Florida: The Standards Decision

| 146 Comments

Today, the Florida Board of Education met. One of the items on the agenda: the proposed new science standards. These were politically controversial because they included “evolution” and benchmarks concerning concepts in evolutionary biology.

The Board decided last week to allow a limited amount of public comment at this meeting. I have a brief description of how that went down, modulo the poor webcast availability, at my weblog.

The consideration is ongoing now. I’ll update this later today.

OK, it’s over. Florida adopted amended standards. We know from prior experience that when one agrees to language from the anti-science advocates, they have some angle for exploitation of that language. While Florida standards now do mandate the teaching of evolutionary science, they also have the antievolution back-door installed. There will be further years of dealing with antievolution efforts in Florida because of this action.

146 Comments

A sad day for Florida’s students.

My hat is off to Mr. Martinez. Well said, sir, well said.

As I understand it the standards passed (which is a good thing) BUT - the words “Scientific Theory” precede Evolution.

“Scientific Theory” will also precede Atomic Theory - Plate Tectonics - Electromagnetism … So evolution is not singled out.

A compromise - no doubt - but a step forward.

All together now: Dover Trap!

This is best regarded as an opportunity to educate the public on the meaning of “scientific theory”. Our battle is mostly won if this can be accomplished.

The compromise is bad, but it could havebeen much worse. Perhaps the ‘scientific theory of’ can now be used to emphasize and teach the real meaning of the phrase. Teachers can use it to counter the often expressed ‘it is just a theory’!

This might even help Floridans distinguish the informal concept of a “theory” as in “it’s only a theory” from the scientific concept of a Theory as in “Quantum Theory” and “The Theory of General Relativity”.

I quite like the fact that teachers will be reminded that these Theories are a very special class of proposition which are utterly distinct from the the other kind of theory.

:-)

Yes, I agree that getting evolution in the standards as a fundamental concept is a good step forward.

My concern is that the distrust and suspicion that surrounds evolutionary theory in the minds of certain Christians will now spread over to all of science, i.e. “well, that’s just a scientific theory, like evolution.” Adding the word scientific won’t help those who don’t take the time to learn what that means.

There is already widespread confusion over the term “scientific” in Christian circles. At my last church almost everyone had bought into pseudoscientific health supplements touted to cure all manner of diseases. The outfit selling these went so far as to create their own “peer reviewed” journal to support their “scientific” products. Sound familiar?

Give them an inch and they’ll take a .…..

A sad compromise, but a small one and over all Florida’s students won a tremendous battle today. It is by no means a sad day for them. Florida now has excellent science standards that are well above the national average.

Those of us in the state will just have to keep a watchful eye out for how this language could be exploited. But personally my guess is that very little will come of it. Hopefully I am right.

Brent:

It is by no means a sad day for them. Florida now has excellent science standards that are well above the national average.

True, but it could have been that much better if the board hadn’t caved in to religious pressure.

But personally my guess is that very little will come of it. Hopefully I am right.

I’ll admit I don’t share that view. The opponents of evolution see this as a life-or-death struggle for their children’s soul. My personal history is from a YEC background, so I know whereof I speak.

This is sort of a humorous twist - the most vocal anti-evolutionist on the BoE, voted against the new wording (which was meant to appease the fundies) because she wanted the standards to say that “Evolution is ‘A’ concept of Biology” instead of “THE fundamental concept underlying all of Biology”.

I am happy to say - she did not get her way :-)

I have a master’s degree in geology from Oxford University, and when I was about to be ordained to the priesthood, I wrote to the head of the department there to tell him. He was delighted, and reminded me that the first professors at Oxford in the 19th Century were all priests.

When I moved to Florida eight years ago, I was astonished at the ignorance here, particularly among Christians, and not just the more extreme fundamentalist ones. Indeed, it’s more than ignorance, it’s a committed anti-scientific attitude.

As someone on the Orlando Sentinel’s message board said, this now brings Florida into the 20th Century. Hopefully teachers and scientists can keep the movement going to bring the state’s education system finally into the 21st Century, along with most of the rest of the world.

as a florida science teacher i am torn with the decision of the BoE. I applaud their upholding of evolution as a core aspect of biology but i am also weary of the possible exploitation of their wording. I am glad that “theory” has been added to the other scientific parameters so as to avoid singling out evolution.

