Texas Science Standards and March Madness: Did We Win or Lose?

by Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
President, Texas Citizens for Science
2009 May 14

Published in the
Reports of the National Center for Science Education
May-June, 2009, v. 29, no. 3, p. 4-6
The version below is different from both the NCSE print and web versions and contains an extensive update and separate comment.

The results of the State Board of Education (SBOE) revision of my state's science standards (also known as the TEKS, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) during the recent Texas March Madness are confusing and controversial. News articles following the March 26-27 meeting initially reported that the scientists and science advocacy community had won and the Discovery Institute and SBOE radical religious right members had lost. The Discovery Institute and radical SBOE members, on the other hand, gleefully claimed a great victory in their blogs and reports. Which side is correct?

The correct answer is neither. The results were mixed: the science community both won and lost. Together with its partners, the National Center for Science Education, the Texas Freedom Network, the Center for Inquiry-Austin (who created the Teach Them Science website), and several science and science education professors from Texas universities, Texas Citizens for Science (TCS) worked during the past year to preserve the accuracy and reliability of science education in Texas during the state's science standards adoption process. We didn't obtain all the results we wanted and Texas science students deserved. Let me say at once that we didn't lose because we made mistakes; indeed, we did everything correctly and worked very hard to win, but politically our side was out-voted.

We lost because the political situation in Texas is such that the hard religious right is very strong and controls the state Republican Party. The 15-member SBOE has seven members who are Radical Religious Right Republicans: these individuals are Biblical Literalists and Young Earth Creationists. These include the Board's chairman appointed by our radical religious right governor. We have always had some of these on the State Board, but right now there are seven of them and they are extremely organized, disciplined, and immune to embarrassment despite their frequent public expressions of ignorance, stupidity, and bigotry. If they pick up just a single additional vote--and they did for a variety of reasons--they can do whatever they want.

Texas didn't get what it needed and we wanted, which are high quality science standards that preserve the accuracy and reliability of science and that permit teachers to teach and students to receive an excellent science education free of pseudoscientific intimidation and possibly indoctrination. The science standards writing panels ultimately produced an excellent set of standards that should have been adopted without change, but the SBOE felt the need to piss on them. The outcome of the process was that the scientific method standard and many of the standards that concern cosmic and biological evolution in Biology and Earth and Space Science (ESS) were compromised to some extent by the activities of the seven Biblical Literalists/Young Earth Creationists on the SBOE. It is true that the very worst language was avoided, but only by very close 8-7 votes for which the consensus disappeared when qualifying or debilitating substitute amendments--suggested as "compromises"--were proposed. Don't get me wrong: getting rid of the really anti-scientific language was a victory, but it was only a partial victory. We still lost on what we wanted to accomplish. Why?

When their very worst amendments to the excellent proposed science standards failed, the Creationist members immediately came back, in every instance, with a second or even third substitute amendment that was less obviously anti-science than the previous one. . . but still bad. These weaker but still scientifically-misleading amendments are the ones that became some of the standards. The seven Creationist SBOE members were extremely organized and voted together as a bloc every time. The pro-science SBOE members were not organized at all but voted their own consciences, sometimes with the advice of their scientific advisors but more frequently not due to the irresponsible and frustrating revision and amendment process imposed by the chairman and happily used by the radical activists to confuse their pro-science opponents by fast talking, persistent reference to "experts" who in fact were Creationists, and deliberately confusing and misleading their fellow Board members by using specious (illogical and unreliable) arguments during debate without recourse to legitimate scientists who were in the hearing room and ready to help.

The problem was this: The eight pro-science members, five Democrats and three Republicans, did not vote as a pro-science bloc, while the seven anti-science Biblical Literalist Republicans always voted as an anti-science bloc. Since they did this, all they needed was one additional vote to achieve their aims. Most of the pro-science Board members are friendly, moderate to conservative individuals who believe in collegiality, cooperation, and compromise, so most were willing to accept the weaker but still flawed substitute amendments that the religious right members proposed if their original blatantly anti-science amendment failed on an 8-7 vote, which usually happened. I could detect the emotional compulsion of some Board members to vote with a colleague for a less egregious or extreme amendment and to find some compromise on controversial issues. The Religious Right members exploited this characteristic again and again.

The three pro-science Republican members felt compelled to compromise with the radicals because of political considerations (they were being politically assaulted by their own party (e.g. publicly called RINOS) and by thousands of messages, letters, and phone calls from their Fundamentalist and Creationist constituents). Several had been attacked in their primaries, and the four Creationism proponents in 2003 had increased to seven in 2008 precisely because of Republican primary attacks, so they had good reason to worry. Sometimes compromise is good, but compromise on science issues should be done on terms that do not negatively affect the accuracy and reliability of good science policy, and this did not happen. The compromises were debilitating and misrepresented good science.

