Exchange of Words in Kansas

Well, the Kansas Kangroo Court is over, and it did not produce the outcome that the anti-evolutionists wanted. “Experts” from around the world were flown to Kansas to put on a state funded advertisement for intelligent design creationism because the local lay people were not doing a good job of it. Well, the “experts” that came to Kansas didn’t do a much better job. They routinely answered questions by admitting non-expertise. They were even caught having not read the standards they were supposedly testifying about. (Let’s be honest, the hearings were not about science education in Kansas but about giving intelligent design creationism a forum to advertise.) These revelations did more harm than good for the school board’s impending decision to accept the minority revisions to the standards.

Steve Abrams, chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education, has gone into damage control with a letter to the Wichita Eagle. Steve Case, chair of the Kansas Science Curriculum Standards Committee, has written a letter in response which was read by Pedro Irirgonegaray on the final day of the hearings.

Hearings were about good science

By Steve Abrams

It is a sad commentary on the state of public affairs that persons as learned as reporters and editorial board members of The Eagle still have no clue as to what is happening with the Kansas science curriculum standards.

The Eagle editorial “Fringe: Evolution hearings push religious agenda” (May 8 Opinion) claimed that these hearings have “everything to do with sneaking religious views into science classrooms.” That is absolutely incorrect. At no time have I stated or implied that I wanted to insert creation science or intelligent design into the science curriculum standards. On the contrary, I have stated that I would vote against inserting either one into the science curriculum standards. Further, I have repeatedly stated that my objective is to get as much empirical science (defined as observable, measurable, testable, repeatable and falsifiable) into the science curriculum standards as possible.

In addition, I have stated that I want to remove the dogmatic fashion with which neo-Darwinian evolution is taught. When a subject is discussed using words such as “always” and “fact” and “no controversy,” when in actuality, it is not always, nor factual, and great controversy is involved, then by definition it is being taught as a dogma.

The dogmatic approach is what is being advocated in the majority draft of the Kansas science standards.

The point of the science hearings is to show that, indeed, among scientists with many degrees, having received many research grants, having published many peer-reviewed papers and books and having accomplishments great and small, there is great controversy about biological evolution being taught as dogma. They presented testimony that there is controversy about the “factual” nature of biological evolution. They also presented testimony that there is controversy about the very definition of science as used in the majority draft.

These hearings were not about my religious views; they were about what is good science. There was a huge amount of science testimony over three days last week. But to read the editorial and the article “Anti-evolution hearings end” (May 8 Local & State), a person would be hard-pressed to know that science was the main topic of discussion.

One had to read the editorial and article closely to find that 23 people testified, but one might get the opinion that indeed there weren’t many scientists that testified. In point of fact, of the 20-plus witnesses, only two were not actively involved in science research or teaching science. Of course, the article quoted both of those who were not active in science research or science teaching.

We invited evolutionary scientists from all across Kansas and the United States to testify. But they have all decided to boycott. Now, a thinking person would ask: Is it because the hearings are rigged? Is it because of arrogance of the majority scientists? Or is it because what the majority proposes is actually full of holes?

The editorial stated that the case against the conservatives of the state board should be for “educational malpractice.” I find it amazing that you would say this in the face of the testimony of the science teachers who testified that they were reprimanded, fired and generally put on a short leash when they discussed – not brainwashed, but discussed – scientific tests that seemed to contradict the “fact” of neo-Darwinian evolution.

Further, the article referred to Jack Krebs, vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science, as a “mainstream scientist.” In fact, Mr. Krebs does not have a Ph.D. in science, but instead is a high school math teacher. This is not meant to demean math teachers, but generally, most high school math teachers do not consider themselves “mainstream scientists.”

I have made no secret of my faith or the principles upon which I stand, nor what I would like to see in the Kansas science standards. Yet The Eagle persists in stating that I intend to do something that is categorically opposite of what I state. I would urge Eagle writers to become well-educated about the issues.

Investigate the claims of those witnesses (with lots of pedigrees) who claim there are significant problems and mainstream science does not stand up to investigation.

Investigate the claims of Kansas Citizens for Science, which has sought to target uneducated moderates with propaganda and proclaimed the conservative state board members as political opportunists, unprincipled bullies, etc.

Investigate my claims when I state I do not want to insert creationism or intelligent design, but instead want to rely on empirical science.

I have tried to speak forthrightly with every reporter that comes along, but it seems that most of them (or at least their editors) are either wannabe mind readers or have an agenda of their own.

As Thomas Cooper said, only fraud and falsehood dread examination. Truth invites it.

Steve Case’s Response

I feel that I have to respond to Dr. Abram’s letter in the Wichita Eagle.

Dr Abrams ends his letter with a quote from Thomas Cooper: “only fraud and falsehood dread examination. Truth invites it.” I would suggest that he be careful what he wishes for.

Throughout the Standards process, the expert panel appointed by the State Board has worked very hard to follow the process by which curriculum standards are developed. It is by this kind of adherence to a well structured process and by following the rules, that documents of this nature establish creditability. Through this process, a two thirds majority of the committee has produced an excellent document. At all times we have maintained a high degree of respect for all of the people involved in standards process and at all times made absolutely certain that all voices were heard.

Honestly, during this process it has been difficult to remain respectful when being denigrated as a scientist and portrayed as a poor teacher. I have been looked in the eye and lied to on several occasions during this process.

A good example comes from the second paragraph of Dr. Abrams letter in which he says, “At no time have I stated or implied that I wanted to insert creation science or intelligent design into the science curriculum standards.”

Dr. Abrams must think that we have forgotten Trial Draft 4A of the science standards that he introduced in 1999. At the time he told us that he was the author of this trial draft of the standards. It was only through a bit of detective work that we found that this was not true. The draft had been written by a young earth creationist group from Cleveland, Missouri.

These were the creationist standards that were adopted by the board in1999. Dr. Abrams was, at the very least, a driving force in the insertion of creation science into our state standards at that time.

It is also difficult to remain respectful when I read Dr. Abrams’ statement in which he says, “In addition, I have stated that I want to remove the dogmatic fashion with which neo-Darwinian evolution is taught.”

Dr. Abrams knows that there is a great deal of difference between science content standards and curriculum/instruction. Standards create a broad vision of what it means to be scientifically literate. They serve only as a foundation for local school districts to create their curriculum and instruction.

It seems as if Dr. Abrams is promoting State control for what has been a local function; the curriculum and instruction occurring in local classrooms. However, I cannot let the assertion that the outstanding science teachers of Kansas are teaching in a dogmatic fashion stand unchallenged.

It is offensive to the teacher of Kansas and absolutely untrue.

I have been in hundreds of classrooms across the State, very active in state wide teacher organizations and very active in science teacher professional development. If such behavior is occurring in a classroom then that teacher would be guilty of unprofessional conduct. I have never observed such behavior in any of the classrooms in Kansas. I have found the teachers of Kansas to be very sensitive and caring about their student welfare.

The Statement of Tolerance found in the Science Standards articulately expresses this caring and the high standard of practice in the state. Dr. Abrams letter is filled with such misleading statements. He continues to insist that dramatically changing the procedures by which the Science Standards are developed is a noble thing and that these hearing and witnesses have credibility.

This is also untrue.

The witnesses do not have any standing in the field and no credibility. The statements have arrogant opinions about subjects in which they have no knowledge. The subcommittee hearings in Topeka are dishonorable and without integrity. Reputable scientists and science educators should be applauded for not participating in such an event.