessional. Every scientist sees that this is a contrived ploy to insert a pro-Creationist standard that questions the sufficiency of natural selection. This is unscientific on its face. McLeroy is trying to do now exactly what he did in January: get a scientifically-damaging standard inserted into Biology without the chance for any scientist expert review or consultation. This sort of process is just too stupid and unethical for words. All Texas citizens should be ashamed of their anti-science elected representatives on the SBOE.
Bob Craig has suggested a substitute motion: "Analyze and evaluate the evolutionary explanation of the complexity of the cell." McLeroy is speaking against Craig's substitute motion saying Craig's version is not clear and his is supported by Bruce Albert. Pat Hardy says she has received a note from her science expert and he says that natural selection by itself is not sufficient to explain cellular complexity. Other evolutionary processes are involved. Craig's substitute amendment failed 6-8 with Rick Agosto voting No with the seven religious right Young Earth Creationists.
2:20 - Now we have the vote to add McLeroy's unscientific and anti-evolution amendment. The vote is 8-6 to add it, with Rick Agosto voting yes with the seven Religious Right Biblical Literalists. Science is screwed again. We need to reorganize and find out why some normally science-supporting SB members are voting with the YECs to undermine and injure Biology education. If the pro-science faction on the SBOE doesn't stick together, the Creationists will win with their debilitating individual amendments rather than S&W.
2:33 - We now turn to Earth and Space Science. Bob Craig has a single sheet with five different amendments. These are recommended by the ESS TEKS-writing panel. They are available on the TCS website in the ESS Report linked there. Barbara Cargill mentioned me by name and inaccurately said that I wrote the amendments. In fact, the amendments were written by the eight members of the ESS panel using email discussion, and their names are all on the final report. Terri Leo also complained that she hasn't seen these amendments. This is false, too. The SB members got these twice by email before the meeting and in paper form yesterday when Kyle Lewellen testified. He handed out the ESS Final Report on the ESS amendments. This document contained these amendments. Cargill is taking the lead to oppose these amendments, which is understandable since she was responsible for getting the original bad amendments passed in January.
The five amendments are now being voted upon one by one. The first four are minor changes, but the last is of major importance since what Cargill got passed is very unscientific. It literally destroyed the scientific content of the standard by striking its core knowledge requirement. The first of Craig's ESS amendments fails 6-8 with Agosto voting with the right wing YEC Republicans. The second one fails 7-7. Mavis Knight is having trouble getting the amendments since she is in Dallas. She needs to have them faxed to her. Cargill says she wants the standards to suggest humility in what scientists know. She says her wording is better and suggests humility better. The third one fails 7-7. Now Terri Leo is moving an amendment to change "sources of heat" to "thermal energy sources" that passed without objection. The fourth ESS/Craig amendment passes without objection. Wow. It removed the article "the" from in front of "Earth."
Now we come to standard 8A, which is grossly unscientific since it suggests that there is fossil evidence against universal common descent. This is doubly wrong, since fossils do not provide evidence for or against common descent and there is no other evidence against common descent. The amendment fails 6-8, with Agosto again voting no with the seven Biblical Literalist Republicans.
Barbara Cargill now has some more nasty amendments to ESS. As usual, she is springing them on the SBOE members and public at the last minute without any explanation, preparation, or expert evaluation. She will need a majority vote to get these passed, and she hopes to blindside her fellow Board members just as she did in January. Cargill exploits their good will be deliberately misleading them about the scientific support her new amendments have. Will Agosto give the Republicans the vote they need to further damage ESS?
Ms. Cargill begins her amendment effort by commenting on criticism of her made by me, although she doesn't mention me by name. In January, Cargill presented her 13 amendments to her fellow Board members without allowing them any prior notice or opportunity to consult their science experts. One of the most duplicitous things she did, though, was conceal from them the fact that her amendments stripped some of the original wording without indicating that some words would be removed. Her list of amendments failed to include strike-throughs of the words to be deleted. Instead, they were just omitted without indication. I consider this highly unethical. Perhaps the most egregious example was the deletion of the core requirement of standard 8A. Cargill commented that she had been accused of being deceptive in January when she presented amendments just as she is doing now. She said she rejects this claim and states that she was not being deceptive. This is her defense? A simple claim that she is innocent. I was the one who previously accused her of being deceptive, so I will repeat: Barbara Cargill was deceptive, duplicitous, and unethical in January when she presented amendments without revealing that she was secretly stripping important language from the amendments. I don't know how she can live with herself. This is not only poor scholarship but unethical conduct.
