Live Blogging: The Texas SBOE vs. Science III

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5:49 p.m. – We’re entering the home stretch (maybe). Charles Garner, a creationist chemist from Baylor, is up. “There is an effort to redefine theories and how they distinguish from hypotheses” that’s not accepted by everyone in science. We certainly agree that there has been an effort to redefine scientific theories, but that effort has been primarily from the creationist side.

5:51 – Garner is offering a PowerPoint presentation showing some of his research. This involves “stereoelectivity in peptide bond formation.” Now, do we know anything about this topic? Of course not. Do any of these board members? We’ll say (safely) no. This is a common tactic by evolution opponents: dazzle nonscientists with scientific jargon as if they can really understand it. Then use that to justify their arguments against evolution. Seelke tried this tactic earlier (and was shot down later by Wetherington).

6:10 – Garner: “I’m not in favor of bringing creationism or ‘intelligent design’ into public schools.” Oh, no. Perish the thought. He just wants to bring into the classroom the arguments that creationists and ID supporters use to attack evolution.

6:13 – Garner: “Anything you don’t allow to be questioned is … religion. You don’t want to enshrine any scientific theory.” This is one of the creationists’ key arguments: evolution has become a religion for science. For Pete’s sake. No one has suggested that questions about evolution are not allowed. Scientists ask questions all the time. But we shouldn’t be teaching students conjecture. We should teach them evidence that answers the questions scientists ask. Opponents of evolution have yet to show such scientific evidence in their efforts to discredit evolution.

6:17 – Garner: “Strengths and weaknesses” should be fine for the standards if the only weaknesses discussed in classrooms are truly scientific weaknesses. Well, yes. But if the weaknesses evolution deniers have promoted were truly based on science, there would be no debate here. In fact, scientists themselves would be demanding that such weaknesses be taught.

6:21 – Garner: “The problem is, the conclusive evidence is really hard to get on evolution.”

6:27 – Garner says with a straight face: “I don’t endorse any pseudoscience at all. It must be scientific strengths and weaknesses.”

6:29 – David Hillis is up to bat. (McLeroy just reminded the board that Meyer will be brought back for questions because his presentation earlier was shortened to take Prof. Skoog’s testimony before he had to leave to catch his flight home. So the Discovery Institute will get the last word.)

6:31 – Hillis echoes comments from Skoog and Wetherington — respect your writing teams and approve the standards draft they have proposed after nearly a year of work.

6:32 – Hillis lays out the overwhelming volume of scientific research supporting evolution and points out that this mass of research has vastly expanded in recent decades. Much of this most recent research, he notes, has important applications for today, such as medicine and health care. Evolution explains, for example, why we need new flu vaccines each year.

6:39 – Another reminder, this time from Hillis, that creationists on the state board tried in 2003 to force publishers to include phony “weaknesses” in new biology textbooks. They didn’t have the votes to prevail at the time. They may well have enough votes in 2011, when the next generation of science textbooks are up for adoption in Texas.

6:40 – Hillis: “Evolution of the Species” was not the last argument in evolution. Why are we still debating 19th-century arguments about evolution? Research on evolution has vastly expanded just in recent decades, making those arguments outdated and a waste of classroom time.

6:43 – Hillis joins Wetherington’s attack on the argument that the “Cambrian explosion” supposedly offers a “weakness” of evolution.

6:45 – Too bad we can’t type faster. Hillis is kicking butt and taking names. One anti-evolution argument after another bites the dust in his presentation.

6:48 – Hillis: “Science doesn’t show that supernatural explanations are false. They are simply out of the realm of science.”

6:49 – Hillis: Phony “weaknesses” of evolution have no more place in science classrooms than alchemy or astrology.

6:51 – Questions for Hillis. It’s clear right away that Hillis isn’t going to suffer fools. Good for him.

6:53 – Hillis invites board members to talk to other scientists across the street at the University of Texas, one of the world’s great research institutions. Think they’ll take him up on it?

7:09 – Yes, we’re getting tired. Long day. But Meyer is waiting in the wings.

