NTS LogoSkeptical News for 9 November 2003

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Buried ritual rises in new form Chennai, Nov. 7: Weird rituals and good health seem to go hand in hand in Tamil Nadu. In the most recent case to come to light, a temple priest in Madurai district leaped over several petrified children for good health to the blessed little ones while their parents chanted prayers.

The ritual appeared to be a revised version of the gruesome "child-burying ritual" practised in some of the Kali temples in Tamil Nadu, which was banned by the Jayalalithaa government after the National Human Rights Commission issued a notice to the State Chief Secretary taking suo motu cognisance of media reports of one such ritual last August. In that incident, which caused nationwide revulsion, children were buried for about 60 seconds after being wrapped in a saffron cloth, to propitiate Goddess Kaliamman.

Fearing police action under the ban, residents of the Villoor village near Thirumangalam on Wednesday organised a "revised" ritual by which the priest at the Muthalamman (a form of Durga) temple leaped over about 60 children between one and 12 years of age. The children were made to lie down in a row on a mat of neem leaves while the priest leaped over them.

It was a weird sight as the bare-chested priest broke a coconut over a howling child in the queue, applied holy ash on the forehead and leaped over to the next.

About 2,500 devotees, loudly chanted prayers for the deity beseeching her to forgive their sins and bless their families with good health and prosperity.

Eye witnesses said a child-burying ritual planned during November last year had to be stopped after officials warned the villagers of dire consequences.

So this year, the devotees had decided to modify the almost 400-year-old ritual to propitiate the goddess even while ensuring there was no violation of the government ban.


Ice Cores May Yield Clues to 5,000-Year-Old Mystery


The latest expeditions to ice caps in the high, tropical Peruvian Andes Mountains may shed light on a mysterious global climate change they believe occurred more than 5,000 years ago.

Newswise -- The latest expeditions to ice caps in the high, tropical Peruvian Andes Mountains by Ohio State University scientists may shed light on a mysterious global climate change they believe occurred more than 5,000 years ago.

They hope that ice cores retrieved from two tropical ice caps there, as well as ancient plants retrieved from beneath the retreating glaciers, may contain clues that could link ancient events that changed daily life in South America, Europe and Asia.

"Something happened 5,200 years ago that was abrupt and very large-scale," explained Lonnie Thompson, professor of geological sciences at Ohio State and researcher with the Byrd Polar Research Center.

As snow falls on these ice caps and is packed tightly over time, it forms stratigraphic layers indicating annual accumulations. Researchers can estimate the age of a core by counting these layers just as biologists date forests by counting tree rings.

In September, Thompson and his team returned from drilling ice cores from glaciers atop two peaks in Peru. They drilled three cores from Nevado Coropuna, a 6,425-meter (21,074-foot) extinct volcano in the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes in Southern Peru. Two of the cores were drilled at the crater rim and measured just over 34 meters (111.5 feet).

"Based on our counting layers in the core at the drill site, we believe the shorter cores might date back at least 300 years," Thompson said.

The third core from coropuna was drilled directly over the crater at the mountain’s summit and measured 146.3 meters (479 feet). This core will likely provide the first annually resolved climate history for this region over at least the last 2,000 years.

"There is a possibility that this core could contain glacial stage ice," he suspects, "which could date it back more than 10,000 years.

"These cores should provide a critical piece of the puzzle needed to understand climate variability in this region," Thompson said, “Coropuna is located on the first rise of the Andes, right above the Pacific Ocean, so the ice cores should record changes in the El Nino-La Nina cycle, a key component of climate variability."

Approximately 270 miles (434 kilometers) north and east of Coropuna lies the Quelccaya ice cap, a site that Thompson and his team have visited at least 18 times in the last few decades.

During this expedition, they drilled two cores from a new site on the north dome of the ice cap. They hope that the cores, measuring 128.6 meters (422 feet), will unveil an annual record of climate in this region dating back at least 1,000 years. At the ice cap summit, the team also retrieved a 168.7-meter (553-foot) core to bedrock that is expected to yield an annual record covering more than 2,000 years that will give them a high-resolution record of climatic and environmental conditions.

The deep core at the Coropuna crater site yielded other surprises. They found the body of a small insect, perfectly preserved and frozen in the ice 64 meters (210 feet) below the surface and three individual plant fragments retrieved from the 117-meter (384-foot) level in the core.

"These finds are important since they will allow us to independently date the core at these levels using a different process," Thompson said. "Both the insect and the plant material were probably carried from the Altiplano below to the summit site by thunderstorm winds."

In 2002, Thompson’s team made a surprising find along the margin of the Quelccaya ice cap " a remarkably preserved wetland plant that had been remarkably preserved under the ice. Later testing yielded viable DNA from the plant and dated it back 5,200 years ago.

"This is a soft-bodied plant," he said. "It had to be captured by a very large snowfall at the time, a snowfall and climate change that began very abruptly "fast enough to capture a plant but not kill it. That is astounding."

“We know the first plant could not have been exposed at any time during in that 5,200-year history or it would have decayed,” he said.

This year, the researchers found a second plant near the southern tip of the ice field, some 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) south of their original plant find. Thompson believes that this second plant may provide important historical information about this site.

Subsequent carbon dating of the second plant showed that it had been buried for the last 2,200 years, a time when other records showed another abrupt climate change.

The size of the ice caps in this region is a vital key in understanding questions about global climate change. Since he first started monitoring Quelccaya, Thompson said the ice cap has been retreating exponentially.

"When we started surveying in 1963, Quelccaya was retreating at a rate of 4.7 meters (15.4 feet) each year," he said. “In more recent years, the rate of retreat has increased to as much as 205 meters (672 feet) annually " more than 40 times as fast!”

Thompson calls Quelccaya, the largest of all the tropical ice caps, the "poster child" for tropical glaciers. At least 70 percent of all tropical ice on the planet is trapped in Peruvian ice fields and glaciers. The annual melt from these ice packs provides drinking water and irrigation for millions of people, as well as refilling reservoirs that feed hydroelectric dams.

Thompson and his research team are in a race against time to retrieve cores from these ice caps in order to preserve the thousands of years of climatic history trapped inside. And at the top of their agenda is solving the puzzle of what occurred 5,200 years ago.

"We know the climate was different then. Before that, the proportion of warm water flowing off the coast of Peru was much greater" he said, a key factor in fueling the El Nino/La Nina climate events affecting this part of the globe.

"We know that the 'Ice Man,' a preserved Neolithic hunter exposed by a retreating glacier in the European Alps, was trapped by the ice around 5,200 years ago," he said, "and that had to occur very abruptly."

Earlier work by the Ohio State team on ice cores taken from Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro ice fields showed that a catastrophic drought had devastated the tropics around 5,200 years ago, a period of time when anthropologists believe THAT many people abandoned a nomadic lifestyle to form cities and social structures.

"Those changes came abruptly and we know very little about abrupt climate change in the tropics.

"If it happened in the past, it might happen again,” he warned, “and that type of abrupt event in today's world would mean worldwide chaos, both economically and socially. Today, 70 percent of the world's 6.3 billion people live in the tropics."

This research is supported in part by the National Science Foundation, the Comer Foundation and Ohio State University.

Why we shouldn't believe our eyes

People really shouldn't believe everything they see, say scientists.

Studies have shown that people often "remember" saying or hearing things that were never actually said.

Now, a study in the United States has confirmed that they can also "remember" seeing things that were never there.

Researchers at Ohio State University suggested these so-called false memories occur much more easily than many people realise.

Slide show

Dr David Beversdorf and colleagues based their findings on a study of 23 young adults, all of whom had a clean bill of mental health.

Each volunteer was shown 24 sets of 12 slides. Each slide portrayed different geometric shapes, which varied in number, size, position, shape and colour.

For instance, the volunteers were shown a set of 12 slides showing yellow triangles.

Each slide showed one, two or three large or small triangles. Multiple triangles were arranged either vertically or horizontally.

After studying each group of slides, the participants were shown an additional five slides and asked if they had seen any of the shapes in the original viewing.

Two of these had been shown before. However, the other three had not. Two of these looked very different to what had been shown before while the remaining slide looked slightly similar, what researchers termed the lure slide.

The volunteers correctly identified those slides they had seen 80% of the time. They also correctly identified the images that obviously weren't part of the original set of shapes 98% of the time. However, nearly 60% said they had also seen the lure slide.

"This suggests that visual false memories can be induced pretty easily," said Dr Beversdorf.

The findings were presented at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference in New Orleans.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/11/09 01:27:14 GMT


Saturday, November 08, 2003

Textbooks approved in Texas

Dear Friends of NCSE,

On Friday, November 7, the Texas State Board of Education (SBoE) voted 11-4 to place all submitted high school and advanced placement (AP) biology books on the "conforming" list, making them eligible for adoption by local districts.

