GCISE Press Release

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Today Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education issued a press release concerning confusion that arose, yesterday, during the appeal of Cobb County’s disclaimers.

December 16, 2005

Crucial Evidence Left Out at Cobb County Appeal, Says Georgia Science Advocacy Group

GCISE (Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education) consists of parents, clergy members, K-12 faculty, higher education faculty, and other concerned citizens. GCISE is committed to improving science education in the state of Georgia, and therefore is deeply concerned about inaccuracies in the scientific information and legal evidence discussed at the 11th Circuit Federal Appeals Court today. We hope to educate the public on this matter in advance of the Court’s ruling.

An erroneous conclusion was drawn in court today that the evolution disclaimer stickers were placed in Cobb science textbooks before parental complaints about the evolution content. As reported on 3/29/2002 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution however, the Cobb County School Board received complaints about new biology textbooks at a very contentious public school board meeting on 3/28/2002. During that meeting Cobb parent Marjorie Rogers informed the board that she had a petition signed by 2,300 people “dissatisfied with science texts that espouse ‘Darwinism, unchallenged.’” It was reported at that time that the Board would appease these parents by asking their lawyers to draft disclaimers “caution[ing] students that evolution is only a theory.” The Board testified in federal district court that they were addressing concerns from a group of conservative Christian parents with objections to teaching evolution.

To make matters worse, it was abundantly clear that confusion still reigns in Georgia about the meaning of the terms “theory” and “fact” as used by scientists. The National Academy of Sciences, organized by President Lincoln in 1863 to advise the nation on scientific matters, defines a scientific fact as “an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed.” Furthermore, they define a scientific theory as “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” With these definitions in mind, biological evolution can be considered both a fact and a theory. The readily observable “Fact” of Evolution is that populations of organisms change over time. Even creationist think tanks are on record accepting this idea. For example, no one denies that bacteria are rapidly evolving resistance to antibiotics and insects to pesticides. The “Theory” of Evolution uses several natural mechanisms including natural selection to explain quite well how the fact of evolution has occurred. Contrary to statements made in Court, evolution is probably our most thoroughly validated scientific theory, with hundred of years of supporting evidence.

Finally, the disclaimer sticker placed in Cobb textbooks calls evolution a theory about “the origin of life.” This is incorrect and makes the sticker extremely misleading to students. Evolution does not explain the origin of life on earth; it explains how that life has changed over the millennia since its origin. Thus the sticker is incorrectly representing scientific understanding.

Our children deserve complete, scientifically accurate textbooks, unadulterated by politically motivated, obfuscating messages. The success of Georgia students in college and in a global economy depends on science literacy. GCISE pledges our full support to parents and teachers wishing to provide the best possible education in modern science for their students.

Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education P.O. Box 4642 Marietta, GA 30061 http://www.georgiascience.org Email: [Enable javascript to see this email address.] Tel: 770-825-8002 Additional contact: Sarah Pallas, GSU Biology professor, 404-651-1551

8 Comments

Judge Carnes said that the sticker is “technically accurate.” Here is part of what the sticker states: “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

I disagree that the sticker is “technically accurate.” As Reed mentions, the issue of “the origin of living things” is importantly different than whether cells evolved into elephants. Moreover, the sticker is too vague to be “technically accurate.” The authors of the sticker don’t say what they mean by the key words “evolution,” “fact,” and “theory.” And without further elaboration, those words have a vague meaning in our linguistic community.

On a different note, the issue of whether there are at least some contexts in which one should not refer to the claim that cells evolved into elephants as a “fact” is a difficult issue. I don’t particularly like the word “fact.” It often suggests Cartesian certainty. Humans have been mistaken many times, and we can’t step outside our skins to compare our perceptions with “the thing in itself.” In fact, for these kinds of reasons, it is not unreasonable to say that, at least in formal scientific and philosophical contexts, no claim should be referred to as “fact.” But whether we should call “fact” the claim that cells evolved into elephants, the stickers on the textbooks in Cobb county are deeply problematic and should be removed. The sticker is reasonably interpreted to suggest that the idea that cells evolved into elephants is much less plausible than it actually is. “Theory” is often used to refer to a claim that is a reasonable hypothesis. And the claim that cells evolved into elephants is no mere reasonable hypothesis. Moreover, the idea that cells evolved into elephants is exciting and hugely important.

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the sticker is “technically accurate.” That doesn’t enable us to determine that the federal district judge erred in finding the stickers to be unconstitutional. Of course he made the right decision. The Lemon test is well-established precedent, and a good test. The Lemon test has three prongs. And Cobb county putting the stickers on the textbooks violates at least some, if not all, of the three prongs of the Lemon test. I don’t want to get into the legal issues right now.

I wrote:

Here is part of what the sticker states: “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”

Actually, I think that is the entire content of the sticker.

Anybody made any “Gravity is a theory, not a fact” stickers yet?

Let’s see if the judges, or more importantly, their law clerks, read the newspapers.

Looks like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was eager to correct Ed Carnes also. The revised version of their story includes:

Appeals judges skeptical about Cobb ruling

Evolution disclaimers were ‘literally accurate’

By BILL RANKIN The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Published on: 12/16/05

Carnes took issue with Cooper’s finding that a petition with 2,300 names opposing the purchase of new biology textbooks with evolution instruction had been presented to the board before it agreed to place stickers on the books in March 2002. The court record indicates the petitions were presented to the board six months later, in September 2002, Carnes said.

At the end of the arguments, Carnes took the highly unusual step of calling Atlanta lawyer Jeffrey Bramlett, who argued on behalf of parents who filed suit against the stickers, back to the podium before the packed courtroom. Carnes suggested that Bramlett may have misled the court in his legal brief on exactly when the petitions where presented to the school board. Bramlett was told to write a letter to the court explaining how the confusion occurred.

But Carnes may have been misinformed by an incomplete trial record. On March 29, 2002, the day after the school board agreed to affix the stickers to science textbooks, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Marjorie Rogers told the board she had collected petitions signed by 2,300 people who were dissatisfied with the new science texts.

Before the purchase

In an interview after Thursday’s court hearing, Rogers, a self-avowed six-day biblical creationist, said she gave the petitions to the board before it decided to buy new science books with chapters on evolution.

“There wouldn’t have been any reason to give it to them in the fall,” she said. “They were done to try and persuade them not to buy the books.” One of the petition’s three options, she said, was for the board to put disclaimers in the new books.

There you go, confirmation from Rogers herself.

Ben Fulton Wrote:

Anybody made any “Gravity is a theory, not a fact” stickers yet?

How about these? http://www.swarthmore.edu/NatSci/cp[…]disclaimers/

I wrote:

On a different note, the issue of whether there are at least some contexts in which one should not refer to the claim that cells evolved into elephants as a “fact” is a difficult issue. I don’t particularly like the word “fact.” It often suggests Cartesian certainty. Humans have been mistaken many times, and we can’t step outside our skins to compare our perceptions with “the thing in itself.” In fact, for these kinds of reasons, it is not unreasonable to say that, at least in formal scientific and philosophical contexts, no claim should be referred to as “fact.”

It’s a fact that I share ancestors with my niece’s goldfish. And the Cobb county sticker would suggest to many people that said claim is not a fact.

Ben Fulton Wrote:

Anybody made any “Gravity is a theory, not a fact” stickers yet?

There are some great bible disclaimer stickers here:

http://www.cafepress.com/bibledisclaimer

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on December 16, 2005 2:43 PM.

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