Science setback for Texas schools

March 31, 2009

After three all-day meetings and a blizzard of amendments and counter-amendments, the Texas Board of Education cast its final vote Friday on state science standards. The results weren't pretty.

The board majority amended the Earth and Space Science, and Biology standards (TEKS) with loopholes and language that make it even easier for creationists to attack science textbooks.

"The final vote was a triumph of ideology and politics over science," says Dr. Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). "The board majority chose to satisfy creationist constituents and ignore the expertise of highly qualified Texas scientists and scientists across the country." NCSE presented the board with a petition from 54 scientific and educational societies, urging the board to reject language that misrepresents or undermines the teaching of evolution, which the board likewise ignored.

Although the "strengths and weaknesses" wording that has been part of the standards for over a decade was finally excised--wording that has been used to pressure science textbook publishers to include creationist arguments--a number of amendments put the creationist-inspired wording back in.

"What we now have is Son of Strengths and Weaknesses," says Josh Rosenau, a project director for NCSE. "Having students 'analyze and evaluate all sides of scientific evidence' is code that gives creationists a green light to attack biology textbooks."

For example, the revised biology standard (7B) reflects two discredited creationist ideas--that "sudden appearance" and "stasis" in the fossil record somehow disprove evolution. The new standard directs students to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency of scientific explanations concerning any data of sudden appearance, stasis and the sequential nature of groups in the fossil records." Other new standards include language such as "is thought to", or "proposed transitional fossils" to make evolutionary concepts seem tentative when, in fact, such concepts are well-documented and accepted by the scientific community.

The changes will not immediately affect curricula in Texas high schools, but "the standards will affect standardized tests and textbooks," says Rosenau. Thanks to such laws as No Child Left Behind, ubiquitous standardized tests are central to measuring student progress and proficiency. Teachers teach to the test, notes Rosenau, and textbooks have to reflect this.

"Will publishers cave in to pressure from the Texas board to include junk science in their textbooks? It has happened before," says Scott. "But textbooks that please the Texas board will be rejected in other states. Publishers will have to choose between junk science and real science."

"Let's be clear about this," cautioned Dr. Scott. "This is a setback for science education in Texas, not a draw, not a victory. The revised wording opens the door to creationism in the classroom and in the textbooks. The decisions will not only affect Texas students for the next ten years, but could result in watered-down science textbooks across the U.S. There's a reason creationists are claiming victory."

NCSE's Josh Rosenau summed up the frustration of scientists and educators alike: "This is a hell of a way to make education policy."

Source: American Institute of Physics

Explore further: Texas education board approves science standards (Update)

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15 comments

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Corban
not rated yet Mar 31, 2009
We'll see how their test scores measure up.
denijane
not rated yet Apr 01, 2009
We're heading for very interesting future...
ToddC
5 / 5 (1) Apr 01, 2009
Reminds me of an old Doonesbury cartoon where the instructor asks the student which religious doctrine allows him to define the square root of 10 as "3"? GIGO rules in the Texas Board of Education...
mrstoesz
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 01, 2009
I have to say I don't think this is a bad thing. Opening up the science to Debate (even if the challenge comes out of left field) forces everyone to look hard at the evidence. In the end everyone involved will have a better view of all sides and likely much better view of the facts involved.
I am sad to say that many Christians jump in and attack science and theories based on nothing more than their passion and hearsay. However, I have found the same to be true of many defenders of science (they attack religion without any understanding of the science or facts involved).
I am a Christian, but in this post I am not defending one side or the other. The way I see it, both sides in most arguments are completely ignorant of any real facts, and I hope that allowing debate (and if teachers keep things focused on facts) will raise the knowledge level of everyone no matter what side of the argument you start out on.
TomH
not rated yet Apr 01, 2009
Are physicists in field when it comes to the questions about evolution? If physicists aren't in field, why are we involving ourselves in what is essentially an in-house dispute between biologists?
thales
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2009
why are we involving ourselves in what is essentially an in-house dispute between biologists?

Biologists don't subscribe to creationism. This is a dispute between Biblical literalists and rationalists. As far as your "live and let live" attitude: this affects all Americans, since these children will eventually be adults. One can only hope the crazy is contained to Texas.
TomH
3 / 5 (2) Apr 01, 2009
why are we involving ourselves in what is essentially an in-house dispute between biologists?


Biologists don't subscribe to creationism. This is a dispute between Biblical literalists and rationalists. As far as your "live and let live" attitude: this affects all Americans, since these children will eventually be adults. One can only hope the crazy is contained to Texas.


1. Why do you think that no biologists subscribe to creationism?

2. Didn't Feyerabend dispose of the rationalists?

3. The question of being "in field" has nothing to do with "live and let live". Rather, it has to do with professional competence and prerogatives. What if the biologists and chemists should decide to weigh in on cosmological questions?

If creationism is so weak, it should be easy to dispose of in classrooms by science teachers. I hardly think that evolution is in serious trouble if it is analyzed in science class.

