|Volume 19 Number 11||www.ntskeptics.org||November 2005|
MSTA denounces antievolution legislation; NAS and NSTA deny permission to Kansas; Discovery and Thomas More squabble at AEI event; Kitzmiller coverage continues.
The Michigan Science Teachers Association denounce a recent antievolution bill . . . . the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association deny permission for their material to be used in the antievolution version of the Kansas science standards . . . . and the Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center squabble in public. . . . . And a reminder about sources of information - and misinformation - about the trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover, which continues to attract journalistic attention across the country and around the word.
MSTA denounces antievolution legislation
The Michigan Science Teachers Association issued a statement denouncing House Bill 5251 in the Michigan legislature, which if enacted would require the state board of education to revise the state science standards to ensure that students will be able to "(a) use the scientific method to critically evaluate scientific theories including, but not limited to, the theories of global warming and evolution [and] (b) Use relevant scientific data to assess the validity of those theories and to formulate arguments for or against those theories."
In its statement, the MSTA notes that, because the Michigan state science standards "already require students to 'use scientific knowledge to make decisions about real-world problems' and to be 'able to make informed judgments on statements and debates claiming to have a scientific basis,'" there is apparently "no valid reason for legislative intervention that would modify the existing standards as developed and adopted by the MDOE working in collaboration with Michigan's professional science education community."
Additionally, noting that "global warming and evolution are the only two theories selected for mandatory 'critical evaluation' in HB 5251," the MSTA statement observes that the proposed revision "may suggest to students and the public that these theories are somehow less robust or less scientific than are other scientific theories that were not selected for mandatory evaluation ... in clear contrast to the preponderance of scientific evidence supporting both of these theories and would represent a dishonest and unprofessional approach to the sciences and science education in Michigan."
For the complete statement, visit:
For the MSTA website, visit:
For NCSE's previous coverage of HB 5251, visit:
NAS and NSTA deny permission to Kansas
Anticipating the Kansas state board of education's expected decision to adopt a set of science standards in which the scientific status of evolution is systematically deprecated, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association have rejected the state department of education's request to use material from the NAS's National Science Education Standards and the NSTA's Pathways to Science Standards in the Kansas Science Education Standards.
In a joint statement dated October 27, 2005, the NAS and the NSTA wrote, "While there is much in the Kansas Science Education Standards that is outstanding and could serve as a model for other states, our primary concern is that the draft KSES inappropriately singles out evolution as a controversial theory despite the strength of the scientific evidence supporting evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life on Earth and its acceptance by an overwhelming majority of scientists."
The statement also noted, "[M]any of the statements made in the KSES related to the nature of science and evolution also violate the document's mission and vision. Kansas students will not be well-prepared for the rigors of higher education or the demands of an increasingly complex and technologically-driven world if their science education is based on these standards. Instead, they will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world."
The American Association for the Advancement of Science endorsed the NAS's and the NSTA's decision in a press release issued on October 27, 2005. Alan Leshner said, "We need to protect the integrity of science education if we expect the young people of Kansas to be fully productive members of an increasingly competitive world economy that is driven by science and technology ... We cannot allow young people to be denied an appropriate science education simply on ideological grounds."
A story from the Associated Press (October 27, 2005) explains that "The two groups' positions mean department attorneys must scrutinize any standards the board approves to make sure they do not lift language from the national groups' material" and reports that board chair Steve Abrams (who favors the current draft of the standards) was unsure whether adoption of the standards would be delayed by the refusal to grant permission. The board is expected to discuss the standards at its next meeting, November 8 and 9, 2005.
A later story in the Washington Post (October 28, 2005) noted that the refusal to allow copyrighted material to be used in the Kansas science standards is a reprise of 1999, when the NAS, the NSTA, and the AAAS refused to allow their material to be used in a similarly flawed set of standards. (No material from the AAAS is included in the current draft.) The executive director of the NSTA, Gerald F. Wheeler, told the Post, "Science is not a dance card or jukebox where you can choose the songs you want."
Also, a story from The New York Times (October 28, 2005) added that material from the NAS's and the NSTA's publications appears throughout the draft standards; Steve Case, the chair of the original writing committee, commented, "In some cases it's just a phrase, but in some cases it's extensive ... You try to keep the idea but change the wording around; the writing becomes horrifically bad." Sue Gamble, a member of the board who opposes the current draft of the standards, said of the NAS and the NSTA's decision, "I think it will make a difference next year in the election."
For the joint statement from the NAS and the NSTA, visit:
For the AAAS's press release endorsing the joint statement, visit:
For coverage from the Associated Press, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, visit:
Discovery and Thomas More squabble at AEI event
Representatives of the Discovery Institute (the de facto institutional headquarters of "intelligent design") and the Thomas More Law Center (the law firm representing the defense in Kitzmiller v. Dover) squabbled in public at a day-long event - "Science Wars: Should Schools Teach Intelligent Design?" - sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC. The squabble was provoked by a question from moderator Jon Entine to panelist Mark Ryland about the Discovery Institute's role in Kitzmiller v. Dover. Ryland answered (in part), "The Discovery Institute never set out to have a school board, schools, get into this issue. We've never encouraged people to do it, we've never promoted it," and noted that the Discovery Institute advised the Dover Area School Board not to adopt the particular policy at issue.
