2013 September 17
State Board Hearing Room, William Travis Building
Welcome to the live blog of the State Board of Education. I am Steven Schafersman, President of Texas Citizens for Science and the primary antagonist of aggressive, organized Creationism in Texas. The TCS website contains many reports and essays about TCS activities to prevent Texas and national Creationists from damaging the accuracy and integrity of science education in the state.
12:00 noon - I arrived early to watch the Texas Freedom Network Stand Up for Science Rally to express public opposition to the efforts of Creationists on the SBOE and in the Texas Education Agency to debilitate the reliability of science instructional materials used in Texas public schools.
2:10 p.m. - The hearing should have started at 1:00 but is starting late. The morning was devoted to public testimony about new rules regarding graduation requirements and it didn't end until 1:20 p.m., then the Board members left for lunch. They returned at 2:00 and Barbara Cargill has been talking since. She announced that she is planning to ask publishers to voluntarily make public any additional content they are proposing for new instructional materials. This is a naked ploy to deflect criticism of the Board and TEA for keeping those changes secret (see my testimony below and my press release published on this blog yesterday). The reason that this is a ploy to deflect specific attention is because (1) the obligation to make public TEA-requested (i.e. extorted) changes is voluntary, (2) the new material will only be available at ESCs, not to requestors using the Public Information Act, and (3) the announcement isn't clear because it says ambiguously that publishers will be asked to voluntarily make available "additional content they are proposing for new instructional materials," not that TEA-requested changes will be made available. Here is Cargill's announcement with all its spin intact:
SBOE chair increases transparency in textbook adoption process
AUSTIN - In the interest of greater transparency during the current textbook adoption process, Barbara Cargill, chair of the State Board of Education, today announced she will ask publishers to voluntarily make public any additional content they are proposing for new instructional materials.
The board is in the process of adopting new materials for science for grades k-12, mathematics, k-8, and technology applications for use in Texas classrooms. A final vote on the submitted instructional materials will occur in November. But because of the increasing use of electronic content and the high interest in this adoption, Cargill will ask publishers to voluntarily make the new content available as quickly as possible.
As with the original instructional materials submitted for this adoption cycle, the new content will be available for review at the Texas Education Agency in Austin and at the 20 Education Service Centers around the state. Because of copyright protections, the material cannot be distributed to requesters but may be reviewed at those locations.
Currently, 429 instructional products are under review. Those approved by the board this fall will be available for use in Texas classrooms in the fall of 2014.
Page last modified on 9/17/2013
The announcement of this new plan to "increase transparency" makes it clear that Cargill is under pressure to reverse her and TEA Commissioner Michael Williams' plan to keep the publishers' TEA-extorted changes secret so TEA and SBOE politicization of science content--particularly of evolution and climate change--will not be noticed by scientists and public observers until it is too late and the bad changes have been permanently incorporated into the new science instructional materials. (Both Chairman Cargill and Commissioner Williams are Creationists and climate change deniers, and Cargill has in the past amended both science and social studies content for political and religious reasons.) Additionally, the publishers would be less willing to make anti-scientific changes if they know their textual manipulation will be made public to scientists and other stakeholders.
Publishers' over-riding goal is to sell textbooks and make money, not to protect the accuracy and integrity of science content, so they are willing to make changes that are not too egregiously anti-science. The operative clause is "too egregiously." Remember, the changes that will be requested by TEA in response to reviewer comments and criticisms will not be to insert information about Intelligent Design Creationism or the Biblical version of Creation (as some reviewers and testifiers have actually requested even though this is illegal!), but to make small changes that will weaken, qualify, and debilitate evolution so that students will be misled and confused about the topic and more willing to distrust what scientists say about the ability of evolutionary biology to explain the diversity of life, including the origin of humans. This has happened before. Therefore, a rule must be put into place that makes it mandatory for publishers to release the changes they make to materials under TEA pressure. Remember, publishers want to be 100% compliant with the TEKS despite the new requirement of 51-100% being acceptable, so they will not just tell TEA to "forget it, we will sell our books directly to the school districts without receiving a top score from you." 100% compliance can be advertised to ISDs who will want that attribute and, more importantly, competitors cannot use less than 100% compliance against them. Thus, the new legislation that was passed that supposedly weakens the SBOE/TEA's stranglehold on instructional content--notoriously down to specific wording of scientific text--unfortunately did not fulfill its intended purpose.