The books' coverage of evolution -- in particular, whether they contained factual errors -- was an issue even on the final decision day. Arguments had been made that textbooks had to include "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution; board member Patricia Hardy commented that the "strengths and weaknesses" language required in the state standards (the "Texas Educational Knowledge and Skills," or TEKS) applied to any scientific theory and was not intended to apply to all, or any single theory. As she commented, if the textbooks had to apply "strengths and weaknesses" language to every theory, "we'd need a crane to carry the books to the schools."

Although the Discovery Institute (DI) and its Texas allies, Texans for Better Science Education, attempted to persuade board members to require publishers to incorporate wholesale changes in the coverage of evolution, the changes that publishers have filed thus far with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) have been largely cosmetic.

For example, the DI criticized many books for presenting a rank-and-file illustration of vertebrate embryos, which accompanies a discussion of the relationship of embryology to evolution. The DI argued that such photos were based on 19th-century drawings of Ernst Haeckel, some of which have been shown to be inaccurate. Although only a couple of books actually presented the original Haeckel drawings, rank-and-file illustrations of vertebrate embryos are a useful pedagogical tool for showing that more recent common ancestry is reflected in greater similarity of embryos, and that embryos at earlier stages (as opposed to "earliest" stages, a favorite distinction of the DI's) are more similar than embryos at later stages. In response to the allegation of "factual errors," textbooks redrew the embryo drawings, or substituted photographs for them, but left intact the text's discussion of the importance of embryology to evolution.

Thus textbook alterations have not weakened the coverage of evolution in the books, and Texas teachers are assured that their students will not have to cope with books dumbed down in the way recommended by the DI.

During the November 7 proceedings, Mavis Knight proposed that all books be adopted, and that a hard copy of a web-based document prepared by NCSE's Alan D. Gishlick, entitled "'Icons of Evolution'? Why Much Of What Jonathan Wells Writes About Evolution Is Wrong," be placed in the permanent record of the meeting. This on-line document is a concise and readable but detailed critique of DI Senior Fellow Jonathan Wells's book Icons of Evolution, upon which the DI's analysis of the textbooks relies. Dr. Gishlick's essay is available on the NCSE web site:

NCSE commends the SBoE for withstanding pressure to modify the textbooks to include erroneous information in the guise of "strengths and weaknesses." And we commend the publishers for withstanding enormous pressure to compromise the scientific accuracy of their textbooks -- and encourage them to continue to do so.

For additional coverage, see the Associated Press's story at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's web site:

(Please remember that this is a one-way news list. To unsubscribe, send unsubscribe ncse your@email.address.here to majordomo@ncseweb2.org.)


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

Board gives final approval to biology books


Posted on Fri, Nov. 07, 2003

Associated Press

AUSTIN - Biology books in Texas will continue to present the origin of life according to the theories of Charles Darwin.

The State Board of Education gave final approval Friday to 11 biology books, among others, despite a major campaign to poke holes in Darwin's theory of evolution as presented in the textbooks.

School districts in Texas will be able to purchase books from the approved list for use beginning in the 2004-2005 school year.

Texas Education Agency Director Robert Scott said any factual errors in the books would be addressed by publishers before the books become available.

The decision could impact dozens of states because books sold in Texas, the nation's second-largest buyer of textbooks, are often marketed elsewhere. Texas, California and Florida account for more than 30 percent of the nation's $4 billion public school book market. Three dozen publishers invest millions of dollars in Texas.

Some alternative science groups had argued that weaknesses in the theory of evolution weren't adequately presented in the books. But scientists and educators argued that the theory is widely believed and is a cornerstone of modern scientific research.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute was one of the most vocal opponents of including criticisms of evolution in the book.

"We were also hoping that the Board would require textbooks to include coverage of the peer-reviewed scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory," said Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute. "Unfortunately, there wasn't a majority on the Board that was willing to enforce that."

Institute officials said they will continue to publicize what they call errors and weaknesses in Darwin's theory as presented in some books.

Board member David Bradley made an unsuccessful attempt to amend the adoption measure Friday to place all but two of the items on a "non-conforming" list. School districts would still have the option of purchasing the books, but use of non-conforming books in Texas is rare.

Bradley maintained that criticisms of the theory of evolution weren't religious. Bradley voted against preliminary approval Thursday, which passed in an 11-4 vote. Final approval came on a voice vote.

Despite the religious implications of evolution, several churches and ministers throughout Texas signed a letter to the board in opposition of "attempts dilute, distort or censor the teaching of evolution in biology textbooks."

"We believe religious convictions about the origin of life are sacred and should be cultivated and strengthened in homes and houses of worship," the statement said. "We further believe that efforts to insert religious beliefs into science textbooks misunderstand and demean both faith and science."

Texas adopts controversial biology books

From http://www.salon.com/news/wire/2003/11/07/textbooks/index.html

Nov. 7, 2003 | AUSTIN, Texas -- The State Board of Education voted Thursday to approve biology textbooks, despite criticism from some scientists and religious activists who say the books fail to present criticisms of evolution.

The 11-4 vote was preliminary and the board was expected to give final approval Friday.

Some religious and alternative science groups had argued that weaknesses in the theory of evolution weren't adequately presented in the books. But scientists and educators argued that the theory of evolution is widely believed and is a cornerstone of modern scientific research.

Texas is the nation's second-largest buyer of textbooks, and textbooks sold in the state are often marketed by publishers elsewhere. Texas, California and Florida account for more than 30 percent of the nation's $4 billion public school book market. Three dozen publishers invest millions of dollars in Texas.

Some board members had asked to vote on the books one by one, but the motion was overturned and all were approved with one vote.

"I wish we'd had the opportunity to vote on each book because they're not the same," said board member Don McLeroy, one of the four board members who voted against adopting the books.

McLeroy called the presentation of evolution in most of the books "dogmatic."

"People don't realize the threat of scientific dogmatism," he said. "They're not looking for the truth."

Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, commended the board. Smoot had been one of the most vocal supporters of presenting evolution in the textbooks.

"The voices of the science community have been loud and unified," Smoot said. "This is not a theory. There's no question about what whether evolution exists at all."

Critics had urged publishers to revise some of the books and wanted the board to reject others outright, saying they contain factual errors about the theory of evolution.

Board members can reject books only for factual errors or failure to follow state curriculum as mandated by the Legislature.

Board backs adoption of biology books


Final OK of state high school texts expected today despite protests

12:16 AM CST on Friday, November 7, 2003

By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN State Board of Education members on Thursday tentatively adopted new high school biology books that fully discuss evolution, rejecting the pleas of social conservatives and other critics of Charles Darwin and his theory of how life on Earth evolved.

Despite an intense campaign by opponents of evolution including thousands of e-mails, faxes and phone calls to board members the board of education approved the 11 new books by a lopsided 11-4 vote.

Board members are expected to give final approval on Friday, clearing the way for purchase of the textbooks in the 2004-05 school year. School districts will be able to choose which of the books they want to use.

National audience

The board deliberations were closely watched across the nation because of Texas' considerable influence on the $4 billion-a-year textbook market. As one of the largest purchasers, Texas typically determines the content of textbooks marketed in other states.

Before the final vote, the four board members aligned with social conservatives sought unsuccessfully to have separate ballots on each of the textbooks, arguing that only two were worthy of approval because they detailed the flaws of evolutionary theory. The other books were too one-sided in their treatment of evolution, the members said.

But the board majority blocked the maneuver and then voted to cut off debate.

"We have had many opportunities in the last year to look at these books and study them. We have patiently listened to everybody's side, and now is the time to vote," said board Chairwoman Geraldine Miller of Dallas, who estimated she received 3,000 to 4,000 e-mails, faxes and phone calls from critics of the books.

In making the motion to approve the biology books, Mavis Knight of Dallas said each met all the criteria for approval by the board. "What would be the point in discussing each book individually if each book has already met the criteria?" she asked, suggesting opponents were trying to drag out the debate.

David Bradley of Beaumont, who opposed adoption of nine of the books, responded that there was no reason for the board to even meet if it was just going to rubber-stamp the education commissioner's recommendation for adoption of all the materials.

Afterward, Mr. Bradley insisted that most of the books were in violation of state rules that require textbook publishers to include both the strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories.

'Too dogmatic'

Board member Don McLeroy of Bryan, another critic of the books, said most were "too dogmatic" in their treatment of evolution.

"There are serious difficulties with evolution that are not presented in these books," he said. "It is wrong to teach opinion as fact."

He also denied that religion had anything to do with the debate as had been charged by opponents, who contended that creationist groups were trying to censor the books. "This has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with good science," he asserted.

Under current law, the board may reject a textbook only if it has factual errors, does not cover the curriculum or is manufactured poorly. Critics of the biology books had said they contained numerous factual errors about evolution.

The board vote was a setback for a national think tank that has promoted an alternative theory for the origin of life on Earth called "intelligent design."

The group, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, did not try to get its theory included in the books but did lead a vigorous effort to get changes in the books challenging Darwin's theory of how animal and plant species on Earth evolved over millions of years.

A spokesman for the group said Thursday that the institute would have no comment on the board's decision until after Friday's final vote.