The ultra-right members were able to manipulate the process by achieving a prior agreement that the pro-science members probably thought was inconsequential: to vote on amendments without the ability of members being allowed to talk to their science experts or having them testify during Board debate. The Young Earth Creationist members' amendments were sprung on the others without them having the opportunity to review the amendments or consult outside science experts. They were forced to vote without understanding what they were voting on (which is perfectly understandable since they are not scientists), and by this method the radicals succeeded in picking up several pretty bad amendments in January and even again in March, by which time the pro-science members should have known that their lack of knowledge and extremely brief time to evaluate a complex scientific standard was being exploited.

I explained this problem to good Board members in articles I wrote and sent them, but which they did not read. I sent them email messages recommending that they always vote "no" to any amendment that the anti-science side proposes, and even asked them personally to do this before each meeting, but they did not want to follow this good advice for the reasons I discuss above. Their plan was to seek a compromise on amendments and standards that were controversial within the Board. The standards process ultimately succeeded for the Biblical Literalists because they were able to blindside the mainstream Christian members. The YECs talked fast, falsely claimed that their amendments possessed approval by "science experts" and scholarly publications, and in some cases presented their amendments in a form that did not reveal that vital subject matter had being secretly removed. This process was unprofessional and unethical.

Repeatedly in January and again in March, the Religious Right Republicans proposed amendments that ranged from incoherent to debilitating to scientifically inaccurate to pure pseudoscience that promoted Intelligent Design Creationism. The amendments ranged over the map. One Religious Right SBOE member, Republican Barbara Cargill, proposed thirteen bad amendments to ESS over an approximately 20 minute period. She talked so fast and so confidently--repeatedly referring to her "scientific experts" who turned out to be ID Creationists--and gave them a list of her amendments that left out the strike-outs of text she wanted removed, thus deliberately deceiving her fellow Board members, that she managed to convince at least one additional Board member to pass five of her misleading amendments, one of which was particularly nasty, anti-scientific, and Creationist in intention. Two more were passed by the SBOE Chair, Don McLeroy, for Biology. I warned the three usually pro-science Republican Board members about this but they sometimes provided that eighth vote anyway.

The science supporters--Board members, lobbyists, and advocates--were able to get the wording of the worst amendments defeated by first winning 8-7 votes to defeat them, but then had to witness weaker but still bad compromise amendments pass to replace them. One of the most unfortunate amendments added new words to the always-controversial process standard 3A which discusses the scientific method. Standard 3A was the one that had long contained the phrase "strengths and weaknesses" in the context of evaluating scientific explanations. The scientifically-accurate standard 3A proposed by the science writing panels in their original submission--which I had re-worded to remove the noxious "strengths and weaknesses" phrase--said simply, "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing."  During debate, by an 8-7 vote after much personal lobbying, we were able to defeat a radical motion to return the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase to the standard, an effort by Board Creationists to continue confusing students about the accuracy and reliability of the scientific knowledge they learned in high school. Then, unfortunately, the State Board radicals were able to propose a second motion and change the standard on another vote to, "in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." The phrase "examining all sides" was almost as bad as evaluating "strengths and weaknesses," since it implicitly suggests that there is more than "one side" to the scientific evidence students examine in high school. Fortunately, process standard 3A does not require that "all sides" of all scientific evidence and explanations be taught to students, only that students by their science education be able to examine "all sides of scientific evidence" if, in fact, the evidence has multiple "sides," which at the high school level it does not. (Of course, in professional, mainstream science at the university graduate level, evidence is sometimes ambiguous and incomplete, so often there is more than one side to an explanation. But such advanced, controversial topics are usually not taught in primary and secondary science education classes.)

The word "critique" was unnecessarily added to suggest that scientific explanations should be criticized by students, even though it is redundant in context, since "critique" correctly means analyze and evaluate, not criticize. Even worse, the phrase "all sides of evidence of those scientific explanations" awkwardly and inaccurately suggests that all scientific explanations have "sides" when in fact most do not, especially at the level science is taught in high school. The new words were deliberately added, of course, to attack biology textbooks in the future if they do not include critiques of evolution or present the bogus "evidence" that Creationists mistakenly believe exists that undermines or refutes evolution. They really think there are two "sides" on the biological evolution question. The words were inserted to act like time bombs, ready to blow up when the moment arises.

State Board Chairman Don McLeroy said he would contact publishers and warn them to be sure to cover "all sides" of culturally controversial issues, such as evolution, as specified by new standards in Biology and Earth and Space Science or risk having their textbooks rewritten or rejected. Publishers will know what this means and may pre-censor their textbooks prior to submitting them for adoption. They will try to keep them as scientific as possible, but that may not be enough. If SBOE members find remaining "problems" with the books, the publishers will be told to fix the "errors" or their textbooks will be rejected. What will publishers do in the face of this unethical and ugly extortion? If history is a guide, they will make whatever changes are necessary to make sure their Biology or ESS book is adopted in Texas or lose tens to hundreds of millions of dollars. How scientific or unscientific will be their changes? That remains to be seen, and a poor result is possible.