2:15 - Thomas Ratliff asked if the TEA staff could compile a document that lists the reviewers' comments that request changes and the publishers' responses (some of these "negotiations" have already been conducted and more is to come). Even Barbara Cargill made the point that the public and today's testifiers haven't seen even the reviewers' comments yet (because they have not been officially publicly released, although I have seen them only because I made a Texas Public Information Act Request for those reviewers' comments; Texas Freedom Network made the same request and, as a public service, published the biology comments that were most egregious.)
2:19 - Ide Trotter, retired business Dean of Dallas Baptist University and former industrial chemist for an oil company, believes he has expertise about the complex chemistry involved in the origins of life, DNA, and biological information. He says, “In these books, the student is told that every scientific test supports the theory of evolution. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Wrong. He says that Darwin's theory is "facing a crisis that is not reflected in these textbooks." Wrong again. He says natural selection explains the survival of the fittest but not the arrival of the fittest. He is wrong on both counts. He says that Darwinism is still being questioned today. Wrong again. He says that Stephen Jay Gould said that "Darwinism is dead." This is a deliberate quote out of context. Trotter is using "Darwinism" to refer to evolution, but Gould was using it to describe the Synthetic Theory of Evolution. Gould was mostly wrong and Trotter is completely wrong in their intended senses.
This reveals the low level of discourse at this hearing. Ide is falsely framing evolution, using misleading terminology and claims to confuse his listeners, and in addition is telling them wrong information. He is delibertely confounding Darwinism and evolution, when the correct terms are the Synthetic Theory of Evolution and evolutionary biology. The Synthetic Theory is strongly supported by most biologists but is being improved at its margins. Evolutionary biology is mainstream science that is accepted by all modern biologists. Trotter is trying to confuse and mislead those he wants to persuade, the members of the SBOE. This is so typical of Creationist specious argumentation, and it stinks. Finally, Ide criticizes the Pearson biology materials for "dishonestly" presenting evolution as established science. Since evolution is established science, who is being dishonest?
2:30 - Former SBOE member and chairman Don McLeroy says that the biology textbooks contain "hidden jewels" that will finally destroy evolution. He supports adoption of the biology books because he says "this will be the final blow against evolution." He says the biology books support what the Bible says, including the evolution sections. "True, testible science strikes the final blow against evolution." The sections in the biology textbooks he describes explains the origin of stasis and sudden appearance, required topics that McLeroy proudly states that he put into the standards in 2009. He's right about that historical item. He did insert these two items because he believes that stasis and sudden appearance support Creationism, not evolution. So that is his logic. It's crazy thinking, of course, but this comes straight from the mind of Don McLeroy and that's what you get from that source.
SBOE member Thomas Ratliff, who defeated Don several years ago in the election for the Board seat, pointed out that the newspaper clipping that Don referred to--when he claimed that the new biology books contained information that would "destroy evolution"--actually said that the new biology standards that Don was responsible for including in the TEKS would "strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution," not a blow to the scientific theory of evolution. The audience snickered at this remark at Don McLeroy's expense. Don agreed that Thomas was correct, but said that teaching the new material would damage evolution if the students were smart and could see the problems presented. Unfortunately for Don, he is seriously confused about the status of stasis and sudden appearance as evidence against evolution. They are not. Rather, they have a variety of genetic, geological, and other explanations, although they do affect evolutionary history. These features of the fossil record, stasis and sudden appearance, illustrate evolution rather than "destroy" it. I was able to obtain a copy of his testimony so I will analyze it in detail later in a special column.
