Ohio bill would bar teachers from grading students down for wrong, but religiously motivated, answers

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The Ohio House of Representatives this week passed a truly astounding bill that would allow students to give wrong answers on their science tests so long as they do so in religious terms. That’s not an exaggeration. House Bill 164, labeled the “Student Religious Liberties Act,” would amend the state’s Education Code to forbid schools from “prohibit[ing] a student from engaging in religious expression in the completion of housework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments.” That might sound benign, except that there are times when religious expression is inappropriate, or where it is simply the wrong answer to a question—and if the word “prohibit” in the bill is interpreted as including any kind of penalty, then the result would be that teachers could not penalize a student who answered, say, the question, “What is the capital of Ohio?” with the answer, “God told me it was Tallahassee.”

That’s not an unrealistic interpretation of the bill, because the next sentence says,

grades and scores shall be calculated using ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, including any legitimate pedagogical concerns, and shall not penalize or reward a student based on the religious content of a student’s work.

Thus if a student answered a question such as

This cladogram shows the evolutionary relationships among four species. One of the species in the cladogram is labeled as Species X. Check the box to select the species that are members of the smallest clade that includes Species X

(a question I borrowed from a sample test on the Ohio Department of Education’s website), the student could answer, “My religion says that evolution never happened and there’s no such thing as clades”— and a teacher who penalized the student for giving the wrong answer would be in violation of the law.

Volunteering for the Ark Park

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Picture of the Ark
Photograph by Dan Phelps

Our colleague Dan Phelps sent us another puff piece from the Grant County News. This one, by Linda Lawrence, features a couple who have been volunteering for the Ark Park since 2016. As Mr. Phelps points out, this

piece of propaganda … shows that AIG is bringing in volunteers to do a significant amount of the work. Thus, even fewer jobs are available for local residents, payroll taxes are not levied on the volunteers, and Ken Ham continues to laugh all the way to the bank.

According to the IRS Form 990 for 2016, AIG had 589 employees and 168 volunteers; in 2017, they had 687 employees and 154 volunteers. There is no indication how many of the employees or volunteers were full-time. I do not know how to square these numbers with the claim in the article that the Ark Park “employs up to 1,200 full-time and part-time/seasonal staff members, according to a November 2018 blog post by Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham.”

Mr. Ham’s relatives are not quite as generous as the volunteers: In 2017, five of his children and their spouses were compensated amounts between approximately $28,000 and $65,000, according to AIG’s IRS Form 990 for that year. In 2016, eight family members were compensated amounts between approximately $10,000 and $70,000.

Incidentally, Mr. Phelps also notes in passing that “the article makes the remarkable claim that the restaurant feeds 3000 people per day” during the summer season. In 2011, he reported here that

[Mike] Zovath [senior vice-president of Ark Encounter] said Ark Encounter will have 60 to 70 acres of their 800 acres available to developers to either lease or purchase for hotels and restaurants. Ark Encounter itself is staying out of the hotel and restaurant business.

Flagellum evolution in the (Australian) ABC

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It’s been a long time since I’ve posted on PT! A lot of life has happened lately (job, partner, baby!), and it seems like “intelligent design” and the other creationisms have been drowned out by more immediate problems, like the fate of liberal democracy in the era of Trump and corrupt populism.

However, science keeps on happening. Here is a short essay published by the Australian ABC on the evolution of complexity and on the bacterial flagellum. It is coauthored with Matt Baker of the University of New South Wales (in Sydney), who is a biochemist and experimental evolution who works on the flagellum. We are collaborating on flagellum evolution questions to combine bioinformatic/phylogenetic approaches with experimental approaches. Our short term goal is to study specific transitions, such as how flagella have evolutionarily switched between H+ and Na+ power sources (here is a preliminary paper on that).

Kentucky governor loses election

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The New York Times reports this morning that Democrat Andy Beshear has narrowly defeated the incumbent governor, Republican Matt Bevin, in the election for governor of Kentucky. Mr. Bevin is the governor who decided not to appeal a federal judge’s decision that the state had violated the Ark Park’s First Amendment protections when the previous administration blocked a tax incentive.

The election was close, with Mr. Beshear defeating Gov. Bevin by approximately 710,00 to 705,000, or 49.2 % to 48.8 %. A minor-party candidate received approximately 2 % of the vote. The Times says this morning at 12:15 p.m. EST that Gov. Bevin has refused to concede. Probably the tax incentive has little to do with Gov. Bevin’s defeat (he was unpopular over cuts in government services and his handling of a teacher walkout), but maybe it helped.