Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Falling Behind on Science Education

March 30, 2012

A national poll shows that 97 percent of American voters think improving the quality of science education is important to the country’s ability to compete globally. Yet most of those voters give the quality of science education in America right now only a “C” or lower and rate it behind that of most other countries. (This polls follows a report from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute that gave a “C” grade to science curriculum standards in Texas and many other states.)

The poll was conducted for Achieve, a bipartisan, nonprofit education reform organization created by governors and corporate leaders in 1996. That organization helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments and strengthen accountability.

Achieve is working with 26 state to develop a set of “Next Generation Science Standards.” Texas isn’t one of those states. But that’s OK because the insurance and software salesmen, dentist and assorted political activists who have sat on the Texas State Board of Education  in recent years are sure they know everything students should be learning in their science classrooms. Those wonderful board members have been busy “standing up to experts,” asking why we don’t have “cat-dogs” or a “rat-cats” if evolution is really established science, and calling critical thinking “gobbledygook.”

Happy Birthday, Charles!

February 10, 2012

By Garrett Mize
TFN Youth Advocacy Coordinator

Students are standing up for science across the state this month as our Texas Freedom Network Student Chapters celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday at university campuses from Brownsville and El Paso to Houston.

Darwin Day is Sunday, February 12, and students are using the day as an occasion to highlight the importance of teaching evolution in science classes.

Next year the Texas State Board of Education will adopt science textbooks, and evolution will be a key battle in this decision. The purpose of these TFN campus events is to educate students about irresponsible efforts by politicians to dumb-down what public schools teach about evolution.

This is also an opportunity to mobilize students into advocacy around science education standards.

TFN believes Texas students deserve a 21st-century science education that prepares them to succeed in college and the jobs of tomorrow.

During debate over new public school science standards in 2009, the Texas Freedom Network and other supporters of sound science education persuaded a majority of State Board of Education members to strip out a requirement that students learn about phony “weaknesses” of evolution. Unfortunately, far-right pressure groups succeeded in opening the door to other creationist attacks on evolution in science classrooms, so the controversial debate over how to teach evolution in Texas is not yet over.

2011 in Quotes: The War on Science

December 26, 2011

The assault on science and science education continued throughout 2011. Today’s review of quotes from the past year shows that evolution and climate change were major targets in the right’s war on science, especially in Texas. Read other quotes from the far right in 2011 here.

“The controversy over science standards was actually the result of an attempted hijacking of science for ideological purposes by evolutionists. Their agenda was much more about worldviews than biology. The standards reflect real science and challenge students to study some of evolution’s most glaring weaknesses in explaining the fossil record and the complexity of the cell.”

– Don McLeroy, former Texas State Board of Education member, writing in an op-ed column about the board’s record over the past several years. Austin American-Statesman, January 1, 2011

“If your theory’s right, all these species would get together and form a new species, then where is the cat-dog or the rat-cat, whatever it be. They don’t come together. Cats go with cats, and dogs go with dogs.”

– Ken Mercer, member of the Texas State Board of Education, in another installment of his argument that evolution is bad science because there are no cat-dog and rat-cat hybrids. TFN Insider, October 28, 2011

“Evolutionists will go ‘Oh, it just happened by chance.’ Today we know that’s false. Today we know that even a single-celled organism is hugely complex. When was the last time we’ve seen someone go into a windstorm or a tornado or any other kind of natural disaster, and say ‘Guess what? That windstorm just created a watch.'”

– Texas state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, responding to a question about whether or not he is a creationist. Zedler proposed legislation to bar “discrimination” against college faculty and students who promote creationism. It failed to pass. Mother Jones, March 21, 2011

“Are you kidding me, Earth Day in the schools? We’ve got to save the Earth? I mean, that’s like a tick . . . trying to save a whole heard of cattle. I mean, ticks go along for the ride, they don’t manage the cattle, they don’t tell them where to go. And that’s our arrogance in thinking that we can do something to save the planet and control where the planet goes. You know, we’re just along for the ride and we’re insignificant peons on this thing.”