I can't get a copy of these amendments right now. However, the first one she wants is to strike the current standard for the Big Bang and remove the 14 billion year old age from it. She says she wants teachers to tell students that there are different estimates for the age of the universe. What would these be? 13.7 billion years and 10,000 years? She is promoting a Young Earth Creationist view, of course. Many times in the past the SBOE has changed standards and textbook content that mention millions and billions of years to simply "a long time ago."
Cargill wants to substitute a standard from Astronomy that simply adds, "and current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe" to the Big Bang standard 4A. This Astronomy standard is poor in several ways: it is vague, it is non-specific, there is only one current theory for the origin of the universe, and there is currently a well-established consensus that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, so there are not multiple "estimates." It is sad that the astronomy teachers came up with such an incompetent standard, and now it is being inflicted on ESS. Cargill's amendment that strips a very ancient number of years and replaces it with vague "estimates" that are equivocal about the age of the universe.
While speaking for her amendment, Cargill says she "has no intention of opening the door to teaching Creationist ideas about the age of the universe." Yeah, right. Next, she made a Freudian slip and her secret intentions were revealed. She said "universal common design" when she meant to say "universal common descent." Her unfortunate amendment passes by a vote of 11-3, with only Knight, Miller, and Nunez voting no. So the SBOE holds true to its wonderful tradition of stripping any date older than 10,000 years from science standards!
Cargill has a second amendment to ESS. I still do not have a copy of her amendments. Is she keeping them hidden from the public? And she and Leo had the gall to complain that they only just now got the ESS amendments from the ESS panel that Craig presented, when in fact they got them several times, including on paper on Wednesday. Her motion is to add "thought to have occurred" to 6A about the formation of the solar system, in order to increase "scientific humility" about how the solar system formed. This absurd amendment passes 10-4. Frankly, Ms. Cargill, we scientists don't want your help to be humiliated by having perfectly acceptable and legitimate science standards meddled with by inserting unscientific qualifiers.
I now have a copy of the amendments after two have already passed. Also, none of these have been reviewed by any scientific expert or been able to address the Board about them. Their form this time is semi-acceptable. They show the inserts with underlines but do not show the removals with strike-throughs, but in this case the current standard is printed above the proposed one so a comparison is possible, and this is acceptable form. This was not the case in January. Only her bad replacements were provided and Board members could not compare hers with the originals.
The third one is not bad: it substitutes different language for the radiometric dating standard 7B that simply re-arranges the words in a not-harmful way. It passes 8-6, with Agosto voting with the unmagnificent seven. It is amazing that an amendment that adds "humility" to a scientific educational statement passes by a greater vote margin than one that simply rearranges words. It seems that people other than Ms. Cargill and her cronies want scientists to be more humble when discussing physical theories of stellar system formation.
Cargill's fourth and last ESS amendment adds the words "given the complexity of living systems" to the conclusion of the origin of life standard 13F. This minor qualification passed 9-5 with Agosto and one other voting with the Republicans. I guess I should be grateful that Cargill didn't just make a motion to delete the entire origin of life standard. Perhaps she will try that on Friday. With the way our "pro-science" members are voting, it would pass.
The State Board is done damaging science standards for today and now turns to other business. What new damage will occur tomorrow? Our fate lies not in the stars, but in ourselves, or more specifically, in the ignorant, duplicitous, and aggressive anti-evolutionists on the SBOE. This live blog is now ended for the day. It is 4:00 p.m.
Friday, March 27
Good morning. The live blog is now in progress. I am in Austin and the first item on the agenda will be science standards. Much needs to be done.