Meanwhile, groups supporting the teaching of evolution in schools applauded the board's action Thursday, saying it sends a positive signal about Texas education to the rest of the country.

"We commend the board for doing the right thing for Texas kids, for doing the right thing for science education," said Samantha Smoot of the Texas Freedom Network.

"The voices of the scientific community have been loud and unified and very clear that there is no question about whether evolution occurred."

University of Texas at Austin biology professor David Hillis said the board action "sent a strong message that Texas does have high standards in science."

In response to pressure from the Discovery Institute and other groups, some publishers changed their biology books. For example, two publishers dropped diagrams of the so-called "Haeckel's embryos" after the institute criticized the long-used illustrations as overstating similarities of the embryos of humans and other animal species.

"There was a disturbing pattern of changes in a few of the books," Ms. Smoot said. "But the publishers have been under a tremendous amount of political pressure. My hope is that they will be encouraged to stick by their guns even more strongly next time."

The state will pay about $30 million for the new biology books and an additional $163 million for other textbooks that will be distributed in the fall of 2004. Before then, the Texas Education Agency will oversee publisher corrections to various factual and other errors that have been identified in the books.

Besides Mr. McLeroy and Mr. Bradley, other board members voting against the books were Terri Leo of Spring and Gail Lowe of Lampasas. Both Ms. Miller and Ms. Knight voted for the books.

E-mail tstutz@dallasnews.com

TFN News -- November 7, 2003

"This was all about politics. The religious right has so much power. It's expected that good sense can prevail, but in this day and time, with politics being what it is, you can never be sure until it's over."

-- Mark Hester, an Austin resident and retired health and physical education teacher, commenting on this year's battle over the coverage of evolution in Biology textbooks. With an 11-4 vote yesterday, the State Board of Education provided preliminary approval for all 11 textbooks under consideration.

The State Board of Education voted yesterday by an 11-4 margin to give initial approval to all 11 Biology textbooks up for adoption. The decision was a defeat for those who sought to weaken the teaching of evolution and a victory for advocates of strong science standards.
http://www.news8austin.com/content/headlines/?ArID=88731&SecID=2 (includes video clip)

Far-right State Board of Education member David Bradley (R-Beaumont), who voted against approving all the textbooks, accused other Board members of collusion.

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

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If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.shtml which mirrors the daily e-mail update.


Today's Headlines - November 5, 2003

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A synthetic form of "good" cholesterol has been shown to quickly shrink blockages clogging coronary arteries, offering for the first time the possibility of a drug that could actually rapidly reverse heart disease, researchers reported yesterday.

In a small, preliminary study, the laboratory-made substance, which mimics a type of cholesterol discovered in a group of surprisingly healthy villagers in rural Italy, significantly reduced in just six weeks the amount of plaque narrowing the arteries of patients who had suffered heart attacks or had chest pain.

Because the approach attacks the underlying source of many heart attacks, the results could mark a milestone in the search for new ways to treat the nation's No. 1 killer, researchers said.

from Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Undiscovered foods, useful chemicals and drugs, and potential sources of energy may lie in wait in the least explored portion of Earth -- the oceans.

A new effort to seek out those resources was recommended Tuesday in a report by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

"A new program of ocean exploration is necessary ... improved knowledge of our oceans represents more than an academic interest," said John Orcutt, deputy director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.

from The Washington Post

An advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration yesterday tentatively backed animal cloning as an agricultural tool but expressed concern that the technique could pose excessive risks to animals.

Eight of 10 panel members said they were confident it would be safe to eat food products derived from cloned animals or their offspring, the key conclusion of a draft FDA report released last week. But some members of the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee, meeting in Rockville, appeared uneasy about the level of animal suffering that a large cloning industry might entail, and the panel deadlocked 5 to 5 on whether the FDA had properly characterized such risks. Several panel members said the scientific data on that issue are disturbingly thin and the question needs more research.

Even on the question of food safety, several panel members -- including some who backed the FDA's preliminary conclusion -- said the nascent animal- cloning industry needs to produce a far more convincing body of scientific work about the biology of clones before the public is likely to feel comfortable with such animals entering the food supply.

from Newsday

To reduce the risk of prostate cancer, it may take the whole tomato.

New research on rats suggests eating whole tomatoes can reduce prostate cancer deaths more effectively than taking supplements of lycopene, a chemical found in tomatoes that has been associated with lower prostate cancer risk.

Several earlier studies in humans had found a link between high lycopene blood levels and a lower risk of prostate cancer, but it was not clear whether lycopene was the effective agent or whether it simply signified tomato consumption.

from The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 4 - Researchers for Intel say they have discovered a new material that they believe will permit them to overcome one of the most serious obstacles facing chip makers as they struggle to shrink computer chips to ever smaller dimensions.

The announcement, scheduled to be made at a technical conference in Japan on Wednesday, could be a crucial step forward because the industry has been increasingly plagued by the problem of preventing electrical current from leaking outside its proper path as each generation of chips has moved closer to fundamental physical limits.

With today's transistor gates - which consist of a piece of material that functions like a water faucet for electrical current - approaching thicknesses of just five atomic layers, computer chips have come to require more power, which causes them to run much hotter.

from Associated Press

SEATTLE -- A great earthquake that ripped the seafloor off the Washington coast more than 300 years ago and created a tsunami in Japan that is believed to have crested at about 10 feet probably had a magnitude of about 9.0, geologists say.

The huge Jan. 26, 1700, Pacific temblor was comparable to the biggest quakes of the 20th century, geologists told the annual conference of the Geological Society of America on Tuesday.

"The 1700 earthquake tells us about our present earthquake hazards and we use the past as a guide to the future," U.S. Geological Survey geologist Brian Atwater told The Associated Press.

from Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - Scientists have devised a way of working around a problem that has affected an instrument aboard one of the two NASA rovers en route to Mars, the space agency said Tuesday.

The fix should keep the problem from hindering the instrument's ability to detect the presence of iron-bearing minerals in the rocks and soil on the Martian surface, as well as their relative abundance, scientists said.

They hope the instrument will help solve the riddle of whether Mars was ever a warmer, wetter place capable of sustaining life.

Friday, November 07, 2003


On an 11-4 vote, the State Board of Education (SBOE) voted this morning to approve all 11 Biology textbooks up for adoption.

After several months of activism and outreach by mainstream Texans from across the state, 11 of the 15 members of the Board answered with a resounding voice that they want to keep strong science standards in Biology textbooks. Only far-right board members David Bradley, Don McLeroy, Terri Leo and Gail Lowe voted against approving the textbooks.

The vote gave preliminary approval to the textbooks with a final vote for approval expected tomorrow morning.

Thank you for your calls, letters, testimony, contributions and petition signatures. Your efforts truly made a difference!

Below is the Associated Press story on this morning's vote that just crossed the wires.


Texas board votes to adopt biology textbooks despite criticism from religious activists

9:54 a.m. November 6, 2003

AUSTIN, Texas The State Board of Education voted Thursday to approve biology textbooks, despite criticism from religious activists who say the books as written fail to present the anti-evolution point of view.

The vote was preliminary and the board was expected to give final approval Friday.

Some religious and alternative science groups had argued that weaknesses in the theory of evolution weren't adequately presented in the books. But scientists and educators argued that the theory of evolution is widely believed and is a cornerstone of modern scientific research.

Texas is the nation's second-largest buyer of textbooks, and textbooks sold in the state are often marketed by publishers elsewhere. Texas, California and Florida account for more than 30 percent of the nation's $4 billion public school book market. Three dozen publishers invest millions of dollars in Texas.

Some board members had asked to vote on the books one by one, but the motion was overturned and all were approved with one vote.

"I wish we'd had the opportunity to vote on each book because they're not the same," said board member Don McLeroy, one of the four board members who voted against adopting the books.

McLeroy called the presentation of evolution in most of the books "dogmatic."

"People don't realize the threat of scientific dogmatism," he said. "They're not looking for the truth." Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, commended the board. Smoot had been one of the most vocal supporters of presenting evolution in the textbooks.

"The voices of the science community have been loud and unified," Smoot said. "This is not a theory. There's no question about what whether evolution exists at all."

Critics had urged publishers to revise some of the books and wanted the board to reject others outright, saying they contain factual errors about the theory of evolution.

To join, go to www.tfn.org/joinus.

Texas Freedom Network
P.O. Box 1624
Austin, TX 78767
(512) 322-0545
(512) 322-0550 Fax www.tfn.org

Religion, Science May Turn a Page Over Textbook in Texas


Conservatives want the state to reject a biology book or require editing of parts on evolution. Some say it may open the door to creationism.

By Scott Gold, Times Staff Writer

RIESEL, Texas William Dembski pulled a book from a pile in the basement of his country home and flipped to a page containing drawings of embryos. A gilded painting of the crucifixion hung on the wall behind him. He was in a bind, or so it would seem.

He is a scientist by trade, a Baylor University research professor, and knows that the theory of evolution is considered a cornerstone of modern science. But he is an evangelical Christian at heart, convinced that some biological mechanisms are too complex to have been created without divine guidance. The two schools science and religion have long been difficult to reconcile. But those days, he believes, are over.