– David Barton, president of the religious-right group WallBuilders, on human attempts to slow climate change. RightWingWatch, April 26, 2011

“As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they’d already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you’ve got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that!”

– David Barton, the religious right’s favorite fake historian, on the Founding Fathers and their opinions on teaching evolution and creationism/intelligent design. Mother Jones, June 9, 2011

“I hear your mom was asking about evolution and, you know, it’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it, but in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools. Because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.”

– Texas Gov. Rick Perry, talking to a young boy in New Hampshire during a presidential campaign stop. National Public Radio, August 18, 2011

“I think what you’re advocating for is censorship on the part of government. So the government would prohibit intelligent design from even the possibility of being taught in questioning the issue of evolution. And if you look at scientists there is not a unanimity of agreement on the origins of life. … Why would we forestall any particular theory? Because I don’t think that even evolutionists, by and large, would say that this is proven fact. They say that this is a theory, as well as intelligent design. So I think the best thing to do is to let all scientific facts on the table, and let students decide.”

– Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, at an Iowa forum where she explained her views on teaching creationism in public schools. Think Progress, November 30, 2011

“I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized. I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.”

– Gov. Rick Perry, again in New Hampshire on the Republican presidential campaign trail, making a claim that was a contender for Politifact’s “Lie of the Year.” Politifact Texas, Austin American-Statesman, December 5, 2011

Are You Fracking Kidding Me?

December 19, 2011

Maybe it’s the stress of the campaign. Maybe it was another gaffe by the gaffe-prone governor. Maybe it’s just simply a change of heart.

But whatever the reason, Gov. Rick Perry exposed himself this weekend as a lover of scientific evidence. For reals.

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Science Back in the Crosshairs in Texas?

November 23, 2011

Just when it looked like science education might be safe for a while in Texas public schools, the State Board of Education could soon be dragging the state back into the textbook wars over evolution.

At last week’s meeting in Austin, state board members began mapping out the schedule for adopting textbooks and curriculum standards over the next decade. Although they won’t make any final decisions until early next year, board members considered a schedule that would have them adopting new science textbooks in 2013. Those new textbooks would go into Texas classrooms in fall of 2014, replacing others that have been in use since 2004.

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Mercer Still Attacking Science and Teachers

October 28, 2011

How in the world did we miss this? Seems that in August, Texas State Board of Education member Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, had some interesting things to say about science and social studies curriculum standards on a Tea Party radio program. Speaking on the San Antonio Tea Party’s Boiling Point radio show, Mercer offered much of the usual commentary we’ve come to expect from the state board’s far-right members. But some of what he said was more revealing than he probably intended.

For example, Mercer claims during the radio interview that one of his particularly goofy arguments against evolutionary science in 2009 was just a joke. But as he continues, it sounds like he really does believe that the absence of “dog-cats” and “cat-rats” makes the case against evolution:

“If your theory’s right, all these species would get together and form a new species, then where is the cat-dog or the rat-cat, whatever it be. They don’t come together. Cats go with cats, and dogs go with dogs.”

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Perry Stands Up for Science

September 16, 2011

Before you get too excited about the headline, let’s make it clear that this happened in the context of Gov. Rick Perry seeking the Republican nomination for president. So while it would be great to be able to say that Gov. Perry has offered mainstream science a sincere Texan bear hug, it’s more likely that his defense of science was commanded by the politics of the day.

This all originates from Monday’s Republican presidential debate.

Gov. Perry has appeared in recent weeks to be locked in a two-man race for the nomination with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Many political observers believe part of Gov. Perry’s strategy to win the war against Gov. Romney is winning the battle for the votes of social conservatives against U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, herself not exactly a champion for science.

