News Articles about the 21st Century Science Coalition

Compiled by Texas Citizens for Science
2008 October 4

Scientists unite for science curriculum

By KELLEY SHANNON
Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
Sept. 30, 2008, 4:54PM
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/6032587.html
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/100108dntexscicurriculum.546c30.html

AUSTIN -- Scientists from Texas universities on Tuesday denounced what they called supernatural and religious teaching in public school science classrooms and voiced opposition to attempts to water down evolution instruction.

The newly formed 21st Century Science Coalition said so far it has 800 members who have signed up online.

"Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education," said David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin.

The State Board of Education is considering new science curriculum standards. It is expected to vote next spring. Because Texas is such a large purchaser of textbooks, its ongoing science debate affects textbooks nationwide.

An academic work group proposed that Texas standards for biology courses eliminate the long-held language of teaching students the "strengths and weaknesses" of theories.

The science coalition supports that language change because it says talking of "weaknesses" of evolution allows for religion-based concepts like creationism and intelligent design to enter the instruction. The Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based group that says it monitors the influence of the religious right, also praises the proposed language change.

But they say they fear State Board of Education members, led by chairman and creationist Don McLeroy, will switch the language back before the final vote.

Even at Baylor University in Waco, the world's largest Baptist university, professors don't teach creationism because it's not based on science, said Richard Duhrkopf, an associate professor of biology.

"We shouldn't be teaching the supernatural in science classrooms," Duhrkopf said. "It's time to keep religion and faith in the Sunday schools and not in the public schools."

McLeroy denies he is trying to force religion and the supernatural into Texas schools.

"I'm getting sick and tired or people saying we're interjecting religion," he said. "We're certainly not interjecting religion. Not at all."

McLeroy says he supports restoring the "strengths and weaknesses" language and said working groups left some form of that language in the proposed standards for chemistry and astronomy. He also said he supports the "testable explanations" approach advocated by the National Academy of Sciences.

"Texas students need to understand what science is and what its limitation are," McLeroy said Tuesday, repeating part of an opinion piece he wrote in August. "I look at evolution as still a hypothesis with weaknesses."

Federal courts have ruled against forcing the teaching of creationism and intelligent design. So teaching the strengths and weaknesses of theories such as evolution has become "code" for pushing religion-based ideas in schools, said Dan Quinn, spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network.

"It's time for the State Board of Education to listen to experts instead of promoting their own personal and political agendas," Quinn said.

On the Net:
21st Century Science Coalition at http://www.texasscientists.org/
State Board of Education at http://www.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/index.html

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Group urges no politics, religion in science curriculum

By GARY SCHARRER
San Antonio Express-News
Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Sept. 30, 2008
http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/29983229.html
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/moms/6033188.html

AUSTIN -- A coalition of Texas scientists warned the State Board of Education Tuesday not to inject politics or religion into new science guidelines for public schools.

The group worries that social conservatives on the 15-member board will insist that public schools teach the "weaknesses of evolution." The board plans to adopt new science curriculum standards next year.

"We are here to support and promote strong, clear, modern science education in Texas schools," said David Hillis, professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin. "Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education."

But it's important for Texas biology teachers to explain the strengths and weaknesses of various theories, including biology, said the board's chairman, Dr. Don McLeroy, R-Bryan.

A panel of experts recently recommended the "strengths and weaknesses" provision remain in astronomy and chemistry but be removed from the updated science curriculum.

"We will probably put it back in," McLeroy said. "If it's viable for astronomy and chemistry, it's good enough for biology."

Disputing the scientists, McLeroy, a dentist, said there are a number of weaknesses in the theory of evolution, citing fossil records as an example.

"It's strong evidence for (evolution), but I also think it's some of the strongest evidence against it," he said.

Scientists contend the "strengths and weaknesses" provision is simply an excuse to expose students to "supernatural and fringe explanations" instead of sticking to traditional scientific principles.

"We should teach students 21st-century science, not some watered-down version with phony arguments that nonscientists disingenuously call 'weaknesses,' " said Sahotra Sarkar, a professor of integrative biology at UT. "Calling 'intelligent design' arguments a weakness of evolution is like calling alchemy a weakness of chemistry, or astrology a weakness of astronomy."

