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.
3:39 – 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.