9:05 a.m. - Right now, some high school students are singing. The first 15 minutes of every official SBOE meeting on Friday always starts off with a student performance, then the pledge to American and Texas flags, then a prayer. I will be sure to let you know if the prayer is to Jesus as God. In my experience, it always has been in the past, and that's 29 years of experience. If there is ever a Jewish or Unitarian Invocation, I will fall out of my chair. [Update, 2:20: Commissioner of Education Robert Scott just walked up and told me that the SBOE actually had an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi present the invocation ten years ago. I asked about a Unitarian minister, and Bob told me he is working on that!]
I am sitting right next to Dan Quinn and Ryan Valentine of Texas Freedom Network. Dan writes the TFN live blog of the SBOE meetings and does an excellent job. I think our two blogs complement each other, since we often write about different things.
9:15 - Chair McLeroy calls the meeting to order. Gail Lowe gives the Invocation and prays "in Jesus' name." Why didn't I foresee this? Ms. Lowe did ask God to help the Board members make good decisions that help Texas students to succeed, and I certainly hope God grants that prayer. If He/She/It does, all the anti-evolution amendments passed yesterday will be removed today. And if God is really generous, He will fill the hearts of the Texas legislators with the idea to strip the SBOE of its authority to write academic standards and adopt textbooks. Then perhaps the students of Texas will begin to get an adequate education that gives them the accurate and reliable scientific knowledge they will need to succeed.
I have been in communication with several SBOE members this morning to shore up support for our amendments. Our science coalition has submitted five amendments, three for Biology that strike the two McLeroy amendments and the one Leo amendment to the evolution section that damage evolution and promote Creationism and two for ESS that amend the Cargill amendments that damage fossil evolution and the origin of the universe in unscientific ways that can promote Creationism.
9:45 - The chair now calls for a late agenda item that changes how the SBOE can be petitioned by the public.
9:48 - Now we go to the science standards item. It is agenda item 3.
Cynthia Dunbar makes a motion to the science standards that will revise standard 3A in a very complicated way. The motion adds the words "critique" and "evidence that is supportive and not supportive" to encourage critical thinking among students."
Dunbar is inserting the word "critique" so that rule 3A reads "analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing by examining scientific evidence that is both supportive and not supportive of those scientific explanations to encourage critical thinking by the student." The words "supportive and not supportive" are the unscientific aspect of this amendment. Dunbar supported her amendment by making the false claim that the legislative intent of removing "strengths and weaknesses" will make the SBOE subject to litigation. This argument is legal nonsense and Dunbar knows it. The SBOE is not a legislative body and removing words is not illegal; it is the Board's job. She made this mendacious argument to scare her fellow Board members. How unethical.
Bob Craig proposes to amend Dunbar's 3A amendment to read "analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations in all fields of science by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observation testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." This language would substitute for Dunbar's "supportive and not supportive etc." I am not opposed to this language at first glance. It is an unnecessary compromise, but Bob Craig and the other two pro-science Republicans need a compromise for political reasons, since their own party condemned them. I can understand that. I think this will probably pass, so the concise, excellent, and scientific language that the science panels all agreed to will be replaced by unnecessary, lengthy, and repetitive language.
Dunbar says she supports Craig's amendment to substitute language which is a nice gesture and unprecedented, too. Mary Helen Berlanga spoke against the proposed amendment for precisely the reasons I mention above. Mercer said he does not support it--he wants S&W. Tincy Miller said she supports Craig's motion because she wants a compromise. Allen supports Craig's motion to substitute. Mavis Knight supports Craig's compromise amendment. She said she appreciated Dunbar's support of Craig's amendment and that this is first time she has experienced statesmanship from the other side. At this, McLeroy cut her off and castigated her for addressing the conduct of other members and told her this is unacceptable.
Leo and Cargill want to switch the phrase "in all fields of science" to the beginning of the standard. Cargill says "I am thinking with the mind of a science teacher and a science teacher would want the words "in all fields of science" at the beginning." She is certainly thinking in the mind of someone but it is not a science teacher. The original wording is fine, and in fact the phrase could be completely omitted because this is, after all, the SCIENCE STANDARDS.
