Major Victories in Michigan and Ohio

Yesterday was a very good day for science education in the midwest. I wrote last week about ongoing controversies in Michigan and Ohio as advocates of intelligent design (ID) were trying to find a way, any way, to weaken science education and open the door at least a crack for the introduction of ID in public school science classrooms. I'm happy to report that we won major victories against the anti-science crowd in both states, and on the same day, both involving the state Boards of Education.

In Michigan, the BOE has been trying to adopt new statewide standards in every area of study, as required by a new state law that standardizes the curriculum requirements for all public and charter schools in the state. After failing to get pro-ID language into that bill, Republicans in the state legislature tried instead to pressure the BOE to put such language into the new standards. Last month, they pressured them into delaying a vote on the new standards so that they could have "input" (i.e. bring more pressure to bear) on the new standards.

At yesterday's monthly board meeting, however, the BOE took testimony from both sides (unlike the House Education Committee, where the committee chairman can skew the testimony in favor of the side he supports). And then they voted - unanimously - to reject the proposed changes. Those changes would have weakened science education significantly by putting weasel words into the curriculum standards and sowing doubt where no serious doubt exists on the validity of evolution.

"The last minute attempt by legislature to introduce language that facilitated the teaching of Intelligent Design and creationism was inappropriate scientifically and luckily the board recognized that today," said biology professor Dr. Gregory Forbes.

Dr. Forbes is a founding board member of Michigan Citizens for Science. MCFS Board President Robert Pennock, a nationally recognized philosopher of science who testified as an expert witness at last year's Kitzmiller case in Federal court, also testified against the changes and worked to educate the board members on the inadvisability of the proposed changes and the dangers of watering down science teaching in public schools. After multiple failed attempts to pass pro-ID legislation, and these failed efforts to influence the curriculum standards, one can only hope that the ID movement will learn their lesson and leave Michigan alone.

Ohio has been a battleground over ID for much longer, and with more national attention, than Michigan, but yesterday's Board of Education meeting may finally have brought that to an end for now. After the school board voted earlier this year to remove an ID-inspired lesson plan from the science standards, the matter was referred to the Achievement Committee to determine whether that lesson needed to be replaced with something.

That led the pro-ID forces, led by Deborah Owens Fink, to suggest a broad "critical analysis" lesson plan that would, naturally, only encourage doubt and questioning of those scientific theories they don't like (evolution, global warming, stem cell research, etc). The chair of that committee has maintained for weeks that this proposed lesson plan would go nowhere, but he continued to postpone and delay things and mislead others on what was going on. Yesterday, the BOE brought that obfuscation to an end.

At the meeting of the full board, Martha Wise proposed the adoption of the following:

RESOLVED, That the Achievement Committee of the State Board of Education, having recommended no response to Board Resolution 31 referred to it in February 2006, is hereby discharged from further consideration of Resolution 31 and anything arising therefrom, including the template for teaching controversial issues.

The motion was seconded and passed by a 14-3 vote, effectively bringing the latest machinations and maneuvering of the ID crowd to an end. Kudos to Ohio Citizens for Science for their hard work and diligence in fighting these attempts to water down science education.

Will this be the end of ID? Of course not. It will continue to mutate and evolve and show up again in a new form. The Discovery Institute and their allies are very well funded and, quite literally, convinced that they are fighting against Satan himself. They have no intention of going away. That's why one of my colleagues in this battle ends all of his emails with "Eternal Vigilance", because you can never fall into thinking that the attacks are over.

But let's take a moment and recognize that the last 12 months has been very, very good for science and very, very bad for ID advocates. We got the best possible result in the Dover trial and the board there was voted out. We won control of the Kansas board of education again despite an enormous campaign by the other side to hold on to it. We got all of the pro-ID damage of the last few years reversed in Ohio.

The ID movement is reeling at this point and there is much to celebrate. And I want to take the time to name some names and recognize the hard work of so many people around the country who deserve praise in this regard. First and foremost, the incredible people at the National Center for Science Education: Genie Scott, Glenn Branch, Wesley Elsberry, Nick Matzke, Susan Spath, and Eric Meikle. On a shoestring budget, these folks have defended science education against the very well-funded attacks of the creationists for more than 20 years now. I urge you all to follow the link above and join the NCSE.

Second, the folks who work in the various state science groups who are on the front lines in these battles. In Kansas - Jack Krebs, Liz Craig and many others. In Ohio - Patricia Princehouse, Steve Rissing, Richard Hoppe and many others. In Michigan - Rob Pennock, Greg Forbes and all my fellow board members. In New Mexico, Dave Thomas, Marshall Berman and everyone else. Please bear in mind that I'm only naming by name the folks I've had the good fortune to meet or work with directly; there are many others who work beside them who deserve just as much praise.

I'd also like to single out Eric Rothschild of the Pepper Hamilton law firm in Philadelphia. He was the lead attorney in the Kitzmiller trial last year and he and the entire team of attorneys was nothing short of brilliant. That trial may well end up being this generation's defining moment in the evolution battles, and the positive outcome can be attributed primarily to the legal team, to Nick Matzke's tireless consultation with them, and to the group of people all around the world who have patiently and diligently analyzed and countered the claims of creationists for the last few decades. I'm proud to be among that latter group. If there must be an MVP award for that trial, I know that Nick and Eric would both say it should go to the other one. But I'd be happy to split it up and let them share it. Great work, gentlemen, and great work to all of the amazing people I named above and to many more as well.

