Live Blogging the TX Science Hearing II

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2:00 – We thought you might want to know a bit about the atmosphere here. The Texas Education Agency lobby was packed with science supporters when we arrived this morning. The litigators from anti-evolution Free Market Foundation Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family had already begun a press conference promoting the “strengths and weaknesses” propaganda. Following that, TFN started its press conference with educators and scientists. We’ve rarely seen so many cameras for a press event at TEA, although it appears that some of the cameras (including ours) were from non-news organizations.

Both press conferences were disrupted by observers. In our case, one observer shouted “my grandfather wasn’t an ape,” or something to that effect. Another chose to pray loudly in an effort to drown out what our speakers were saying. An argument also marred the Focus on the Family press conference.

It’s standing-room-only in the board room itself. In fact, many people are on the floor on the sides and in the back of the room. Numerous reporters — mostly television — are covering the hearing. A number of educators and scientists are in attendance, but it’s clear that creationist organizations — such as Focus and Probe Ministries — have been successful in bringing in evolution opponents.

The hearing is scheduled to go on to at least 6 p.m., but we expect it will stretch a bit beyond that. In any case, however, we don’t expect many people who signed up to speak will be able to do so. It looks like about 125 people have signed up to testify.

2:19 – Please excuse the commercial, but the truth is that we can’t keep up with this important work without the help of supporters of sound science. And the support we are receiving has been very heart-warming. Donations to TFN this week are up and, even better, are being doubled thanks to a Stand Up for Science matching grant from a generous donor. So every dollar gift we receive before Friday is worth two. If you can help: www.tfn.org/challengegrant. And whether or not you can donate, please know that your personal activism on this — by writing letters to the editor, contacting your elected officials, speaking out in support of sound science — is critical for ensuring that Texas kids get a 21st-century science education. Thanks so much for all of your support.

2:45 – The board is back from a break.

2:48 – An evolution opponent criticizes our argument that the board should be listening to science experts. “The people of this state have entrusted you” to make these decisions and not just listen to what the experts say. Actually, we’re fairly certain that Texans would feel more comfortable taking the advice of experts rather than the pseudoscientific arguments of ideologues.

2:51 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar characterizes listening to science experts as bowing to an “oligarchy.”

2:55 – Now creationists are attacking (once again) the TFN Education Fund’s survey of biology and biological anthropology faculty at Texas colleges and universities. The charge is that we have mischaracterized that study by claiming that the survey results apply to all scientists. Untrue. We clearly point out throughout, especially in the introduction (page 4) and the appendix on research methodology (page 17), who we surveyed — biologists and biological anthropologists. As before, we won’t be given an opportunity to respond to these unfounded charges. We’re not surprised.

3:04 – Good heavens. A testifier complains that she was never taught “weaknesses” of evolution in high school. Like what? She brings up “irreducible complexity,” pseudoscientific babble that has been soundly rejected by clear scientific evidence. It’s as if facts and research mean absolutely nothing.

3:35 – Dr. David Daniel presented excellent testimony on behalf of the the prestigious Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST). TAMEST is made up of Texas Nobel Laureates and 200+ National Academy members, so you would think the board would listen carefully to what these guys have to say. And board chair Don McLeroy said he does listen to them — he just trusts his own scientific judgement:
 
“I read what you guys have to say. I just disgree with you.”
 
What does McLeroy disagree with? A letter TAMEST sent to the state board (unanimous supported by their Board of Directors) criticizing the board for looking to the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute for expert advice, rather than listening to respected Texas scientists.

3:39 – Josh Rosenau from the National Center for Science Education is presenting letters and statements signed by representatives of nearly 60 international, national and state science organizations opposed to efforts to dumb down instruction on evolution. That’s a pretty large “oligarchy,” yes?

3:42 – Board member Terri Leo is complaining again that too many people in a row are testifying against “strengths and weaknesses.” “It’s not fair.”

3:47 – Josh: Removing “strengths and weaknesses” from the standards means publishers won’t have to invent “weaknesses” of evolution in order to get their textbooks adopted in Texas.

4:06 – Don McLeroy continues to question, as he has in previous hearings, whether understanding evolution is vital to the study of biology.