The motion to move the phrase "in all fields of science" to the beginning of Craig's amendment passes 11-4. Now the vote for Craig's amendment: the voice vote carries with only Ms. Berlanga voting no. So Bob Craig's compromise language substitute language is now official. Now the vote to actually change standard rule 3A in the TEKS with Craig's amended language passes 13-2 with only Nunez and Berlanga voting no. Now we have a much longer and awkward standard 3A that is much better than ones that contain the "strengths and weaknesses" or "strengths and limitations" or "supportive and not supportive" unscientific qualifying language that allows anti-scientific information into textbooks and curricula. Of course, the new language can be read in a way ("all sides of scientific evidence") that will permit anti-evolution Creationists to attack Biology textbooks, and they most certainly will in 2011. But they would attack the textbooks no matter what the language was, using language inserted into the evolution section by McLeroy or Leo. This rule 3A compromise will allow both sides to claim victory.
The problem was that SB members on the pro-science side were concerned that Cynthia Dunbar's very bad amendment of 3A would pass and that Craig's revised language might be acceptable to her. It was. Bob Craig's compromise language is much better than Dunbar's "compromise" language, since it doesn't contain "supportive and not supportive," although it does contain "all sides." The good thing about Bob Craig's successful compromise amendment is that he inserted "SCIENTIFIC evidence of those SCIENTIFIC explanations" into the compromise language. We will be able to argue that the Creationist biology textbook criticisms and proposals for change and additions in 2011 are not SCIENTIFIC. Of course, that's what we argued in 2003 when we had "strengths and weaknesses," so I guess not much has changed.
There is now a really stupid argument among SBOE members about how the scientific community has been inconsistent and asked for this change and then that change, and then changed their minds and couldn't communicate with us consistently. This is really a slander. The scientific community was totally consistent from the beginning since we asked for only one thing: adopting the science standards as written by the official TEA and SBOE-appointed science panels. We had to ask for changes AFTER the rightwing Biblical Literalist SBOE member made changes to those standards. We would like the amended standards to be changed back to the original version. Just now we experienced contentious rule 3A being changed by the Board in a completely unnecessary and inferior way and against the scientific community's interest and desire. The rule 3A as written by the science panel members was fine.
11:30 - Mavis Knight proposes an amendment to add a new rule 4A to the science standards for Grade 4. This new language is from the TEA science staff. Unfortunately, there are several pages of these amendments coming up at the very last minute. This is totally ridiculous. This stuff should have been changed months ago. I have a copy of all the TEA-recommended changes and they are both minor and good, but they are coming up at the last minute with no expert review or supporting testimony. Rick Agosto is rightly complaining about this process using these very reasons. The vote fails 5-7-3. SBOE members are angry at the TEA science staff.
12:05 - We just had a much-need 20-minute break. I heard a rumor that an agreement had been made between some Board members that in return for the religious right's support for the Craig compromise amendment for rule 3A, the five amendments to change or strike the bad Biology and ESS amendments would be dropped. I was also told that this is an untrue rumor and that the amendments will be made. [Update: the rumor was untrue.]
McLeroy is now going up through the grades for amendments. The many TEA staff amendments are no longer being proposed. I think they received a talking-to from a senior TEA official for coming up with a long list of small amendments on Friday of final SB meeting. As I said, this was not the way to conduct this process. Those small changes, all good suggestions from individuals who sent in proposed changes, are months late.
Well, I'm wrong. Barbara Cargill is now proposing a small wording change directly from the TEA list of suggested changes. So I guess the editing process is continuing. Mrs. Berlanga is now criticizing bringing up small changes at the last minute when other SB members made that same argument for an amendment by Ms. Knight. This process is getting sillier and sillier.
12:20 - Another small amendment to grade 6 was approved.
12:35 - Lawrence Allen now makes the motion to strike Biology 7B, the unscientific amendment McLeroy won in January. This is the amendment that attacks common ancestry and suggests that there is fossil evidence that contradicts common ancestry. Readers will recall that McLeroy ran off a 15-minute list of books he claimed to have read and quotes from those taken out of context, but which he completely misinterpreted. McLeroy is speaking against the current amendment. He says that young rocks have simple organisms and older rocks have more complex organisms, but I think he has it backwards and he's wrong in any case, since even old rocks have complex organisms and young rocks have simple ones. He says students have no trouble understanding this material. He says fossil charts have vertical lines with no changes, so stasis is evidence against evolution. The Cambrian explosion is evidence against evolution, McLeroy says. All the phyla appeared quickly and this is evidence against evolution. When groups appear, they appear suddenly and then don't change through time, and McLeroy says this is evidence against evolution. This is all perfidious nonsense, of course, and a total Creationist misrepresentation of Eldredge and Gould's hypothesis of punctuated equilibria.
