Expelled: Texas Education Agency Fires Staffer for Announcing Talk by Barbara Forrest

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This Austin American Statesman article, State science curriculum director resigns, has the scoop.

Chris Comer is out of a job. She was a nine-year veteran in the position of director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency (Texas-speak for the state’s “department of education”). The TEA administration essentially forced her resignation.

So, why would TEA do that? Comer forwarded an email from the National Center for Science Education announcing a talk by Dr. Barbara Forrest to several people with the following addition: “FYI”.

The call to fire Comer came from Lizzette Reynolds, who previously worked in the U.S. Department of Education. She also served as deputy legislative director for Gov. George W. Bush. She joined the Texas Education Agency as the senior adviser on statewide initiatives in January.

Reynolds, who was out sick the day Comer forwarded the e-mail, received a copy from an unnamed source and forwarded it to Comer’s bosses less than two hours after Comer sent it.

“This is highly inappropriate,” Reynolds said in an e-mail to Comer’s supervisors. “I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities.

How did that play out?

In documents obtained Wednesday through the Texas Public Information Act, agency officials said they recommended firing Comer for repeated acts of misconduct and insubordination. But Comer said she thinks political concerns about the teaching of creationism in schools were behind what she describes as a forced resignation.

Apparently, not being a team player in the The Republican War on Science is a firing offense at the TEA. Why forwarding an announcement concerning a talk whose topic is highly relevant to the conduct of science education by an internationally recognized speaker should cause TEA administrators a problem escapes me. One is forced to wonder whether Ms. Comer would be looking for a new job if instead she were forwarding emails announcing talks by DI fellows about “intelligent design” creationism.

(Read more (including the text of the offending email) at the Austringer and PZ Myer’s “Fear of Barbara Forrest” at Pharyngula)

2 TrackBacks

The state’s director of science curriculum has resigned after being accused of creating the appearance of bias against teaching intelligent design. (Source: Austin-American Statesman A number of other bloggers have commented on this already (... Read More

Tis the season, both political and religious. And it seems to be bringing out a nasty streak of intolerance in the name of religious tolerance. So, apologies for this disjointed compendium, but I need to clear a backlog of disturbing bookmarks. Some of... Read More

159 Comments

Hey, I have a great idea! When ‘Expelled’ comes out, someone should get a copy, add a segment about this, re-do the voiceover with something like a recording of Dawkins played backwards, and circulate copies to all paid-up members of the Great Baby-Eating Satanist Darwinian Conspiracy (you know who you are).

Honest, the Discovery Institute etc won’t mind…

I heard about this on the radio this morning (I live in Austin), and couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I’m still not clear about what was going on.

I’m scared. Someone hold me.

Well, we saw in the Dover Trial how the ID people tried to prevent Forrest from being able to be a witness, I guess their fear of her runs more deeply than we originally thought.

It does show where the sympathies of the Texan BOE people lie. Not good. One would think that having Dr. Forrest speak would be a part of her actual job description!

I don’t know the full story yet, but this sounds like the kind of serious, aggressive, rights-violating action by creationists that we should be actively fighting.

Unless there’s a very strange back story, a lawsuit is clearly in order.

This is appalling. Cross posts from the PZ board.

Chris Comer ought to sue the Texas Death Cultists who pressured her into resigning. This is religious discrimination pure and simple.

In general, I’m not a fan of grabbing the lawyers and suing everytime McDonalds gets your order wrong. But this is a matter of principle. Freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of speech. When accepting the fact of evolution is a crime in the 21st century, something is wrong. At least she hasn’t been burnt at the stake. Yet.

She would probably win. Even if she didn’t, Texas would have to admit it is a theocracy run by religious extremists who would just love to bring back the Dark Ages. These people are cockroaches who fear the light of day or the truth. They would probably pay her off just so they can hide under their rocks.