7:11 – Uh oh. Board member Gail Lowe is challenging Hillis on science. Here is Hillis’ bio. And here is Lowe’s.

7:14 – Now Dunbar is challenging him. Here’s her bio.

7:19 – Board member Barbara Cargill accuses Hillis of not speaking to the board with respect and humility. Pot, meet the kettle.

7:23 – The end to Hillis’ testimony brought some sparks. McLeroy demanded that Hillis stop speaking when he (Hillis) questioned the qualifications of the Discovery Institute’s co-founder and the other two creationists on the review panel.

7:26 – Meyer is back at the podium. Now we get a long creationist monologue from him and from board member Terri Leo. Meyer expresses indignation that Hillis and Wetherington had the audacity to point out the lack of qualifications of Meyer and other creationists on the panel. Meyer accuses them of relying on the “argument of authority.” This is gonna get deep — and there’s no opportunity for rebuttal.

7:28 – Meyer: We may be outnumbered, but there are lots of qualified scientists who agree with us. Oh, please.

7:29 – Wow. Meyer — who acknowledged earlier that he is not a biologist — is calling one of Hillis’ points a “half-baked idea.” Hillis is one of the world’s most respected biologists in his field. This is truly appalling.

7:31 – Meyer is demonstrating how nonscientists can master pseudoscientific propaganda. It’s fascinating to watch. This is what he wanted: the chance to appear as a science “expert” before an elected body.

7:34 – Board member Pat Hardy asks: How old do you think the earth is? Meyer: I think it’s 4.6 billion years old. He’s learned. When asked at the Kansas evolution “show trial,” he refused to be specific. In fact, he was so vague that his answer would have pleased either young earth creationists or supporters of evolution.

7:38: Meyer: We can’t allow someone on an issue like this to decide what’s credible and what isn’t. Really??? Isn’t that how peer-reviewed science journals work? Or should we just allow any crackpot idea from the Discovery Institute to be taught (even if they can’t provide a shred of credible scientific evidence to back it up)?

7:41 – Chairman Don McLeroy and other creationists on the board are falling all over themselves to ask Meyer’s opinion on biological questions that Meyer essentially admitted earlier today that he’s not really qualified to answer.

7:44 – McLeroy is now rambling on about the brain and other complex parts of the anatomy that are “designed.” This is classic “intelligent design” pseudoscientific nonsense.

7:47 – McLeroy (a dentist) wants to know about the evolution of teeth. He asks: isn’t the fact that they fit together so perfectly a weakness of evolution? We assume he means that they must have been intelligently designed.

7:51 – McLeroy, in his previous comment, referred to some recent research he read on teeth and evolution. Our friends at the National Center for Science Education just passed on to us a Web site that appears to be the source of that “research” – a creationist Web site. You can see it here.

7:56 – Looks like a reader beat us to the punch on McLeroy’s research source!

The hearing has just concluded. Thanks for reading!

28 Responses to “Live Blogging: The Texas SBOE vs. Science III”

  1. Mike Says:

    Charles Garner suggested that the Ideal Gas Law was somehow the same thing as teaching Creationism, b/c we know it’s false. However, we expect students to resolve that falsehood because it’s just a model for how real gases behave. What exactly was his point?

  2. Patsye Says:

    That is the problem – non-scientists can’t decipher all the mumbo-jumbo they throw out. It SOUNDS good to them. And it is hard for teachers in the classroom to refute all their garbage without spending inordinate amounts of time on something that shouldn’t be there to start with. Grrrr.

  3. chem Says:

    The point was the Ideal Gas Law has “weakness” the idea being that some say laws don’t have weaknesses

  4. James F Says:

    I’m glad to hear that the pro-science side does not appear to be giving the promoters of academic fraud any quarter. Excellent.

    Hmmm…will Meyer close by invoking the Global Darwinist Conspiracy™?

  5. jdg Says:

    # chem Says:
    January 21, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    The point was the Ideal Gas Law has “weakness” the idea being that some say laws don’t have weaknesses

    ……….. you’re kidding me, right? Ideal gas law has weaknesses? You sir have no clue. Please, just like Larry F, hide your head in the sand.