Intelligent design is an alternative concept for creationism, or the belief that God created life.

Supernatural explanations have no place in science classrooms, said Hillis, the other UT biology professor.

“It is clear that Chairman McLeroy wants to promote a particular religious, rather than a scientific, agenda in our science classrooms -- and that has stimulated our group of over 800 Texas scientists to object,” Hillis said.

The coalition formed about two weeks ago and has a Web site: www.texasscientists.org

But McLeroy said neither he nor his colleagues want to “interject religion into the science classrooms.”

“The naturalists and the supernaturalists are both free to make testable explanations for science,” he said. “If there were supernatural explanations, science could never find it. Science would always be wrong, so you have to have testable explanations.”

Baylor University biology Professor Richard Duhrkopf said the Southern Baptist school might be considered a likely place to embrace “Christian alternatives” to evolution.

But those supernatural alternatives are unacceptable, he said. “Quite simply put, they are not science, and to teach them as science would be to lie to our students.”

Dan Bolnick, an assistant biology professor at UT-Austin, said the coalition hopes “to embarrass the creationist members of the State Board into realizing that if they try and put creationism or bogus weaknesses into the state curriculum, that they are going against the well-educated opinion of hundreds and, (potentially) thousands, of Ph.D. scientists, just within this state.”

gscharrer@express-news.net

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Refusing To Be Blinded With Pseudoscience

by Forrest Wilder
The Texas Observer Blog
September 30th, 2008
http://www.texasobserver.org/blog/index.php/2008/09/30/refusing-to-be-blinded-with-pseudoscience/

Texas scientists have finally stopped agonizing over creationism and gotten busy organizing.

Today, a group of university professors announced in a press conference the 21st Century Science Coalition, a vehicle to promote science education in Texas and push back against the retrograde agenda at the State Board of Education. It’s about time. The obscure but powerful board is a known hotbed of pseudo-scientific activity. At least six of its 15 members, including Chairman Don McLeroy, are creationists who have done little to hide their contempt for evolutionary biology. With an overhaul of the state’s science curriculum underway, this religious right faction has an opportunity to leave its fingerprints all over biology textbooks.

That’s where the scientists, mostly biologists, come in. Dr. David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology at UT-Austin, came out firing at the press conference:

[McLeroy] is on record stating that there are two kinds of science: one that uses natural explanations, and one that relies on supernatural explanations. He is dead wrong about this: supernatural explanations have no place in science classrooms. Science is about testable explanations, and supernatural explanations are by their very nature untestable. It is clear that Chairman McLeroy wants to promote a particular religious, rather than a scientific, agenda in our science classrooms, and that has stimulated our group of over 800 Texas scientists to object.

The speakers made the usual -- but necessary -- statements that evolution is undisputed among the vast majority of scientists. To illustrate the point to a media that sometimes sacrifices accuracy for balance (”on one hand… but on the other”), the organizers piled up 10 years’ worth of the journal Evolution. Altogether, there are some 100,000 peer-reviewed articles supporting evolution published in this journal and others, said Dr. Dan Bolnick, an assistant professor at UT-Austin. “Not a single one shows that evolution has not occurred,” Bolnick said.

Dr. Richard Duhrkopf, who teaches -- God bless him -- biology at Baylor, had the best zinger of the day: “It’s time to keep religion and faith in the Sunday schools and not in the public schools.”

The coalition’s first goal is to strip language from the state’s standards that calls for the teaching of “strengths and weaknesses” in scientific theories. A committee of teachers has already recommended removing the language, but the board will make the final decision. McLeroy told the Austin American-Statesman that he wanted to maintain the status quo.

“Evolution shouldn’t have anything to worry about -- if there’s no weaknesses, there’s no weaknesses. But if there’s scientifically testable explanations out there to refute it, shouldn’t those be included too?”

That argument is the new hobbyhorse of the creationist crowd. Having failed to get Intelligent Design into the classroom, the intellects of the creationist movement are pushing the “strengths and weaknesses” line. It’s a wedge to introduce creationist thinking into the classroom, says Dr. Sahotra Sarkar, a UT professor and founding member of the coalition. “What they’re trying to do is put in some completely phony doubts about what constitutes evolution,” said Sarkar.

