Recently in Texas Category

That is the title of a Slate article by Zack Kopplin. But actually it is much worse (see also NCSE’s take here). Here are the first 3 paragraphs of Kopplin’s article.

I am a little bit late reporting this, but Josh Rosenau reported on November 26,

It’s a joy to be able to report on a sweeping victory for science education in Texas, and to be able to give an eyewitness report of the fight over the textbooks that will be used in that massive textbook market for years to come. The 2009 battle over Texas science standards made it quite possible that the textbooks adopted last week would be riddled with creationist claims, or would give creationist board members a toehold to demand that publishers rewrite their books or be left off of the state’s approved list. In the end, the books available to students will be solid, accurate, and honest about evolution and climate change.

According to a recent tally by the ever-vigilant National Center for Science Education, nine anti-science bills have been introduced in various states since January. Most of them use the “critical analysis” ploy, also known as the “strengths and weaknesses” ploy. Some bills specifically state that teachers may not be penalized in any manner for “helping” students to understand the strengths and weaknesses of evolution. Most recently, the Tennessee House passed a bill that would allow teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review … the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.” By an odd coincidence, the scientific theories with which students evidently need the most help include evolution, global warming, origin of life, and human cloning, just those topics which so bemuse the extreme right. Where, you may ask, is homeopathy or “alternative” medicine, subjects that are desperately in need of critical analysis? Certainly not singled out in any of the bills. You may read more details and find relevant links at the NCSE website.

Chris Comer loses appeal

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We received the following announcement from the National Center for Science Education and reproduce it with permission:

ICR hits a snag

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Via Phil Plait

The Institute for Creation Research, which in 2007 moved from California to Texas, has been seeking accreditation in Texas to award a Master’s degree in science education. In 2008 the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board denied ICR’s request for accreditation, and ICR brought federal suit. The National Center for Science Education now reports that ICR’s request to temporarily award the degree while seeking permanent accreditation has been turned down by the court.

ICR’s graduate school is currently accredited by TRACS, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, which IIRC was originally founded by a group including Henry Morris, also the founder of ICR, to provide a cloak of faux respectability for institutions like ICR. As NCSE notes, TRACS

… requires candidate institutions to affirm a list of Biblical Foundations, including “the divine work of non-evolutionary creation including persons in God’s image.”

See here for more (pdf), especially pp20ff on “Biblical Foundations”. TRACS is not recognized by Texas as an accrediting agency.

In the ruling denying ICR temporary permission to award the degree, the court wrote

“It appears that although the Court has twice required Plaintiff to re-plead and set forth a short and plain statement of the relief requested, Plaintiff is entirely unable to file a complaint which is not overly verbose, disjointed, incoherent, maundering, and full of irrelevant information” (p. 12).

Kind of like most of their stuff, hm? It puts me in mind of R. Kelly Hamilton’s style in the Freshwater hearing: Toss everything into the pot and hope that something is edible.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that Thomas Ratliff has narrowly defeated Don McLeroy in the Republican primary race for Texas State Board of Education. McLeroy is the right-wing extremist who wants to doctor the state science standards so they reflect his own disbelief in the theory of evolution. Since there is no Democratic candidate, Ratliff will automatically assume McLeroy’s seat.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Ratliff had received the support of “mainstream public education groups” and quotes him as saying, “I want to take politics out of our public schools,” and added that Ratliff

told gatherings across the district that Texans are tired of political posturing on the board as the social conservative [sic] bloc – led by McLeroy – tries to impose its views in history, science and other areas of the curriculum.

“Our kids don’t go to red schools. They don’t go to blue schools. They go to local schools,” he said, also criticizing attempts by some board members to inject their religious beliefs into what children are taught.

The News reports further that McLeroy was “unapologetic about the actions of the social conservatives” and bragged about the “incredible accomplishments that will help our children.”

Thanks to a commenter known to me only as Aagcobb for the tip.

Chris Comer appeals case in Texas

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The NCSE reported on August 13th that

Chris Comer, whose lawsuit challenging the Texas Education Agency’s policy of requiring neutrality about evolution and creationism was dismissed on March 31, 2009, is now appealing the decision. Formerly the director of science at the TEA, Comer was forced to resign in November 2007 after she forwarded a note announcing a talk by Barbara Forrest in Austin; according to a memorandum recommending her dismissal, “the TEA requires, as agency policy, neutrality when talking about evolution and creationism.” In June 2008, Comer filed suit in federal court in the Western District of Texas, arguing that the policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: “By professing ‘neutrality,’ the Agency credits creationism as a valid scientific theory.” The judge ruled (PDF, p. 18) otherwise, however … In her appellate brief, submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Comer asked (PDF, p. 39) the court to “review the record de novo and reverse and vacate the district court’s decision. Specifically, it should grant Comer’s motion for summary judgment, and vacate the grant of summary judgment for defendants, as well as the dismissal of plaintiff’s complaint. At a minimum, this Court should vacate the grant of summary judgment to defendants, plus the order dismissing the complaint, and remand for further proceedings.”