In response, Thompson quoted a Discovery Institute publication as saying, "school boards have the authority to permit, and even encourage, teaching about design theory as an alternative to Darwinian evolution - and this includes the use of textbooks such as Of Pandas and People that present evidence for the theory of intelligent design." He added, "you had Discovery Institute people actually encouraging the teaching of intelligent design in public school systems." Thompson also noted that the withdrawal of three expert witnesses for the defense associated with the Discovery Institute was a problem for his legal team: "And I think what was victimized by this strategy was the Dover school board, because we could not present the expert testimony we thought we could present."
Although Kenneth R. Miller, who was a panelist in a different session of the conference, described the exchange as "the most fascinating discussion I've heard all day," the rest of the conference was interesting, too: panelists included the Discovery Institute's Paul Nelson and Brown University's Kenneth R. Miller (a Supporter of NCSE), Father George Coyne of the Vatican Observatory and Michael Novak of AEI, John Calvert of the Intelligent Design Network and Southeastern Louisiana University's Barbara Forrest (a member of NCSE's board of directors), Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University, and Steven Gey of Florida State University, Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center, and the Discovery Institute's Mark Ryland. A great deal of information about the conference is available on AEI's website.
For a rough transcript of the exchange between Ryland and Thompson, visit:
For AEI's page for the conference, visit:
Kitzmiller coverage continues
The trial in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the first legal challenge to the constitutionality of teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools, began in a federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on September 26, 2005. The media is out in force, so much so that a summary of the extensive coverage is practically impossible. Instead, please browse through the following resources, all of which are replete with links, summaries, and information - or misinformation: caveat lector.
For official information about the trial from the court itself, visit:
For information about the case from NCSE, including audio reports from NCSE staff and trial transcripts, visit:
For information about the case from the ACLU and Americans United, visit:
For coverage in the local press, visit:
For extensive blog coverage of the trial, visit The Panda's Thumb, the York Daily Record's Mike Argento, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and (with its own distinctive perspective) "Evolution News & Views," hosted by the Discovery Institute:
If you wish to subscribe, to the NCSE news service send the following e-mail message:
subscribe ncse-news firstname.lastname@example.org
Send the e-mail to email@example.com.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
Buy Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism at http://www.ncseweb.org/evc
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Adam Hugo sent us an e-mail:
I don't know if you have heard of me. I applied for the challenge with the James Randi Foundation for a million in 1998.
That sounded familiar, but this story differed from anything we had received before. He followed up:
I can prove that clouds can be made to disappear.
I can do this by picking a couple of clouds out the sky to disappear within ten to twenty minutes.
This is paranormal because of you are lucky to be at the right spot at the right time in the first place a cloud would take hours to disappear and only one at a time. I could make several disappear at a time.
Talk about a challenge. How do we test this? We continue to work with Mr. Hugo to see if he has anything to show.
We also received contacts from two newspapers. The first concerned an episode involving the Skeptics last year. I hate to be mysterious, but I will have to leave it at that until the story comes out.
The second came from the Beaumont Enterprise. Their reporter is writing about the slew of TV dramas involving the paranormal. She wanted a skeptical viewpoint and asked what I thought of them.
I told her how much I enjoyed watching The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. "How old are you?" she asked. Ouch. That hurt.
But we did discuss more recent productions. "Medium" came to mind. The most recent promo on TV was an episode involving "medium against medium." I got into a long-winded discussion of plot devices in literature and drama.
The paranormal is a great plot device, but it can be overused. The problem with the supernatural is there are almost no limits to what a writer can do with it. Since adherence to natural law is not required, the writer can manipulate the plot arbitrarily, leaving viewers with a loss of coherence.
A device from ancient Greek theater comes to mind. The hero might be rescued from an intractable situation by a god who suddenly appears to make everything right. Sometimes this actor is lowered into the scene by a crane-the "god from out of the machine."
We discussed the value of reality versus fiction. Mark Twain was noted for saying "Of course reality is stranger than fiction. Fiction, after all, has to make sense." I concluded that viewers should feel free to enjoy this kind of escapist fare, but they must not confuse entertainment with reality.
Speaking of skeptics and the NTS, she asked "Just why do you do this?"
"Because you don't," was my short answer.
Her position was that she had not formed a firm opinion on the matter and did not feel qualified to take a position. How can we skeptics be so sure we are right? I mentioned our $12,000 challenge. If our position were only a matter of opinion, we would have lost our money a long time ago. The Beaumont Enterprise is a news organization, and they need to keep digging until they do get the facts.
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"Does legislation aimed at protecting natural resources contravene a Higher Law that says these resources were put here for humans to consume."
Bob Park can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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P.O. Box 111794, Carrollton, Texas 75011-1794
The persons named below ("challengers") will pay the sum of $12,000 ("the challenge prize") to any person ("claimant") who can demonstrate any psychic or paranormal power or ability under scientifically valid observing conditions. Prior to any demonstration or test, challengers and claimant will enter into a complete, written agreement called "the protocol", which will set out what power or ability is to be demonstrated, how it is to be tested, and what test results will constitute success or failure. These instructions and conditions alone are not an offer. No contract to pay the challenge amount is made with any claimant until the claimant and challengers have negotiated and entered into the protocol. The protocol must incorporate the following terms and conditions:
Signed: Gregory H. Aicklen John F. Blanton Prasad N. Golla Mike Selby John A. Thomas
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