The toll this year for Death cultist persecution of normal people. One professor at Olivet harrassed unmercifully for teaching evolution, one fired in Iowa, and now Texas claims a scalp. While we call this medieval nonsense, I’m sure the creos call it a good start.

I saw a case similar to this years ago. A group of religious extremists gained control of the county government. They then started persecuting a middle aged female librarian for carrying books they didn’t approve of and not carrying books they demanded. None of the books BTW, were particularly controversial. They fired her.

She sued. I contributed a small amount to her defense fund, among many others. The ACLU stood up.

Short trial with a conservative, religious judge. She got her job back, county was assessed for her legal fees. Next election the fascists got tossed by the voters.

I’m afraid these days it might well be different. Probably her house would be firebombed by Xian terrorists who would also assassinate her cat. It is a Death Cult Xian thing, you wouldn’t understand.

So it’s perfect ok for Don McLeroy, Chairman of the Texas State Board of Education to say something like.…

“Second thing I would like to clarify for a talk is, now we are going to be using the word “evolution,” and that brings up all sorts of definitions. We will give you a handout but not today, but let me explain some of the use of the words that I will be using today. Intelligent design I will define in the talk, but evolution itself people will say Darwinism or evolution. A lot of the quotes I will be using are going to be from Phillip Johnson, who, Phillip Johnson is one of the leaders in the intelligent design movement. He uses the word Darwinism and I will be giving quotes from him, so when you hear the word Darwinism or if I accidentally refer to the word Darwinism, it means the theory of common descent. That we share common ancestor with that tree out there. I mean that is basically what we have in our high school textbooks. If you open a high school textbook, they basically state as a fact that we share common ancestry with life that first got started and some went to be plants and eventually trees and some became us. And that is what I mean by Darwinism. Yes, there is macro-evolution and micro-evolution, we’d prefer the term adaptive variation for micro-evolution. We know that no one argues against what is considered micro-evolution, but if you hear the term evolution in this talk, today, you’ll also realize that it’s mainly referring to the common descent. That the theory that all life has descended from a common ancestor.”

.…that’s ok right???…introducing the idea of something that was ruled unconstitutional to teach in the public school systems.

No dishonesty there!

Texas is the new Kansas?

Texas science education – being neutral or being neutered?

Thanks for posting this Wes. Most of you are probably aware the Texas science standards are about to be revised. Was this move choreographed?? It will be a battle. Friends at PT, when the creos bring their false statements forward, if we don’t know the rebuttal, your help would be appreciated!!! We don’t want to become the new Kansas, especially in light of how Texas influences textbooks, etc. for the rest of the country.

Steverino Wrote:

No dishonesty there!

Especially since McLeroy undoubtedly knows that Johnson’s colleague Michael Behe has no problem at all with the fact of common descent, and that not one of the chief promoters of ID had ever (1) challenged him directly on it, or (2) proposed a formal alternative to it. Deliberate weasel words like “common design” and deliberate conflation of the fact (conclusion) and the only theory we have that explains it, don’t count.

So naturally, those hard-fighting champions of academic freedom and free speech at the Discovery Institute will come riding to Chris Comer’s defense, right?

I mean, they’ve always* supported Teaching the Controversy, which it seems that the Texas Education Agency is vehemently against, so they’ll fight tooth-and-nail against such injustice.

But in all seriousness, I want to know more about this. If it does serve as a good example of the hypocrisies of the anti-evolution movement, then we need to know all of the facts. What’s the official policy of the Texas Education Agency on evolutionary theory? What’s the unofficial one that it seems like the higher-ups held? What else has Chris Comer done (since this doesn’t sound like a Great Employee Got Canned Out of the Blue for disagreeing with the boss, but someone who had been on the outs for awhile finally gave them the excuse)? If there’s a record of Chris Comer going against a creationist agenda, so much the better.

*By which I mean the split-second that they knew that ID was kaput at Dover, they claimed they’d just wanted to Teach the Controversy, not Intelligent Design, from the beginning.

harold Wrote:

I don’t know the full story yet, but this sounds like the kind of serious, aggressive, rights-violating action by creationists that we should be actively fighting.