More McLeroy quotes: "The strongest evidence that evolution has occurred is the sequential nature of groups in the fossil record. The young [he means old] rocks have simple organisms. As rocks get older, I mean younger, they have more complex organisms. It is so reasonable to assume that simple life gradually changed to [higher life]. The fossil record has vertical lines. There are two patterns that do not support evolution: the sudden appearance of fossils and stasis. The objective data shows [evolution did not occur]. We have to be honest with students who study science. The fossil record both supports and does not support evolution. Stasis is data. They [scientists] use little dashed lines to connect fossils, but what should we see? Darwin said we should see fossils. This [inclusion of sudden appearance and stasis] is an excellent standard. This is scientific. The fossil record still has problems. The fossil record both supports evolution and does not support evolution. We need to be honest with our kids."
It is clear, with several explicit statements, that McLeroy's standard 7B was inserted specifically to attack evolution and this will be excellent evidence if a court trial is ever warranted. The litigation issue would arise if a textbook publisher's Biology textbook did not contain a discussion of stasis, sudden appearance, the Cambrian explosion, and similar arguments presented in a way that appear to be against evolution (and thus support Creationism), and the book is rejected or the publisher is told to change his text and refuses to do so. If a publisher's financial livelihood was threatened by being forced to include untrue pseudoscientific information in its textbook, it would be able to sue the TEA and SBOE. Of course, sudden appearance, stasis, the Cambrian explosion, and similar arguments involving the fossil record that Creationists use can be explained using evolution and geology. The problem is that McLeroy has read so much Creationist literature that says that these features of the fossil record disprove evolution, not support it, and he believes the Creationist literature rather than the paleontologists who state the opposite. Steve Gould was constantly invoked by Creationists because his Punctuated Equilibria model appeared to them to support Creationism, not evolution, although Gould consistently used his model in an evolutionary context. Furthermore, Gould wrote several essays objecting to the Creationist misuse of PE and forcefully said that PE is completely consistent with evolution.
McLeroy is so stupid--he is using old Creationist arguments that have been refuted decades ago. He invoked the name and quotes of Steven Jay Gould totally out of context and in very scientifically inaccurate ways. McLeroy again says his amendment is a "very excellent amendment" that is worthy of keeping in the science standards to be honest to students. The usual SBOE members are for and against the amendment to strike McLeroy's original amendment: the Biblical Literalist YECs oppose it and the pro-science members support it.
Rick Agosto is speaking now. He says citizens are putting a wedge between this Board to achieve what they want, as opposed to what this Board is trying to do to create TEKS to help our children learn the best way they can. He is saying that citizens on both sides, science and pseudoscience, are to blame for the problems he has been experiencing. He has listened to the "experts" and is not supporting the amendment. I assume he means Allen's amendment to strike, so if Agosto votes against Allen's amendment, McLeroy's incredibly stupid and pseudoscientific amendment that attacks evolution will stay in. We will have to see what happens. Once again, Rick Agosto is the swing vote, and if he votes with the radical religious right Republicans we are doomed.
McLeroy is now quoting from Wonderful Life by Steven Jay Gould. McLeroy says he likes to read Gould, but apparently he does so without any real understanding, since all of his remarks are confused and unscientific. His quote concerns Gould's claims that Walcott interpreted the Burgess Shale fossils due to his preconceived conceptions. Now he quotes Niles Eldredge that saltation of fossil evolution is present. McLeroy says the quote made by the 21st Century Science Coalition that "evolution is vital for the study of life" is false. McLeroy says that evolution is only necessary for those professors in the Department of Integrative Biology! McLeroy says "genetics is vital for the study of life, not evolution." He says that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of genetics, not evolution, using Dobzhansky's famous aphorism incorrectly. McLeroy says genetics goes back to a Christian monk (Mendel), while evolution goes back to Darwin who was not a Christian, so that in his mind explains the relative value of genetics and evolution. McLeroy says you can't trust the experts, meaning the scientists at Texas universities who repeatedly testified against him and his stupid amendment to damage the biology standards. He specifically says: "I disagree with these experts. Someone has got to stand up to experts."