Which brings us to Monday’s debate in which Gov. Perry was hit hard for his controversial move to mandate the HPV vaccine for girls in Texas. Throwing some of the hardest punches was Rep. Bachmann, who in an interview after the debate said a tearful woman approached her to say her daughter suffered mental retardation because of the vaccine.

Gov. Perry pounced:

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Perry: Scientists Are Money-Grubbing Liars!

August 17, 2011

Those weren’t the exact words Texas Gov. Rick Perry used, but that was the gist of his comments in New Hampshire this morning. Already an acknowledged evolution denier, Gov. Perry made clear that he is also an anti-science fanatic on the problem of climate change. A Union Leader editor tweeted the following quote from Gov. Perry:

Perry “I do believe the issue of global warming has been politicized”

The same editor, Drew Cline, followed up with another tweet about the governor campaigning in New Hampshire:

Perry says “a substantial number of scientists has manipulated data to keep the money rolling in.”

A New Hampshire public radio reporter also tweeted about the new presidential candidate’s science denial:

#perry on climate change: “Scientists are “coming forward daily” to disavow a “theory that remains unproven.”

It’s worth noting that at least two of the people Gov. Perry has appointed to chair the State Board of Education in Texas are also climate-change deniers. Just after presiding over the revision of controversial new science curriculum standards that called the existence of climate change into question in 2009, then-Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, told a reporter:

“Conservatives like me think the evidence (for human contributions to global warming) is a bunch of hooey.”

After the Texas Senate refused to confirm Gov. Perry’s renomination of McLeroy to another term as chair, Gov. Perry appointed Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, in 2009. Lowe was already on the record as denying the science of climate change, telling a reporter in 2008 that she would vote to reject any textbook that discussed human actions that add to the problem of global warming:

“That’s another textbook that will be turned down by me — political agenda and not solid objective science.”

Rick Perry’s Problem with Science Education

August 16, 2011

The culture wars will feature prominently in Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The Texas Freedom Network has put together a primer on Gov. Perry’s record in the culture wars at www.tfn.org/rickperry. Here, for example, is what the governor says about teaching “intelligent design”/creationism in public school science classes. From a letter to a Texas constituent:

“Recognizing that evolution is a theory, and not claimed by anyone to be more than that, the governor believes it would be a disservice to our children to teach them only one theory on the origin of our existence without recognizing other scientific theories worth consideration. Intelligent design is a concept that is gaining greater traction because it points to a notion that most people believe to be true: that we were created by an intelligent being who designed the human race with great detail and complexity….”

From a newspaper interview:

“I am a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and I believe it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution.”

The governor has also appointed — in 2007, 2009 and this year — three creationists in a row to chair the State Board of Education, which guides what public schools teach nearly 5 million Texas kids.

Read more about Gov. Perry’s record in the culture wars here.

Creationists Target Publisher in Texas Adoption

July 21, 2011

Update: TFN has obtained a copy of letter addressed to the state board signed by five members of the official biology review panels. The letter challenges the alleged “errors” identified in the report presented to the board late yesterday, concluding:

“Holt McDougal’s supplement, as well as the publisher’s response to the reviewers, accurately describes the current state of the science, satisfies the TEKS, and matches the other supplements already approved by the board on Thursday.”

The Texas State Board of Education’s public hearing and debate over proposed new science instructional materials today went well — until a big bump at the end. Most of the instructional materials the education commissioner has recommended for adoption received preliminary approval from the state board. The board has scheduled a final vote tomorrow.

But toward the end of the debate this afternoon, Texas Education Agency staff revealed that a review team had identified eight objections to content in the Biology instructional materials submitted for approval by publisher Holt McDougal. Board members were told that Holt McDougal is arguing that the objections are based on bad science.

Indeed, the objections appear to be largely the work of a young-earth creationist — David Shormann — on the team that reviewed the company’s materials. Here is a review Shormann wrote about the Holt McDougal materials and shared with his review team. We obtained this document last week through a Public Information Act request to TEA.

