NTS LogoSkeptical News for 28 March 2009

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Texas upholds teaching evolution

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/politics/2008932356_texas27.html

In an evenly split vote, the state Board of Education on Thursday upheld teaching evolution as accepted mainstream science.

By MICHAEL BRICK

The New York Times

Board members Geraldine Miller, center, and Patricia Hardy talk with Ronald Wetherington, a science adviser, during a meeting of the State Board of Education Thursday.

AUSTIN, Texas — In an evenly split vote, the state Board of Education on Thursday upheld teaching evolution as accepted mainstream science.

Supporters of evolution hailed the vote but were critical of amendments adopted by the board that they said could create new paths to teaching creationism and the similar notion of intelligent design in public schools.

If given final approval in a vote expected today, the new standards will drop a 20-year-old rule that requires that "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories to be taught. Critics said the requirement is used to undermine the theory of evolution in favor of religious teachings.

Social conservatives on the board, using a series of amendments tailored to particular subjects, succeeded in requiring teachers to evaluate critically a variety of scientific principles such as cell formation and the Big Bang.

The debate over new curriculum requirements, to take effect in 2010, stands to influence educational standards nationwide. Once every decade, major textbook publishers revise their offerings to match the requirements newly set forth by Texas, which is one of their largest bulk customers.

The debate centered on a long-standing clause that requires teachers to address the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Teachers quietly ignored the requirements for decades.

The board tentatively decided in January to drop the "strengths and weaknesses" language. On Thursday, Democrats and moderate Republicans on the board blocked a proposal by social conservatives to reinstate it.

After failing to overhaul the curriculum broadly, conservatives instead attached a series of measures specific to subjects such as biology, where teachers would be newly required to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell."

Federal courts have ruled against teaching public schools teaching creationism and intelligent design, which holds that life is so complex that it must have come from an intelligent higher power.

Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

Texas scraps school anti-evolution requirements

http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2009/03/texas-may-end-s.html

The Texas Board of Education has scrapped a 20-year-old requirement that public school students discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution, the Associated Press and other news outlets report.

But the board, in what some in the media viewed as a compromise, did vote to encourage students to scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theories, the Houston Chronicle reports.)

It adopted language that says the curriculum will require that students "in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations ... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."

The issue is so complicated and controversial, however, that we thought we'd give you a flavor of the issue by showing you how various news organizations reported the final vote:

The 13-2 vote removes current requirements that students be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Instead, teachers will be required to have students scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theories, a move criticized by evolution proponents. (The Austin American-Statesman)

The Texas Board of Education voted today by a 13-to-2 margin to change controversial language in the state's curriculum, making it harder for creationism to creep into public classrooms. For the past 20 years, the state's curriculum has instructed teachers to present the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, opening the door to non-scientific, faith-based alternatives. (The Scientific American)

Social conservatives lost another skirmish over evolution Friday when the State Board of Education stripped two provisions from proposed science standards that would have raised questions about key principles of the theory of evolution. (The Dallas Morning News)

After six hours of often mind-numbing debate, the State Board of Education has mercifully passed a final version of new science standards that will guide the content of science textbooks and curriculum for the next decade. (The Texas Observer)

Earlier posting: The Texas school board has tentatively voted to scrap a 20-year requirement that public school students discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution and Darwin's theory of the origin of life, the Houston Chronicle reports.

If adopted in a final vote today, the new science curriculum standards will take effect with the 2010-2011 school year and last a decade. The Chronicle calls the move a "setback for critics of evolution."

The Dallas Morning News, however, notes that critics of evolution scored some victories in winning adoption of a requirement that students in some specific subjects study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection, two key Darwin tenets, in examining fossil records and cell structure.

Scientists and more than 50 national and state science organizations have urged the board not to include references "to creationist-fabricated 'weaknesses' or other attempts to undermine instruction on evolution," the Chronicle says.

The board's decision will have a big impact on science textbooks nationwide because publishers preparing material for the huge Texas market typically sell the same book to other states, the newspaper says.

The board also adopted language that would have students study the "different views on the existence of global warming," the Chronicle says.