The vote to strike 7B is 8-7, so we WON! This is terrific. The very bad and unscientific 7B is gone from the Biology standards. Rick Agosto voted yes. When he said he opposed the amendment, he was referring to McLeroy's original amendment, not Allen's amendment to strike. I am very grateful that Mr. Agosto is voting with the science supporters. He should be commended and thanked, as I did in person soon after the vote.
1:30 - We had a break for lunch. Dunbar now makes a motion to insert a revised version of 7B that omits the word "insufficiency." This is somewhat controversial since it is practically the same as the version just defeated. But Dunbar wants to play scientist just as McLeroy does. Bob Craig now makes an amendment to change the wording of Dunbar's motion in a way that doesn't sound too bad. I will have to get a copy of it. The vote to change the language passes on a voice vote. Now we have this as the Craig-amended Dunbar amendment: "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data about sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." The motion passes 13-2. This poorly-worded standard is now going to be part of the Texas science standards.
Although I will say that this substituted standard is much better than the original version, it is still bad because it is incomplete. Fossils show gradual and transitional changes in addition to stasis and sudden appearance. Fortunately, the "sequential nature of groups in the fossil record" can be used to discuss evolutionary changes of fossil life in some detail, including both gradual and transitional fossils, a simple to more complex pattern, and the true reasons why many, indeed most, fossils show a sudden appearance and stasis pattern: the incomplete nature of fossilization, allopatric speciation, and stabilizing selection. This could be an advantage. But of course Creationists will use the new 7B to push for ID Creationism in Biology textbooks. It will be up to Biology textbook authors and publishers to keep their books scientific. Will they do it?
Lawrence Allen now moves to strike Biology 7G, a very unscientific and pro-Intelligent Design Creationist amendment put in the standards yesterday by McLeroy. This is the one that says, "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell." Gail Lowe gives a specious argument that the 7G standard evaluates natural selection, not the complexity of the cell. Bob Craig intends to move a new amendment when this one is defeated: "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell." The vote to strike 7G is 8-7, so 7G is out. Now Bob Craig's substitute language is proposed as a motion. This compromise amendment that asks students to study scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell passes 13-2. I'm very happy, again, that Craig's amendment uses the term "scientific explanations," since that will hopefully eliminate Creationists and anti-evolutionist explanations. Of course, the ID Creationists will insist that their critiques or "weaknesses" that claim evolution is incapable of explaining the complexity of the cell are fully scientific. McLeroy thanks the Board members for their vote to approve his pro-Creationist standard in a highly-attenuated form. Again, Intelligent Design Creationists will use even this highly-modified version to try to insert their pseudoscientific claims. Also again, this substitute standard is much better than the original anti-scientific one, but still bad because it is vague, ambiguous, incomplete, and its purpose is to suggest a failure of scientific explanations of cell complexity. Publishers will have to find language to present this topic scientifically, which I am sure they can do if they are properly motivated.
2:05 - Lawrence Allen now moves to strike standard 9D added by Terri Leo yesterday. This is the one that says, "analyze and evaluate the evidence regarding formation of simple organic molecules and their organization into long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life." This standard is awkwardly-worded and too advanced for high school students, but is not egregious. If it remains, it will not be the end of the world. The topic is relevant but quite advanced. Very good high school biology and chemistry students should be able to handle it, but most won't unless it is presented at a very low level. Leo et al. want it in because they think it supports Creationism, of course; they think that the information in DNA cannot get their by natural means, i.e. by evolution, but must have been put there by an Intelligent Designer. It does not belong in an introductory Biology course, but if more accurately written the standard would be acceptable. Furthermore, the topic itself is legitimate and authors and publishers can write about DNA's information content in completely scientific ways.