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Please don't mix oppposition to the chicken-little style of "Global Warming" advocates with having pro-ID views and opposition to stem-cell research.

I think that ID is a joke, right out of the box and I think that stem-cell research a no-brainer (but I can understand why anti-abortion people would take that stand as a moral issue), but I am very much a GW skeptic.

I've got a solid scientific education (a BSEE) with decades of experience in R&D,and I haven't been inside a church except for weddings and funerals for 20 years, so try not to lump me in with the raving loonies of ID, OK?

Ed: Is Dr. Pennock's testimony available anywhere? I didn't see anything but the press release at the MCFS site.

I certainly don't want to rain on the well-deserved parade, but you're a lot closer to the situation there than I am. What's up with this report?:

Lawmakers were successful in persuading the state board to make one potentially significant switch. Language that already was included elsewhere in content expectations provided to schools also will be put in a notebooks that are given to teachers.
That language encourages science teachers to emphasize critical thinking, scientific inquiry and the use of relevant scientific data to assess the validity of scientific theories.

Ed,

Nice post. All of you people on the font lines of defending good science deserve much praise. While ID or something like it will always be around, one can hope we've seen the peak of their influence and can look forward to many years of more widespread good sense and devote our energies to serious human problems: gobal warming, biodiversity, over-population, human rights like those of clean water and clean air....

Dan,

so try not to lump me in with the raving loonies of ID

I'm afraid I can't do that, however a separate bin may be available. ID and the rejection of global warming come are cut from the same cloth. In both cases, there is a rejection of widely accepted, compelling science. 15 years ago you could have made a case perhaps, but not in 2006.

I should possibly show this post to my father-in-law. About three years ago he said "within 10 years, evolution will be taken out of the schools". Only seven more years to go, pappy!

Guys, I think that some of you are suffering from the same affliction that a lot of pro-ID evangelical Christians are: you both revel in this "culture war".
I have found two things to be true:
(1) Every theory/idea/system of thought has some truth in it. No idea (ID included) is completely false.
(2) Fighting against an idea only reveals the disingenuous intention of the fighter. If something is true, it'll stand up to time and examination. If something is false, it will collapse. Period.
Fighting only polarizes (read: stupidifies) people. Unrestricted collaborative examination reveals truth and unifies people.

Jesse,

I agree that it is too easy to be sucked into the culture war. However, here I disagree:

If something is true, it'll stand up to time and examination. If something is false, it will collapse.

This may be true among scientists, but it's not true among the general public. Two-thirds of Americans do not believe in evolution, 150 years after its advent. One in four thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth. Truth helps an idea but does not determine its fate.

I won't debate you on whether any idea can be completely false, but some ideas are certainly false enough to warrant calling their owners ignorant. And ignorant people do ignorant things that affect us all.

Jesse,

(1) Every theory/idea/system of thought has some truth in it. No idea (ID included) is completely false.

I think this idea of yours is false -- completely so. There are a host of other things that have been suggested over the eons which are also are completely false. If you are saying, "Heck, you should acknowledge the good in those things that are not completely true," I agree, but ID is not one of them. There is not a shred of truth or goodness in ID. If you can point it out, however, I'll listen.

(2) Fighting against an idea only reveals the disingenuous intention of the fighter.

How is that? When people fought against the idea of slavery, I don't think there is anyway you could call that disingenuous. Sometimes people are disingenuous, I'll give you that. One example is the Bush administration lending lip service to ID so ID can go off and fight the idea of evolution.

If something is true, it'll stand up to time and examination. If something is false, it will collapse. Period.

I'm a bit more than glad that Hitler's attempt (backed by a host of theories) to exterminate the Jews, gypies, and gays was not left to stand up to "time and examiniation" and collaspe on its own.

It is important to give new ideas a good hearing, but how can you say one should not push back on the ones that are wrong? In fact, what are you saying?

(1) Every theory/idea/system of thought has some truth in it. No idea (ID included) is completely false.

David Icke believes that the Holocaust, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the September 11, 2001 attacks were orchestrated by reptilian aliens from the planet Draco, who hybridized themselves with humans and walk among us undetected thanks to the shape-shifting abilities that they received upon combining reptilian and mammalian DNA; their ranks include many world leaders, including Hillary Clinton, George H.W. Bush and the British royal family, and the fact that they exist in extra dimensions than the rest of us gives them the ability to control minds, though members of the "white race" are more susceptable to this mind control than others.

(1) Every theory/idea/system of thought has some truth in it. No idea (ID included) is completely false.

So the Flying Spaghetti Monster COULD be true!? I thought it was just sci-fi geek sarcasm.

I would suggest instead of "Eternal Vigilance," ending letters with "Crush the Infamous Thing." That one has a long, successful history.

By steve davis (not verified) on 13 Oct 2006 #permalink

This discussion fails to attribute to words their true power. Language, by its very nature is creative. To speak something is to make it real, for yourself and your listeners. To think that a blatant falsehood, spoken and repeated will collapse on it's own denies numerous examples of evil voiced and repeated until finally acted upon by the masses, convinced they are right.

Where the hell are the WMD!!!!!!!!!!

I heard many planets in our solar system display global warming. Core temperatures increasing, magnetic perterbance of aproaching space object. Mars icecaps -- gone yet? Any space fans know?

To Dave: Where are the WMD's!!!!!!!!

In the White House, of course. Though whether that acronym describes Weapons of Mass Destruction or Weapons of Mass Deception, I've never been completely sure!