This morning in Austin, the Texas Board of Education will begin two days of deliberation about whether to adopt 11 new high school biology textbooks for the 2004-2005 school year a transaction that, by some estimates, could cost the state $30 million.

A coalition of religious conservatives buoyed by the work of Dembski and a few others has launched a campaign to point out what it calls inaccuracies and inadequacies in the books' presentation of evolution. Their goal: Persuade the board to reject the books or require publishers to edit passages about evolution, raising enough questions that some believe the door would be opened to teaching creationism in public schools.

"On some level, we are defining who we are," said Dembski, 43, who holds degrees in science and divinity. "Might this reopen ideas about purpose, about nature, about God? It makes for a fairly explosive situation."

The board's decision will have a broad effect on the $4-billion textbook industry. Trailing California, Texas is the second-largest textbook buyer in the nation. Because of that clout, publishers often edit their books to earn consideration here. Other states as far away as New England buy books based on Texas' vetting process.

In Texas, both sides of the debate see the dispute as a test for the emerging presence of evangelism in science, politics and government. The vote, state officials say, will be close. Several of the 15 elected members of the board of education have spoken openly about conflicted feelings.

"I can think of no word that crystallizes the debate of religion and science better than 'evolution,' " said Mavis Knight, a board member, Sunday school teacher and activist in Dallas-area civic causes. Knight spoke at a Dallas conference organized this week by educators and religious leaders who say religious messages are vital but should be kept out of science classes.

"Is there compatibility between one's faith and what we are taught about science?" she asked. "And if there is, where is the appropriate forum for that?"

The books, according to those lobbying the board to reject them, portray an unbalanced picture of evolution, one that is too clear-cut. The text is evidence, the group says, of a "naturalistic filibuster" that glosses over lingering questions. For example, they say, the books fail to delve into the "Cambrian explosion," a period 500 million years ago when changes in some species appear to have occurred too quickly to have been produced by natural selection alone.

Although some educators and scientists call the campaign junk science and thinly veiled ideology, it has already won some victories.

In one book, a passage saying that fossils "explain" evolution has been changed to say that fossils "may explain" evolution. A reference to the Ice Age was changed recently from "millions of years ago" to "in the distant past" in a nod to people who read Scripture literally and believe the Earth is just thousands of years old.

The effort to rewrite textbooks here is led largely by a group called Texans for Better Science Education.

It recently circulated a message from a Colorado man whose daughter was killed in the 1999 Columbine High shootings. The father said that the teaching of evolution played a role in the shootings because one gunman wore a shirt bearing the words "Natural Selection" a contention that has outraged many educators.

The campaign is also allied with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which backs a theory known as "Intelligent Design." The theory does not discard evolution, but believes it is insufficient to explain the complexity of some biological mechanisms leaving the possibility, the group says, for some sort of plan or design by an intelligent force. John G. West, a senior fellow at the Institute, said the group's work is focused purely on science and has "nothing to do" with trying to allow religion into science classes.

Several donors who say they strive to discredit Darwinism have given millions of dollars to the Institute, where Dembski used to work. The donors include the wealthy Ahmanson family of Orange County, Calif., which has been tied in the past to a movement that sought to replace democracy with Christian theocracy. Philanthropist Howard Ahmanson has since said that he repudiates those ideas.

The activists are careful to point out that they are not calling explicitly for the teaching of religion in science classes. But many concede that if they poke enough holes in evolution, students would be hard-pressed to understand biology without incorporating the work of God.

"There are only two options here: We are all a great, big accident. Or we are not an accident," said Ide Trotter, Texans for Better Science Education spokesman. "It's one or the other, and science hasn't proven which it is. People on the other side are fearful."

Educators and scientists say they are not fearful, but concerned about the influence of evangelical activists. Volumes have been written discrediting the work of Dembski and other proponents of Intelligent Design, and their research is typically not published in peer-reviewed science journals.

"Intelligent Design has contributed absolutely nothing to science," Sahorta Sarkar, a professor of philosophy and integrative biology at the University of Texas-Austin, said at the Dallas conference.

Educators and scientists fighting the textbook revisions readily agree that there are gaps in the record of evolution but they say the gaps are indications that science is a young field that is evolving itself.

"Nobody has ever claimed that evolutionary biology is finished and done," Sarkar said. "That's what makes it exciting."

Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, a coalition of activists and clergy that tries to counter the influence of what its Web site calls religious "extremists," said there is "no debate about the theory of evolution within the scientific academy."

"The politics of those in power can drive the learning of a whole generation of children," she said. "These people say that these are not religious theories. Quite clearly, they are religious theories."

Sarkar and other evolutionists charge that the work of "Intelligent Design" supporters isn't science, but ideology dressed as science.

Several people at the Dallas conference charged that the campaign is part of an effort to bring religion into politics and government. Asked for examples, they said they viewed it in the same vein as the U.S. general who recently characterized the war on terrorism as a battle between Judeo-Christian tradition and Satan.

Liz Carpenter, an Austin writer who served as a speechwriter and press secretary for former President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, recently told the education board at a public hearing that it must not allow the debate to be "defined by extremists."

"I happen to be a Christian," Carpenter said later. "I believe there are some things we really don't know. But the right-wing Christians have overdone it. I think this is a test, a test about whether you truly believe in freedom."

Further complicating the issue, though, both sides accuse the other of censorship.

"If there are holes in evolution, don't cover them up," said Ray Bohlin, a fellow at the Discovery Institute and the executive director of Probe Ministries, a Christian group. "Yes, this leaves open the opportunity for other ways of thinking to come in. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

Texas students lose when textbooks chosen on basis of ideology


Editorial Board


Thursday, November 6, 2003

Texas shouldn't academically shortchange its students by stuffing its science textbooks with religious beliefs posing as science. Nor should textbooks be watered down by poking holes in science-based evolution conveyed in natural selection, random mutation and other key components of evolution.

High school biology textbooks regarding the origins of mankind should reflect the theories and evidence regarding evolution of reputable scientists. Religious-leaning theories, such as "intelligent design" that aren't sustained by reputable science belong in Sunday school, not public school.

Hopefully, the State Board of Education will take the advice of science educators in Texas and approve all 11 biology books today and Friday. The board, of course, should ask that legitimate errors be corrected and that books discuss the weaknesses of scientific theories. Such discussions not only stimulate classroom debate, but motivate students to think critically.

If you're wondering why the board has to be urged to do right, it's because good sense vacates textbook selection to make room for political and personal agendas.

The board's authority is limited to approving textbooks that cover Texas academic standards, aren't poorly manufactured and are error-free. All the biology books up for a vote have cleared those hurdles, though some errors were found and corrected.

Even so, many on the 15-member board continue to bully publishers and even censor books that don't fit a socially conservative ideology of watchdog groups that have co-opted the process. They have found some loopholes to achieve that purpose.

Loophole No. 1

Declare a fact an error. The board uses error allegations to pressure publishers to revise content to conform to its ideological or political beliefs. This provision was used in 2001 to discredit and reject an environmental science book.

The book meant for high school honors classes was rejected despite receiving high marks from the Texas education commissioner and the Science Teachers Association of Texas. As we noted then, the textbook, "Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future," is used by Baylor University and other colleges. The issue of whether board members violated the author's free speech by rejecting the book is now the subject of a lawsuit.

Loophole No. 2

Conclude that books violate a state rule that requires students be exposed to scientific evidence that covers the strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories. This rule is being used in the current $30 million biology textbook adoption to pressure publishers to include, presumably as a weakness of evolution, discussion of intelligent design.

Governing by loophole is nothing new, but pushing a political agenda at the expense of solid education handicaps Texas students, who are handicapped enough by the "it'll do" attitude toward education by the state's top elected leadership.

Board to vote on texts' take on evolution


By Karen Adler
San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 11/06/2003 12:00 AM

Educational trends and scientific theories have come and gone since 1925, when Tennessee teacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching evolution to his students.

Not everything has changed, though how students learn about the origin of life still can rivet the nation.

After being inundated with passionate testimony from dozens of teachers, students and scientists this summer, the State Board of Education will take a preliminary vote today in Austin on whether to accept 11 high school biology textbooks as proposed by publishers.

At issue is whether those books should stress to students that evolution remains a theory. Since public hearings in July and September, publishers have made small changes and clarifications to the sections on evolution, but they contend there are no scientific weaknesses to include.

Because Texas is the second-largest textbook market in the country, the board's vote could determine which books are sold in other states. The final vote is Friday.

Robert Scott, the chief deputy commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, has recommended that all the texts be approved and placed on the conforming list.

Despite pressing from the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank, the board likely will vote in favor of Scott's recommendation, said Joe Bernal, who represents San Antonio on the 15-member board. Based on discussions at previous meetings, it's unlikely more than five of the members will vote to reject the books, he said.

Discovery Institute representatives argue many of the books still contain factual errors and should include both the strengths and weaknesses of evolution as a theory to comply with requirements for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills test.