And one that the DI itself should be fighting, if they wish to salvage any pretense at fairness and objectivity with anyone but their most hard-core fans.

As you say, there may be more to this, but if there isn’t, I for one will be very interested in the DI’s reaction.

Does anyone else see a similarity with the case of Gillian Gibbons, the teacher in Sudan who is facing a year in jail for naming a teddy bear “Mohammed”? Religious intolerance can never abide the slightest variance from the path decreed by the dictator-priests. At least Chris Comer is not facing prison or torture. Yet. But that is the world which the creationists want.

You guys should read the Texas Reublican platform. It’s frightening.

read the education/therories of origin blurb (they specify teaching IDc)

http://www.texasgop.org/site/DocSer[…]f?docID=2001

read it all, they are a very sick group of people.

Of course, half the folks in the TEA would love for it to be sued into non-existence so that public education in Texas could be completely privatized. Then in addition to intelligent design, every Texas schoolkid could learn about how slavery was sometimes fun for blacks (who are genetically less intelligent anyway) and how the United States Constitution establishes a Christian nation etc etc.

As the reins of power slip away from the fundies for a good long time, we can expect a lot more desperate nuttiness like this.

I was just reading over the DI’s Nota Bene from this week. In the section on Academic Freedom, along with the mention of Robert Marks at Baylor, this little gem caught my eye:

“Next week, Discovery Institute will release a record of secret emails exchanged among faculty at Iowa State University and other internal documents about ISU astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez obtained under the Iowa Open Records Act. These newly revealed emailsdocuments demonstrate that a conspiracy was conducted privately against Gonzalez by his colleagues who intended to deny Gonzalez tenure because of views he holds on the intelligent design of the universe, expressed in his 2004 book Privileged Planet. A clear violation of Gonzalez’s contractural right to academic freedom as well as his constitutional right to free speechFirst Amendment freedoms, Gonzalez’s persecution demonstrates the sharp limits ofon academic freedom at ISU and similar institutions for scientists who support intelligent design. Stay tuned to Evolution News & Views for more information about this next week.”

Nope. No mention if Chris Comer. Odd. But one must wonder if the DI word “secret” in reference to emails is what the rest of the world usually thinks of as “private”. I.E. the nature of email. I understand that the DI got these through an Open Secrets Act, so it’s legal, although not necessarily ethical. But the language, of course, is loaded- with the implication that there was something salacious about emails that only the sender and reader could read.

(Sorry about using the words “DI” and “ethical” in the same sentence.)

I’d love though to hear someone with more expertise comment on the newest DI salvo on the Gonzalez issue.

Crosspost from the PZ blog.

Probably more to this story than we know. Chris Comer was the state Director of Science Curriculum. This is not, as pointed out, a midlevel paper pushing drone.

She was probably a known reality supporter. An Evolutionist. A round earther. A heliocentrist. Why, she probably believes the earth is more than 6,000 years old.

My guess. She was on a hit list by True Believers in the flat, geocentric, young earth creation who are just doing god’s work. The email seems more like a pretext than anything.

What is the chance that the next Texas Director of Science Curriculum is a bible carrying, hell fire and damnation YEC? About 99.99%. “Have you ever been and are you now an acceptor of evolution?” If so, don’t let the sun set on you in the Texas state government.

For the creos this is just one down, a few million to go. Glad I don’t live in Theoexas.

But one must wonder if the DI word “secret” in reference to emails is what the rest of the world usually thinks of as “private”.

I’m sorry, but anyone with a lick of sense should know enough to think of e-mails as postcards that don’t require a letter-opener to read. If you want envelopes, use encryption.

And one that the DI itself should be fighting, if they wish to salvage any pretense at fairness and objectivity with anyone but their most hard-core fans.