Hat Tip: Tony Whitson’s blog on curriculum-related matters

A bit more hope for Texas kids

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As you may recall, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), which recently moved from California to Texas, has brought suit against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for the latter’s denial of ICR’s application for certification to award a Master of Science Education degree. (In addition to the Texas Citizens for Science analysis linked above also see here for another masterly takedown of that suit.)

What was less publicized was a bill in the Texas State Legislature to pull an end run around the Coordinating Board by exempting ICR’s graduate program from the regulations governing degree-granting institutions in Texas.

Another bill introduced in this legislative session would have restored the ID creationist “strengths and weaknesses” language to the Texas Science Standards.

Both bills have now died due to the adjournment of the Texas legislature. So there’s a bit more hope for Texas: Don McLeroy is out as Chairman of the State Board of Education, the creationist “strengths and weaknesses” language is not in the standards, and the ICR is still not certified to award phony graduate degrees in science education.

On the other hand, there’s talk of a special session to straighten out some budget matters in Texas, so it’s always possible that one or the other bill will come up again soon.

Hat tip to the National Center for Science Education

All is not (yet) lost in Texas

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Occasionally one happens onto a person who raises one’s hopes for rationality and good science, even in Texas. One such person is Joel W. Walker, a candidate for the College Station, Texas, Schools Board of Trustees, the local school board. Walker is a theoretical physicist, a Republican self-described as being “both fiscally and socially conservative,” and a supporter of honest science education. On his campaign site Walker has posted a strong and informed essay as an open response to Texas State BOE chairman and creationist dentist Don McLeroy. I’ll quote just some bits of it – go read the whole thing.

More on The ICR Lawsuit

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There’s more on the ICR’s lawsuit against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board over at Tony’s Curricublog, and from Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science. Shafersman makes an important point here:

ICR claims it “met or exceeded” the 21 Standards of Certificates of Authority. In fact, ICR did not meet several of those standards which was the basis of the THECB’s refusal to grant the Certificate of Authority. Three of those unmet standards were faculty qualifications, the curriculum, and academic freedom of the faculty and students. The standard of judging these things is comparison with other Texas institutions of higher learning that offer the same Master of Science Degree in Science Education. ICR was in no way comparable to other institutions, which was the original THECB justification for denial of the certification. Indeed, ICR compares so unfavorably that in my opinion it would never be able to achieve accreditation from a legitimate accrediting association, and I believe ICR’s plan was to keep renewing its state Certificate of Authority indefinitely (or seek legislative assistance in some fashion.…)

ICR’s claim that it suffers from “anti-accommodational evolution-only-science enforcement policy practices” is frankly absurd. ICR has every right in the world to teach its Creationist pseudoscience to paying students and can continue to do that, so that falsifies its claim of illegal victimization by the State of Texas. It has no right, however, to demand that its graduating students be awarded a Texas-certified Master of Science degree, since under no definition of science or practice of legitimate science education in the United States is ICR’s curriculum “science.”

The Institute for Creation Research (ICR) has filed a lawsuit against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) for denying it authority to issue masters degrees in science education. The ICR, of course, is a young earth creationist outfit that recently moved to Texas from California. It’s been running what it calls a graduate school for several years, issuing worthless pieces of paper that it calls advanced degrees in various sciences. Sadly, the ICR’s “graduate school” was officially accredited by a nationally recognized accreditation agencysomething I consider something of a scandal. But when ICR moved, it withdrew from that national accreditation because it expected that it would get accreditation from the state of Texas. That turned out not to happen: THECB unanimously denied ICR’s request for authority to grant degrees purporting to be scientific degrees.

I wouldn’t hold my breath, but according to an article by Stephanie Simon in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, a number of Texas legislators have been put off by a science curriculum that not only permits the introduction of creationism through the back door but also raises doubts about global warming and big-bang theory. Evidently several bills have been introduced to reduce the power of the state school board. Specifically,

The most far-reaching proposals would strip the Texas board of its authority to set curricula and approve textbooks. Depending on the bill, that power would be transferred to the state education agency, a legislative board or the commissioner of education. Other bills would transform the board to an appointed rather than elected body, require Webcasting of meetings, and take away the board’s control of a vast pot of school funding. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, hasn’t taken a position on specific bills, a spokeswoman said.

Furthermore,

While the Legislature debates the board’s future, candidates on the left and right are gearing up for 2010, when eight seats will be on the ballot. Results of that election could affect how the new science standards are interpreted – and which biology texts the board approves in 2011. Texas is one of about 20 states that require local districts to buy only textbooks approved by the state board.