Posted by Doug Stanglin at 08:23 PM/ET, March 27, 2009 in Education, Local news, Nation, Religion/spirituality | Permalink

Texas Now Leads Nation in Requiring Critical Analysis of Evolution in High School Science Classes

http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/03-27-2009/0004996170&EDATE=

AUSTIN, Texas, March 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a huge victory for those who favor teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution, Texas today moved to the head of the class by requiring students to "critique" and examine "all sides of scientific evidence" and specifically requiring students to "analyze and evaluate" the evidence for major evolutionary concepts such as common ancestry, natural selection, and mutations.

"Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned," said Dr. John West, Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute. "Contrary to the claims of the evolution lobby, absolutely nothing the Board did promotes 'creationism' or religion in the classroom. Groups that assert otherwise are lying, plain and simple. Under the new standards, students will be expected to analyze and evaluate the scientific evidence for evolution, not religion. Period."

The new requirements were contained in revised science standards approved today by the Texas State Board of Education. The science standards include language requiring students to "analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations... including examining all sides of scientific evidence... so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Equally important, the high school biology standards now require students to "analyze and evaluate" the scientific evidence for key parts of evolutionary theory, including common ancestry, natural selection, and mutations.

Discovery Institute has long endorsed the idea that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, including its unresolved issues.

The Discovery Institute's mission is to make a positive vision of the future practical. The Institute discovers and promotes ideas in the common sense tradition of representative government, the free market and individual liberty. Their mission is promoted through books, reports, legislative testimony, articles, public conferences and debates, plus media coverage and the Institute's own publications and Internet website (http://www.discovery.org).

For more information please call Hayley McConnell from Shirley & Banister Public Affairs at 703-739-5920 or hmcconnell@sbpublicaffairs.com.

SOURCE Discovery Institute

Evolution Bill Quietly Filed In State Senate

http://www2.tbo.com/content/2009/mar/27/271302/evolution-bill-quietly-filed-state-senate/news-politics/

TALLAHASSEE - State Sen Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville has quietly filed legislation that would change the way Florida schools teach Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

And though it has yet to have its first hearing, the bill has the science community is up in arms.

You may remember this hot-button issue from 2008, when Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, and Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, pushed similar legislation after the state Board of Education explicitly mandated the teaching of the scientific theories of biological and chemical evolution.

This language in this year's bill from Wise is pretty similar to the version pushed last year by Hays – not banning the teaching of evolution, but allowing teachers to question it in science class. Storms had focused her version more on job protections for teachers who criticized the theory.

Here's what Wise's bill would require: "A thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution."

The Florida Academy of Science says the bill "leaves the door open for the introduction in the public school curriculum of nonscientific and covertly religious doctrines."

In other words, here we go again. Or not, given the super-tight timeframe that Wise has to actually get the bill heard this late in the session. To date, there is no House version of the bill.

Reporter Catherine Dolinski can be reached at (850) 222-8382.

Big Blobs Change View of Evolution

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090328/sc_livescience/bigblobschangeviewofevolution

Sarah Hoffman
Natural History Magazine
LiveScience.com sarah Hoffman

On a submersible dive off the Bahamas, Mikhail V. Matz of the University of Texas at Austin and several colleagues were seeking big-eyed, glowing animals adapted to darkness.

Yet as they cruised above the seafloor, the team was distracted by hundreds of bizarre, sediment-coated balls the size of grapes. Each sat at the end of a sinuous track in the seafloor ooze. Indeed, the balls appeared to have made the tracks; some even seemed to have rolled upslope.

The team collected specimens and identified the creatures as giant protozoans, Gromia sphaerica, each one a single large cell with an organic shell, or "test." When cleaned of sediment, the test feels like grape skin, but squishier, Matz says.

Surprisingly, the tracks on the Bahamian seafloor resemble grooves found in sedimentary rocks formed as long as 1.8 billion years ago. The ancient grooves, bisected by a low ridge, had constituted the only evidence that multicellular, bilaterally symmetrical animals, such as worms, might have evolved so early in Earth's history.

Matz's discovery [of modern tracks apparently left by G. sphaerica] suggests that protozoans could have made those fossil traces rather than more advanced animals, which probably appeared much later. The next earliest evidence of multicellularity and bilateralism in animals occurs in fossils 580 million and 542 million years old, respectively.

G. sphaerica are rhizopods, an ancient protozoan group. Matz is planning further studies of the species, about which little is known.

The findings were detailed in the journal Current Biology in November.

