Recently in Education and Legal Category

December 20 will be the 10th anniversary of Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District – what Dave Thomas calls Kitzmas. Kitzmiller, I probably need not say, is the Federal court decision that established intelligent design creationism as, well, creationism and therefore ineligible to be taught as part of a biology course in the public schools. You can read a no longer so hot-off-the-press report by Wesley Elsberry here.

But to my task: Lauri “Devil in Dover” Lebo sent us the following press release from the ACLU of Pennsylvania, announcing a victory celebration at 7 p.m., Saturday, November 7, in the Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company, Harrisburg. The panel discussion features PT’s Nick Matzke, who was then a staffer at the National Center for Science Education and the discoverer of the infamous cdesign proponentsists.

But before I get to the press release, which I will display below the fold, let me ask that other people who want to announce Kitzmas celebrations give the specifics in a Comment. If we get a measurable number of celebrations, we will post the list and stick it to the top of the page through December 20.

OK, on to the details of the press release:

The Washington Post reported the other day that Justice Antonin Scalia, in a commencement address, said,

Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were.

I suppose that “at least 5000 years” gives you some wiggle room, but I would hardly call, say, 200,000 years “at least 5000 years.” That is a bit like saying, “The trip from Boulder to New York is at least 20 kilometers.”

Jerry Coyne, who is much nicer than I am, thinks that it might have been “just an offhand remark that’s been blown out of proportion.” Well, maybe, but I watched most of the speech on Professor Coyne’s website, and I could not help but notice that Justice Scalia was reading that text: he did not misspeak.

Justice Scalia dissented in Edwards vs. Aguillar, but he seemed more concerned with whether the legislature intended creation “science” as a religious doctrine than with its scientific merit. He also supported the “balanced treatment” argument to the effect that students who learn evolution are entitled to the opposing view as well. His argument was well reasoned but depended on the assumption that creation science is not a religious doctrine if its supporters think it is not.

Contrary to some reports, Justice Scalia did not say, “The body of scientific evidence supporting creation science is as strong as that supporting evolution”; rather, he was paraphrasing the testimony of witnesses and states explicitly “that I by no means intend to endorse its accuracy” but that “what is crucial is not [the legislature’s] wisdom in believing that [a certain secular] purpose would be achieved by the bill, but their sincerity in believing it would be” [italics in original].

Still, Justice Scalia generally comes across as an authoritarian, uncomfortable with ambiguity and guided by literalist interpretations. If he takes the Bible as literally as he takes the Constitution, then it is easy to see that he might well believe in a young Earth. I hope I am wrong and Professor Coyne is right.

Anyone who relies on the Supreme Court to guarantee that creationism will not be taught in public school or that the Ark Park’s threatened lawsuit will necessarily fail might want to read an article by Erwin Chemerinsky in the January 1 issue of The Washington Spectator. In that article, which I take to be a longish abstract of his book, Chemerinsky argues that the Court has generally not lived up to its “lofty expectations” and indeed has more often “upheld discrimination and even egregious violations of basic liberties.” The Chemerinsky article does not appear on the Spectator website, so I will abstract it very briefly below the fold.
Update, January 5, 2015. The article is now available here, so you may read it for yourself and not take my word for what Chemerinsky says.


Because of the cognitive dissonance required to buy into pseudoscientific beliefs, it’s not surprising when an adherent of one pseudoscience is sucked into believing another one. For example, there is considerable overlap between advocates of 9/11 Truth beliefs and advocates of anti-Semitic causes, or between young-earth creationists and climate change deniers. The Discovery Institute has been engaging in climate-change denial for some time (see here and here, for example), so it’s really not surprising to see today’s banner article on the Heartland Institute’s news page by Discovery’s Casey Luskin. (Last we saw, Luskin was was attacking Neil deGrasse Tyson and COSMOS with straw-man misrepresentations.)

Luskin’s July 10th article in Heartland’s site is titled “Nation’s Schools Targeted with Mythical Alarmist ‘Consensus’ Program.”. The post is

… the first in a two-part column on how the National Center for Science Education is targeting the nation’s schools to enforce a mythical consensus on global warming alarmism.


Freshwater: The waiting continues


John Freshwater’s petition for a writ of certiorari has been placed on the SCOTUS docket for a September 29, 2014, conference.

EIGHT Years Already? Merry Kitzmas!


Can you believe it’s been EIGHT YEARS since Judge Jones issued a devastating anti-“Intelligent Design” ruling?

Ah, the memories of Kitzmas past. Remember “Waterloo in Dover”? “Cdesign proponentsists.”? The “breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision”?

I freely admit, this is basically the same post I did two years ago to mark Kitzmas. It’s looking more and more like the Intelligent Design movement is hoping we forget all about this black mark on their movement.

Why, there’s not even the cursory dismissal of Judge Jones over at the ID movement’s whining page.

Merry Kitzmas, everyone!

NCSE community training coming soon to a monitor near you.