You can access this blog column directly at http://www.texastheocracywatch.com/index.php/8-education/48-live-blog-of-state-board-of-education-public-hearing-on-science-instructional-materials-2013-september-17.html I know this is a long URL but you can comment on the bottom of the page.
The TFN live blog column by Dan Quinn about this hearing is at http://tfninsider.org/2013/09/17/live-blogging-the-texas-science-textbook-hearing-2013/
2:52 p.m. - I presented my testimony. Here it is:
Public Testimony to the State Board of Education
Steven Schafersman, Ph.D.
Texas Citizens for Science
2013 September 17
The Texas system to adopt science instructional materials is sick, broken, and corrupt, and it has been for the 33 years I have been appearing here to advocate for the accuracy and integrity of science education in Texas. Several aggressive and well-known anti-evolutionists and Intelligent Design Creationists were nominated and appointed to all three biology materials review panels, at least one Creationist to each panel. [Gail Lowe nominated Raymond Bohlin, Walter Bradley, Ide Trotter, and Richard White.] This was no accident. The system was rigged by a few anti-science activist State Board members with the shameful complicity of TEA staff. The TEA staff has not been this complicit since the 1980s, and this is a significant change from just two years ago.
The Creationists on the three biology review panels made many unscientific and nonsensical criticisms of the submitted biology materials. Comments such as “the text neglects to tell students that no transitional fossils have been discovered,” “we don’t know what climate change will do to species diversity,” “if authors would read [a specific Creationist book] they would be made fully aware of the deep problems of any RNA first scenario,” “gene frequencies of a population will be little affected by recombination,” “genetic drift is not an evolutionary mechanism,” and “there should be inclusion of the ‘creation model’ based on the Biblical view of history” are simply nonsense. These comments are pseudoscientific, incorrect, and illegal.
The changes the radical anti-science State Board members really want are the ones that weaken and damage evolution instruction so that students will be misled and confused about the ability of evolutionary biology to explain the existence of biological diversity, thus leaving students prey to Creationist explanations. These changes will be extorted—excuse me, I mean “negotiated”—with publishers in secret meetings with TEA staff. Alarmingly, I have been told that the negotiated changes publishers are obliged to make will not be made public due to a bogus reason: “third-party copyright issues.” That’s not an acceptable excuse. The changes publishers agree to make with the TEA must be made public just as they were in 2011 so we can evaluate what damage has been done to scientific accuracy and integrity. Let’s not revert to the corrupt decades of the 1970s and 80s when staff negotiated with publishers in secret and the results were not known until the books appeared a year later.
During the CSCOPE hearing last Friday, several State Board members expressed their appreciation that the CSCOPE review process is now open and transparent, a sentiment I sincerely share. I now urge you to apply the same standard of openness and transparency to your own science instructional materials adoption process. Please move and vote for a rule change that permits public knowledge of the textual changes publishers agree to. Please vote to ensure openness and transparency as you claim to endorse.
3:00 - Several pro-science speakers have testified in favor of the science materials and against the comments of the Creationists. SMU Professor Ron Weatherington was one of these. He expressed concern about students in Texas not being taught good science due to the suppression of evolution and climate change information due to political interference in science standards and instructional materials content. He noted, quite correctly, that "social conservatives" (he didn't want to use the proper terms "Creationist" or "anti-evolutionist" for some reason) tried to weaken the coverage of evolution and climagte change to try to force publishers to "water down" scientific coverage.
3:10 - We now come to the first of two of the primary Creationists who served on the review panels, Ray Bohlin. I have known Ray for years. Like several Texas Creationists, he is a dogmatic Fundamentalist Christian who hates evolution and considers it a lie. He is an administrator of a Christian ministry, not a scientist, but has some scientific training. Uncharacteristically, he took most of his time to address some problems in the instructional materials review process, especially the fact that he was unaware that his criticisms of the biology materials would be a public record subject to access by a public information act request, and then which could be publicized on the web. He apparently was embarrassed by what was publicized. I would be embarrassed, too, if I wrote what Ray wrote.