  6. Patsye Says:

    Keep blogging guys, I have lost the audio feed.

  7. godless dave Says:

    Barbara Cargill accuses Hillis of not speaking to the board with respect and humility

    Aw, did the mean ‘ol scientist hurt your feewings?

  8. TenaciousP Says:

    Thanks for the great blog. Have y’all ever heard of “Project Steve?” It’s the group of scientist named “Steve” who affirm evolution. They number 991……outnumbering the 700 so-called “scientists” who doubt evolution.

  9. chem Says:

    I still have live feed go to http://www.tea.state.tx.us/

  10. James F Says:

    Tenacious P,

    Project Steve, I’m happy to report, recently hit 996.

    Also, it’s important to keep in mind – since creationists use it for PR – that the Dissent from Darwin list at no point states that the signers doubt evolution (the FAQ even states that it does not support intelligent design).

  11. Tom Says:

    McLeroy just said he’d read the “Latest Science” which says, “Tooth Evolution Theory Lacks Bite” Wow, he gave me an eminently google-able phrase: http://www.creationsafaris.com/crev200810.htm

    Gee, /such/ a surprise that he’d be getting it not from a primary scientific source, but from a creationist website. And calling it the latest science. And of course, there over on the right side of the page is a quote-mine of Dr Werner Arber.

  12. Patsye Says:

    Oh my gosh, could they possibly fawn over Meyer any more?

  13. Ben Says:

    I thought some of you would enjoy this funny satirical essay about creationists, from the most recent issue of Free Inquiry:

    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=wright_29_2

  14. Ben Says:

    When it comes to McLeroy, I am a rabid anti-dentite.

  15. Dano Johnson Says:

    Thanks for blogging all day. So are tomorrow’s board discussions public? I listened during Dr. Hillis’ testimony and some board members kept referring to ‘what was inevitable’ tomorrow.

  16. Larry Fafarman Says:

    I think that one really needed to testify in person to have one’s ideas considered by the board. A board member said that the Texas Education Agency received 6,000 emails commenting on the proposed standards.

    As I said before, I proposed that “strengths and weaknesses” be changed to “strengths and criticisms.” “Criticisms” is a general, neutral term that covers limitations, real weaknesses, invalid criticisms, criticisms of whole theories, and criticisms of imperfections in theories. IMO “weaknesses” is not an appropriate term because invalid criticisms are not real weaknesses.

    Teaching criticisms of evolution in the public schools — even bogus criticisms — broadens students’ education, encourages critical thinking, helps students learn the material, helps prevent and correct misconceptions, and helps assure that technically sophisticated criticisms of evolution are taught by qualified science teachers.

    The Darwinists are the underdogs — they are on the side of dogma, censorship, spoonfeeding, those kinds of things, whereas the Darwin-doubters are in favor of open inquiry, academic freedom, critical thinking, those kinds of things.

    jdg Said (January 21, 2009 at 7:55 pm) —
    — # chem Says:
    January 21, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    –The point was the Ideal Gas Law has “weakness” the idea being that some say laws don’t have weaknesses

    ……….. you’re kidding me, right? Ideal gas law has weaknesses? You sir have no clue.–

    Well, the Ideal Gas Law does have a big weakness — it is inaccurate for very dense gases. Then the Van der Waals equations have to be used.

    –Please, just like Larry F, hide your head in the sand. —

    “I’m always kicking their butts — that’s why they don’t like me.”
    — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

  17. ndt Says:

    McLeroy (a dentist) wants to know about the evolution of teeth. He asks: isn’t the fact that they fit together so perfectly a weakness of evolution?

    Perfectly? Dr. McLeroy has obviously never seen my teeth. And what’s perfect about how wisdom teeth fit?

  18. jdg Says:

    Larry Fafarman Says:
    January 21, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    I think that one really needed to testify in person to have one’s ideas considered by the board. A board member said that the Texas Education Agency received 6,000 emails commenting on the proposed standards.