Similar time bombs inserted into the proposed Biology standards by the SBOE are the requirements to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record;" "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell," and "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." To many readers, these new science standards may be innocuous, but they were inserted to encourage publishers to include information in their biology textbooks that may undermine evolution education or to punish the publishers if they don't.

The first one was inserted because SBOE Creationists believe that the sudden appearance of fossils means they were specially created rather than subject to the incompleteness of the fossil record. Many fossils do exhibit sudden appearance and stasis, but others exhibit gradual and transitional change. SBOE members and the Discovery Institute (DI) will try to force publishers to include only the information about stasis and sudden appearance to suggest to students that this is a weakness of evolution, but publishers can satisfy this standard by including accurate and reliable information about all tempi and modes of fossil evolution, including gradual fossil evolution and transitional fossils.

The next two standards were inserted to attempt to force biology textbook publishers to include information about how the cell and information-carrying molecules are so complex that evolution can't explain them, thus concluding that some other process is operative. Creationists love arguments from ignorance because they sound so convincing to them, but of course they are illogical. Cells and information-carrying molecules are complex and their chemical processes are not totally explained, but that gives no license to believe in non-natural processes. Again, the DI and radical right SBOE members will try to make publishers include bogus or misleading information about complex processes and molecules that they believe demonstrates the inadequacy of evolution, but publishers can do the opposite and include more information about evolution that shows how well it explains complex cellular processes, molecules, and the transfer of inheritable information. The recent discovery of how RNA can spontaneously form from chemicals available on the primitive Earth would be a good topic to include.

Several time bombs were inserted in the new Earth and Space Science (ESS) standards, but these will have much less debilitating effects than the ones endured by Biology. One was a requirement to discuss the complexity of life in the origin of life standard, which would have been done by an author in any case. We are lucky the origin of life standard itself was not removed. Malevolent SBOE members characteristically did remove requirements in the standards to mention that the universe is about "14 billion years" old and to discuss the rate and diversity of fossil evolution, but these will not hinder textbook authors and publishers from including this information in their ESS textbooks, since the two relevant standards contain other language that will necessitate discussion of the age of the universe and the evolution of fossils. Once again, most of the very unscientific language the radical SBOE members tried to insert was voted down 8-7, so it could have been worse. In fact, the standard (7C) that mentions "Earth's approximate 4.6-billion year history" was left unchanged, apparently overlooked by the YECs who attempted to damage ESS. With all the compromising votes they were picking up, the Creationist members could have gotten that changed to "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" if they had just made the motion to amend. There were other, more subtle, reasons why ESS was not damaged as much as Biology that I will not discuss here.

Finally, a Democratic Board member surprisingly added a requirement to Environmental Systems to "analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming," but this time bomb will backfire, too, since it now obliges the authors and publishers of environmental science textbooks to discuss many common arguments against climate change warming that denialists use, but are easily answered by scientists (see the website "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic"). The "different views on the existence of global warming" by climate change denialists can be analyzed, evaluated . . . and refuted.

Textbook authors and publishers should be able to use the new standards to write good textbooks. Because of the hard work of science advocates and the stupidity and over-reaching of the anti-science SBOE members, the several substandard standards do not contain any explicit requirements to include anti-scientific information, so they don't force publishers to put inaccurate or unreliable science textbooks up for adoption, although they allow it and even solicit it. For example, the requirement to "analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations" and to examine "all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations" can be easily met by textbook publishers and authors by (1) truthfully stating that there is only one side to most scientific explanations and all that are covered in a high school biology course, and (2) pointing out that the standard specifically limits the required examination to "scientific" evidence and explanations, not pseudoscientific ones, so they can lawfully omit any anti-scientific or misrepresentational information that some Board members and the Discovery Institute claims must be included. Or, publishers could (3) interpret the "all sides of…scientific explanations" requirement to mean a much broader discussion of evolution than they normally would present, perhaps by including information about evolutionary psychology, the evolution of human intelligence, and the evolution of religious belief. Unlike mainstream evolutionary biology, these topics do indeed have several "sides" and would be perfect subjects to present to wide-eyed and open-mouthed high school science students. By following these guidelines, textbook publishers, authors, and teachers can--but only if they are willing to stand up to State Board Creationist right-wing intimidation and extortion--successfully prepare textbooks and perform instruction that are completely scientific despite the time bomb. The publishers can hoist the SBOE Creationists with their own petard.

The first problem we must deal with is that the fate of Biology and ESS textbooks is no longer controlled by the Texas science standards, but by the ability of textbook publishers and authors to stand up to the forthcoming extortion by members of the SBOE. The second problem is that scientists and science advocates will have to return to Austin and the SBOE when the science textbooks come up for adoption in 2011. If we are fortunate, the composition of the SBOE may be different that year, and attempts to damage the science books will fail as they did in 2003. If we are not fortunate, we will have another close fight that we will try to win on an 8-7 vote. The third and worst problem we face is that the science TEKS are used not just for textbooks but for teachers' classroom curricula and state end-of-course exams. Science teachers are already horribly intimidated and the situation is now even worse for them. They will hesitate to fully and accurately teach the topics that the State Board has made so controversial for fear of being criticized and reprimanded. The Texas Education Agency is controlled by radical religious right ideologues who will prepare end-of-course Biology exams that contain questions that critique evolution and look at alleged problems, not test accurate and reliable knowledge. Teachers and students will be forced to prepare for this pseudoscientific nonsense if they want to pass the exams.