You’ve got quite a sense of humor, Frank.

“Next week, Discovery Institute will release a record of secret emails exchanged among faculty at Iowa State University and other internal documents about ISU astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez obtained under the Iowa Open Records Act. These newly revealed emailsdocuments demonstrate that a conspiracy was conducted privately against Gonzalez by his colleagues who intended to deny Gonzalez tenure because of views he holds on the intelligent design of the universe, expressed in his 2004 book Privileged Planet. A clear violation of Gonzalez’s contractural right to academic freedom as well as his constitutional right to free speechFirst Amendment freedoms, Gonzalez’s persecution demonstrates the sharp limits ofon academic freedom at ISU and similar institutions for scientists who support intelligent design. Stay tuned to Evolution News & Views for more information about this next week.”

The cult propagandists at the DI would have their followers think that tenure is an entitlement and an assistant professor has a contract that allows him/her to pursue any sort of nonsense they please without risk to that entitlement.

They’re wrong. Tenure is something that is granted by peers who think you have earned it.

But when has the DI ever let facts stand in the way of their demagoguery?

You guys should read the Texas Reublican platform. It’s frightening.

In fact, according to the Texas Republican Party platform, neither Corner nor Reynolds should be working outside of the home - that’s a man’s job.

I’m not kidding. That’s what their platform says.

Some members of our state board in Texas have probably been very well coached by di on what to say regarding the upcoming science standards revision in Texas. I am sure they are looking upon this with interest. They probably didn’t want this to become public knowledge.

As a resident of Texas, I will be watching this closely. Thank you, Panda’s Thumb, for this notice!

Jedidiah Palosaari, in Comment 136707 quotes the DI:

“These newly revealed emailsdocuments demonstrate that a conspiracy was conducted privately against Gonzalez by his colleagues who intended to deny Gonzalez tenure because of views he holds on the intelligent design of the universe, expressed in his 2004 book Privileged Planet.”

If there was a conspiracy, and it was indeed due to Gonzalez’ views on the intelligent design of the universe, then we should expect a similar conspiracy, by the same people, or at least their political allies, against Kenneth Miller for his similar views, expressed in his 1999 book “Finding Darwin’s God.” In fact Miller goes even further than the average IDer in speculating on the designer’s identity and methods. The only difference is that he doesn’t pretend that it’s science.

This smells like a law suit against the TEA. You cannot restrict non controversial speaking simply because a person works for you.

From the “Statesman” article:

They said forwarding the e-mail not only violated a directive for her not to communicate in writing or otherwise with anyone outside the agency regarding an upcoming science curriculum review…

Now what, I wonder, could the announced talk have to do with the upcoming science curriculum review?

Well, PZ Myers now has the letter that started this mess.

PZ and I each posted the email at issue about as soon as we got it in our email. As the parenthetic comment notes in the opening post, the text is in the Austringer post.

I call it today’s Republicans “Soviet Conservatives” for how they toe the party line in the face of reality in a manner that reminds me of the stories I’ve read about Soviet apparatchiks. Iraq had WMDs like collectivized farming boosted the Ukraine’s agricultural productivity. Just ask Pravda.

I can’t wait for the subpoenas of the emails from the other TEA staffers that show communication to/from the DI.

This all could be a good thing. If the whole state organization is involved, this would bring it to the Supreme Court and snuff this garbage out at the National level.

Seriously, it’s rather sad to compare the way the trolls are defending the TEA’s treatment of Ms Comer with the way the DI is still whining about Gonzalez (see a couple of more recent posts on PT).

Comer has been forced to resign for, basically, doing the best job she could of, well, doing her job.

Gonzalez was not awarded tenure - he wasn’t denied tenure, as if it were some kind of right that were being violated, it was something that he failed to earn. Why? Because his research track record was not up to scratch, and his understanding of what constitutes good science is in doubt.