Original Story: Big Blobs Change View of Evolution

Texas Opens Classroom Door for Evolution Doubts Article

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123819751472561761.htmlComments (90)

By STEPHANIE SIMON

The Texas Board of Education approved a science curriculum that opens the door for teachers and textbooks to raise doubts about evolution.

Critics of evolution said they were thrilled with Friday's move. "Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned," said Dr. John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that argues an intelligent designer created life.

Kathy Miller, president of the pro-evolution Texas Freedom Network, said, "The board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks."

Science standards in Texas resonate across the U.S., since it approves one set of books for the entire state. That makes Texas the nation's single largest market for high-school textbooks.

In the past, publishers often have written texts to its curriculum and marketed them nationally rather than spend time and money reworking them for different states and districts.

That influence has diminished, said Jay Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers' school division, as districts and statewide boards of education have become more likely to scrutinize texts approved in other states. Desktop publishing also has made it easier for companies to amend textbooks to suit different markets.

"It's not necessarily the case" that the Texas curriculum will pop up in other states, Mr. Diskey said. But within Texas, what the board says, goes. Several years ago, the board expressed concern that a description of the Ice Age occurring "millions of years ago" conflicted with biblical timelines. The publisher changed it to "in the distant past." Another publisher sought to satisfy the board by inserting a heading about "strengths and weaknesses of evolution" in a biology text, drawing condemnation from science organizations.

The board will use the new standards to choose new textbooks in 2011.

Friday's meeting started with a victory for backers of evolution. The board voted to remove a longstanding requirement that students analyze the "strengths and weaknesses" of the theory. Mainstream scientists resoundingly reject that language, saying there are no weak links in the theory of evolution, which has been corroborated by discoveries in fields ranging from genetics to geology.

Through the afternoon, board members offered up a series of amendments and counter-amendments designed to shape presentations in biology classes across the state. The board voted down curriculum standards questioning the evolutionary principle that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry.

Yet the board approved standards that require students to analyze and evaluate the fossil record and the complexity of the cell. Social conservatives on the board, led by chairman Don McLeroy, have made clear they expect books to address those topics by raising questions about the validity of evolutionary theory.

For instance, they want textbooks to suggest the theory of evolution is undercut by fossils that show some organisms -- such as ferns -- haven't changed much over millions of years. They also want texts to discuss the explosion of life forms during the Cambrian Era as inconsistent with the incremental march of evolution.

Scientists respond that the fossil record clearly traces the roots of Cambrian Era creatures back as far as 100 million years.

It isn't just evolution at issue: The board also approved an earth-science curriculum that challenges the widely accepted Big Bang Theory. Students are expected to learn that there are "differing theories" on the "origin and history of the universe."

Board members also deleted a reference to the scientific consensus that the universe is nearly 14 billion years old. The board's chairman has said he believes God created the universe fewer than 10,000 years ago.

Write to Stephanie Simon at stephanie.simon@wsj.com

Texas Ed board approves science standards

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/6346723.html

By APRIL CASTRO Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
March 27, 2009, 5:56PM

AUSTIN, Texas — State education leaders forged a compromise on the teaching of evolution Friday, capping a week of impassioned debate that had scientists, teachers and textbook publishers from around the country focused on Texas.

The move represented something of a victory for pro-evolutionists, who wanted the State Board of Education to drop a 20-year-old requirement that both "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories be taught.

But the board's 13-2 vote also means students in public school will be encouraged to scrutinize "all sides" of scientific theories. That left some of the pro-evolution crowd upset.

"I think we've seen some classic examples of politics interfering with science education," said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the California-based National Center for Science Education.

Critics say the requirement has been used to undermine the theory of evolution in favor of religious teachings.

The words strengths and weaknesses have become "code for creationism and (the similar theory of) intelligent design," said board member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands. "So by being more clear in the language and using words that aren't seen as code words, we were able to get all of the 15 board members to agree that this is how we'll teach all sides of scientific explanation, using scientific evidence."

The curriculum will require that students "in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations ... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."

One of the nation's leading critics of evolution, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, called the vote a major victory.

The new standards, which will be in place for the next decade, govern what teachers are required to cover in the classroom, topics students are tested on and material published in textbooks.

As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas has significant influence over the content of books marketed across the country. Publishers compete to have their books approved by the state board, which has authority to review all books and recommend approval to local school districts.