For some reason, Rick Agosto says that the pro-science Biology coalition (TCS, TFN, and NCSE) says that it will be okay to adopt this standard as written. He must have gotten this false notion from me, unfortunately. He asked me about it and I gave him my personal opinion. I said that I personally, not the coalition (and I was clear about this), don't think this amendment is so bad (as I wrote above). It is too advanced, but it is not unscientific. I am aware that Leo proposed this new standard to suggest that science can't explain DNA information and cell complexity. She is wrong, of course. The motion to strike fails 5-10. Standard 9D is now part of the state Biology standards. Good textbook publishers can use it to present more information about evolution and the origin of life. I really doubt any will use it to insert Creationists material. Of course, the presence of the 9D standard will be used to push for ID Creationism in biology textbooks (e.g., "Where is the information about the intelligent design of information in complex molecules such as DNA!!"). Publishers will have to resist the pressure to insert Creationist discussions of this topic. Will they?
Rule 3A and the three poorly-written Biology amendments will be used by Intelligent Design Creationists in 2011 to attack the Biology textbooks and attempt to insert IDC pseudoscience into the texts. A complete victory for us would be to have the original science panel-written rule 3A remain and the three bad Biology amendments stricken, but we accomplished none of those. Rule 3A was revised and the two worst Biology amendments were revised. One Biology amendment--the least egregious--was passed as originally written by Terri Leo. I think good Biology textbook authors and publishers can used these new amendments to put even more information about evolution in their texts, and I hope they do. Of course they will be attacked during the Texas adoption process, but they would be anyway no matter what the standards read.
It should be clear to readers that the Young Earth Creationists/Biblical Literalists on the SBOE successfully revised and inserted amendments that will wait, mole-like, until they are needed in 2011 to attack the Biology textbooks that are submitted for state adoption. If Biology textbook publishers and authors resist this pressure, their texts will be good. If not, they won't. It's now up to them. What we (TCS, TFN, and NCSE) accomplished was to keep the really egregious language out that would force textbook publishers to insert anti-evolution and pro-ID Creationism material. I consider this a minor victory. A complete victory for science would have been to have the original science panel-written TEKS adopted without SBOE member-revision. But we didn't have the votes for that. Too many nominally pro-science members wanted to compromise to save their political skins. Frankly, I sympathize with them, but this bad process exists because of the control of the Texas Republican Party by Fundamentalists and the Religious Right and by the gerrymandering of SBOE districts to give the Radical Religious Right so many seats on the SBOE.
2:35 - We have now moved to Earth and Space Science. Bob Craig has two motions to amend the current ESS standards. These two are the same as two yesterday that narrowly failed. I hope they will pass today. The first amendment is to strike the words "differing theories about" and insert "information about" in ESS standard 4 that deals with the structure, scale, composition, origin, and history of the universe. This standard was written by the ESS science panel to correct the unscientific change made by Barbara Cargill in January. Dunbar (or is it Leo) says that the "differing theories" comes directly from the College Readiness Standards. I will have to check that, but I tend to doubt it. [Update: the word "theories" is really there and no doubt refers to two cosmic theories, the Big Bang and the Steady State theories. The Steady State Theory was rejected decades ago and scientists ignore it today, which is why the ESS standards just mention one "theory."] But her argument succeeds. The vote to change the few words in this standard fails 7-8, with Rick Agosto voting with the Biblical Literalist Young Earth Creationist Republicans. So this standard remains the same, and I am disappointed that Rick voted no on this, but he later explained his reason (he "was fine with the original language"). Fortunately his votes for Biology were good and the worst anti-scientific language there was removed. We will have to live with this scientifically incorrect standard 4, which is a high-level Knowledge and Skill.
Next up is the very, very bad ESS standard 8A, inserted by Cargill in January. It read "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." Bob Craig was going to propose that it be returned to the original standard that read, "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." Surprisingly, instead of Bob Craig making his second motion, Cynthia Dunbar moves a substitute standard 8A: "evaluate a variety of fossil types, transitional fossils, proposed transitional fossils, fossil lineages, and significant fossil deposits with regard to their appearance, completeness, and alignments with scientific explanations in light of this fossil data." With the exception of the missing "rate and diversity of evolution," this substitute is not bad, although I am not sure what the phrase "alignments with scientific explanations" is supposed to refer to, since it is not a phrase used in this context.