I can only hope that this inspires more discussion about the meaning of theory in my classes.

So when do the christians start rolling out the ‘flat earth maps’and explaining that the earth is fixed solid. Will our models of the universe be replaced also with models of a sun revolving around the earth every 24 hours? Will we have to ignore civilizations older than 10K? Do these people even read the bible?

Do these people even read the bible?

Only a few verses at a time, and only as directed from the pulpit. Any more would require [shudder] thinking.

gabriel: My concern is that the distrust and suspicion that surrounds evolutionary theory in the minds of certain Christians will now spread over to all of science…

Exactly. This is a victory for the Wedge Document. First they destroy evolution, then biology, then science, then civilization. Just to preserve their Bronze Age creation mythology.

The Florida Citizens for Science, the people that spoke in favor of adopting the standards as is, and Fighting Bob Martinez did a great job in the face of pressure from religious groups and stunning ignorance in general.

I have two objections to the last-minute additions of “scientific theory” or “law” to every scientific idea in the standards, from electromagnetism to gravity. First, there there was no good secular purpose for it. I wouldn’t call it a prima facie violation of the First Amendment, but I believe it fails the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lemon Test. Because let’s face it, the Religious Right in Florida is so opposed to…plate tectonics.

Second, to paraphrase Prof. David Baltimore on NPR today, evolution is a fact; we can debate how and when it happened, but it occurred (and, I might add, is still occurring). That’s the most concise version of the “fact and theory” aspects I’ve heard with regard to evolution, and it was clearly lost on most of the Florida BOE.

Misha Wrote:

as a florida science teacher i am torn with the decision of the BoE. I applaud their upholding of evolution as a core aspect of biology but i am also weary of the possible exploitation of their wording. I am glad that “theory” has been added to the other scientific parameters so as to avoid singling out evolution.

After I retired from research, I had the privilege of teaching for 10 years in a special program for gifted and talented high school students. Lots of fun!

Only once did a fundamentalist question come up in a physics class regarding “theory”. However, it was an opportunity to get into some important ideas, and by the end of the class period, I think the fundamentalist student regretted raising the issue. However, the rest of the class appreciated it, and I didn’t have to be rude or disrespectful to anyone.

If enough science teachers in the public schools have a good grasp of the issues and concepts, and if they are familiar with all the ways the ID/Creationists (and other pseudo-scientists) have repeatedly distorted scientific concepts, quote mined, and lied (and it has all been documented and stored, for example at Talk Origins and the NCSE), this can turn into an opportunity to show how science is abused, and by contrast, how science really works. The ID/cdesign proponentsists/Creationists may regret getting what they wished for.

Misha Wrote:

I can only hope that this inspires more discussion about the meaning of theory in my classes.

And outside of them. For 10 years I have never missed an opportunity to correct anyone who uses “theory” as a synonym for “guess that’s probably wrong,” whether pertaining to evolution or not. Sure, they often look at me like I have 2 heads, but if some of them remember it, it’s worth it.

Maybe things aren’t quite as bad as it first looked concerning the “compromise”. Casey Luskin is whining about it.

I read the testimony, thanks for note taking.

By the way, where were the evolutionary biologists testifying for evolution? Do none live in the state of Florida?

Or do none believe in talking to the public? Again they seem to have left to physicists, writers and teachers to defend science.

Casey Luskin Wrote:

Sadly, academia is commonly intolerant of dissent from Darwinism. Consider the NAS’s statement that “there is no scientific controversy” over evolution. Imagine you are a scientist with fundamental doubts about Darwinism and you see the top science organization in the USA asserting that your views don’t exist.

This is part of the standard shtick of all pseudo-scientists; imagining that they are scientists.

Seems like more progress than less. Take what the FSM gives you. Congratulations to the FCFS and all who lit a few candles against the darkness.

If Texas and Arkansas are any guide, the fundie controlled areas up north and the panhandle will just ignore it anyway. But at least they are getting an idea of what the rest of the world thinks of dressing up bronze age beliefs in scientific clothing.

Yestercentury, it was geocentrism and the flat earth. Nextcentury, the YECs.

Democracy is only working when both sides are unhappy with the outcome.

The saddest bit for me is that the confusion between ‘theory’ and ‘guess’ is just ONE of the hundreds of ways antievolutionists can confuse the issue, as evidenced by that DI chap PZ debated a few weeks ago, who appeared NOT TO KNOW this distinction, despite it having been clarified years ago and every day since.