With new biology textbooks up for adoption in 2011, the new curriculum, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, determine what will be required of publishers who want to be approved to sell books on Texas.

"What this is about in Texas is textbooks, because what is in the TEKS is going to be used to tell the textbook publishers what to put in their books the next time textbooks are approved," Scott said. "Biology is up for approval in a couple of years and that's what this is all about."

In a string of amendments proposed after the compromise, the board adopted subtle changes that critics say cast a shadow over key tenets of the theory of evolution — natural selection and common ancestry.

"The document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms," said Kathy Miller, president of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network. "Through a series of contradictory and convoluted amendments, the board crafted a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks.

"We appreciate that the politicians on the board seek compromise, but don't agree that compromises can be made on established mainstream science or on honest education policy."

Federal courts have ruled against teaching creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design in public schools.

Supporters of the changes applauded efforts to encourage critical thinking in science classrooms.

State board approved science standards

http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/education/entries/2009/03/27/state_board_approved_science_s.html

By Laura Heinauer | Friday, March 27, 2009, 05:15 PM

The Texas State Board of Education today passed science curriculum standards that are considered a compromise between those critical of teaching evolutionary theories and those who feared attacks on evolution would lead to the teaching of creationism in public schools.

The 13-2 vote removes current requirements that students be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Instead, teachers will be required to have students scrutinze "all sides" of scientific theories, a move criticized by evolution proponents.

This week's impassioned debate had scientists, teachers and textbook publishers from around the country focused on Texas, which, because of its size, influences much of what publishers put in textbooks. Today's adoption comes after many months of back-and-forth over drafts for the standards, which were last revised in 1998.

The Discovery Institute, which enourages teaching that the universe is the result of "intelligent design," called the vote "a huge victory for those who favor teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution."

By requiring students to critique the evidence for major evolutionary concepts such as common ancestry, natural selection and mutations, the institute said in a statement, "Texas today moved to the head of the class."

"Texas has sent a clear message that evolution should be taught as a scientific theory open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned," said John West, a senior fellow at the institute.

The standards also call for students to specifically analyze and evaluate evolutionary theory's explanation for both the complexity of cells and the sudden appearance and lack of change of in species in the fossil record.

Though evolution advocates were happy with initial votes to remove language that implied that certain principals of evolution were "insufficient" to explain certain natural phenomena in cells and fossils, board members who pushed to include weaknesses of evolution said they were happy with the compromise.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, who pushed for language challenging scientific explanations of cell complexity and fossil records, said the new wording still gets his point across.

"The scientific community got its luster back," McLeroy said.

He and Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, one of the members behind several compromise proposals, both said the board ended up with a better document than it started with that morning.

"It removes some of the controversial language but still encourages students to think critically, which is something I think we could all agree on," Craig said.

Officials from the Texas Freedom Network, a group that calls itself a mainstream voice to counter the religious right, said the science standards are still "a road map that creationists will use to pressure publishers into putting phony arguments attacking established science into textbooks."

Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement that the new curriculum "still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms."

The standards approved today — proposed by Cynthia Dunbar, who represents part of Austin — will require students examine "all sides of scientific evidence" when they study any scientific explanation.

Of the compromise, Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, addressing Dunbar, said: "For one time, I have seen statesmanship out of one side of our board."

Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, was one of two board members who consistently voted against the rewrites proposed by members critical of evolution today. She also voted against accepting the document in its entirety.

The national impact of today's vote will be felt in 2011 with the adoption of textbooks.

Ronald Wetherington, a pro-evolution anthropology professor from Southern Methodist University, said the compromise, by removing words like "insufficiency" and "weaknesses," is a victory, because it makes it harder now for the state board to say no to texts that don't address certain insufficiencies or weaknesses.

But, Wetherington said, the inclusion of requirements that students consider that science can't entirely explain the complexity of cells could open the door to publishers pushing psudeo-science.

"The battle has been largely won today, but we are no where near winning the war," Wetherington said.

Texas board comes down on 2 sides of creationism debate

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/03/27/texas.education.evolution/

(CNN) -- Dueling theories of how the universe was created got a split decision Friday night from the Texas Board of Education, which required examination of "all sides of scientific evidence" in new science standards, but rejected language requiring teachers to teach the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories.

A woman stands in front of a mural depicting the development from ape to computer user.