NCSE is ginning up to run webinar training sessions for folks interested in defending the teaching of honest science out in the field:

The National Center for Science Education will soon present monthly online training sessions that will show you how to defend science education in your schools and your community.

There’s a questionnaire at Survey Monkey to gauge interests. I’m not (yet) sure of the registration procedure, though the questionnaire solicits the relevant info and an expression of interest in attending/participating.

Some years ago I attended a meatspace workshop at NCSE in Oakland aimed at (more or less) the same objective, and it was well worth the time. I’ll be taking at least one of the webinars, too.

Creationists sue Kansas over Next Generation Science Standards


Most PT readers doubtless already know that an organization called “Citizens for Objective Public Education” (COPE) has sued a range of Kansas defendants (PDF of complaint), including the Kansas State Board of Education, alleging that the Next Generation Science Standards are unconstitutional, in that they “…will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview … in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment” (pp. 1-2)” (quoted in the NCSE article linked below).

NCSE has the full story here. I note with parochial interest that Robert Lattimer, a chemist, is involved in COPE. Lattimer was a leading light in SEAO, the American Family Association project to shove intelligent design creationism into the Ohio science standards in the early 2000’s.

Discovery Institute still spinning Bryan Leonard


Long-time readers of PT will recall the Bryan Leonard affair in Ohio. Now Casey Luskin harks back to that to criticize one of the Ohio State professors who called attention to anomalies in Leonard’s quest for a Ph.D. in science education from the Ohio State University.

To recap, in 2005 I wrote

Bryan Leonard is a recently visible figure in the intelligent design creationism movement. Leonard is a high school biology teacher at Hilliard Davidson High School in a suburb of Columbus. As an appointee to the Ohio State BOE’s model curriculum-writing committee, he was the author of the IDC-oriented “Critical Analysis” model lesson plan adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education last year, and he recently testified at the Kansas Creationist Kangaroo Court hearings. The credential that endears him to the IDC movement is that he is a doctoral candidate in science education at the Ohio State University, and his dissertation research is on the academic merits of an ID-based “critical analysis” approach to teaching evolution in public schools.

Leonard was scheduled to defend his dissertation yesterday, June 6, but we learned late last week that his defense has been postponed.

Briefly, the composition of Leonard’s committee did not meet the requirements of the program from which he sought the degree, and further, there was no indication that he had sought or received Institutional Review Board or parental permission to conduct his research, using misleading material about evolution, on public school students. As I wrote in 2005,

Leonard’s final dissertation committee did not meet those requirements. It was composed of his advisor, Paul Post from the technology education program area of the section for Math, Science and Technology; Glen R. Needham of the Department of Entomology in the College of Biological Sciences; and Robert DiSilvestro of the Department of Human Nutrition in the College of Human Ecology. For the final defense an Assistant Professor from the department of French & Italian in the College of Humanities was also assigned to the committee to monitor the procedure. Thus, there were no members from the science education program area on Leonard’s final dissertation committee.

That lack was pointed out to the University by three senior members of the University’s graduate faculty, evolutionary biologist Steve Rissing, paleoanthropologist Jeff McKee, and mathematician Brian McEnnis, in a letter to the appropriate administrators of OSU. (Full disclosure: all three are friends of mine.) All three were (and still are) full professors on the OSU graduate faculty. Excerpts from that letter are quoted in an excellent summary in the OSU newspaper.

The Chapman Law Review is now posting online articles from its past issues, and I noticed today that they posted Francis Beckwith’s 2008 letter to the editor responding to my article Reason And Common Ground, 11 Chap. L. Rev. 129 (2007). Since this might leave only one side of that story out there, it may be time to reveal just what went on.

Jo Ann Gora, the president of Ball State University, issued a strong statement in support of science and said flatly that intelligent-design creationism is a religious belief, according to an article in Inside Higher Ed. Ball State is the university that recently hired Guillermo Gonzalez, an astronomer who was denied tenure at Iowa State University and subsequently taught at a small sectarian college. Ball State University has also come under fire because one of its professors, Eric Hedin, has allegedly introduced religious material into his science classes.

Intelligent-design creationist Guillermo Gonzalez has been appointed assistant professor of physics at Ball State University, according to an article in Gonzalez is the author of The Privileged Planet and was famously denied tenure at Iowa State University. Gonzalez will teach two introductory astronomy courses, The Sun and Stars, and The Solar System.

Ball State has also come under fire recently following reports that another professor, Eric Hedin, teaches a Boundaries of Science class whose curriculum allegedly includes intelligent-design creationism. The Star Press article, incidentally, notes that the university, not the professor, has the legal right to define the curriculum. Let us hope that they will watch Professors Gonzalez and Hedin closely.

Things To Do This Weekend


zacknote.jpg As a public service, here are a few suggestions on how to entertain yourself this weekend, and support science education at the same time! If you are in the New Mexico area, come out the the annual meeting of the Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education (CESE), which is hosting Louisiana’s spunky young Zack Kopplin (now a student at Rice in Houston). Time: 1:00 PM Saturday, June 29th. Place: Room 122, Northrop Hall, on the UNM campus. There is a map and a flyer. Zack’s topic is “Why we need a Second Giant Leap.”