It’s not difficult, you guys.

It really irritates me that politeness prevents us from making the obvious accusation that they’re pretending confusion on purpose. It sucks being the good guys sometimes. They can say whatever they like about us; that we’re a bunch of amoral, atheist, religious, cowel wearing, dogmatic, racist materialists, but when we make the rather trivial inferences about their motives, it looks petty.

And if you look, the ‘feigning stupidity’ act gets them a lot of power.

Behe, for example, is clearly pretending not to realise that his ‘stepwise addition’ model of evolution is ridiculously trivial and cannot possibly represent evolution correctly. Even if he didn’t realise at the time, he must know by now.

It’s a CHILDISH error. Behe is a biochemist or something - he must know this! And yet, if he pretends to be stupid, all the ID followers can accept irreducible complexity as support ID.

Dembski does the same. Dembski’s No Free Lunch papers, for example, all depend on Dembski pretending to be stupid enough not to realise that evolution doesn’t have a random fitness landscape (it’s a little like believing that every animal has a random chance of surviving in every scenario). That isn’t a trivial stupidity - his argument hinges on that fabulously wrong point. And yet, if he pretends to be stupid, his argument holds.

ID is an assault on good faith.

Frank J:

Misha Wrote:

I can only hope that this inspires more discussion about the meaning of theory in my classes.

And outside of them. For 10 years I have never missed an opportunity to correct anyone who uses “theory” as a synonym for “guess that’s probably wrong,” whether pertaining to evolution or not. Sure, they often look at me like I have 2 heads, but if some of them remember it, it’s worth it.

Perhaps the place to start is to insist that “Theory” is always capitalised as a proper noun, and where possible, pushing for the rephrasing of “only a theory” as “only a hypothesis”, and demanding the evidence for the assertion. (Yes, I know that that will be difficult, but we can make a start.…)

Venus Mousetrap Wrote:

And if you look, the ‘feigning stupidity’ act gets them a lot of power.

Classic Gish tactic. It makes scientists mad, fakes a controversy where none exists, gets publicity and phony legitimacy for the pseudo-scientist, and the adulation and funding from the theocrats.

On the other hand, we just keep tabulating their dishonest tactics and nailing it to their pseudo-religion where it belongs.

How about for ‘it is just a theory’!:

Yeah, it’s just a theory that’s firmly supported by a huge amount of evidence collected over the last 150+ years by 100,000+ scientists, and during all that no evidence was found against the basic principles.

Henry

James F: Because let’s face it, the Religious Right in Florida is so opposed to…plate tectonics.

Bear in mind that in the United States somewhere close to have half of the creationists are young earth creationists. These young earth creationists are opposed to geological science and astronomical science. Thus, it seems to meet that your remark, which appears to be made “tongue in cheek,” is not really so tongue-in-cheek after all.

In regard to the overall point about the addition of the words “scientific theory,” it can actually be looked as a golden opportunity for a “teaching moment” to teach students what the meaning of the word “theory” is in science, and how it is distinguished from the colloquial meaning. (Indeed, all anyone has to do is look it up in any decent dictionary to see how a scientific theory is almost the opposite of “theory” in the colloquial sense.) In a sense, whether it’s pointed out explicitly or not, smarter students would then realize by implication the dishonesty of the creationist rhetoric in playing games with the two different meanings and falsely attributing the wrong meaning to the word in the context of science and in reference to evolution. Plate tectonics is indeed a scientific theory, just as gravitational physics is a scientific theory, just as general relativity is a scientific theory, and just as biological evolution is a scientific theory.

The difference between creationists and most of the rest of us, at least on this issue, is that we have no problems with embracing the truth.

Steve,

Point taken, I should have used electromagnetism. I sometimes forget the schism between the DI cdesign proponentsists and YECs, who are a step away from full-blown geocentrists and flat-earthers.

But again, see Baltimore’s point; just about all of these scientific concepts entail both fact and theory. Fortunately, as you noted, we have no problems embracing the truth - hopefully students will have more of an opportunity to do the same.

Wesley R. Elsberry said: Maybe things aren’t quite as bad as it first looked concerning the “compromise”. Casey Luskin is whining about it.