The debate pitted proponents of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution against supporters of religion-based theories of intelligent design, or creationism.

"Science loses. Texas loses, and the kids lose because of this," board chairman Don McLeroy, a creationist, told the Dallas Morning News.

A final 13-2 vote approved language that will be printed in textbooks beginning in 2011 and remain there for 10 years, CNN affiliate KPRC-TV in Houston reported:

"In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental observation and testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the students."

Earlier, the board rejected two sections written by McLeroy on identical 8-7 votes, the Dallas Morning News said.

One section required teachers to "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information," and the other required high school students to study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of key principles of evolution.

Opponents were pleased with the board's action on McLeroy's sections, but unsatisfied with the final result.

"The phrase has been an open door to religious indoctrination in public schools," Mark Finkelstein, a lawyer with the Anti-Defamation League, told KPRC, referring to the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase in the material voted down.

"This document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms," Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, told the Dallas Morning News.

She predicted battles over textbooks in the coming years, a prediction McLeroy bolstered.

Publishers, he said, will "have to get their textbooks approved by us in a few years."

The size of the textbook market in Texas gives it influence nationwide, as publishers adapt their material to its standards.

Darwin's theory of evolution proposes that humans evolved over millions of years from animal species -- including, most famously, early primates that also are the ancestors of modern-day apes. Such thinking, which challenged religious accounts of a deity creating humans, was considered radical, even blasphemous, when Darwin published it in 1859.

Central to Darwin's thesis was his scientific explanation of life's diversity: that natural selection is enough to explain the evolution of all species.

The scientific community has overwhelmingly scorned creationism and its latest incarnation, intelligent design, as a pretext for biblical explanations of how the world came to be, and asserts that there is no weakness or doubt in the scientific community about evolution.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences called for the public to be better informed about the importance of understanding and teaching evolution. The academy released a booklet titled "Science, Evolution, and Creationism" -- the third explanation of evolution put out since 1984 by one of the nation's leading scientific organizations.

However, those who take issue with evolution believe it should be treated with healthy skepticism and argue that having high school students question a scientific theory overwhelmingly accepted by scientists teaches them critical thinking.

"This debate will impact whether students are taught to think critically and scientifically when you learn about evolution. It's important for students to learn how to think like scientists and not be forced to treat these controversial topics like a dogma," Casey Luskin, a policy analyst with the Discovery Institute, a group that questions the theory of evolution, said in an article in the San Antonio Express-News.

Proponents of evolution say the dogma is on the other side, with the Discovery Institute and others purposely distorting and ignoring scientific evidence to reach their desired conclusion.

For decades, the teaching of evolution in public schools has been a flash point in some states, with proponents of ideas such as creationism and intelligent design trying to gain a place in science classes.

The issue has been before school officials, legislators and courts in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Virginia.

The controversy over the teaching of intelligent design came to a head in Pennsylvania, where the Dover School Board voted that ninth-grade students must be read a statement encouraging them to read about intelligent design. A federal judge said the board violated the Constitution in doing so because intelligent design is religious creationism in disguise and injecting it into the curriculum violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

"Academic freedom" bills have emerged but failed in various state legislatures, the National Center for Science Education said.

An "academic freedom" act has been adopted as law in Louisiana, and there is legislation in Florida calling for an "academic freedom" bill that would mandate a "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution."

The center says such bills are strategies by creationists to appeal to the American sense of balance, and give the false sense that there are different sides to scientific issues such as evolution.

Board of Education OKs science change: State curriculum to consider 'all sides'

http://www.elpasotimes.com/education/ci_12015289

By Andrew Kreighbaum / Austin Bureau
Posted: 03/28/2009 12:00:00 AM MDT

AUSTIN -- The state Board of Education on Friday adopted a new science curriculum for Texas public schools, dropping a 20-year requirement that teachers cover the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory.

Still, proponents of teaching evolution ended up unhappy, as the board voted 13-2 for a plan requiring teachers and students to examine "all sides" of scientific theories. Some saw this as an allowance for teaching creationism.

The curriculum will take effect during the 2010-11 school year and will dictate what material publishers include in science textbooks.

Supporters of the "strengths and weaknesses" phrase said including it would protect free discussion of scientific theories in the classroom. But critics have linked the phrase with creationism, and said it would undermine the quality of science education.