The group supports "intelligent design," an emerging theory that science can't explain everything, but rather that certain features of life evolved according to an intelligent, purposeful cause.

However, at this time the group is not pushing for intelligent design to be put into the textbooks, said John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute.

Whether a textbook conforms to state standards is up to the board. Even if the board decides a book is nonconforming, the state still can pay for it. If, however, the board rejects the book altogether, no money is provided.

It's up to school districts to pick which book to use in the classroom, but it's rare for a district to select one on the nonconforming list.

Richard Blake, a spokesman for the publishing firm Holt, Rinehart & Winston, said that while some passages were slightly changed or enhanced, political pressure did not affect the books.

In the Holt book, for example, the statement "Darwin's theory of natural selection is the essence of biology" was changed to "Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection provides a consistent explanation for life's diversity."

"You're under competitive pressure ... to produce the best book, the best program," Blake said.

But "we did not feel under pressure to accommodate anyone's point of view," he said.

Don McLeroy is one of the board members pushing for changes in books that portray "descent with modification from a common ancestor" as fact.

Over the summer, he spent weeks reading scientific material on both sides of the issue and says he realized students weren't being taught the whole story.

"It would be so great for the schoolchildren of Texas to have this material covered properly," he said.

McLeroy said it's ironic that Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology, went to great lengths to point out difficulties with his theory in "The Origin of Species." McLeroy said he wants textbooks to do the same.

McLeroy said he won't vote to reject any of the books, but he does want the most dogmatic texts to be placed on the nonconforming list.

West, with the Discovery Institute, said he's happy some corrections have been made, but he said contradictions among books and factual errors remain.

Samantha Smoot, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the "Religious Right," said some of the changes in the books do put a drop of doubt in the theory of evolution, but overall she's pleased with the end product.

"We're pleased the publishers stood by scientific principles," she said.

Whatever the board decides will put the issue to rest only until 2010, when biology textbooks once again will come up for consideration.

Young: So, it caused Columbine


JOHN YOUNG, Opinion page editor

Admit it. When it comes to the import of textbook selection in this state, you are basically oblivious.

You figure the process is about finding the most informative and comprehensive books, maybe with the most useful charts and illustrations.

How oblivious is that?

If you heard what I hear, you'd know. The textbook selection process in Texas is nothing short of a swords-flashing, crosses-raised battle between the lord of all and Lord Beelzebub.

And guess which side mainstream scientists are on? That would be Satan's. Or so I hear.

Scientists continue to build upon the assumptions of human origins based on Darwin's theory of evolution.

Those assumptions are reflected in biology textbooks up for adoption Thursday by the State Board of Education.

You may not have heard a lot about this process but I have, over and over, and from advocates in Oregon and Colorado, among other places.

Texas is the nation's second largest purchaser of textbooks. What it wants causes giant ripples in the textbook publishing. Hence many players including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute have made it their business.

This is all academic, not religious, the Discovery Institute will tell you. It wants textbooks to cite the inadequacies of evolution theory, all on scientific grounds.

The institute has been in the news in Waco for its affiliation with the short-lived Polanyi Center at Baylor University, established to probe and promote intelligent design. Using statistical odds among other criteria, intelligent design posits that only a divine hand, not random processes, could have guided us to where we are.

----Just sound science, they say----

On the subject of textbooks, the folks at the Discovery Institute say they are misunderstood. They say they aren't seeking to insert religion or intelligent design into public schools. They say they just want sound science that cites "factual errors" in Darwinian theory.

In recent months the Seattle institute has engaged in a public relations frenzy side-by-side with a group called Texans for Better Science Education. The mission: to influence textbook publishers, newspapers and the state school board. They have been diligently on-theme: No, this isn't about religion, they say. This is about science.

But if that were the front Texans for Better Science Education wanted to portray, a few weeks ago the group sent out one e-mail too many.

This one set out to blame evolution theory for the Columbine massacre.

The group passed on an appeal to the Texas state school board from Darrell Scott, father of one of the slain students. He blames evolution theory, or the "evolutionary mind-set," for the killings. He points out that one of the killers wore "natural selection" on his T-shirt.

Scott asserts that evolution theory convinces children they are animals and nothing more.

That's some leap considering whatever other influences might bear on the killers' brains. One could just as easily and cogently blame T-shirts.

Interestingly, Scott couches his plea to Texas policy makers in academic terms, about teaching sound science, which he feels qualified to say Darwinism is not.

But science isn't Scott's real interest. Religion is. He urged Congress, in testimony widely distributed by e-mail, that government should get into the faith business through school prayer.

Scott apparently believes that religion can be treated as a serum and administered in sugar cubes of standardized piety.

Even if sugar-cube indoctrination were good therapy, or good religion, it's not the state's job. Texans for Better Science Education say they're just interested in science. Something tells us they're interested in much more.

John Young's column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. E-mail: jyoung@wacotrib.com.

They ban textbooks, don't they?


Texas school officials rejected a widely used environmental textbook, claiming it was filled with errors. The author says they're censoring him because they didn't like his green views -- and he's suing.
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By Frederick Clarkson

Nov. 5, 2003 | A federal lawsuit filed last week in Texas may very well turn into the Lone Star State's own version of the Scopes "Monkey Trial" -- the famous 1925 court battle in which two of America's most famous attorneys debated whether evolution should be taught in the public schools. Then, the underlying issue was whether Christianity should trump science; today, it is the scientific status of mainstream environmentalism. In the current case, the author of a widely used environmental textbook is suing five present and former members of the Texas State Board of Education, who two years ago rejected his book because of alleged factual errors and pervasive bias. Claiming that the author's free speech and equal protection rights were violated by an act of censorship, the lawsuit asserts that the real reason the book was rejected was the author's environmentalist views, which clash with those of right-wing school-board members.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 30 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas by the Washington-based Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, was also filed on behalf of several Texas high school students, who the suit alleges have been denied access to this book. The plaintiffs want the book included on the state list of approved texts, a court order declaring that the board members' rejection of the book was unconstitutional, and unspecified damages stemming from the lost sales.

The stakes of the suit could hardly be higher. The battle is a veritable microcosm of the culture wars, pitting the Christian right, energy industry supporters, and defenders of Texas' right to control the textbooks its students read against environmentalists, the publishing industry, First Amendment advocates, and professional educators.

The textbook at the center of the suit is "Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Future," by Daniel D. Chiras. The book, which is in its sixth edition and has been taught in many colleges and high schools in Texas and across the country for 20 years, passed the usual rigorous peer review process and had been recommended by the commissioner of education, along with two others. However, in a last-minute hearing before the board in November 2001, the book was rejected by conservative board members, who said it was factually inaccurate and espoused a "radical" environmental agenda. The board called it "anti-Christian" and "anti-American" because, among other things, it claimed there is a scientific consensus regarding global warming.

The unusual feature of the rejection was that the board and its individual members ignored the formal review, apparently relying on a 24-page critique prepared by a conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), an organization closely tied to the state Republican Party and one of whose board members is married to the chairperson of the board of education. The board was also apparently influenced by testimony from members of a right-wing activist group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, at the hearing. After a stormy hearing, the board, which is made up of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, voted to reject the book along straight party lines.

At the hearing the TPPF charged that the book was not acceptable for use in Texas classrooms. Asserting that the "vitriol against Western civilization and its primary belief systems is shocking," the TPPF's critique, written by Duggan Flanakin, alleged that the book is full of "errors of fact and significant omissions, in addition to the heavy bias toward radical politics." At times, the TPPF's critique veered into shrill rhetoric more reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh than a sober academic review, as when it charged that by championing solar energy and turning "producers and marketers of traditional energy sources into bogeymen ... this text provides yet another form of flag burning." The TPPF also engaged in some crude smearing, saying that Chiras' claim that air travel has an "increasingly high environmental cost ... makes Osama Bin Laden into a hero of sorts for discouraging air travel in the United States and elsewhere."

The director of Citizens for a Sound Economy claimed, among other things, that the book "blames Christianity, Democracy and Industrialization ... as causing the so-called [environmental] 'crisis'" and that this is "highly offensive to patriotic Americans and Christians."

Most of the alleged factual errors cited in the TPPF's critique appear to be matters of ideological controversy or irresolvable philosophical disputes, not matters of provable fact. For example, Flanakin attacked as an "inaccuracy" Chiras' statement that indigenous peoples practiced sustainable development, which required an integrated set of goals. "One can hardly reason that these primitive societies set clearly definable goals, or even that they practiced sustainability," Flanakin wrote. "It is more likely that most of these largely nomadic peoples espoused a 'frontier ethic' that was made possible by the fact of very small populations and large territories." As Flanakin's use of the words "more likely" indicate, this would not appear to be a point that can be definitively proved one way or the other.