What whine

Casey while likening his innermost self to “a micro-world of molecular machines that function like a factory, or a miniature city,” [w]ent on to note that “the Florida State Board of Education voted 4-3 to adopt science standards that call evolution “the fundamental concept underlying all of biology.” He further stated “it is good that students will learn about evolution.” Then he went on to say that the “Florida’s biology classrooms will follow the … U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which recently published a booklet, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, similarly proclaiming that “[t]here is no scientific controversy about the basic facts of evolution” because “no new evidence is likely to alter” it.”

When correctly viewed everything is lewd, I can tell you things about Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz, there’s a dirty old man.

Tom Lehrer.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Henry J — That’s odd. Here I have to look in any direction but west to see mountains.

Maybe I live on the other side of the flat plate from you?

:-)

@ raven - Half of the population has an IQ less than 100???????????

Stacy S.:

@ raven - Half of the population has an IQ less than 100???????????

Which is to say, half the population is below average (or, more properly, below the mean). By definition.

“Lake Woebegone, where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

Nigel D Wrote:

There is nothing in science that conflicts with the message in the Bible, unless one insists on accepting only the most literal reading of it.

As you know, not “the most literal” but any of several popular mutually contradictory readings that all claim to be “literal,” such as OE(old life)C, OE(young life)C, YEC, and some like flat-earthism and geocentrism that have lost popularity in recent decades.

What concerns me more than anyone honestly believing in their particular version in spite of evidence against it, is the increasing “big tent” attitude whereby the irreconcilable differences between the versions are covered up. And especially how most of the scammed rank and file don’t even realize they’re doing it. If creationism ever had a shot at being science, the “big tent” strategy ended it for good.

Bill Gascoyne Wrote:

Which is to say, half the population is below average (or, more properly, below the mean). By definition.

The mean is 100 by definition.

[tongue-in-cheek] And if we are all drifting downward, at some point we won’t be able to discover this. Maybe we have already passed this point. [/tongue-in-cheek]

IQ = 100 is redefined every few years. From 1916 until about 1996 this required raising the bar in the U.S., as ‘intelligence’ scores went up about 7% per generation.

Since then the scores have been declining.

Here’s an interesting comment from Florida on the Dawkins blog.

http://www.richarddawkins.net/artic[…]page2#130083

In particular, note the explanation of the 4-3 vote. The vote isn’t what it looks like and it gives me more confidence that the new standards will succeed. Also note the support given from outside: “(Eugenie Scott came here personally).”

However, I’m still worried about an “academic freedom” challenge coming from the legislature as mentioned in the prior comment by Stacy S.

Mike Elzinga:

Bill Gascoyne Wrote:

Which is to say, half the population is below average (or, more properly, below the mean). By definition.

The mean is 100 by definition.

[tongue-in-cheek] And if we are all drifting downward, at some point we won’t be able to discover this. Maybe we have already passed this point. [/tongue-in-cheek]

… As soon as I hit “submit” on the IQ comment, I slapped my forehead.( I don’t think I’ve slept much in the past 2 months.) :-)

@ MeIM - Tomorrow I am going to start working on the state legislators - stay tuned!

From the Dawkins blog commenter linked above, I received a link to Florida Citizens for Science. Looks interesting and perhaps it’ll be a way to follow developemts in this very important battle in Florida.

http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=479#comments

Creationists like FL live according to dogma, not science, and thus they cannot think any other way. So they assume that their evolutionist opponents are also dogmatic. Of course, that is both a lie and a failure of their own comprehension.

Dale Husband Wrote:

Creationists like FL live according to dogma, not science, and thus they cannot think any other way.

That way of thinking has changed, though, for many (most?) creationists. And I don’t mean for the better just because on average they’re conceding more to science (e.g. heliocentrism, old-earthism, common descent). The increasingly common “anything but ‘Darwinism’” view, with “don’t worry about the age of the Earth” and weasel words like “common origin,” is more anti-science than old fashioned “scientific” YEC.

“It’s only a theory.” Perhaps scientists need to get their own house in order, and avoid the dilution of the term theory. See the link below, and listen to the comments of Bernard Carr from about 7 minutes in. If a “Real Scientist”, in the company of the President of the Royal Society, can use the word so loosely, what chance has Joe Public of understanding the significance of a real Theory?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history[…]urtime.shtml

Frank J Wrote:

As you know, not “the most literal” but any of several popular mutually contradictory readings that all claim to be “literal,” such as OE(old life)C, OE(young life)C, YEC, and some like flat-earthism and geocentrism that have lost popularity in recent decades.