In his final remark, Ray made one substantive point: dissatisfaction with Neo-Darwinian evolution is not limited to a "religiously motivated uneducated minority." I agree with that comment, of course. In my experience, very intellilgent and highly-educated individuals who have no scientific understanding of modern evolutionary biology are also sometimes dissatisfied with evolution. The reason in this case is not lack of general education or religious belief or low intelligence, but ignorance of the immense amount of evidence that supports evolutionary theory and the logical arguments that sustain it from that evidence. The evidence and logic are irrefutable but only if you know and understand them, which is why global mainstream science fully supports the concept of evolution and only cranks deny it. Bohlin cites the new book by an esteemed American philosopher, Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist, Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. As it happens, I am familar with this book and have a copy. I have read at least five informed reviews of it by scientists and informed philosophers. All take Nagel to task for failing to understand the evidence and arguments for evolution. Indeed, Nagel makes many gross errors in his explanation of the evolutionary process. These errors are due to ignorance. Next, Nagel's arugument against materialism, while better, is simply inadequate to refute the scientific theory of evolution. Nagel continues to believe, despite the evidence, that the human mind is not materially-based on the brain, and since science obviously can't explain a non-material (more specifically, a non-natural) entity, he concludes that Neo-Darwinism (i.e. the Synthetic Theory of Evolution and its modern revisions) must be false. Nagel also makes the bald but ignorant and grotesquely false statement that materialistic science can't explain the origin or existence of the genetic code. What's scary here is not the ignorance about evolution, but being willing to write a book that exposes that ignorance to others. Even more scary is using this book as an example to prove your point that intelligent, educated, and atheist individuals can be intelligently dissatisfied with modern evolution without recognizing, or doing the research to find out, that additional knowledge is necessary to understand and accept evolution. Both passive unperceived ignorance (Nagel) and willful ignorance (Bohlin) will be a stumbling block for scientific understanding. That's why scientists should be writing, reviewing, and teaching biology instructional materials, not philosophers or religious ministry leaders.
3:23 - David Shormann is next. David does real, serious scientific work but not in evolution. His degrees in science are real, but he is a serious and dogmatic anti-evolutonist and Young Earth Creastionist. He criticizes the biology texts for not covering or even mentioning epigenetics, the study of non-gene biological control of inheritance (changes in gene expression and phenotypes without underlying gene control; some of these changes are inheritable). This topic isn't covered in high school biology materials because it is an advanced topic that is more suitably studied in college. Shormann wants to include epigenetics because he believes, falsely, that epigenetics is evidence against evolution because its complexity precludes the occurrence of evolution. It isn't. Epigenetics includes processes that sometimes affect inheritance, but that doesn't negate natural selection or other evolutionary processes. David is willing to mislead and confuse the State Board members to persuade them to make changes against evolution. What a guy! This is a common Creationist tactic: claim some biological structure or process is claimed to be too complex to explain by naturalistic science, so an Intelligent Designer did it. This is quite an argumentum ad ignorantiam. David concludes by essentially saying the State Board should should reject the biology materials unless it make the changes he wants. Cargill's reply to Shormann is classic radical authoritarianism: She says she “hopes the publishers are listening,” making quite an argumentum ad baculum.
3:38 - Kathy Miller of TFN recommends that the science instructional materials reviewers be qualified in the science which they review, not like now in which individuals with no documented expertise in the discipline are allowed to review the materials. She recommends that the process be more open to public view and not kept hidden as it was (observers were so restricted in their access that they could not even listen to discussions). Finally, she recommended that the publishers changes be made available to the public for review long before the materials are finally adopted.