The very bad situation in Texas will not change until there is a change in political leadership in this state. Right now, contrary to the country as a whole, Texas is in the authoritarian and anti-science grip of Radical Religious Fundamentalist public officials. Science education and many other instructional disciplines have been politicized to an alarming extent in Texas (right now, Social Studies is being subject to the same attack that Science and English just endured). Texas Republican Young Earth Creationism follows in history the science politicization of Stalinist Lysenkoism and Nazi Aryan anthropology and coercive eugenics. All three have been historically and scientifically disastrous. In the case of Texas, students here are receiving a blighted science education and falling further behind their peers in other states and other countries. We science advocates still have much work to do.


Update, 2009 August 25

The primary theme of my report is that the new standards ignorantly and duplicitously inserted into the science TEKS (see specifically the high school science TEKS) by the seven anti-science Creationists and religious fundamentalists and their thoughtless SBOE colleagues (who sometimes gave them the 8-vote majority they needed on a 15-member board) were so poorly thought out by them that their new standards can be used to greatly increase the amount of evolution content in textbooks rather than degrade and injure evolutionary biology education, as was their intention. This new evolutionary material was never required before and includes more information about the evolutionary origin and complexity of the cell, DNA, genetic information, and evolution as inferred from the fossil record. Rather than forcing authors and publishers to include bogus unscientific information that confuses students and teachers about evolution and creates misunderstanding and distrust of science, which was the Creationist SBOE members' malign intent, the new standards can be used by perceptive and honest textbooks authors and publishers to now include much more evolutionary biology content that will greatly increase student understanding and appreciation of the subject.

I can now post this report since it has just been published in NCSE Reports. About two weeks after I wrote and sent the report to NCSE and my various email lists on 2009 May 14, I was interviewed at length by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee of Science for his June 12 news article (not publicly accessible but copied below). I sent him a copy of the report for his use and gave him an enormous amount of information about the specific issues over the phone. Unfortunately, I was not quoted in his article but several themes I emphasized to Mr. Bhattacharjee were also stated by Dr. Kenneth Miller, the Brown University biology professor who is both a biology textbook author and a leading opponent of ID Creationism.

For example, Ken Miller commendably said that the new Texas standards leave plenty of room for authors to explain the robustness of evolutionary theory and that's precisely what he and his publisher plan to do. "The advocates of these standards underestimate the strength of the scientific evidence for structures and phenomena that they mistakenly believe evolution cannot account for," he says. "The new wording is an opportunity to make biology texts even stronger." Miller intends to "introduce more material on the evolution of organelles" within the cell to show that the cell's complexity is in fact explained by evolution. Likewise, he sees the standard requiring explanations of "sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record"--although written with the intent to undermine evolution--as "an invitation to introduce students to punctuated equilibrium." I hope he also intends to introduce students to other evolutionary patterns than just stasis and punctuation, since gradualism and transitional fossils are just as prominent in the fossil record. Still later, a Houston Chronicle blogger, Lisa Falkenberg, quoted the Bhattacharjee Science news article extensively for her June 19 column about the issue (also copied below).

The material in my May 14 report came from two sources: the live blogs of the SBOE meeting I did for my Evo.Sphere blog on the Houston Chronicle and a presentation I made for the AAAS in Tulsa on the Saturday immediately after the March 25-27 SBOE meeting. During the meeting I recognized two things: Although the scientific side was losing on the wording of several Biology, Earth and Space Science, and Environmental Systems standards that the anti-science SBOE members proposed and adopted, we had nevertheless (1) successfully fended off the worst language, and (2) the new language inserted by the SBOE Creationists could still be used to produce scientifically-accurate and -reliable science textbooks, curricula, and standardized exams. Nothing in the final, adopted standards requires the inclusion of any pseudoscientific, Intelligent Design Creationist, or anti-evolution content. We had successfully prevented standards that specifically required anti-scientific material from being adopted in several very close 8-7 votes. The additional standards that were adopted only suggest that such anti-scientific material be covered. Textbook authors should be able to write around these standards.

The new standards written and adopted by the anti-science majority on the SBOE, while still bad, unnecessary, and obnoxious, will nevertheless allow the inclusion--indeed, now require the inclusion for the first time of some specific topics--of much more information about evolution. These include the tempo and mode of evolution observed in the fossil record--stasis, cladogenesis (splitting of species, sudden appearance), anagenesis (gradual change of a lineage or clade), transitional forms of fossil lineages and clades, the origin and complexity of the cell, and the origin of biological information in complex organic molecules. Authors can also now if they choose present several controversial topics in evolutionary biology such as the evolution of human intelligence, behavior, morality, and religious belief--all legitimate and fascinating scientific topics in which "all sides of evidence" must be examined. This is an exciting prospect.