After all five Democrats on the board joined with three Republicans to block the "strengths and weaknesses" clause Thursday, board member Cynthia Dunbar, a Republican from Richmond, proposed the compromise.

"It's better than not having good language at all," said board member Lawrence Allen Jr., a Houston Demo crat.

Chairman Don McElroy made an impassioned plea for an amendment requiring students to evaluate common ancestry as an explanation for the sudden appearance of species in the fossil record.

McLeroy said scientific consensus was on the side of evolutionary theory, but went on to condemn that consensus as narrow-minded.

"Somebody has got to stand up to these experts," McLeroy said. "Why does evolution have this lofty status? It's all about ideology."

The board voted to strike his amendment, but then approved a version of what McLeroy wanted, except that it removed a specific mention of common ancestry.

Rene Nuñez, an El Paso Democrat, cast one of two votes against the final curriculum. He said the amendment politicized a document written by specially chosen experts.

"When we appoint a committee like we did," he said, "we should try to take their advice and support it."

Andrew Kreighbaum may be reached at akreighbaum@elpasotimes.com; 512-479-6606.

Texas vote leaves loopholes for teaching creationism

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16859-texas-vote-leaves-loopholes-for-teaching-creationism.html

03:58 28 March 2009 by Amanda Gefter

It was a mixed bag of victory and defeat for science on Friday when the Texas Board of Education voted on their state science standards. In a move that pleased the scientific community, the board voted to not include proposed changes that would call for the teaching of the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories – code words for allowing creationist views into the classroom.

However, additional amendments that were voted through provide loopholes for creationist teaching. "It's as if they slammed the door shut with strengths and weaknesses, then ran around the house opening windows to let it in a bunch of other ways," says Dan Quinn, who was on site at the hearings. Quinn is communications director of the Texas Freedom Network, a community watchdog organisation.

One amendment calls for students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell," phrasing that rings of intelligent design arguments.

Another amendment requires students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning any data on sudden appearance and stasis and the sequential groups in the fossil record." These issues are commonly held up by creationists as arguments against evolution, even though the scientific community disagrees.

Anti-evolutionist Don McLeroy, a dentist and chair of the Texas State Board of Education, testified at Friday's hearing: "I disagree with these experts. Someone has got to stand up to experts."

Age of the universe

An amendment to the environmental sciences standards requires students to "analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming", despite overwhelming consensus within the scientific community that global warming exists.

An amendment to the Earth and space sciences curriculum requires the teaching of different theories of the origin, age and history of the universe. The board voted to remove from the standards the statement that the universe is roughly 14 billion years old.

"The goal here was to make science more tentative and vague so that teachers have room to tell students, 'This is only one explanation and the scientists are not even sure about it themselves' – which is, of course, utter nonsense," says Quinn.

School textbooks are required to comply with a state's science standards, so all changes to the science standards translate into changes to textbooks. In two years, the board will meet to review the state's textbooks, so creationists have been eager to slip in changes to the standards ahead of time.

Influential state Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks in the US, a market publishers can't afford to lose. So they will likely have to water down the science in their books and add in creationist pseudo-science to appease the school board. "If the publishers don't come back with arguments against natural selection and common descent, the board is going to vote to reject those textbooks," Quinn says.

What's more, while the "strengths and weaknesses" language was rather vague, the new amendments provide publishers with a very specific roadmap for what they have to include in their textbooks. "It will be much harder for publishers to fudge," says Quinn.

Creating a Texas-only edition of a biology textbook would be expensive, which means other states would probably end up having to use the same scientifically inaccurate textbooks. "Many publishers are in dire economic straits these days, so the added expense of making a special edition for one state is not something they would be eager to take on," says Steven Newton of the National Center for Science Education. "I think it's likely this would affect other states."

"We're going to be watching and we will make sure that if the textbooks include junk science, that people know about it," Quinn says. "If other states reject these books, publishers might stop publishing for Texas because it's so expensive."

Discovery ties If that happens, other publishers more friendly to intelligent design (ID) might fill the breach. The Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based headquarters of the ID movement, for example, has already published its own biology textbook entitled Explore Evolution: The arguments for and against Neo-Darwinism.