Finally, according to Ms. Simon, Texas is gearing up for a school-board election in 2010. Eight seats will be contested, and the results of that election could determine precisely how the new science standards are implemented and what textbooks will be chosen.

Thanks to Scientists and Engineers for America for providing the link.

A Texas legislator has introduced a bill that would exempt any private institution of higher learning from having to acquire a certificate to award a masters degree from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, provided that the institution required the students to complete “substantive course work” and did not accept federal or state funds.

According to a recent press report, the not-so-hidden agenda behind the bill is to certify graduates of the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School to apply for jobs as teachers in the Texas public school system. The ICR is a young-earth-creationist organization that purports to offer a graduate degree in science education with minors in general science, astro/geophysics, biology, and geology. (Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science argued a year ago that they should be certified to offer a masters in theology, but not in science.)

The ICR 2 years ago moved its headquarters to Texas, where its programs are not accredited. They had been accredited in California by an accrediting agency for Christian schools, one of the founders of which was also a founder of ICR. That accrediting agency, however, is not recognized in Texas. For details, see an article by Glenn Branch in the Reports of the National Center for Science Education.

Lest I appear to pussyfoot, let me state that the upshot is that the bill, if passed, would allow wholly unqualified graduates of a diploma mill to teach science in the public school system in Texas.

Acknowledgment. Thanks to SEA News (Scientists and Engineers for America) for providing the initial reference.

New Scientist ignores its own story.

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The kerfuffle over New Scientist’s recent story – “Darwin was wrong about the tree of life” – has stirred the science blogosphere. The author of the article, Graham Lawton, has popped up on various critical blogs attempting to defend (sort of) the title and content of his article. (See John Pieret’s directory to the critical posts, and Bora’s similar directory and snark).

In that linked post Pieret points out that the New Scientist article has already apparently been cited by a creationist Texas Board of Education member in support of her proposal to weaken the Texas science standards (see here for the original story):

Barbara Cargill, a Republican who supported the weaknesses requirement, said there have been “significant challenges” to the theory of evolution and she cited a recent news article in which a European scientist disputed Darwin’s “tree of life” showing common ancestors for all living things.

What’s even more entrancing, Pieret notes that New Scientist reported on the same creationist proposal, but somehow neglected to mention Cargill’s implicit citation of Lawton’s “Darwin Was Wrong” story as support for her proposal.

Where is Graham Lawton these days? Busily showing that Galileo was wrong when he thought there were just four moons of Jupiter, or that the earth isn’t really round but is an oblate spheroid?

Added in edit: Reading Pieret’s post more carefully, I find that he borrowed the directory of critical posts from Adrian Thysse, to whose post and blog I commend your attention.

At the Christian Today website we learn how the Creationist in Texas have been defeated, although they did manage to get some amendments approved which undoubtably will be abused by some.

The scientists, apparently familiar with the Discovery Institute’s desperate attempts after the Dover failure, observed that

Over 800 scientists in Texas have signed a statement to “encourage valid critical thinking and scientific reasoning by leaving out all references to ‘strengths and weaknesses’” of evolution - references, they say, that politicians “have used to introduce supernatural explanations into science courses.”

I just got a notice from Michael Zimmerman of The Clergy Letter Project that the Project has developed a new Web page, Teach Them Science. The Web page was developed in conjunction with the Center for Inquiry Austin, and was released now “because the Texas State Board of Education is poised to vote on new science standards for the State of Texas.” Professor Zimmerman adds that the Web page contains “an enormous amount of information about the evolution/creation controversy on it.”

Professor Zimmerman continues,

Although a committee of teachers and scientists has written a K-12 curriculum of which all of us could be proud, the State Board of Education’s composition is such that just about half of the members hold a worldview incompatible with modern science. Our new web page explains the situation and provides ways for people to get involved. Something to keep in mind is that textbook publishers are well aware of what the State of Texas requires. Because of the huge Texas market, changes to the Texas curriculum are likely to have an effect throughout the country. In short, an anti-science vote in Texas may affect science teaching in local communities throughout the United States. Read more about the situation, and how you can get involved, on our Teach them Science (www.teachthemscience.org) web page and in a news report at the National Center for Science Education’s web page (www.ncseweb.org).

Texas Op-Ed: Ain’t no religion here

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John Pieret calls attention to an Op-Ed piece in the San Antonio Express-News. It’s by a representative of the San Antonio Bible Based Sciences Association, and argues that teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution is perfectly appropriate.

The Op-Ed then lists some of the so-called “scientific weaknesses of evolution,” and they are a litany of the worst creationist arguments, including these old chestnuts:

We stand ready to go to any venue you invite us to, and can present several hours of scientific evidence which supports creation. Included in these will be the fact that evolution violates the 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics, as well as the Law of Biogenesis.