All is not serene, however. The insertion of poorly-worded, unneeded, inaccurate, deceptive, and manipulative standards written by the anti-science SBOE religious right members into the new science standards certainly does create three problems that we initially hoped could be avoided:

(1) The scientists and science teachers on the TEKS writing panels no longer have control of or responsibility for the content of the state's curriculum science standards. They intentionally wrote their proposed science standards to prevent and dissuade the inclusion of bogus, pseudoscientific, deceptive information in science textbooks and curricula that promoted the IDC agenda of confusing and misrepresenting the accurate knowledge that scientists have about evolution, the origin of life, and the fossil record. The SBOE radicals obviously changed this situation with their new standards and now the potential for damage is present and possible (but not mandatory or necessarily likely-see below).

(2) The textbook authors and publishers will now be pressured by the aggressive, radical SBOE members using the usual well-known tactic of financial extortion (threatening them to include certain anti-evolution material in their books or face rejection and loss of millions of dollars in textbook sales), and the publishers will now have to find the courage to stand up to this threat. Before the SBOE science standards revision, since only accurate, mainstream, scientific theoretical content was required, the publishers were not obligated in any way to include anti-evolution material in their textbooks. They are still not obligated to do this, but the new standards now explicitly suggest topics (sudden appearance of species, origin of complex information, complexity of the cell, etc., to be treated in ways that suggest that modern evolutionary biology cannot possibly account for the cell structures, genetic mechanisms, and gradual transitional fossils) that could be used by unscrupulous and venal publishers to undermine evolution education.

The radical SBOE members, with the assistance of textbook reviewers from Creationist organizations such as the Discovery Institute, will examine the submitted textbooks in detail to look for the misleading pseudoscientific content they expect to see in the books--the bogus "weaknesses" and "controversies" about evolution. The implicit or explicit threat of textbook rejection or removal from the conforming list will be held over the publishers. Former SBOE Chair Don McLeroy has stated several times in interviews that he and his religious right colleagues believe the SBOE-written science standards will require the biology textbook publishers to cover the "weaknesses," "problems," and "controversies" of evolution. The truth is that these "weaknesses/problems/controversies" don't exist for evolutionary biology as the scientific theory is taught in high school, but only for historical rejected evolutionary hypotheses and  hypotheses of modern controversial topics, such as the evolution of intelligence, religion, behavior, etc. which are usually not taught; scientific theories are composed of corroborated hypotheses that have no weaknesses. McLeroy actually believes that--because of the new standards he helped to insert into the Biology TEKS--the science publishers will now be forced to cover evolution in such a way that "students will easily see how weak the theory is."

Now we scientists must depend on the cooperation and goodwill of science textbook publishers to do the right thing to preserve the accuracy and reliability of science education in Texas and avoid such content. We science TEKS writers tried to avoid this scenario by writing standards that were unambiguous in promoting accurate science so the publishers would be forced to present evolutionary science correctly, but now I must encourage the publishers to do what is right. The SBOE can only penalize biology textbook publishers if their books leave out required material, not if they contain extra material that the SBOE didn't require. This extra material must be factually accurate, of course (the textbook adoption statutes require that textbooks meet the TEKS, contain no factual errors, and have durable covers). The material that biology textbooks authors will add, for example, will have to specifically address the new SBOE-written standards and use the same language, i.e. complexity of the cell, long complex DNA molecules that carry information, stasis and sudden appearance of species in the fossil record, etc. so there is no confusion. The difference is that instead of writing this material in a way that undermines or casts doubt on evolutionary biology, as is the case in the Discovery Institute-written book Explore Evolution, The Arguments For and Against New-Darwinism, legitimate biology authors and textbooks will present this material in a scientific way that permits student understanding without confusion.

The DI's supplementary textbook, Explore Evolution, is a particularly egregious case; it has even created a video that touts the book. Both the book and video are deceptive, mendacious, and scientifically inaccurate and misleading in the extreme. Their goal is to confuse students by presenting the false idea that there is a scientific controversy involving evolutionary biology, when in fact this is not the case. The video and book ask that the bogus controversy about evolution and the "strengths and weaknesses" about evolutionary biology be taught to students. The SBOE members inserted their new and unnecessary biology standards that are worded to directly suggest that evolution is insufficient to explain biological facts in precisely the same way that the DI's book suggests. For example, Explore Evolution attempts to make the case that a living cell's biochemical and structural properties are too complex to be the result of evolution, and that evolution cannot explain some aspects of the fossil record. These are standard Creationist arguments simply presented in a very slick and sophisticated way to mask their anti-intellectualism and Fundamentalist origin. Some commenters have suggested that the Texas SBOE will seek to adopt Explore Evolution as a classroom supplement. We will have to wait and see if this happens. Please consult the Wikipedia article on Explore Evolution for some insight about the book's scientific quality. Other scientific reviews exist and are forthcoming.