Henry J:

in chemsitry there are some gaps in our knowledge of the Periodic Table (think trans-uranic elements and a theoretical “island of stability”),

Yeah, element number 117 is still missing…

Henry

Holy cow! You’re right, Element 117 hasn’t yet been discovered…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ununseptium

Well, it’s clear to me that chemistry and the Periodic Table are a “theory in crisis”! How dare those horrible materialistic Atomists dare to forcefeed our children the godlessness of Atomist dogma!!!

It is time for all good folk to stand up to this intimidation and demand that we “teach the controversy” about the GAPS in our chemical knowledge. In the meantime, we must “teach all views” of the elements - may I suggest the Primal Elemental view: Air, Earth, Fire, Water?

In case you haven’t figured it out, yes I am kidding. And yes, this argument is just as silly as those offered by the Disco Institute.

But these are precisely the kind of ludicrous arguments that I think scientists should make as a way of showing the foolishness of the creationist arguments.

J.A.E. = “Jubal A. Early”, Confederate general, and “JAE” here is a banned troll.

Holy cow! You’re right, Element 117 hasn’t yet been discovered…

Sure enough! And what may be worse, eight years ago there was a reported detection of element 118 - report retracted a few months after the announcement. Then some years after that, another reported detection of 118. That one is still on the books. These guys change their minds just because new data comes in! You’d think they’d avoid that kind of compounds errors in such an elementary subject, but is there a solution in sight? :D

Plus, if somebody were to report element 119 or 120, they’d have to abandon their dogma of a seven period table!

Just look at http://www.webelements.com/ (which is to chemistry what http://tolweb.org/ is for biology) - they’d have to rearrange that thing if/when an eighth period has to be added. (Wonder if they’d already planned the website changes for that?)

Henry

Henry J Wrote:

I prefer this one: http://www.chemsoc.org/viselements/[…]rtable_j.htm

even if it does only have 111 elements in it.

I prefer this one: (The Visual Elements Periodic Table) even if it does only have 111 elements in it.

I guess your machine must be faster than mine; on my machine that one takes way longer to load than Webelements. That plus Webelements apparently reacts fairly promptly when a new one gets added (or removed).

Henry

JHM, or: BS by any other name would smell as sweet Wrote:

If Comer were a bible-pounding holy-rolling fundy creationist crackpot, you Darwinists would probably think that the TEA’s gag rule is a good idea.

OK, first off, it is nice to see you agree that the bible-pounding fundy creationists are actually crackpots.

Second, I daresay that a case could indeed be made for why a state science education director should not publicise lectures by those who promote ignorance in place of science.

ID, as expounded by Dembski, Behe, Wells, Johnson et al., is no more than argument from ignorance, argument from personal incredulity, and a non-sequitur coupled to straw-man attacks on evolutionary theory. While I respect the freedom of speech of the liars who pretend ID is scientific, I do not believe that their propaganda should be publicised within the context of a state’s science education system. Maybe it could be a topic for discussion in a comparative religion class or something, but it certainly does not belong in science classes.

But then, promoting ignorance in place of science would be the opposite of the science director doing their job. So a gag order would be unnecessary (especially since publicising lectures by creationists could be interpreted as a First Amendment violation).

The most deceptive part of this is the TEA’s claim of “neutrality”. Since there is no scientific debate, there is no scientific issue over which to remain neutral. The claim of “neutrality” lends credence to the lie that a controversy exists.

The uninformed might think, “oh, that’s quite reasonable, isn’t it, they’re trying to remain neutral over this debate that is being resolved in the science of evolution.” Whereas, in fact, the actual debate was resolved about 130 - 140 years ago. Evolutionary theory has been modified several times since then (in the light of new evidence), but Darwin’s core hypotheses (common descent and natural selection as an agent of biological change) remain convincing. They remain so because they fit reality.

But their still just moths! :p

Ack - wrong thread; that last comment was intended for the Peppered Moths thread. Sorry about that.

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on November 29, 2007 9:20 AM.

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