It goes on

We can show you creation evidence in the fields of microbiology, genetics, probability, biochemistry, biology, geology and physics which support creation and undermine evolution.

In simpler terms, all of modern science is bunkum.

Creationist Evolution in Texas: Updated

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Update above the fold

The Texas Freedom Network sent a memo to journalists and bloggers today with some additional information (original TFN blog post about the creationist claims). TFN identifies specific instances where Don McElroy McLeroy, Chair ot the Texas State Board of Education, claimed that neither he nor any member of the Board supported the teaching of intelligent design creationism and that their machinations over the science standards has nothing to do with religion. For example, McElroy McLeroy claimed

I don’t know of a single board member that has ever advocated teaching creationism, teaching ‘intelligent design’ or teaching supernatural explanations in the science classroom.

(Audio of the November 19 hearing, Committee of the Full Board Part D, at around 1 hour 45 minutes.) That’s flatly contradicted by the “Strongly Favor” responses McElroy McLeroy and the other creationist Board members gave to the Free Market Foundation’s questionnaire.

More incredible given McElroy McLeroy’s claim above, as recently as August of this year McElroy McLeroy himself explicitly argued for the inclusion of supernatural explanations in science. In an opinion piece in the Austin American-Statesman on August 2. 2008, McElroy McLeroy argued (pdf):

For the supernaturalist, the phrase ‘natural explanations’ does not just undermine his view of science but actually excludes it by definition. If science is limited to only natural explanations but some natural phenomena are actually the result of supernatural causes then science would never be able to discover that truth–not a very good position for science. Defining science to allow for this possibility is just common sense.

Science must limit itself to testable explanations not natural explanations. Then the supernaturalist will be just as free as the naturalist to make testable explanations of natural phenomena. The view with the best explanation of the empirical evidence should prevail.

And so it has: McElroy McLeroy seems not to have noticed that the testable claims of supernaturalism have been uniformly contradicted by the evidence. For example, creationist claims about the age of the earth are false (McElroy McLeroy is a young earth creationist).

I can’t decide if McElroy McLeroy knows he’s lying or is simply incapable of remembering his own claim made in writing just a few months ago. But then, is anyone surprised? Lying in the service of what is perceived as a higher purpose is evident in the circles he frequents, and I suppose that after a while it becomes so routine as to be unnoticeable to oneself.

Late edit In a comment below Joshua Zelinsky notes that he blogged on another more recent McLeroy example.

Original Post below the fold

A WTF Moment in Texas: Yup. It was a quote mine.

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OK, what I quoted below from Homeroom: an education blog is a quote mine. It takes two sentences, well separated in Saenz’s testimony, and pastes them together to make it look like they were part of the same stream of testimony. They weren’t.

The first sentence of the purported quotation is from the MP3 that 386sx linked at 07:25. It is “And by the way, all this talk about status and people not being from Texas, Darwin was from England and Einstein was from Germany.” That was an out of context comment made in passing. I.e. it had no specific motivation in what preceded, but was thrown in at the end of comments he was making in response to a question from Ms. Dunbar about lawsuits on the basis of the policy and how they get paid for.

The second sentence of the purported quotation comes from four minutes later, around 11:30, and had reference to some derogatory comments apparently made about people testifying on the creationist side, when he said “The eliticism and arrogance that has been going on is really not what Texas is about.”

So that was in fact a quote mine, and I withdraw my remarks that assumed it was a representative quotation from Saenz. Saenz says a good deal that I disagree with, but he was not that stupid.

I’ve just started reading Kenneth Miller’s Only A Theory in which he is attempting to make the case that the current assault on science, orchestrated by organizations like the Disco ‘Tute, is a “threat to our ‘scientific soul’ – the healthy skepticism and rational respect for truth that has fueled our remarkable scientific advances” (from the dust cover copy).

One might imagine that Miller is being alarmist, but then one encounters this. At the current hearings of the Texas State Board of Education on its new science standards, Jonathan Saenz, a functionary in an affiliate of Family in Focus, made this extraordinary remark:

Darwin was from England and Einstein was from Germany. The elitism and arrogance that has been going on is not what Texas is about.

That’s the kind of abject stupidity that could convince me that Miller is right. How many Pastor Ray “We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture” Mummerts are there?

From Homeroom: An education blog, via John Pieret.

Once again, the Discovery Institute is playing word games with educational systems, trying to give legal protection to religion-based incompetence. I refer, of course, to the ongoing debate about standards in Texas, and the insidious influence that the DI is wielding.

As Wesley Elsberry notes in his summary of the alleged weaknesses of evolutionary theory, an oft-repeated mantra rears its head yet again. This ID tenet holds that macroevolution is either not possible, or cannot be observed, or cannot be studied (or any combination of the these). Apparently, Board of Education member Ken Mercer is of the opinion that macroevolution has not been observed.

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