The danger to a principled publisher of science textbooks is that some other publisher will include the material in the way that the SBOE expects, then only that inferior book will be put on the conforming list or Texas school districts will preferentially select that book for their schools. For example, the Creationists praised the Glencoe Biology textbook after initially harshly criticizing it and the others during the 2003 adoptions for precisely this reason: to put financial pressure on Prentice Hall and the other publishers to toe the line. Glencoe--with the weakest but still quite satisfactory treatment of evolution--garnered most of the Texas school district biology textbook choices, since many ISDs want the weakest biology text on evolution for their own contemptible reasons (their teachers don't teach or water down the evolution content of their classes).

Now, for 2011-2012, the problem is that a Biology publisher may include the new topics in ways that undermine evolution and promote IDC by discussing the evolution of cellular complexity, genetic information, and fossil patterns in terms of "weaknesses" and "problems" that evolution can't solve (as done in Explore Evolution). If Ken Miller does what he has promised and what I encourage, the differences between his Prentice Hall and some other Biology textbooks may be more obvious and glaring this time, and the SBOE may try and even succeed in placing the Miller-PH biology text on the nonconforming list. This would be very bad financially for PH, so they would either have to submit to SBOE extortion and censorship or sue. Then, there are several dangers to suing the SBOE which I won't discuss here since the question is complex. It would be easier to submit if you can swallow the shame, and publishers certainly can in my long experience (I guess the authors can, too). Sometimes submission is the best policy if the re-written (i.e. censored) text is not too egregious.

(3) The periodic SBOE textbook adoption and review circus will remain with us. Every six or seven years scientists, science teachers, and science advocates must descend on Austin to defend the accuracy and integrity of biology textbooks from the attacks of Creationists both on and off the SBOE. This disgusting textbook adoption sideshow is demeaning and embarrassing to Texas and is a necessary waste of time to practicing scientists who have better things to do, but must take the time to defend the textbooks. The standards submitted by the science writing panels would have prevented the worst of this, but now we will see it again in its full nauseating stench in Austin in 2011 or 2012 (depending on when the textbook Proclamation is adopted). Texas citizens should be disgusted with this faux-democratic, oligarchic display of power politics, for most SBOE members know how they will vote years before the hearing commences. Some will vote to further their Fundamentalist Christian beliefs by trying to undermine and damage science education in Texas. Others plan to vote to uphold the high qualities of professional science education by resisting the Creationist attacks on science textbooks. All the effort will be focused on persuading the swing eighth vote that gives the religious right radicals a majority. If they can reject a single biology textbook, the other publishers may capitulate rather than lose hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. Then the science censorship I have witnessed many times over the decades in Texas will continue.

In conclusion, I believe the results of the recent Texas science standards revision are mixed--a moderate view. I specifically do not agree with the several pro-science advocates who say that science lost big, or with the Discovery Institute and SBOE members who proclaimed a glorious victory, or with the newspapers who wrote that science won and the Creationists lost. I spelled out the details in my report: we science advocates won on some issues by preventing the worst language in the standards, we lost to the Creationists on several of the amended compromise standards which present science education with some severe difficulties, and science education in Texas still has the opportunity to succeed really well even with the bad standards if the textbook publishers cooperate with the science community and resist the expected pressures from the SBOE members to censor their books. So there is both danger and opportunity in the future.


Comment on the Science Article
"
Authors Scramble to Make Textbooks Conform to Texas Science Standards"

by Steven Schafersman
2009 October 5

Brown University Biology Professor Ken Miller added the phrase "strengths and weaknesses" to his Biology textbook so that it could sell in Texas, as he admitted himself on the Dover trial witness stand. As Science author Bhattacharjee recounts (copied below):

The "weaknesses" were nothing more than unresolved questions about evolution, Miller insists. 'We wanted to show, without compromising scientific integrity, that we had met the literal standard requiring strengths and weaknesses,' he says.

Unfortunately, Dr. Miller's justification is not quite true. The so-called "weaknesses" under discussion are alleged but false weaknesses to the scientific theory of evolution, not to unresolved questions (i.e. hypotheses) about evolution that truly have weaknesses. Also, the "literal standard requiring strengths and weaknesses" about all scientific theories in 2003 is this, TAKS standard 3A:

The student is expected to analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information.

What Dr. Miller did was change a subchapter heading from "Evolutionary Theory Since Darwin" to "Strengths and Weaknesses of Evolutionary Theory" (see below). That's all. No analysis, review, or critique about the alleged "weaknesses" of the scientific theory of evolution were included, nor should they have been. So his testimony and original textbook revision was indeed an "attempt to be clever," exactly as NCSE Executive Director Eugenie Scott characterized it.