According to Texas law, the board has the right to reject a textbook if it contains factual errors, but not because it disagrees with the author's viewpoint. Burt Neuborne, a professor of First Amendment law at New York University, says, "You can't choose a book based on the viewpoint of the author. A government official has the power to make determinations based on quality and accuracy, but he does not have the power to censor what school children hear, and turn the school system into a propaganda mill." At the same time, he cautions, "If there really are questions of fact, and quality, the courts can't second-guess."

There is no question that Chiras is an active and committed environmentalist. His book sounds loud alarms about the state of the world environment, including global warming, deforestation and other crises. He argues that the current situation is not sustainable and that the developed nations, which consume a disproportionate share of the earth's resources, urgently need to change their ways. He points out that the rise of industrialized civilization had serious negative consequences for the environment. He critiques current policies and lays out a number of alternatives to them.

None of these viewpoints is particularly controversial within environmental science -- in fact, they could be said to pretty much represent mainstream environmentalist thinking. But mainstream environmentalism hardly seems mainstream to conservative board members, who note that Texas law requires that its textbooks promote democracy, patriotism and free enterprise. Chiras insists that his book is completely consistent with those goals.

Since environmentalism is not a hard science, like mathematics or physics, questions of fact can be hard to establish. The TPPF critique attacks Chiras' book for being one-sided, but the line between being biased and simply having a point of view -- and in Chiras' case, a point of view that is far from heterodox in his field -- is almost impossible to define. As a result, the outcome of the lawsuit is hard to call.

Whatever its fate, the Chiras case is a shot across the bow of a powerful, assertive and increasingly successful conservative faction on the board that openly boasts of its ability to affect the national textbook publishing industry. As the nation's second-largest textbook market (after California, which also has a statewide approval process for public school textbooks), Texas is likely to purchase some $700 million worth of school textbooks over the next two years. Because of the scale of the Texas market, publishers often cater to what they think will sell to the board. "Publishers fear offending the Texas board, which often sets the agenda for textbooks nationwide," says Adele Kimmel, an attorney with Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.

The bottom line, in Neuborne's words: "The market is such that if publishers can't print separate editions, Texas censors not only its own books, but the entire nation's."

Most states select textbooks on a school-by-school or district-by-district basis. Texas subjects proposed textbooks to a rigorous review process according to what subjects are scheduled for review that year. Then the state's schools are given a list of approved books. The state will only pay for books on the list.

For decades, Christian right activists have made the Texas board a principal battleground in the culture wars. The book-selection process eventually became so politicized that in 1995, the state Legislature stepped in and largely cut the board out of the process. Book approval is now supposed to be primarily handled by professionals in the Texas Education Agency, and by outside review panels, with the board's role limited to approving or rejecting books based on whether the book is well made, factual and conforms to the educational standards measured by the statewide standardized test. Chiras' book is the first to be rejected since the law was passed.

Critics say that conservatives on the board have found a way around this by using bogus claims of "factual error" to get rid of books they disagree with. What's more, they charge that the board is using conservative groups like the TPPF as fronts, allowing them to provide critiques that authors and publishers must respond to -- which means rewriting their books -- in order to gain approval. "They are basically a mouthpiece for the board in these issues," according to attorney Adele Kimmel. She says the unstated but obvious message is that "if you don't correct what we think are errors, your book will not be adopted. Anything they disagree with is described as a factual error."

Suspicions that the board and conservative groups are working together are not allayed by the fact that current board chairwoman Geraldine Miller's husband, Vance, is a board member of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Don McLeroy, a board member from Bryan named as a defendant in the lawsuit, had not heard much about the suit when Salon reached him on his cellphone as he drove across west Texas. Before his cell connection broke up, McLeroy said that he made his decision because of factual errors in the book. "It's the only book we've rejected since I've been on the board for five years," he explained. "We can reject a book for factual errors and inaccuracies. And that's the basis for why we rejected the book." He referred Salon to an article he had written at the time in which he explained his action. The piece reads in part: "The entire construct of the book is based on a factual error and false premise ... The Western Christian civilization countries [sic] are the cleanest, and have the most stable population growths in the world ... The claim that the root cause of environmental problems is economic growth is simply wrong."

Steve Baughman Jensen, one of Chiras' lawyers, says the board's actions were "not based on any legitimate concerns for factual accuracy or curriculum fulfillment," but on disagreement with "Dr. Chiras' viewpoints on environmental and economic issues, views based on 30 years of scientific study." He adds, "We really think that this is a case not just of officials going beyond their authority, but officials censoring speech and viewpoints."

David Bradley, a board member from Beaumont and another defendant, rejects the argument that Chiras' First Amendment rights were violated. "That position just doesn't hold water," he said angrily. "You need to qualify for the right to speak to 4 million Texas public school children. He didn't meet the qualifications. His case is meritless. It's just opportunistic grandstanding."

In comments to the Galveston County Daily News, Bradley took issue with the fact that Chiras' book used panoramic photos of housing developments as examples of a negative impact on the environment.

"I'm in real estate," he said. "I see that and I see $250,000 homes; I see mortgage bankers; I see carpenters; I see jobs. I see a tax base."

For his part, Chiras said, "I was stunned by the board's decision to reject my textbook. Texas public high schools used an earlier edition of my book, and colleges across the country, including a state university in Texas, have used the current edition. It is incredibly offensive and unfair that my book was falsely portrayed as 'anti-Christian' when this same book is used at Baylor University -- a top-tier Christian school and Texas' oldest university."

The spectre of right-wing ideologues using financial pressure to force textbooks to be rewritten hangs over other Texas textbooks as well. This month, the Texas board will consider the adoption of statewide biology textbooks. The process has been shaping up for months, involving many of the same dynamics as with the environmental books. A conservative research group, the Discovery Institute of Seattle, has argued that the biology textbooks contain factual errors; the books' defenders say the criticisms, as with Chiras' book, are nothing more than viewpoint censorship. The Discovery Institute has presented the publishers with its criticisms, and is already crowing about "corrections" they have gained from publishers in advance of the final review by the state board.

Board member Bradley thinks the filing of the Chiras suit is intended to influence that debate. "The board is considering the adoption of biology textbooks this year, which has also been somewhat controversial and a hot issue." McLeroy agrees, adding, "You've got all this heavy lobbying, the National Center for Science Education on one side and the Discovery Institute on the good science side, or the anti-evolution side, whatever you want to call it."

The Discovery Institute is best known for promoting the "intelligent design" theory of the origin of the universe as a counter to conventional evolution theory. Intelligent design theory holds that the origin and development of the universe and living things are best explained by an "intelligent cause" rather than by such processes as natural selection and random mutation, cornerstones of the theory of evolution.

Charlotte Coffelt, a leader in the Houston chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, asserts that the Christian right members of the board are on a "mission to stop certain textbooks for children over the issue of evolution." She claims that the board's real agenda is to promote creationism -- the view held by fundamentalist Christians that God created the world, for which no scientific evidence exists -- by "masking it as intelligent design." The Discovery Institute denies that it is seeking to include intelligent design in the textbooks.

The lawsuit also discusses how the other two books that had been approved by the professional review process and recommended by the commissioner of education were handled, as further examples of the board's intentions and methodology. Their fate may be even more chilling than the banning of Chiras' book.

The second book, "Environmental Science: How the World Works and Your Place in It," was initially rejected by the board. It was finally published -- but only after its publisher, who desperately wanted the sale, agreed to allow it to be censored. According to the suit, unnamed state education officials and the publisher, J.M. LeBel Enterprises, had a late-night editing session during which the publisher agreed to change crucial passages about, among other things, global warming. (Cynthia Thornton, a member of the state Board of Education, called the text's pre-edited section on global warming "alarmist poppycock.")

A New York Times story on textbook censorship revealed some of the alterations. The Times reported, for example, that the sentence "Destruction of the tropical rain forest could affect weather over the entire planet" was changed to "Tropical rain forest ecosystems impact weather over the entire planet." The following remarkable sentence was added: "In the past, the earth has been much warmer than it is now, and fossils of sea creatures show us that the sea level was much higher than it is today. So does it really matter if the world gets warmer?" And this sentence was deleted: "Most experts on global warming feel that immediate action should be taken to curb global warming."

The publisher later told the New York Times that the process was akin to "book burning" and "100 percent political."

The third book reviewed and approved for use was "Global Science: Energy, Resources, Environment," 5th edition, by John W. Christensen, published by Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. Flanakin of the TPPF approvingly noted that the book was prepared with the help of the industry organization American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers. Also, according to the New York Times, the book was partly funded by the Mineral Information Institute, a nonprofit group whose board is almost entirely composed of top mining industry officials. In his statement to the board, Duggan said he felt it was the "finest and most readable textbook" he had ever reviewed.

Board chairwoman Grace Shore, co-owner of an oil and gas company, TEC Well Service, of Longview, Texas, told the Austin American Statesman, "[t]he oil and gas industry should be consulted" regarding environmental science textbooks because "[w]e always get a raw deal."

Adele Kimmel of TLPJ said that it "was not an accident" that the board "ultimately chose to adopt a book financed by the mining industry over one that emphasizes the importance of critical thinking."