Secondly, you can act on Genie Scott’s suggestion to support the excellent indie film “The Revisionaries” by voting for it at the PBS website. Genie writes “I know which one I’m voting for: The Revisionaries – the film about Don McLeroy and the Texas Board of Education. I give it 5 stars. It’s so well done and deserves to win.” Vote here.

Finally, here’s a petition at the White House to Ban Creationism and Intelligent Design in the science classroom as federal law. As my cousin wrote me offline, there’s a fat chance such a law will ever pass, but if the petition gets 100,000 signatures, Obama will have to publically address the request.It’s about a third of the way there, but the July 15th deadline looms. If you’re so inclined, add your voice to the petition here

The National Center for Science Education announced that its executive director, Eugenie Scott, will retire at the end of the year:

NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott announced on May 6, 2013, that she was planning to retire by the end of the year, after more than twenty-six years at NCSE’s helm. “It’s a good time to retire, with our new climate change initiative off to a strong start and with the staff energized and excited by the new challenges ahead,” she commented. “The person who replaces me will find a strong staff, a strong set of programs, and a strong board of directors.”

The Times last week ran an article on the implementation of school vouchers in a number of states. My concern here is that the vouchers may be applied to religious schools and possibly home schools that have little oversight.

My Freshwater analysis is a few days out there.

A brief note to let readers know that my analysis of the oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court will be up in a couple of days. I have some background material coming from outsiders that’s yet to arrive, and my tomorrow is almost fully booked already. So: Friday at the earliest, and possibly Saturday.

Updated: Freshwater: Ohio Supreme Court oral arguments next week


UPDATE: Video of the oral arguments is now up.

Oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court on the termination of John Freshwater’s contract as a middle school science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, are scheduled for the morning of Wednesday, February 27. Freshwater’s case is second on the schedule. Fifteen minutes of oral arguments are allotted to each side in each case, and I don’t know how long the break between cases is, so Freshwater’s case will be heard sometime after 0930 EST (1430 UT). Oral arguments will be live streamed on The Ohio Channel, and I was told by an administrator at the Court that video of the arguments should be archived at the same site that evening.

The documents in the Court’s review are here. The core documents are Freshwater’s Merit Brief (PDF here) and the District’s Merit Brief (PDF here). In addition, Steve and Jenifer Dennis, the National Center for Science Education, the Secular Student Alliance, the American Humanist Association, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have filed amicus curiae briefs, all available at the general documents link above.

Recall that two lower courts, the Knox County Court of Common Pleas and the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals, both ruled against Freshwater. I still have no idea why the Ohio Supreme Court accepted the case for review, particularly in view of the bait and switch Freshwater’s attorneys pulled on the Court.

I suggest that interested folks preview a couple of the archived oral argument videos to get a feel for how the Court operates. In general, attorneys for both sides get to start their presentations but are rather quickly interrupted by questions from members of the Court.

Montana Creationism Bill: dead in committee(?)


As Matt noted above, one of the creationist so-called “academic freedom” bills was filed in the Montana state legislature. Now the Sensuous Curmudgeon reports that the bill has been tabled in committee, whatever that means. In that post SC also has a video of some of the testimony at the committee hearing on the bill, noting that the proposer, Representative Clayton Fiscus, was the only speaker in support while a couple of dozen professors, teachers, and citizens testified in opposition. It’s worth watching both for the testimony in opposition and for the almost sad ignorance and confusion of Representative Fiscus. I genuinely wonder how he navigates through life given his evident inability to think coherently. if he’s the best the Disco Tute can come up with to sponsor their bills, they’re in deeper trouble than I thought.

That video is edited from the full hearing, and another set of excerpts consisting mostly of speakers’ identifications is on NCSE’s YouTube channel. It does not include Representative Fiscus’ remarks. I wouldn’t be surprised if video of the full hearing including all testimony is somewhere, but I haven’t looked for it.

Update, February 4, 2013. NCSE has just reported that the Colorado bill has failed to make it out of committee. First in the nation, for this year at least! Unhappily, the vote was 7-6, which is entirely too close for comfort.

January is barely gone, the groundhog may or may not have seen his shadow, and the National Center for Science Education reports that already 8 anti-science bills have been filed in 6 states: Colorado, Missouri (two bills), Montana, Oklahoma (two bills), Arizona, and Indiana.

As Barbara Forrest notes, “Creationists never give up.” The bills have been carefully sanitized, but all will allow teachers to teach the purported strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, most commonly “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” According to NCSE, the bills are also generally “protective” in that they forbid state and local authorities to prohibit such teaching. The bills pretend to foster debate, but the language is clearly code words for creationism.

The Revisionaries on PBS


A somewhat shortened version of the movie, The Revisionaries, will be shown on PBS Monday night at 10 Eastern Time. The Revisionaries is a documentary about attempts by the Texas State Board of Education to inject creationism into the school standards.

Here is what PBS says about the program:

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