Texas science standards: Disco. plays fast and loose

Texas is gearing up to revise their state science standards. This is a big deal, because the standards Texas sets determine how textbooks are written not just for the Texas market, but for the rest of the nation. The fight over science standards now is a prelude to an imminent and much bigger fight over textbook adoptions. And the Texas Board of Education is currently run by creationist Don McLeroy, who runs a bloc of 7 of the 15 board members, a bloc which often draws in enough swing votes to allow bad policy to be pushed through.

The panels of experts selected to put together the new science standards have produced excellent drafts (far from perfect, but quite good), which means that McLeroy and his crew are looking for a way around them. Rather than a ham-fisted kangaroo court as in Kansas, the Board is simply appointing a panel of expert reviewers, and giving them unspecified power to mess with the carefully ironed out documents.

As in Kansas, the creationists on the Board of Education turned to out-of-state creationists to be their "experts." Ralph Seelke and Stephen Meyer are both veterans of the Kansas Kangaroo Kourt, and the third creationist-nominated witness, Charles Garner, has been identified by his own students as a young earth creationist.

As the human rights group Texas Freedom Network points out, Meyer and Seelke are also "authors of an anti-evolution textbook":

The inclusion of the two textbook authors raises serious questions about conflicts of interest and whether political agendas took priority over giving Texas students a 21st-century science education, Miller said.

“It’s simply stunning that any state board members would even consider appointing authors of an anti-evolution textbook to a panel of scientists,” she said. “Are they coming here to help write good science standards or to drum up a market for their lousy textbook?”

The textbook, Explore Evolution, is intended for secondary schools and colleges, according to its U.S. distributor, the anti-evolution Discovery Institute in Seattle. Because of that, the State Board of Education could consider it for the state’s approved list of science textbooks in 2011.

Noting that the three pro-science experts are all from Texas, TFN adds that:

A number of respected Texas scientists contacted TFN to say that they had asked state board members to serve on the review panel, Miller said. None appear to have been named to the panel.

“Texas universities boast some of the leading scientists in the world,” Miller said. “It’s appalling that some state board members turned to out-of-state ideologues to decide whether Texas kids get a 21st-century science education.”

To sum up: the creationists on the board nominated three men who hold views far outside the scientific mainstream, two of whom are from out-of-state, have a history of attempting to undermine accurate science standards, and will financially benefit of Texas waters down its curriculum.

TFN was too polite to ask this, but I do wonder why they couldn't have found good creationists in Texas. Bill Dembski, Carl Baugh, Kurt Wise, and any of the staff of the ICR would've prevented the carpetbagger critique.

How would Disco. respond?

Mendaciously, of course: Texas Freedom Network Manufactures Bogus Controversy Over Science Standard Reviewers:

AUSTIN, TX – The Chicken Littles at the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) are ranting that the sky is falling because two of the six experts selected to review the state's science standards co-authored Explore Evolution, a textbook that examines both the strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution (www.exploreevolution.com).

What the TFN doesn't reveal is that another of the expert reviewers co-authored a one-sided, Darwin-only textbook! David Hillis, a biology professor at UT Austin co-authored the 2008 edition of Life: The Science of Biology, a textbook whose previous editions have been approved for use in Texas high schools. Hillis also serves as a spokesman for a pro-evolution lobbying group that is trying to remove language in the Texas science standards requiring students to study the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Gerald Skoog, another expert reviewer, has signed a statement issued by the same pro-evolution group, and he too has been a science textbook author and has a long history as a pro-Darwin activist.

"If being a textbook author really is a 'conflict of interest,' then why isn't TFN attacking Hillis and Skoog?" asked Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. "In truth, textbook authors are precisely some of the experts who should be having input into science curriculum standards."

"TFN and other Darwinist activists are manufacturing a controversy because they don’t want a serious examination of the science standards, especially of their effort to gut the 'strengths and weaknesses' language. What are they afraid of?" asked Luskin.

"We think it’s fantastic that Dr. Meyer and Dr. Seelke have been invited to review the Texas science standards and explain why students should learn both the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories," added Luskin. "And we also think it's great that people like Dr. Hillis and Dr. Gerald Skoog were chosen. Unlike the TFN, we think the state board of education should be applauded for choosing a diverse group of scientific reviewers. Getting honest input from science experts with diverse views is imperative if we’re going to build a world-class educational system."

Both Dr. Meyer and Dr. Seelke are practiced reviewers having been involved in other states' standards review processes. Dr. Meyer has previously been invited by the states of Ohio and Kansas to testify on their science standards.

Odd that Seelke's work in Kansas was ignored, as was his testimony against evolution in the Michigan legislature. Odd, too, that they don't mention what textbook Skoog wrote. In fact, he hasn't been listed as an author of a textbook since 1999, when he was the author of several textbooks in Addison-Wesley's "Science Insights" series. Other authors continue the series today, but Skoog has no financial stake in the series at this point.

As for Hillis, here is his reply to the Disco. Inst. attacks:

I am co-author of the 8th edition of Life: The Science of Biology (published by Sinauer Associates and W. H. Freeman). This is a college-level book for majors in biology. It is also used in some AP-Biology courses at the high school level, and an earlier edition (I was not a co-author) is on the approved list for use in AP Biology in Texas. The curriculum that we are reviewing is not the AP-Biology curriculum, which is not determined by the state of Texas. The book is not on the list (nor it it an appropriate level) for use in the regular high school biology curriculum in Texas, so there is no conflict. That is my only textbook…my other books are professional books on biology (you can find the full list on my cv).

For his c.v. and other publication info, check out Hillis's webpage. Because the AP curriculum is not set by the Board of Education, Hillis's review of the new TEKS cannot have any financial impact on him, thus he has no conflict of interest, either.

Thus, the only claim left to Disco. is that Skoog and Hillis (and presumably Dr. Ronald Wetherington, the third pro-science expert) are disqualified on the grounds that they have spoken out against ID and other forms of creationism. But doing so simply reflects that they are within the scientific mainstream, and will ensure that the standards used to test Texas students and to select textbooks for Texans will reflect the generally accepted principles of the scientific process.

Garner, Meyer, and Seelke do not, and should not be in charge of science education in Texas. The mendacity demonstrated by Disco.'s response here indicates exactly why they should not

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Well done, Josh, especially your debunking of the ironic "conflict of interest" charge made by the Discovery Institute. The rest of the panel should demand that Meyer, Seelke, and Garner provide peer-reviewed scientific research papers that provide data demonstrating the so-called "weaknesses" of evolution. When they fail to support their claims, they should get it on record.

My I also urge your readers to support SBOE candidates Laura Ewing and Dr. Edra Bogle in their race to unseat creationist opponents.

I don't believe Josh debunked the current standards of Texas, "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

Since creationism, and intelligent design have been banned by the courts (it doesn't matter what Garner, Meyer, and Seelke believe in) the scientific evidence and information in which students have to use for "critical thinking" would be from evolutionary sources. To diminish or eliminate the practice of "critical thinking" all together is indoctrination rather than teaching a particular subject.

When the author of "The Bible is the Other Side" sez that only "evolutionary sources" would get through the "strengths and weaknesses" language, I think he's straining at gnats. If you catch my drift.

Whenever people have tried to implement this "critical thinking" approach, it always winds up meaning they dredge up long-discredited creationist attacks. That doesn't promote anything good.