4:11 – A bright young man (a high school senior) notes that public opinion research shows support for the science of evolution in the United States is among the lowest for countries in the developed world. He then notes that U.S. achievement scores in science also rate very low. A connection?

4:16 – Kelly “www.christianattorney.com” Coghlan of Houston  is up. Mr. Coghlan is the guy who helped saddle Texas with the so-called “Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act” in 2007. That law requires schools to turn public events into “limited public forums” and essentially allow student speakers to then turn those events into opportunities to pray and evangelize to a captive audience.

4:19 – Taking “strengths and weaknesses” out of the standards will leave schools vulnerable to lawsuits. Really? Not teaching pseudoscience will lead to lawsuits? In what other states has this happened? We heard testimony earlier from the Casey Luskin at the Discovery Institute that no other state includes “strengths and weaknesses” in its standards right now. Are those states burdened with lawsuits from folks who want to teach “weaknesses” of evolution?

4:21 – Coghlan wants the standards to keep “strengths and weaknesses”: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, it is broken. The biology textbook adoption in 2003 is Exhibit A. And the board’s creationists have made it clear that they will try to hijack the 2011 biology textbook adoption.

4:23 – Terri Leo claims taking “strengths and weaknesses” out of the standards will lead to lawsuits over treating evolution differently. That’s absurd. All theories would be treated the same. Yet creationists in January passed amendments in January that single out evolution, something the board’s legal counsel warned them not to do. They have, in fact, laid the foundation for a lawsuit, but not the one they think.

4:26 – We think it’s funny that Coghlan blames the ACLU for making this issue so controversial. The ACLU is always the whipping boy for the religious right, even when the ACLU hasn’t done anything. (In fact, Terri Burke at ACLU of Texas testified in November on this issue, the only time we’ve seen ACLU involved. Yet.)

4:28 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar suggests that taking “strengths and weaknesses” out will mean only “strengths” of evolution will be taught, leading to lawsuits.

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19 Responses to “Live Blogging the TX Science Hearing II”

  1. Mikey Says:

    Ms. Leo keeps making references to the “other side” and/or “both sides” of the debate. Can someone please ask her what “other side” she is referring to. It migh bring to light her true motivation.

  2. Steve Says:

    I do hope someone on the science side points out (again) that scientific theories aren’t ideas, guesses or beliefs. They just can’t seem to understand the distinction.

  3. ckelly Says:

    So the anti-evolution (anti-science, anti-modern day education) crowd doesn’t think that science experts should be advising the Texas State Board on the decision for curriculum science standards in Texas schools? Who should be then?

  4. John Cobarruvias Says:

    Probe Ministries? I hope that isnt a Catholic Priest organization.

  5. Tony Whitson Says:

    On Josh’s blog at

    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/03/colin_white_and_daniel_boone_a.php

    he says

    “None of the conservatives like the survey. “Purports to represent all Texas scientists.” Guliuzza doesn’t understand statistical sampling.”

    I thought the TFN survey was a survey of THE POPULATIONS of those faculties, and not just A SAMPLE.

    Either Josh or I needs to be corrected.

    This would be a significant point (if TFN ever gets a chance to speak.)

  6. TFN Says:

    You are correct. We didn’t sample. We sent the survey to every biology and biological anthropology faculty member we were able to identify at the state’s 35 public colleges and universities and its 15 largest private institutions.

  7. J. A. Baker Says:

    2:51 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar characterizes listening to science experts as bowing to an “oligarchy.”

    Right, so we should be bowing to the “oligarchy” that is the Disco Institute then, Mrs. Dunbar?

  8. Steve Bratteng Says:

    I looked up what Probe Ministries’ Bohlin had to say about masturbation:

    “most masturbation takes place with pornography to look at either actually or in your mind through fantasy. Since Jesus condemned not only the act of adultery but lusting in our mind, this is clearly included.
    You must also keep in mind the addictive nature of nearly all sexual sin including pornography. It eventually becomes a form of idolatry. We worship our sensual pleasure over Jesus.”

    I wish someone would find out from him, if it would be okay to fantasize about Jesus.

  9. Ed Darrell Says:

    Two sides?