  

Prentice Hall Biology, Texas Edition, by Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph S. Levine, 2004, p. 386; Left: First Printing, submitted at the beginning of the Texas textbook adoption process in 2003; Right: Second Printing, submitted for consideration by the Texas State Board of Education very late in the process and the version actually printed in the textbooks used in Texas public schools. Click on each photo to retrieve a larger version.

The lack of substantive analysis, review, and critique about the alleged "weaknesses" of the scientific theory of evolution in the textbook by Dr. Ken Miller was, of course, scientifically correct and accurate. He should never have done such an unscientific thing and indeed, knowing him, he would never have done this. None of the authors and publishers of the other Biology textbooks submitted for adoption in Texas in 2003 did this either. None of the authors of these other books felt the need to add the words "strengths and weaknesses" in the context of evolutionary theory. In 2003, the science side had the votes on the Texas SBOE to protect science education from this pseudoscientific nonsense. The final votes was 11-4 to adopt the Biology texts without the massive unscientific compromising changes demanded by the Discovery Institute and other Creationist organizations working with the four Young Earth Creationist SBOE members.

So why did Kenneth Miller change the subchapter heading? There was, in fact, no reason to. His and Joe Levine's textbook would have been adopted without the change. In fact, no one on either side noticed the change until long after all the Biology textbooks were adopted. The first I heard about it was reading Ken Miller's Dover trial testimony; it surprised me so much I went to my garage to retrieve the various printings and editions of his textbook from my review collection from which the excerpts above were scanned. Prof. Miller's explanation for adding the words "Strengths and Weaknesses of Evolutionary Theory" was unjustified and his stated justification was cynical, and he deservedly merited Dr. Scott's criticism. He certainly needs to work hard over the next two years to make sure that the next edition of the Texas Edition of Prentice Hall Biology both meets the letter of the new Biology standards that a few individuals worked very hard to keep as scientifically accurate and reliable as possible and also contains no pandering to the Intelligent Design Creationist expectations of the several new standards written and adopted by the SBOE Creationist Members. As I wrote above and Ken himself has acknowledged, it is possible to follow the new standards to the letter without including any pseudoscientific or misleading scientific information. Depending on the result of his efforts, Dr. Miller will have to appear in Austin to defend his textbook in the face of criticism from either the Discovery Institute or Texas Citizens for Science, and knowing Ken I am confident it will be the Discovery Institute that will fault his textbook.


http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/summary/324/5933/1385

Authors Scramble to Make Textbooks Conform to Texas Science Standards

Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
Science, Vol. 324. no. 5933, p. 1385
12 June 2009

The Texas market is so large that publishers must pay heed to new guidelines on what students should learn.

Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biologist and author of a popular high school textbook, has spent years battling advocates of intelligent design (ID) and their argument that students need to be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. So it was more than a little embarrassing when defense lawyers for the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board, on trial in 2005 for its policy to accommodate ID in biology classes, asked Miller, a prosecution witness, why he had used the same phrase in the 2004 edition of his textbook.

He had done so, Miller explained, so that his textbook could be used in classrooms throughout Texas, the second largest market in the United States. (Texas standards also shape what's sold nationally, as publishers often use the same version in other states.) The "weaknesses" were nothing more than unresolved questions about evolution, Miller insists. "We wanted to show, without compromising scientific integrity, that we had met the literal standard requiring strengths and weaknesses," he says.



Strengths and weaknesses. Biology textbook author Kenneth Miller (inset) chose that phrase, often used by critics of evolution, to satisfy Texas science standards.

In March, the Texas school board approved new science standards that omit the "strengths and weaknesses" line (Science, 3 April, p. 25). But many scientists view the new version as more insidious than the previous one. Among other things, it requires that students have the chance to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell." The language is seen as an opening for ID proponents to argue that such "irreducible complexity" points to an external organizing force.

Those standards pose a new challenge for Miller and other textbook authors as the board prepares for a new round of textbook adoption in 2011. Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California sees Miller's earlier revision as a failed "attempt to be clever." And she's worried that history might repeat itself.

"When you put ‘weaknesses’ and ‘evolution’ in the same line, you reinforce doubts that creationists are trying to sow," says Scott, whose organization monitors the issue as it plays out in state and local districts. In fact, Scott was so incensed by the revelation at the Dover trial that she confronted Miller after he testified. "What were you thinking?" she asked him.

Miller's answer, then and now, is not to get too excited. The new Texas standards leave plenty of room for authors to explain the robustness of evolutionary theory, he says, and that's precisely what he and his publisher, Prentice Hall, plan to do. "The advocates of these standards underestimate the strength of the scientific evidence for structures and phenomena that they mistakenly believe evolution cannot account for," Miller says. "The new wording is an opportunity to make biology texts even stronger."

For example, Miller intends to "introduce more material on the evolution of organelles" within the cell to show that the cell's complexity is in fact explained by evolution. Likewise, he sees the standard requiring explanations of "sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record"—although written with the intent to undermine evolution—as "an invitation to introduce students to punctuated equilibrium."