This semester Sarkar is teaching a class to freshmen that touches on creationism. Of his 18 students, three of them claim to never have been taught a thing in high school about evolution, Sarkar says, even though it’s required by the state.

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Scientists take on the fight over creationism in schools

By: Catie Beck
News 8 Austin
9/30/2008
http://www.news8austin.com/content/your_news/default.asp?ArID=220998

A group of about 800 scientists want the Texas State Board of Education to keep religion in Sunday school and out of public schools.

The group argues that state education leaders need to take up the issue because of the influence of those working to replace sound science with creationism.

The state will adopt new science textbook standards in 2009.

"In our classrooms we need to be teaching the best science there is," University of Texas Assistant Professor of Biology Dan Bolnick said.

Science is based on proven biology and putting things in science textbooks that can't be proven is a dangerous mistake, according to the group.

But supporters of creationism in school offer up a different argument.

"There's certain things that man does not know and may never know," Jim Cardle with Texas Insider said.

Cardle, who is active in education politics, said some parts of archeology are just as improvable as creationism.

His argument is that giving students a broad picture of the ideas will benefit Texas in the long run.

"It's a legitimate concept to being -- giving a kid as broad of possible exposure to thought," Cardle said.

Cardle said bringing this debate to the forefront is a bit premature. But scientists contend the issue is urgent.

"We need to teach our students sound science not some watered down version of it," Sahotra Sarkar, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas, said. "And whose version gets in the textbooks is up to the State Board of Education to decide."

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Texas scientists defend teaching of evolution in public schools

By ELISE HU
KVUE News
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
http://www.kvue.com/news/hu/stories/093008kvue_science_curriculum-cb.c982db21.html

The debate over what Texas public school students should learn in science class heated up Tuesday, as the Texas State Board of Education prepares to set the science curriculum standards for the next decade.

"What the students of Texas need is the strongest possible science education. One that's based on research," said Daniel Bolnick, a biology professor at UT-Austin.

A coalition of about 800 Texas scientists formed in advance of the curriculum debate, anticipating a push from pro-creationism forces to include teaching of the supernatural in public schools.

State Board of Education Chariman Don McElroy wrote last month, "Defining science to allow for [supernatural causes] is just common sense."

Scientists worry this would water down classroom teaching of evolution.

"Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to success in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education," said UT biology professor Dr. David Hillis.

The scientists are pitting themselves against conservative members of the board, as well as groups in favor of offering both evolution and creationism in teaching.

"It is outrageous that these 'edu-crats' have expelled the truth from state standards that have been in place for over 20 years. This type of pure censorship in shutting down a debate is the exact opposite of what true science is supposed to be. We strongly disagree with their recommendation," said the Free Market Foundation's Jonathan Saenz.

"Teaching weaknesses and mandating them in science classrooms provides a wedge that will allow teachers to teach their personal religious viewpoints in public science classroom," said Bolnick.

The newly formed 21st Century Science Coalition plans to watch closely the state board's process of adopting new curriculum standards for biology. The board has set a tentative deadline of March 2009 for adoption.

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Texas Scientists Object to Teaching of 'Weaknesses' in Evolution

Caitlin Moran
Chronicle of Higher Education Blog
September 30, 2008
http://chronicle.com/news/article/5250/texas-scientists-object-to-teaching-of-weaknesses-in-evolution

More than 800 Texas scientists, including hundreds of university and college professors, have signed a statement endorsing evolution as "an easily observable phenomenon that has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt" and opposing what they see as an effort to water down how it is taught in the state's public schools, reports the Associated Press.

The statement, drafted by members of the newly formed 21st Century Science Coalition, comes as the Texas State Board of Education works on revising the state’s curriculum standards for science. The scientists support a proposed change in the standards for biology courses that would eliminate the long-held language of teaching students the "strengths and weaknesses" of theories. Talking of the "weaknesses" of evolution, they say, allows for the introduction of supernatural explanations into science courses.

But some members of the Board of Education -- including its chairman, Don McLeroy -- want to preserve that language. Dr. McLeroy, a dentist, told the Associated Press that "students need to understand what science is and what its limitations are," adding: "I look at evolution as still a hypothesis with weaknesses."