    As I said before, I proposed that “strengths and weaknesses” be changed to “strengths and criticisms.” “Criticisms” is a general, neutral term that covers limitations, real weaknesses, invalid criticisms, criticisms of whole theories, and criticisms of imperfections in theories. IMO “weaknesses” is not an appropriate term because invalid criticisms are not real weaknesses.

    …. Once again, he wants us to lie to kids………..

  19. jdg Says:

    These people on the SBOE must have had a lobotomy. They are in COMPLETE denial about how science works. Just by reading that the SBOE was drooling over Meyer states how they are going to vote. I spoke with most of my science faculty members and they are ashamed that a group of noneducated people are going to put these anti science standards in. Well, lots of kids will fail the taks because our deparment will not lie to students about supposed “weaknesses” of any scientific theory.

  20. jdg Says:

    Well, that’s why we have the courts. Trust me, this anti science ruling will not change anything. When the bell rings, I will close my door and teach science.

  21. Reed Says:

    Wonder if McElroy would support teaching children the “strengths and weaknesses” of regular dental checkups?

  22. Jon Says:

    Mike, it’s all about Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, not about raising real issues. When you have no there, there, that’s what you have left to work with, spinning the issues until nonscientific listeners get confused and uncertain. They’ve gotten good at it over the years.

    Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t.

    I’m curious – do any of you guys how how many of the creationist board members actually were honest and were honest and Christian and told their constituents beforehand where they stood on evolution? I first heard of this happening in the pretty moderate San Diego. That seems to be what it takes to get a creationist majority on boards even in some pretty conservative places like Kansas (remember, they were gone next election). Do you guys know if that’s what’s been happening here, too?

    Pointing out this kind of unChristian deception far and wide might help with getting some of them UNelected when it’s time, and I’ve seen an implication that’s what happened with Dunbar.

  23. Ben Says:

    Larry, you need fresh material.

  24. Larry Fafarman Says:

    Ben Says (January 22, 2009 at 8:38 am) —
    –Larry, you need fresh material. —

    I have to keep hammering away at the same ideas because I wasn’t able to testify at the hearings and therefore it is hard to publicize my ideas. So far no one has presented any real arguments against my proposal to replace “strengths and weaknesses” with “strengths and criticisms,” so I presume that this proposal is OK with you folks. Let’s just call my ideas “oldies but goodies.”

  25. Ben Says:

    ‘Let’s just call my ideas “oldies but goodies.”’

    I have an idea. Let’s not.

  26. Larry Fafarman Says:

    Ben says,
    –‘Let’s just call my ideas “oldies but goodies.”’

    I have an idea. Let’s not.–

    All you have done is scoff at my ideas — you have presented no rational arguments against them.

    Scoffing: “the scornful treatment of what is worthy — is based on an illusion whereby falsehood is made to look large and important and truth small and stupid, not by thorough and studied reason, but mere belittlement. ”
    http://merecomments.typepad.com/merecomments/2008/12/scoffing.html

  27. Marsha C. Says:

    “7:38: Meyer: We can’t allow someone on an issue like this to decide what’s credible and what isn’t.”

    Isn’t that exactly what they’re asking of students? “Teach the controversy” and “let students decide for themselves.”

    These people are so full of it. Their claim that “strengths and weaknesses” have nothing to do with religion is absurd. In fact, “strengths and wekanesses” have nothing to do with science. Who do they think they’re fooling?

    Has anybody seen “Idiocracy,” the movie set a few hundred years in the future? If you haven’t, watch it.

  28. Marsha C. Says:

    “7:47 – McLeroy (a dentist) wants to know about the evolution of teeth. He asks: isn’t the fact that they fit together so perfectly a weakness of evolution? We assume he means that they must have been intelligently designed.”

    My late grandmother, my late father and I must disagree that teeth fit together perfectly. If they did, there’d be no orthodontists. If an intelligent designer did the work on our mouths, he/she had a mischievous streak.

    I’m so happy that McLeroy isn’t my dentist!

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