The book does not explicitly mention ID, but presents its standard arguments, arguments that are precisely in line with those adopted in the new standards. That may be no coincidence: one of the co-authors of the book, Ralph Seelke, was chosen by McLeroy to serve as an expert curriculum reviewer for the Texas board. So too was Stephen Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. The Discovery Institute's Casey Luskin also testified at the board meeting, saying, "We urge you to make students aware of these scientific debates."

"The Discovery Institute is in this up to their eyeballs," says Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and an expert on the history of creationism. "They are heavily invested in what happens in Texas." In fact, McLeroy has been working with Discovery Institute fellow Walter Bradley, a Texan, since at least 2003 to promote changes to the biology textbooks.

Academic freedom Texas creationists had already crafted a back-up plan in case Friday's school board vote didn't go their way.

Republican House Representative Wayne Christian has drafted a piece of legislation (House Bill 4224) that proposes to add the "strengths and weaknesses" language back into the standards.

What's more, if passed, the bill would protect students from being "penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position on scientific theories" and allow teachers to help students to "understand, analyze, review and critique scientific explanations, including hypotheses and theories, as to their strengths and weaknesses using scientific evidence and information."

The bill is the latest in a series of "academic freedom bills" that have been proposed throughout several states in the US. Most have failed – in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Iowa they were quickly killed off, while in Missouri, Alabama and Florida such bills are still pending.

Last year, Louisiana became the first state to sign an academic freedom bill into law. If the same thing happens in Texas, it could be extremely detrimental to science education in that state and beyond.

'Subjective' science "It would essentially override the school board's vote to insert the 'strengths and weaknesses' language back into the standards," says Newton. "Telling a student that they can't be penalized grade-wise because they subscribe to a specific opinion on science – that will be a big problem. It opens science up to being a relative thing."

"And you can imagine a teacher thinking, 'I'll have a potential lawsuit from this student if I grade them down, so I'm not even going to touch on controversial topics like evolution, the age of the Earth, the formation of the solar system, etc.,'" Newton told New Scientist. "Everyone still has in their minds that figure of a million dollars that the Dover school district had to pay out [in legal fees after an intelligent design trial], and that's a powerful thing."

The academic freedom legislation is the brainchild of the Discovery Institute and the promoters of the film Expelled, a pro-intelligent design "documentary" in which former Nixon speech writer Ben Stein argued that Darwin's theory of evolution led to the Holocaust.

'Pushing the legal envelope' Experts suspect that strategically, the Discovery Institute actually wants teachers to be prosecuted in a Dover-style court case, and that they are using the proposed Texas academic freedom bill to lure teachers into a legal trap by encouraging them to bring religious ideas into the classroom.

"Teaching creationism or ID has been repeatedly found to be unconstitutional," Forrest says. "These bills cannot supersede the constitution and will not protect the teachers from litigation."

"The Discovery Institute is pushing the legal envelope and inviting litigation because they have been shopping around for years for the right judicial district in which they could win this kind of case," she told New Scientist. "They need a district where they can control the people on the ground, as they do in Texas. They want a ruling that conflicts with Dover in a different judicial district, because that would be the most likely scenario in which the Supreme Court would hear a case. That is exactly what they want."

Insurance salesmen Meanwhile, pro-science legislators are also doing their best to fight these actions. Senator Rodney Ellis and House Representative Garnet Coleman – both Democrats from Houston, Texas – have introduced legislation (Senate Bill 440 and House Bill 3382, respectively) that would transfer authority for textbook adoptions and curriculum approval from the Board of Education to the Texas Education Agency.

"When you have dentists and insurance salesmen and attorneys deciding what students should learn about science in a public school classroom, you've got a problem," says Quinn.

And elections for the members of the Board of Education will be held next year, so voters could potentially get more science advocates on the board before the textbook reviews the following year.

Science took some blows in Texas on Friday, but the battle isn't close to over, and Quinn, for one, is optimistic that people will continue to fight the good fight. "When you have an elected body doing everything it can to undermine the education of your kids and making it harder for them to compete and succeed in the 21st century," he says, "that's when people take notice and stand up."

Investigative firm stands by its report

http://www.mountvernonnews.com/local/09/03/28/investigative-firm-stands-by-its-report

By Pamela Schehl

March 28, 2009

MOUNT VERNON — Julia Herlevi, co-owner of HR on Call, the firm which investigated allegations against John Freshwater, was called Friday as a witness in Freshwater's contract termination hearing.

