Texas’ school board, which has waged an ongoing battle over science education (among other topics), is back at it. In 2009, a bruising battle created science standards that questioned common descent and the age of the universe. Since then, textbook publishers have attempted to craft science texts that implement Texas’ standards.
That process has reached the point where the board invited outside experts to critique the textbooks. In keeping with the school board’s history, that process has also gone badly astray. Rather than choosing scientific experts and educators, the school board chose two people (Walter Bradley and Raymond Bohlin) who have been involved in the Discovery Institute, the organization that has backed the intelligent design movement. Bradley in particular was involved in crafting the wedge document, which calls for a cultural effort to get rid of science’s focus on natural causes in the hope that it would advance theistic views.
Another person asked to review the texts is Ide Trotter, a retired engineer. He’s a key figure in a group called Texans for Better Science Education. That group’s URL, strengthsandweaknesses.org, echoes language that was specifically removed from the standards because it is used to enable religiously motivated attacks on evolution education. With the exception of two works by Darwin, the group’s recommended books are all products of the Discovery Institute. (We reviewed one and found it to be largely unscientific.)
You’re probably thinking, “This sounds great!” After all, there’s plenty of evidence that America’s science education is lagging behind other countries, and these kinds of standards hadn’t been updated in almost 15 years, which, by the timescale of scientific progress, is about a century. And what could be more important than teaching critical thinking to young people?
Not everyone is pleased. Over at WORLD magazine this past week, Casey Luskin’s argument for why conservative evangelicals should be distressed about the new standards offers a useful portrait of how anti-evolution writers stoke fear—and a helpful demonstration of why the NGSS is so badly needed.
Luskin is an attorney, a writer, and a staff member at the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design think-tank. (I recently reviewed a book by Luskin’s boss. In what might seem like a conflict of interest, Luskin did, too.) Writing under the title “Darwinian Dictates,” Luskin explains:
Public education curricula in the United States have traditionally been controlled by local and state boards of education, but under newly crafted national guidelines called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), K-12 public school students across the country may learn essentially the same uniform science curriculum, one that proselytizes for Darwinism.
Creationist Lobbyist Deceives Louisiana Senate Committee, Claims Creationism Law Is Actually Anti-Bullying, Pro-Evolution Legisl
Last month, while testifying against the repeal of the Louisiana Science Education Act, Joshua Youngkin, the program officer on law and policy at the creationist con-profit The Discovery Institute, told the Louisiana Senate Education Committee, somewhat stunningly, that the LSEA was actually about teaching “more evolution.” Since its founding in 1990, the Discovery Institute has spent tens of millions in tax-deductible donations paying people to promote and lobby for science denial legislation, and when it was enacted in 2008 by Governor Bobby Jindal, the Louisiana Science Education Act became the organization’s signature legislative accomplishment.
Sources are cited below. Please don’t comment on the following two points, because I’ll answer them here:
1) I know the lottery winning check in the video is made out to Andrew Whittaker, and I call him Jack Whittacker. In the time it takes you to point this out in the comments section, you could google the name and see why.
2) Yes, the story of the German bomber was true. My father survived, but the man standing next to him was killed. Whether or not the pilot spent a few seconds waving goodbye to a girlfriend I don’t know, but if he had dropped his bombs just a split second earlier, the outcome might have been very different.
3) It’s not clear whether VenomFangX runs the Horsewillbe channel. But the Horsewillbe video was the one that was nominated. Whatever he wants to call himself on YouTube, he’s still the same guy.
4) Thanks to all those who told me VenomFangX/Horsewillbe was not home-schooled by creationist parents. So my calculation of the chances of him reading a primary school textbook is based on fatuous information. Actually, I wasn’t serious.
One of the common tropes you hear among modern creationists is the denial of the idea that there is any non-coding DNA, or “junk DNA.” To them, the idea that a large part of the genome is simply unread leftovers, carried along passively from generation to generation without doing anything, is clearly a contradiction with the idea of an “Intelligent Designer.” So the Discovery Institute and numerous other creationist organizations that are actually sophisticated enough to recognize the issue (including Georgia Purdom of Ken Ham’s “Answers in Genesis” organization) keep spreading propaganda that “junk DNA is a myth” or “every bit of DNA has function, even if we don’t know what it is.” Moonie Jonathan Wells, who has written crummy books misinterpreting fossils and embryology, wrote a whole book denying the subject—even though he hasn’t done any research in molecular biology since 1994. Do they actually do any research to explore this topic, or trying to test the hypothesis that all DNA is functional? No, their labs and their “research” are not that sophisticated. Instead, their entire output on the topic (just as in every other topic) is based on cherry-picking statements of the work of legitimate scientists, quote-mined to distort the meaning of the original scientific publication. Either they don’t understand what they are reading and their confirmation bias filters screen out all but a few words that seem to agree with them, or they are consciously lying and distorting the evidence—or both.