The 21st Century Science Coalition draws together Texas scientists who seek to ensure that science education "reflects the most current scientific knowledge and is based on established scientific data," according to the group’s Web site.

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Texas scientists challenge proposal to teach weaknesses of evolutionary theory

Science curriculum draft that would remove ideas "based upon purported forces outside of nature" from what Texas students are taught in biology classes.

By Laura Heinauer
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/10/01/1001evolution.html

Armed with stacks of scientific journals, a group that says it represents more than 800 Texas scientists is challenging the idea that discussion of the weaknesses of evolutionary theory belongs in science classrooms.

The group of professors held a news conference Tuesday in the lobby of the Texas Education Agency in Austin and said that they would be watching while a state board rewrites the state public school science curriculum next year.

"Not a single one (of the articles in these journals) gives us reason to believe evolution did not occur," said Dan Bolnick, an assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas, pointing to stacks of the scientific journal Evolution. "So where are the weaknesses? Simple: They don't exist. They are not based on scientific research or data and have been refuted countless times."

Last week, the state released an early committee recommendation for the new science curriculum that would excise ideas "based upon purported forces outside of nature" from what Texas students are taught in biology classes. The curriculum, once approved, will outline what will be taught about science to every public school student in the state.

Organizers of the 21st Century Science Coalition said the group formed about two weeks ago and blossomed in membership in response to comments by State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, who opposes a committee proposal to remove the requirement that the "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories be taught in biology classes.

McLeroy has also said he wants to spell out in the curriculum that there are limits to what science can explain.

Critics of the teaching of intelligent design and creationism -- ideas that hold that the universe was created by a higher power -- say such language has been used to undermine the theory of evolution.

"It's clear he wants to promote a particular religious agenda," said David Hillis, a UT integrative biology professor. "Texas public schools should be preparing our kids to succeed in the 21st century, not promoting political and ideological agendas that are hostile to a sound science education."

In an interview after the news conference Tuesday, McLeroy said he "totally rejected" the idea that he or anyone on the board wants to inject religion into science classrooms. "I'm not arguing for supernatural explanations, only testable ones. When I look at the evidence, I see lots of problems," McLeroy said.

William Dembski, a senior fellow for the Discovery Institute, a think tank devoted to challenging aspects of evolutionary theory, said the fossil record defies the theory of evolution in several instances. Because of the inconsistencies and other reasons, Dembski said, "I'd argue that constitutes a weakness."

The institute promotes intelligent design.

Coalition member Richard Duhrkopf, who teaches introductory biology at Baylor University, said that although one might expect his university -- the largest Southern Baptist and second-largest Christian university in the country -- to teach creationism in science classrooms, it does not.

Creationist theories, Duhrkopf said, "just don't make the grade as science, and to teach them would be to teach a lie to our students."

lheinauer@statesman.com; 445-3694

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State Board of Education Wants to Change Evolution Standard

News Channel 10
Posted: Oct 3, 2008
http://www.newschannel10.com/global/story.asp?s=9122819

Texas schools may soon take the debate out of the evolution debate.

In classrooms right now students are allowed to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories like evolution. But next year, that may change.

The state mandates all Texas schools follow the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum.

Amarillo High School Cluster Director Gary Angell says, "we have teks in all courses and it is basically a list of standards we teach and objectives."

Part of that is allowing students to question the theory of evolution. But a revision to the standard would require teachers to present the theory as fact.

Kim Beth Buchanan, Curriculum Director for Canyon I.S.D. says, "the phrase strengths and weaknesses was deleted from the new science standards."

It's a position supported by 800 scientists across the state who have joined together online.

Even if the strengths and weaknesses phrase is deleted, Buchanan says that will not stifle a student's question on evolution. She says, "if a student brings that up as a discussion in their analysis of evolution, then of course the teacher will listen."

The board of education will cast a final vote on the change next spring.

The State Board of Education is taking public input on this issue.

You can see the science class standards and tell the board what you think through the Texas Education Agency.

Here is the link to that website: http://www.tea.state.tx.us/rules/tac/chapter112/index.html


Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2008 October 4