True, I was trying to simplify for the sake of brevity.

However, if one focusses on the message of the Bible, instead of a literal interpretation of its words, there is no conflict. While I recognise that the various creationist interpretations conflict with one another, I feel that these differences arise more through differences in the extent to which they reconcile reality with the “word of god” than through differences in the interpretation of the Bible.

Nigel D Wrote:

However, if one focusses on the message of the Bible, instead of a literal interpretation of its words, there is no conflict.

But therein lies the problem. The “message” you would have people focus on is your interpretation, and each sect seems to have their own.

Bill Gascoyne:

Nigel D Wrote:

However, if one focusses on the message of the Bible, instead of a literal interpretation of its words, there is no conflict.

But therein lies the problem. The “message” you would have people focus on is your interpretation, and each sect seems to have their own.

I don’t think that’s a problem. As long as people use whichever “cannon” they want, as a guideline - it doesn’t matter if the messages they receive are different.

“Canon” - sorry

I don’t think that’s a problem. As long as people use whichever “cannon” they want, as a guideline - it doesn’t matter if the messages they receive are different.

Yeah, people should use high caliber interpretations. ;)

Somewhat OT: is it Phrenology? - the discarded theory of facial and head structure? Reason I ask is, when I saw “Orange Pet Man” in the paper, I immediatly pegged him for a goober, and then, sure enough, he turns out to be a classic Goober. Is there something to that Phrenology stuff after all?

Stacy S.:

I don’t think that’s a problem. As long as people use whichever “cannon” they want, as a guideline - it doesn’t matter if the messages they receive are different.

Unfortunately, those “guidelines” have become dogmas and the differences are therefore something to fight over.

“When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”
East African Proverb

Somewhat OT: is it Phrenology? - the discarded theory of facial and head structure? Reason I ask is, when I saw “Orange Pet Man” in the paper, I immediatly pegged him for a goober, and then, sure enough, he turns out to be a classic Goober. Is there something to that Phrenology stuff after all?

I KNEW this was coming, but … AAaarrgghh!!! http://www.flascience.org/wp/

As for the rest of your post - I didn’t understand what you said. LOL (not a scientist, remember!) “Quasi- Species Replicators”?

Oops, sorry - adapt to the environment, eh? :-P And I’m sorry I didn’t get around to this earlier.

Just in case you visit again (and I see Ravilyn explained the rest): Wikipedia’s entry on quasispecies:

Put simply, a quasispecies is a large group or cloud of related genotypes that exist in an environment of high mutation rate, where a large fraction of offspring are expected to contain one or more mutations relative to the parent. This is in contrast to a species, which from an evolutionary perspective is a more-or-less stable single genotype, most of the offspring of which will be genetically accurate copies.

It is useful mainly in providing a qualitative understanding of the evolutionary processes of self-replicating macromolecules such as RNA or DNA or simple asexual organisms such as bacteria or viruses (see also viral quasispecies), and is helpful in explaining something of the early stages of the origin of life. [My emphasis.]

“Single genotype” as an approximation, that is. I.e. a cloud vs a dot in “genotype space”.

I’m not a biologist, but I have actually seen references in biology papers of, what I gather from the linking posts, notable biologists. And here is a post with some illustrative figures on quasispecies clouds by sometime PT guest blogger ERV, detailing her research on HIV virus as quasispecies. (Don’t let the gene acronym’s scare you. I don’t know them either. It doesn’t matter much for just the over all picture.)

Thanks Torbjörn ! I did come back! FYI - I ordered a “Biology for Idiots” book ( on Stanton’s suggestion)… it should be here in a couple of days! :-)

( That’s not really the name-but it escapes me right now) :-)

FYI - I ordered a “Biology for Idiots” book

A reference book written for anti-evolution activists?

(Did I say that?)

Henry

Syntax Error: mismatched tag at line 14, column 80, byte 329 at /usr/local/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.12.3/mach/XML/Parser.pm line 187

Oh Henry! You make me laugh! :-) Thank you!

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This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on February 19, 2008 10:00 AM.

My review of Michael Shermer’s The Mind of The Market was the previous entry in this blog.

“Professing to be wise they became fools” (Romans 1:22) is the next entry in this blog.

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