You can see that many of Shormann’s objections in his review have been repeated — almost word for word — in this document TEA distributed to state board members this afternoon. The TEA document lists the eight objections and includes Holt’s rationale for not making the changes Shormann demands. Because of the very abbreviated and opaque review process the state board established for this science adoption, it appears that few people outside TEA and Holt McDougal even knew about these objections. Indeed, the ability of the public to get information about the proposed instructional materials and reviews has been very limited.

In any case, the state board’s creationist members obviously smell blood. In fact, they successfully opposed even permitting a representative from Holt McDougal to address the board and explain why the demanded changes represent bad science. So the board will have to sort through this issue tomorrow.

Setback for Creationists in Texas

July 15, 2011

Efforts to push creationist instructional materials into Texas science classrooms were dealt a setback today. The Texas education commissioner’s list of science materials recommended for adoption by the State Board of Education, which was released today, doesn’t include the proposed materials from New Mexic0-based International Databases. The Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education reported last April that the International Databases materials reject mainstream evolutionary science and instead promote “intelligent design”/creationism.

The commissioner’s list is usually based on recommendations from Texas Education Agency review teams made up of teachers, scholars and other citizens. Those teams met in Austin last month to review all of the proposed science instructional materials. Apparently, the review teams decided that International Databases had failed to cover the required curriculum standards appropriately.

On the other hand, the State Board of Education can choose to adopt or reject any instructional materials simply by a majority vote, regardless of what the education commissioner recommends. Moreover, it has been difficult to obtain information regarding any changes the other publishers might have made to their products to meet objections from creationists. And new state board chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, has already said that she and other creationists on the board will try to force publishers to add anti-evolution arguments to their materials.

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Barbara Cargill’s Anti-Science Agenda

July 11, 2011

New Texas State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, made clear at her speech last week to Texas Eagle Forum activists that she is determined to politicize the board’s adoption of science instructional materials on July 20-22. She’ll be walking in the footsteps of former board chairman Don McLeroy and chairwoman Gail Lowe, both of whom failed to win Senate confirmation because they put their political agendas ahead of educating Texas kids.

We’ve already told you about about Cargill questioning the faith of state board colleagues who don’t agree with her. And we reported other troubling comments from Cargill’s Texas Eagle Forum talk. But Cargill also made extended comments about the coming science adoption — and those comments aren’t encouraging for parents who want their children to get an education based on sound science instead of ideology.

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More on International Databases

May 10, 2011

We’re learning a little bit more about International Databases, the previously unknown outfit from New Mexico that a few weeks ago submitted science instructional materials to the Texas Education Agency that are clearly laced with the junk science of intelligent design/creationism.

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Publisher Proposes Creationist Materials

April 25, 2011

A 2009 decision by the Texas State Board of Education has enabled creationists to once again try to mess with science in public school classrooms in Texas.

Read the Press Release from the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education

The Texas Education Agency has released proposed supplemental web-based materials for science courses from publishers who want their product in your child’s classroom as early as the 2011-2012 school year.

But there’s a problem with at least one of those publishers that represents a potential leap backward for science education in Texas.

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Was Don McLeroy Right After All?

April 1, 2011

Uh-oh. Were Don McLeroy and other creationists on the Texas State Board of Education right when they demanded that people “stand up to experts” and declare that evolution is bad science? That global warming is “hooey”? Well, it looks like the folks at Scientific American are throwing in the towel.

“There’s no easy way to admit this. For years, helpful letter writers told us to stick to science. They pointed out that science and politics don’t mix. They said we should be more balanced in our presentation of such issues as creationism, missile defense and global warming. We resisted their advice and pretended not to be stung by the accusations that the magazine should be renamed Unscientific American, or Scientific Unamerican, or even Unscientific Unamerican. But spring is in the air, and all of nature is turning over a new leaf, so there’s no better time to say: you were right, and we were wrong.”

Read the whole thing here.