Chiras vs. Miller may very well turn out to be a landmark case, even if the plaintiffs do not prevail. Neuborne told Salon, "It's a hard case to win. The board is going to say that they are acting within their authority and made their decision based on quality issues. They [the plaintiffs] are going to have to prove that the members of the board were not acting in good faith and that they are not telling the truth. And that's very hard to do." If the suit prevails, he thinks the board will probably be required to send the book out for an independent professional review. But he notes that there may be nothing to prevent them from rejecting the book over and over again.

"The only real defense against this [textbook censorship]," he said, "is better public school officials."

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About the writer
Frederick Clarkson is the author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy" (Common Courage Press, 1997).

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A textbook case of bad science Defenders of evolutionary theory in Texas say creation scientists are getting sneakier -- and more successful -- in getting their views into public school educational materials.
By Katharine Mieszkowski

Thursday, November 06, 2003

The Evolution of Textbooks: Students shouldn't be protected from dissent


12:02 AM CST on Wednesday, November 5, 2003

For weeks we have been trying to figure out what the State Board of Education should do about proposed revisions to high school biology textbooks. The board will meet tomorrow and Friday to vote on a series of textbooks that activists, including some scientists, say provide inaccurate and misleading information about Darwin's theory of evolution a charge that, if true, would mean the textbooks would violate state law. Activists on the other side including more scientists say that there are no serious errors in the textbooks, and that the complaints are part of a stealth effort by religious conservatives to corrupt science teaching with theistic doctrines.

The issue is fraught with emotion, especially in Texas, where vocal religious conservatives have tried for years unsuccessfully, we are pleased to say to have the biblical account of earth's origins taught as science. It seems to us in this case, though, that some leading defenders of current textbooks have mischaracterized legitimate concerns that critics have raised. This time the debate isn't creationism vs. evolution, as some textbook defenders have alleged. The issue is more complex and nuanced than has been indicated in much of the reporting and commentary.

Still, we're not science experts, and that makes us reluctant to disagree with Nobel laureates and other scientists who have defended the textbook status quo. What troubles us is the willingness of some textbook defenders to overlook how scientists in thrall to their own dogmas can prejudice the unbiased pursuit of scientific truth. Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin wrote in 1997 that scientists "have a prior commitment to naturalism [and] we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations."

Mr. Lewontin continued: "Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

You see the problem. According to this creed, scientists are obliged to discount data that might gladden the heart of a vicar. The layperson can be forgiven for wondering if religious and materialist absolutists are two sides of the same coin.

The Discovery Institute, a nonsectarian Seattle think tank that's the most prominent opponent of Darwinian orthodoxy, has raised a number of instances in which Texas biology textbooks appear to be inaccurate or misleading. To cite one example, three textbooks contain now-discredited 19th-century drawings by Ernst Haeckel, which show greater similarity among embryos of various species than actually exists. Publishers presumably agree with at least part of this critique, because last week they announced a series of proposed changes two of the texts will abandon the Haeckel drawings in favor of photographs. Yet Discovery insists that disturbing errors and contradictions remain elsewhere in the books.

This ought to be easy; science is supposed to deal solely in facts. But the teaching of evolution is so entangled with politics that warring factions can't even agree on the facts. (What did the flawed Miller-Urey "origin of life" experiment prove, if anything, for example?) This is an injustice to the people of the state, who have a right to expect their children's biology textbooks to be a straightforward presentation of the most up-to-date scientific information, facts not privileged from a religious or anti-religious perspective.

Science is not religion. It does not propose dogmas, only laws, which are not accepted as true until empirically proved. The scientific method invites challenge to theories, because only by doing so can we be sure of what we know, and what we merely suppose. When dissenting scientists produce reliable data challenging prevailing orthodoxy on scientific terms, then respectful attention should be paid, no matter whom it pleases or discomfits. Students need reasonably complete and accurate information. They don't need to be protected from dissenting scientific opinion.

This is what state law sensibly requires for Texas schoolchildren, and what education board members should keep squarely in front of them as they take their vote. We wish them more success than we had in separating substance from spin in this vital debate.

550+ Texas Scientists, Teachers Agree on Teaching Evolution

From NCSE:

On November 1, 2003, a statement was released urging the Texas Board of Education to resist pressure on it to undermine the treatment of evolution in biology textbooks now under consideration. Signed by over 550 Texas scientists and educators, the statement observes that "Any dilution in textbooks of the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution should sound an alarm to every parent and teacher."

The statement was sponsored by the American Institute of Physics; the American Institute of Biological Sciences and several of its member societies, the American Geological Institute, and the American Astronomical Society also encouraged their members in Texas to sign the statement.

Dear Board of Education member,

As scientists and teachers who live and work in Texas, we write to urge the Texas State Board of Education to choose only textbooks that present accepted, peer-reviewed science and pedagogical expertise. We believe that such a process leads to strong curricula of the highest quality, accuracy, and pedagogical appropriateness.

An institution known for promoting the inclusion of religious tenets in science curricula is trying to water down the strong, peer-reviewed science in the textbooks and to influence the Board of Education to choose these unacceptable books.

At a time when our nation's welfare increasingly depends on technology, it has never been more important for students to understand the basic ideas of modern science. Evolution is not a belief, a hunch, or an untested hypothesis; it has been extensively tested and repeatedly verified. Any dilution in textbooks of the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution should sound an alarm to every parent and teacher.

We urge you to continue supporting high standards in Texas science textbooks and not to be swayed by misleading information. Your diligence will ensure that Texas students will be better equipped for higher education and the workplace.

Very Truly Yours,

(Signed by a large number of smart people, including my old boss, John Hedstrom.)


Biased texts mess with Texas



Published Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Most people know that Texas politics are a little out of control -- the Democratic state representatives did run away to Oklahoma in order to avoid arrest for leaving session in response to an unfair redistricting -- but most people don't think to look to the school board as a battleground for ideologies and religious radicalism.

Then again, it's Texas and anything conservative and crazy is possible, especially with regards to education.

This Friday, the Texas State Board of Education will take a final vote on the proposed 11 biology textbooks and the chance that all 11 will gain the State Board of Education members' approval is slim to none.

The Texas State Board of Education is an organization dominated by the radical right. In the last two years, with the help of campaign contributions from ultra-conservative donors, right-wing board members have spent as much as $200,000 and outspent moderate opponents by a six to one margin.

In 1995, the Texas Legislature passed reforms in an effort to curtail ideological pressure to censor certain information from textbooks. Now, the Board may only reject textbooks based on "physical specifications, essential knowledge and skills elements, and factual errors" (A.G. Opinion No. DM-424).

Despite these legal restrictions, the Texas State Board of Education continues to ban certain textbooks. In 2001, it banned the only Advanced Placement environmental science textbook because far-right groups saw it as being too pro-environment, anti-Christian and anti-free enterprise. And in 2002, significant changes were made to social studies books based on the radical right's objections during the hearings of 1996. According to testimony files at the Texas Education Association, the radical right opposed books with a perceived "overkill of emphasis on cruelty to slaves" and called those with an "overemphasis on civil rights" unpatriotic. Additionally, pictures of the "American Family" were required to include two parents and both were required to be Caucasian.

The debate continues to rage, this year over biology textbooks. Since 1991, Texas state law has mandated the teaching of evolution in biology books. However, in 1993, the radical right lobbied for evolution to be eliminated from textbooks. And in 1997, the State Board of Education considered replacing the books with new ones that did not even mention evolution. The proposal was voted down by a slim margin.

Now the extremists claim that the textbooks are factually incorrect because they are not critical enough of evolutionary theory. The main opponents come from Discovery Institute, which is the nation's leading supporter of "intelligent design," the notion that life is far too complex to have occurred without some unknown, divine intervention, also known as the "intelligent being."

Advocates of teaching evolution see the accusation that these textbooks ignore the "weaknesses" of evolution as just clever hogwash. These objections mark the religious right's shift to a more subtle approach to impose religion-based views under the veil of science.

Despite the absurdity of such arguments, it looks like the radical right, which controls nine out of twelve seats on the Board, will win again. And sadly, this problem is not confined to just my wildly ridiculous home state

According to the Texas Freedom Network, Texas is the nation's second largest textbook consumer, allocating as much as $570 million per year, which gives textbook publishers financial incentive to acquiesce to the changes demanded by a small, but vocal group of extremists. More problematic is that the textbooks for Texas serve as a model for other states.

And it's not just a problem in the United States. All over the world, textbooks are laden with ideological slants intended to shape the minds of entire generations. For instance, according to the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, Palestinian Authority schoolbooks use a map of the Middle East that ignores the existence of Israel and has replaced it by a state called "Palestine". In Japan, textbooks wash over Japan's responsibility for atrocious war activities. It describes the Rape of Nanking, where over 300,000 people were killed, as an "incident" in which "many" Chinese were killed. Only one of the eight books approved in 2002 mentions the sex slaves, who were brutally taken and abused from other Asian countries.