This amendment to 8A immediately passes 9-6 with only a little debate by Terri Leo who disagreed with Cynthia Dunbar. I hope they are still friends. I don't know why Bob Craig did not make the motion to revert 8A back to the original, since I know for a fact that we had the 8 votes to do that. The original matched with the College Readiness Standards and had the words "rate and diversity of evolution." Did Craig and Dunbar strike a deal? Did she tell him she wanted to propose a compromise amendment that should be acceptable to all? If so, then Bob was misled, because even though the very bad phrase "assess the arguments for and against universal common descent in light of this fossil evidence" was fortunately removed, the e-word was removed, too. Perhaps he didn't realize that Dunbar's "compromise" language was not identical to the original. Standard 8A was supposed to be the standard that dealt with fossil evolution, and now the word "evolution" is missing from the standard. This is not an improvement, although I think authors and publishers will know what to include. I can only conclude that the pro-science side, yet again, was out-flanked and manipulated by the seven Biblical Literalists on ESS standard 8A. I think Dunbar knew that the other side was going to vote 8-7 to change it back to the scientifically-accurate language and worked out a deal with Bob Craig to let her make her "compromise" amendment instead, thus succeeding in slightly damaging a good standard. Bob Craig did not have to compromise on this one, and he did not get a compromise that was fair to science. Our side's only consolation is that we got rid of the "arguments for and against universal common descent" language.
4:05 - The science standards are adopted 13-2, with only Members Mary Helen Berlanga and Rene Nunez voting no. Bless their hearts, they were the only two who held the line to support good science and vote against the standards with the several bad ones inserted by the SBOE. They told me they would have voted to accept the science standards submitted by the science panels, but not now with the new damaging ones forced into the standards by McLeroy, Cargill, Dunbar et al. These two deserve the praise and support of all Texans.
You may be wondering about the other two January ESS amendments by Cargill and the four ESS amendments she made on Thursday. These six were not as bad as the two above, and I made the decision to not oppose them and attempt to change them today. If we had tried, I don't think we had the votes to change them. I concentrated on the two worst ones. I wrote in detail about the amendments yesterday, so you can use your own judgment about this. I realize that the age of the universe "14 billion years" was removed from one standard, but this is a minor flaw that I didn't want to waste influence to try to change. As it turned out, I apparently had little influence to change the two I wanted in the best way. I am certain that the pro-science side would have lost the six additional ESS amendments if we tried to change them back. We just were not able to keep our 8-person pro-science coalition together for every vote. Too many felt compelled to compromise.
What is the bottom line? Did we win or lose? Neither. We got rid of the worst language, but a great deal of qualifying language remains. I am not going to claim either victory or defeat. I realize that Casey Luskin of Discovery Institute will declare complete, unqualified victory, but it is not that for them. Neither is it for us. The standards adopted were generally good, but there are several that are flawed, fortunately most in minor ways that textbook authors and publishers can deal with. I think we can work around the few flawed standards. But the point is that there shouldn't be ANY flawed standards. The science standards as submitted by the science writing teams were excellent and flaw-free. All the flaws were added by politically unscrupulous SBOE members with an extreme right-wing religious agenda to support Creationism.
This will become apparent in 2011 when the Biology textbooks come up for adoption. Rule 3A and several other poor amendments in Biology--all the contribution of SBOE members who know nothing about science but a lot about pseudoscience--will be used to attack Biology textbooks. Cynthia Dunbar said so: "All we need is Rule 3A as now written and we have everything we want" (I am paraphrasing, but she said this in so many words). Texas Readers, this is not the way to develop educational policy in one of the most wealthy and powerful states in the most wealthy and powerful country in the world in the 21st century. The process you just experienced, by reading my live blog columns, was deplorable and should be deeply embarrassing to every Texas citizen.
The policy (science standards) that resulted are not the best they could be. They are acceptable but could have been pseudoscience-free and Creationism influence-free. However, I can also say the standards could have been much worse. The votes were so close, and several members switched their votes back and forth several times, sometimes voting with the anti-science radical right wing members and sometimes with the pro-science members, that anything could have happened. I suppose I should be grateful the results are not worse.
I am happy the process is over but only because I am tired. I will write some more about the science standards later on the Texas Citizens for Science website. But for now, this live blog is finally ENDED.
Texas Citizens for Science Last updated: 2009 March 31