    Yeah, there’s God’s side, the truth, and then there’s the creationist view.

    It’s astounding to me that there are so many who fail to understand that with one exception, the major Christian sects in Texas have no trouble with evolution, and in fact have statements on record favoring the teaching of evolution as good science, including Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, and Catholics.

    If so many of these creationists are apostate from their own faiths, why should the SBOE give them any credence?

  10. Glenn Branch Says:

    The challenge grant link is broken.

  11. Joe Lapp Says:

    It sounds like the creationists are really coming off as childish. “It’s not fair”?!

    I wish they understood that science isn’t fair. Reality gets to pick the answers.

    I’m so glad to sit this one out from home. Thanks for making this bearable, Dan.

  12. TFN Says:

    The challenge link is fixed! Thanks for the heads-up, Glenn.

  13. Charles Says:

    Oops!! Some bad words in that video clip—Please delete for me TFN. I guess my point is that Terri Leo can’t handle the truth.

  14. James F Says:

    Charles – classic!

    What’s really unfair is that antievolution is being considered as a valid scientific position, that the Discovery Institute and its cronies are presenting outright lies during the testimony, that the standards were amended at the last minute without any review by the writers or any scientific advisors, that science is being considered as if it were a matter of popular opinion instead of evidence, that scientists and science experts are being disregarded, and so on.

  15. J. A. Baker Says:

    4:19 – Taking “strengths and weaknesses” out of the standards will leave schools vulnerable to lawsuits.

    My, that’s rather…litigious of the fundies. Aren’t they always the ones shrieking about “frivolous lawsuits?”

  16. Tony Whitson Says:

    Leo didn’t just say “not fair,” she actually said “not equal time.”

    In fact, they’re giving way more time to the “includes” than to the “excludes.”

  17. boadicea Says:

    Shorter Leo: “You guys weren’t supposed to fight back so effectively”.

  18. Larry Fafarman Says:

    TFN says,
    –2:48 – An evolution opponent criticizes our argument that the board should be listening to science experts.–

    That depends on what the question is. Experts’ opinions should not carry any extra weight on questions that do not require any expertise — e.g., the question of whether to have the “strengths and weaknesses” language in the Texas science standards.

    –2:51 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar characterizes listening to science experts as bowing to an “oligarchy.”–

    Good for you, Cynthia! That’s telling them off!

    –2:55 – Now creationists are attacking (once again) the TFN Education Fund’s survey of biology and biological anthropology faculty at Texas colleges and universities. —

    The study is badly flawed — see

    http://im-from-missouri.blogspot.com/2008/11/biased-reports-of-biased-survey-of.html

    –3:04 – Good heavens. A testifier complains that she was never taught “weaknesses” of evolution in high school. Like what? She brings up “irreducible complexity,” pseudoscientific babble that has been soundly rejected by clear scientific evidence.–

    There is often disagreement as to what is a real weakness. That is one of the reasons why IMO “strengths and criticisms” should replace “strengths and weaknesses.”

    –What does McLeroy disagree with? A letter TAMEST sent to the state board (unanimous supported by their Board of Directors) criticizing the board for looking to the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute for expert advice, rather than listening to respected Texas scientists.–

    If those out-of-state experts consulted by the board were Darwinists, TAMEST would not complain about them being from out of state. Trust me.

    The letter from TAMEST contains typical Darwinist platitudes but says nothing about the “strengths and weaknesses” language.

    –3:39 – Josh Rosenau from the National Center for Science Education is presenting letters and statements signed by representatives of nearly 60 international, national and state science organizations opposed to efforts to dumb down instruction on evolution. That’s a pretty large “oligarchy,” yes?–

    The definition of “oligarchy” does not include any express limitation on numbers. And those nearly 60 organizations represent a tiny fraction of the total population.