Even the United States' government understands the value of textbooks as a medium for propaganda. During the Cold War, the United States spent millions on Afghan textbooks that were filled with violent images in an attempt to spur resistance to the Soviet Union. Children were taught how to count with illustrations of tanks, missiles and land mines.

Yet when Afghan schools reopened last spring, in response to the demands from non-governmental international organizations, the United States supplied new textbooks that promoted peace and tolerance.

Ideologies belong in editorials, not textbooks. Children need to develop their own political beliefs, and in order to do so they need to have all of the facts and ideas on the pages. We must be vigilant against the use of textbooks that are tainted by one extremist group's ideological underpinnings.

Hopefully there will be a "regime change" in Texas, one that doesn't require collateral damage, but massive localized political activism. Even if these 11 biology textbooks escape unscathed, the fact remains that 12 members, nine of whom are financially supported by a radically conservative minority, can decide what information our children receive.

The State Board of Education needs to be told: Don't Mess with Textbooks.

Della Sentilles is a sophomore in Silliman College.

Copyright 1995-2003 Yale Daily News Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

HELP Jacko Really Needs Somebody


HELP the Scientology-based literacy program is back on the Web site Michael Jackson is using to raise money for charity.

HELP was removed as one of the groups that would receive money from Jackson's single "What More Can I Give?" after I reported the connection last week.

But unbeknownst to Jackson, his supporters insist, the HELP logo was added back to his Web site over the weekend. And, unknown to him, there is a simple reason. The Web site, www.whatmorecanigive.com, was registered on Oct. 14 to a high-level Scientologist.

Welcome to a mess.

According to Jackson insiders, the singer himself chose only one charity, Oneness, as a beneficiary of his single, which can be downloaded for $2. Otherwise, Jackson is said to have left the selection to the Web site operator, who, according to Jackson's friends, failed to tell him she was a Scientologist and that she was choosing one of that church's subsidiaries to receive the funds.

The site operator, Valerie B. Whalin, hosts an Internet radio show for Earthlink under the name "Surfer Val," the same name under which she registered Jackson's Web sites.

Efforts to contact Whalin were unsuccessful. But sources at both Clear Channel Communications and Broadway Entertainment, the companies that hired her to run the Web site, told me yesterday that no money would be going to Scientology.

The HELP logo and link, however, remained on the Jackson Web site as of early this morning.

The fact that Jackson could let "What More Can I Give?" operate as a charity without checking the people involved points to a larger problem in his world right now. No one seems to be in charge.

His longtime attorney, John Branca, is only peripherally involved in Jackson's businesses. Financier Charles Koppleman was said to have the inside track to take over, but that may no longer be the case. Credits on his new greatest-hits album omit several of his intimates, including Frank Cascio, aka "Tyson," his longtime youthful aide.

Alternative Medicine Is Gaining More Fans


POSTED: 2:51 p.m. EST November 3, 2003
UPDATED: 7:54 a.m. EST November 4, 2003

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 40 percent of Americans used some form of alternative medicine in 2000.

Alternative medicine is big business and growing in popularity. Barbara Morse reports on a holistic education center in Wakefield that boasts of having "All That Matters."

Yoga is a staple at "All That Matters," but it's not the only thing. "We offer Tai Chi, we offer meditation, we have health services, things like Reiki and massage," said Elizabeth Devereux, and instructor at "All That Matters."

"It's not a massage, but rather a gentle form of body work," said Suzanne Tuzes, LMT.

Tuzes, a therapist who performs the Bowen Technique, works on specific muscles.

"You slack back the top layer of skin to get behind the muscle, you press down, press down behind and you give it a little challenge, you just press into it a bit," Tuzes said.

After each move, Tuzes backs off for a couple of minutes and that's when the client feels the effects.

"It felt great, but it's strange because it's happening now, not when she's touching me but now," said one client.

It's very good for stress, very good for physical pain she said.

To dig deeper emotionally, "All That Matters" offers chanting.

"It's not about singing, it's about what you have in your heart and just opening your heart and letting it out," said Rae Ferguson, "All That Matters," instructor.

Pamela Dee said she's hooked on this form of meditation. "Well, life is so busy, this is really a time to come into yourself, tune in and relax. So, I get a lot of peace from that," said Dee.

"I just felt I just kind of needed reminders of getting away from the outside world and just bringing myself back to myself," said Judy Geller a client at "All That Matters."

"You do it everywhere, you bring it out, if you're out walking or if you're driving, wherever, it's very healing for those around you also," said Patricia Blake an "All That Matters," client.

Whatever your outlet -- it's all about who we are and how to access that.

And that's what they encourage at this holistic center. The emphasis is on education -- learning new ways to get in touch and keep in touch with your inner self.

There's a library open to anyone, and they even have a store full of products that will help you achieve your goals.

In addition, "All That Matters," offers belly dancing, African drumming and therapeutic touch.

To learn more about this holistic health education center, call (401) 782-2126 or visit its Web site.

Copyright 2003 by turnto10.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Science In the News

The following roundup of science stories appearing each day in the general media is compiled by the Media Resource Service, Sigma Xi's referral service for journalists in need of sources of scientific expertise.

For accurate instructions on how to subscribe or unsubscribe to the listserv, follow this link: http://www.mediaresource.org/instruct.htm

If you experience any problems with the URLs (page not found, page expired, etc.), we suggest you proceed to the home page of "Science In the News" http://www.mediaresource.org/news.shtml which mirrors the daily e-mail update.

In the News

Today's Headlines - November 6, 2003

from The New York Times

Twenty-six years and more than eight billion miles from Earth, the durable Voyager 1 spacecraft has journeyed a greater distance than any other human-made object, but scientists are not sure exactly what it has encountered at the far frontier of the solar system.

One team of scientists reported yesterday that radioed data showed that the spacecraft had apparently ventured across a turbulent boundary near the edge of the solar system, where supersonic "winds" of charged particles from the Sun collide with matter from interstellar space. No spacecraft has ever come close to the boundary, known as the termination shock.

At the same time, other scientists examining Voyager data argued that the boundary still lay ahead, though perhaps not too far.

The conflicting views were aired at a news conference at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Washington and are the subject of articles being published today in the journal Nature.

from The Washington Post

A decade-long study of southern Florida and the Everglades concludes that tough regulations of airborne mercury emissions have a profound and almost immediate effect in removing the toxic pollutant from the environment and the food chain.

The findings, according to some environmentalists, offer compelling evidence that government regulators can effectively and relatively swiftly address public health problems associated with mercury, a byproduct of burning coal and waste. Mercury in water turns to methylmercury, a potent neurotoxin that can cause severe neurological and developmental damage in humans -- especially small children -- and that comes primarily from eating contaminated fish and shellfish.

The $40 million study by the state of Florida, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey also adds to evidence of a link between mercury emissions -- especially from incinerators and power plants -- and water-quality problems that lead to toxic buildups in fish, waterfowl and other wildlife.

from The Washington Post

After a massive heart attack, Douglas Rogers had few options. His heart was badly battered, and most of his arteries were blocked. His doctors did not think surgery would do any good.

"They thought there was no use with half my heart being dead muscle," Rogers said. So when doctors suggested he undergo an experimental procedure to try literally to grow new heart muscle, he did not hesitate.

Three months later, he is back working full time, playing softball and bowling. "It's wonderful," said Rogers, 44, a Cincinnati factory manager. "I don't feel bad at all."

Although it remains unclear how much, if any, of his recovery was the result of the treatment last spring, and not the quadruple bypass operation he got along with it to nourish what doctors hoped would be new heart tissue, Rogers is in the forefront of a new wave of research aimed at doing something long thought impossible -- mending broken hearts.

from The Christian Science Monitor

Einstein's theory of special relativity stands as one of the pillars of modern physics. That's why physicists - ever wary of the foundation - keep looking for cracks.

Some thought they had found one with "fast-light" materials. When light pulses travel through the materials, they seem to travel faster than light travels in a vacuum. In some tests, the leading edge of the pulse appeared to exit even before it had entered. That would violate a key postulate of relativity.

It turns out fast-light concerns were unfounded, new experiments show. But poking at relativity theory, nearly 100 years old, remains a profound quest. Einstein's theory says the vacuum speed of light, designated by "C," is an absolute limit that nothing meaningful can exceed. In the fast-light debate, the key word is "meaningful." Fast-light pulses travel measurably quicker than C but carry no information and aren't meaningful in themselves. If they did carry information, skeptics said, they would travel at speeds slower than C.

from The Christian Science Monitor

WOODS HOLE, MASS. To find out what makes a hurricane tick, you have to fly through it. To find out how often hurricanes strike land, you need to dig for them.

As more condos, office towers, and housing tracts spring up in cities along America's East and Gulf coasts, researchers are scanning mud they bring up from coastal marshes and ponds for clues about the history of major hurricanes.

The approach is relatively new, scientists say. With it, they hope to give residents, emergency planners, building and zoning boards, and insurers a better handle on the risk densely populated areas face from these storms. When combined with other emerging techniques, these "paleo-tempestologists" add, information they glean might help determine whether global warming could generate more- frequent or more-intense storms.

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