First, some background on the issue. Before 1966, nearly all biologists were “panselectionists,” convinced that every part of an organism was under the constant scrutiny of natural selection, even if we couldn’t detect it. Even in the 1970s, I had professors in evolutionary biology at Columbia University who were hard-core panselectionists, and could not imagine the possibility that nature was not very efficient, but could carry along structures from one generation to the next that either had no function, or were suboptimal in their function (as Stephen Jay Gould had been advocating). But as early as 1966, Lewontin and Hubby (using the then-new technique of gel electrophoresis, which has long since been replaced by direct DNA sequencing) showed that the variability in the protein sequences in many organisms was far in excess of what was needed to explain their anatomical complexity, and that there was no correlation between complexity and genetic information: there were simple worms with huge genomes, and complex organisms with small genomes.
Published on Dec 12, 2012
Why is the inclusion of creationism and “intelligent design” still a viable proposal for American biology curricula? What other secular policies are at risk of religious intrusion? NCSE board member Barbara Forrest dissects the issue with a panel of experts, including Barry Lynn, Chris Mooney, and John Shook. Where: Center for Inquiry, Washington, DC. When: 10/22/2011
The far right think tanks and anti abortion groups have been commissioning pseudo-scientific studies and papers for publication in vanity journals and other places for a couple of decades to use as backing for bills to limit abortion. This is just one of them, there are many others that need debunking as well. Prior to this it was “Fetal Pain” until that was also thoroughly debunked. [Also see here.]
You can bet that right now there are zealots commissioning more pseudo science studies to serve as new vehicles for laws to limit abortion. It’s time for the scientific community to start responding faster and more firmly when confronted with these religion driven lies, just as they do when Discovery Institute shills attack evolution or global warming.
In looking for mental health disorders (like panic attacks, depression, substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder) associated with abortion, Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University and her co-authors included all lifetime mental health disorders in their analysis, rather than only those instances occurring after the abortion took place. They were “hoping,” she says in a letter defending her methodology, “to capture as many cases of mental health problems as possible,” by including a longer period of time. In a detailed re-analysis of the (publicly available) data used in the study, Julia Steinberg of the University of California at San Francisco and Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute found what they called, in a letter to the journal’s editors, “untrue statements about the nature of the dependent variables and associated false claims about the nature of the findings.”
“This is not a scholarly difference of opinion,” Dr. Steinberg said. “Their facts were flatly wrong. This was an abuse of the scientific process to reach conclusions that are not supported by the data.”
Dr. Coleman’s work has been used to support state laws in seven states (Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia) requiring that women seeking an abortion be counseled regarding its negative psychological effects. A similar analysis of data in Denmark (reported last year in the British Journal of Medicine) found no support for the hypothesis that abortion increased the risk of mental disorders.
More on Priscilla Coleman here
A response to
The papers Jonathan M quotes:
DI claims evolutionists have ‘no comment’ on RNA World — but they rejected my comment! - The Panda’s Thumb
The common feature of JonathanM’s posts is above-average research for an IDist, but way below-par research in terms of actual scholarship. He knows just enough to seem informed, but doesn’t bother to look up any of the actual research on the questions he asks – he just assumes that whatever problem with evolution that he thinks up over breakfast is some crushing objection that none of the experts has ever thought about before.
Usually this boils down to not a God-of-the-Gaps-Human-Knowledge argument, but a God-of-the-Gaps-in-JonathanM’s-Knowledge argument, which is, I think, an even more devastating mistake than the usual God-of-the-Gaps argument.
Anyhow, as background to the below, a week or two ago JonathanM made a post on UD that claimed various half-baked problems for the natural origin of life, one of which was that the assembly of RNA was difficult, because nature would have to separately sugars, bases, and phosphates separately, and then assemble them. The only problem with this argument, whatever its original merits, is that it was directly falsified by the Sutherland Group’s famous experiments in 2009. Oops! I pointed this out on UD, and although it took some tooth-pulling, got some UD people to more-or-less admit that JonathanM made a mistake there. JonathanM, though, seems to be acting like his sure-thing takedown of the origin of life from a few weeks ago never happened.
All of this may explain why, when I posted the following comment to JonathanM’s RNA World post at the DI website – hours after the original RNA World post was published, if I recall correctly – it said “comment received”, but the moderators never approved it. So there you go, David Klinhoffer – an answer to your question about why there were no challenges to JonathanM.
The fundamentalist Social conservatives in the tea party movement have an agitprop article of faith that they and their talk show host friends spew incessantly. One of their favorite myths is that most college science professors are atheists and that they are bent on subverting youth into godless communism/socialism/ and SCIENCE!
The truth is that the great majority of professors who teach are religious, and believe in god(s) to one extent or another. Atheists in the Universities who actually teach are a laughably small minority. Another wingnut claim is shot down fully aflame in this study reviewed in the video by C0nc0rdance.
The Religiosity of American College and University Professors
Sociology of Religion (2009) 70 (2): 101-129.
Here’s the paper being discussed (in pdf format):
I don’t spend a lot of time cleaning these up, so there may be some messy audio splices, and at times the screen doesn’t match the audio.