I am much more concerned by academic freedom and freedom to investigate science. The Texas decision hardly damages academic freedoms. Feyerabend's ideas are very important about academic freedom. The extreme rhetoric from some "defending" science is quite worrying. Science needs no defending by amateurs or politicking by professionals; it is quite capable of defending itself in its own domain using its own methods.
thales
4 / 5 (4) Apr 02, 2009
I appreciate your use of lists.

1. I didn't mean to imply that NO biologists subscribe to creationism. No doubt you can find Republicans that love Obama, Christians that support abortion, Scientologists who are okay with psychiatric treatment. By and large, the overwhelming number of biologists support evolution rather than special creation. If you want to argue that these are not mutually exclusive, we can do that too.

2. Had to look up Feyerabend on the Wiki. So basically he was against using the scientific method too much? I wouldn't say that "disposes of the rationalists". The scientific method isn't perfect, but it's done a great job so far. Do you have some epistemological approach better than reason? If so, please do tell.

3. All scientists are in field when it comes to questions of what is science and what isn't. If nothing else, science certainly requires testable hypotheses. Everything else is speculation.

If creationism is so weak, it should be easy to dispose of in classrooms by science teachers. I hardly think that evolution is in serious trouble if it is analyzed in science class.


The issue at hand isn't whether evolution is in trouble but whether Americans' education is. Yes, creationism is easy to dispose of, but some teachers may choose to not dispose of it. More importantly, this makes creationism seem more legitimate than it is. It puts in on an even footing with science.

Science needs no defending by amateurs or politicking by professionals; it is quite capable of defending itself in its own domain using its own methods.


It seems like you want students to see for themselves what is wrong with creationism. My fear is that this will be a way for closet creationist teachers to say, "See, this is just as legitimate as the evolution point of view, and it's really just a matter of what you believe." If, on the other hand, the teachers turn out to be intellectually honest, then all well and good; you are right that the light of investigation will show creationism for the sham that it is. I am a little too cynical to believe that will actually happen.
austux
1 / 5 (5) Apr 02, 2009
If you believe yourself to be the endpoint of an elongated cascade of literally-incredible accidents, why not be very happy to continue to be allowed to present your faith to students, and be delighted with allowance to misrepresent that faith as "science?"
thales
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 03, 2009
So many misconceptions in one paragraph! So I'll deal with them slowly.

If you believe yourself to be the endpoint

In fact, few if any evolutionary biologists would say humans are the endpoint of evolutionary processes. We are a midpoint, and there is evidence that our evolution has sped up significantly since the advent of agriculture.

of an elongated cascade

A long sequence, in other words. Yes, that's true. Although sequence (or cascade) is maybe not the best way to think of it. It's not quite so step-by-step as that. It's more like a tremendous number of parallel branches are produced each generation, and then many are eliminated - so only the remaining branches produce another generation of parallel branches.

of literally-incredible accidents

Ah, and here's the rub. This points to a faulty underlying assumption. The argument, if you don't mind my rephrasing it for you, is basically, "It is inconceivable that the complexity of life could have originated naturally. Therefore, it must have been intelligently designed." Really, the argument is "I can't conceive that the complexity of life could have originated naturally."

Here's my response: it is unreasonable to conclude that something is impossible just because you can't imagine it. In fact, complexity commonly arises from natural causes: for example, in weather patterns. Also, your characterization of evolution as "accidents" leaves out selection (natural or otherwise), without which evolution would not work.

why not be very happy to continue to be allowed to present your faith to students

A conflation of "faith" with any belief. This is often confusing because "faith" has more than one definition. Saying I have faith that Zeus causes lightning is very different from saying I have faith that lightning is caused by a build-up of static electricity. The key difference is that one of these statements is testable. This is essentially the difference between religious belief and scientific belief.

and be delighted with allowance to misrepresent that faith as "science?"

See above. Evolution, as a model, presents testable hypotheses. Creationism and intelligent design models do not. Therefore the evolutionary model is scientific, while the other models are not.
bmcghie
not rated yet Apr 05, 2009
So thales, when are you printing the posters of that eloquent little dressing-down? I'll buy some to glue onto people I know. :)

Excellent point-by-point rebuttal.
thales
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2009
Thanks, bmcghie, I'm not always sure how clearly I'm coming across.

Modernmystic, I see you gave my two point-by-point comments above both a "1". Did you want to respond or just hit and run?
Negative
5 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2009
thales: very well said. I would only add a small remark: noticeably the creationists manifest a very specific reluctance to consider the tremendous number of generations that span the time since life began. from here stems, among others, the rather less intelligent "challenge": "why don't we see now apes evolving into humans?".
KBK
5 / 5 (1) Apr 07, 2009
I'm spiritualistic in nature and understanding.... but certainly not 'biblical creationist'. This shit has just got to be stopped. The vast # of scientists and theoreticians are spiritualist. They believe in 'something' but certainly not the god (small g) model that is the HEAVILY EDITED and SEVERELY COMPROMISED 'thing' used in The US, today..commonly known as 'the bible'. (no capitals)
powercosmic
5 / 5 (1) Apr 07, 2009
Look, Texas is already done for, people here are already hopelessly STOOOO-PID and thats the way they like it. In Texas a kid who can read is considered "gifted" ...

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