Steve Nowicki, a biologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, plans to take the same approach when he asks Texas to adopt his biology book, published by Holt McDougal. "I understand that there may be a political agenda behind the standards, but I am taking them at face value," he says. "If a state thinks students need more information to understand evolution, I am happy to provide that."

Don McLeroy had wanted the standards to require textbooks and other materials to offer an even more skeptical view of evolution. But McLeroy, whom the state legislature declined to reappoint as chair last month although he remains on the board, says he's satisfied that requiring "more scientific evolutionary discussions" will serve students well. "The explanations offered [in the texts] will be so weak that students who are skeptical of evolution will see the weakness for themselves," he says.

Scott believes that Miller's approach is a "wonderful way to beef up content" while sticking to the letter of the standards. But she's worried that McLeroy and others on the board who embrace ID may view phrases such as "complexity of the cell" as a victory, even if only cosmetic. "Sowing confusion is their goal," she says. How far they will push on the actual content will depend on the composition of the publicly elected board in 2011, she says. "I'm just hoping publishers don't get weak-kneed and give in."

Alton Biggs, a co-author of a popular biology textbook published by Glencoe, concedes that that may have happened in 2003, when 12 lines about "divine creation" were included in a section of his book that describes various "beliefs and hypotheses" for the origin of life. But those words were dropped in the next edition. He says his team expects that the version to be submitted for adoption will "meet the Texas standards as well as benchmarks and other standards set by scientific societies."


http://blogs.chron.com/lisafalkenberg/2009/06/attack_on_darwin_may_make_him_stronger.html

Attack on Darwin may make him stronger

Posted by Lisa Falkenberg at June 19, 2009
The Houston Chronicle Blogs

Attempts by some State Board of Education members to dilute evolution instruction in Texas science classrooms may actually strengthen the lesson.

At least, that's what some textbook authors argue in a recent article published in the journal Science. (It's pricey to access the article without a subscription, so I'll try to summarize.)

As the article by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee explains, many authors feel compelled to follow standards adopted by Texas, the second-largest textbook market in the country. The Texas version is often sold to other states.

The first few paragraphs illustrate the tangible effects of the cultural war over evolution waged earlier this year by the SBOE's far-right voting bloc. What may have seemed like a game of semantics for purely political purposes will indeed prove to have real consequences for schoolchildren:

Kenneth Miller, a Brown University biologist and author of a popular high school textbook, has spent years battling advocates of intelligent design (ID) and their argument that students need to be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. So it was more than a little embarrassing when defense lawyers for the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board, on trial in 2005 for its policy to accommodate ID in biology classes, asked Miller, a prosecution witness, why he had used the same phrase in the 2004 edition of his textbook.

He had done so, Miller explained, so that his textbook could be used in classrooms throughout Texas, the second largest market in the United States. (Texas standards also shape what's sold nationally, as publishers often use the same version in other states.) The "weaknesses" were nothing more than unresolved questions about evolution, Miller insists. "We wanted to show, without compromising scientific integrity, that we had met the literal standard requiring strengths and weaknesses," he says.

In March, the Texas school board approved new science standards that omit the "strengths and weaknesses" line (Science, 3 April, p. 25). But many scientists view the new version as more insidious than the previous one. Among other things, it requires that students have the chance to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell." The language is seen as an opening for ID proponents to argue that such "irreducible complexity" points to an external organizing force.

But, Science reports, Miller and others aren't losing sleep over the change:

The new Texas standards leave plenty of room for authors to explain the robustness of evolutionary theory, he says, and that's precisely what he and his publisher, Prentice Hall, plan to do. "The advocates of these standards underestimate the strength of the scientific evidence for structures and phenomena that they mistakenly believe evolution cannot account for," Miller says. "The new wording is an opportunity to make biology texts even stronger."

For example, Miller intends to "introduce more material on the evolution of organelles" within the cell to show that the cell's complexity is in fact explained by evolution. Likewise, he sees the standard requiring explanations of "sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record"--although written with the intent to undermine evolution--as "an invitation to introduce students to punctuated equilibrium."

Former SBOE Chairman Don McLeroy weighs in. He'd lost a battle to make textbooks reflect an even more skeptical view of evolution.

But McLeroy, whom the state legislature declined to reappoint as chair last month although he remains on the board, says he's satisfied that requiring "more scientific evolutionary discussions" will serve students well. "The explanations offered [in the texts] will be so weak that students who are skeptical of evolution will see the weakness for themselves," he says.

Meanwhile, warnings from Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California:

Scott believes that Miller's approach is a "wonderful way to beef up content" while sticking to the letter of the standards. But she's worried that McLeroy and others on the board who embrace ID may view phrases such as "complexity of the cell" as a victory, even if only cosmetic. "Sowing confusion is their goal," she says. How far they will push on the actual content will depend on the composition of the publicly elected board in 2011, she says. "I'm just hoping publishers don't get weak-kneed and give in."

I guess we'll see. Stay tuned.


Texas Citizens for Science
Last updated: 2009 October 19