    –3:42 – Board member Terri Leo is complaining again that too many people in a row are testifying against “strengths and weaknesses.” “It’s not fair.”–

    The Discovery Institute complained that Rosenau and Eugenie Scott signed up as supporters of the “strengths and weaknesses” language —

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/03/according_to_texas_education_a.html

    –3:47 – Josh: Removing “strengths and weaknesses” from the standards means publishers won’t have to invent “weaknesses” of evolution in order to get their textbooks adopted in Texas.–

    But removing “strengths and weaknesses” from the standards won’t prevent publishers from “inventing” weaknesses, either. And the widespread idea that weaknesses (or criticisms) may be introduced only by students and may not be introduced by textbooks or teachers is ridiculous.

    –4:06 – Don McLeroy continues to question, as he has in previous hearings, whether understanding evolution is vital to the study of biology.–

    The idea that evolution is central to biology is absurd.

    –4:11 – A bright young man (a high school senior) notes that public opinion research shows support for the science of evolution in the United States is among the lowest for countries in the developed world. He then notes that U.S. achievement scores in science also rate very low. A connection?–

    No, there is no connection — evolution is only a small fraction of science.

    –4:19 – Taking “strengths and weaknesses” out of the standards will leave schools vulnerable to lawsuits. Really? —

    IMO that is an excellent point! Having the “strengths and weaknesses” language in the standards gives some extra protection to those who want to discuss weaknesses in public school science classrooms. And the courts could interpret removal of the language from the standards as a sign that the state board of education does not want the weaknesses to be discussed. Some people have claimed that the “strengths and weaknesses” language is implicit in the “analyze and evaluate” language, but what if it is assumed that the “analyze and evaluate” language applies only to strengths?

    –4:21 – Coghlan wants the standards to keep “strengths and weaknesses”: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, it is broken. The biology textbook adoption in 2003 is Exhibit A. And the board’s creationists have made it clear that they will try to hijack the 2011 biology textbook adoption. —

    As I have said many times, no school system in the universe is required to use Texas-approved textbooks.

    –Yet creationists in January passed amendments in January that single out evolution, something the board’s legal counsel warned them not to do. They have, in fact, laid the foundation for a lawsuit, but not the one they think.–

    How does singling out evolution lay the foundation for a lawsuit?

    –4:26 – We think it’s funny that Coghlan blames the ACLU for making this issue so controversial. —

    The ACLU was the plaintiff-in-fact (the ACLU’s mascots were not the real plaintiffs) in Kitzmiller v. Dover and Selman v. Cobb County.

    ckelly Says (March 25, 2009 at 3:00 pm) —
    –So the anti-evolution (anti-science, anti-modern day education) crowd doesn’t think that science experts should be advising the Texas State Board on the decision for curriculum science standards in Texas schools? —

    Another Darwinist straw-man argument. What we are saying is that science experts’ opinions should not be given any extra weight (particularly not on questions where no scientific expertise is required).

    TFN Says (March 25, 2009 at 3:18 pm) —

    –We didn’t sample. We sent the survey to every biology and biological anthropology faculty member we were able to identify at the state’s 35 public colleges and universities and its 15 largest private institutions. —

    But the survey only covered a sample because only about 45% of the addressees responded. And it was not a representative sample because the respondent group was self-selected, and I think a lot of the survey’s addressees were turned off by the obvious bias of the survey questions.

    J. A. Baker Says (March 25, 2009 at 3:19 pm) —
    2:51 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar characterizes listening to science experts as bowing to an “oligarchy.”

    Right, so we should be bowing to the “oligarchy” that is the Disco Institute then, Mrs. Dunbar?–

    The Disco Institute has not arrogantly demanded that its opinions be controlling.

    Ed Darrell Says (March 25, 2009 at 3:38 pm ) —
    –It’s astounding to me that there are so many who fail to understand that with one exception, the major Christian sects in Texas have no trouble with evolution, and in fact have statements on record favoring the teaching of evolution as good science, including Methodists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, and Catholics.–

    I am tired of hearing about some pope, archbishop, lubavitcher rebbe, ayatollah, guru, witch doctor, etc. pontificating that there is no conflict between evolution and religion. The churches cannot speak for their members on this issue — it’s a personal thing. And if many Catholics don’t follow their church’s policy on abortion — a policy which the Catholic church takes very seriously — then why should they follow their church’s policy on evolution, whatever that policy happens to be?

  19. Ben Says:

    Did anybody actually wade through that last post by Fafarman?

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