Freshwater lawyer Kelly Hamilton questioned her as to the investigative procedure used, asking specifics as to how the investigation was conducted, who determined which individuals to interview and whether follow-up interviews were conducted. Herlevi said she could not answer many of the procedural questions, as Tom Herlevi was the lead investigator; Julia was not involved in all of the interviews, nor did she write the report. She said she did proofread and edit it for spelling and grammatical errors, and further testified HR on Call did not give Superintendent Steve Short or Mount Vernon school board members a draft copy to review.

Regarding the amount of evidence required to support a particular allegation, Herlevi said there was no hard and fast rule. In the case of Freshwater's use of a Tesla coil on students, she said a student said he did it and Freshwater said he did use a Tesla coil on students.

Asked why additional students were not questioned on the matter, Herlevi said, "Both parties said it did happen and both parties agree there was a mark made."

Later, she said, "If even one child is harmed, you don't need to talk to everyone in the class."

If an allegation was not sustained by the evidence, Hamilton asked, would that cast doubt on the credibility of the accuser?

"Not necessarily," replied Herlevi, adding it could simply mean there was not sufficient evidence to corroborate the charge, which doesn't mean the event did not happen.

Herlevi said she did conduct the interview with Ben Nielson, the student who testified Thursday afternoon. Referring to her handwritten notes, Herlevi said Nielson told her that Freshwater "certainly discussed creationism and intelligent design in class."

Upon cross-examination by board attorney David Millstone, Herlevi testified Nielson said Freshwater talks about the Big Bang theory, the possibility of intelligent design, radiocarbon dating and the hydrosphere theory. John Freshwater throws out both sides [of an issue] Nielson reportedly told Herlevi, and did give his personal opinion. Herlevi also testified Nielson told her Freshwater talked about a boat that went around on a flood and that he [Nielson} felt Freshwater sometimes wanted to talk about his beliefs.

Herlevi's notes also indicated that Nielson said Zach Dennis did complain of his arm hurting the day after the alleged injury, and that it looked about the same as Nielson's mark made the following day.

Hamilton also had Herlevi review her notes of interviews with former Freshwater students Levi Stump and Riley Swanson, and teacher Ruth Frady. He asked whether those notes were verbatim accounts and she said no. He also asked whether the comments were sworn statements, and Herlevi replied they were full and complete statements.

Hamilton asked if something was not in the notes, does that mean something did not happen? Herlevi replied that meant she didn't ask a question about it.

When the report's accuracy was questioned by Hamilton, Herlevi said, "I think the report is fair and accurate," and also said she wouldn't do anything differently if she had to do it today. She said she prides herself in getting the facts and in being fair in her reports.

Friday's only other witness was Jeff Cline, who frequently attended and spoke at middle school Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings. He testified that students, not Freshwater, invited him to speak at FCA meetings, that he led the opening and closing prayers and said that Freshwater typically stood in the back of the room where students could not even see him.

Cline also talked about the April 2008 rally on Public Square. He said Freshwater had no part in planning the rally but that "Christian brothers put that together for John." He further testified that he was the person who contacted the media about the rally and that Freshwater was not consulted beforehand.

Cline said Freshwater was very upset about the prospect of having to remove the Bible from his desk because it was a source of inspiration to him. He said he had never seen a particular Living Bible on Freshwater's desk, but that he several times saw Freshwater carrying what Cline called a paperback Bible. Asked by Hamilton to confirm that he has seen Freshwater with a Bible, Cline said, "Yes. Sharing it with other people; that's his whole life."

The hearing is recessed until April 2.

pschehl@mountvernonnews.com

© Copyright 2009 Progressive Communications


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Evolution explained: Convocation speaker Kenneth Miller speaks on the topic of how humans have developed

http://media.www.suujournal.com/media/storage/paper951/news/2009/03/26/News/Evolution.Explained.Convocation.Speaker.Kenneth.Miller.Speaks.On.The.Topic.Of.Ho-3683007.shtml

DeAna Little
Issue date: 3/26/09 Section: NewsProfessor of Biology at Brown University Kenneth R. Miller lectures about evolution and creationism theories and what controversies are erupting over them during Tuesday's Convocation in the SUU Auditorium.

Tuesday's convocation entitled "Darwin, God and Design: America's Continuing Problem with Evolution," covered the issues of evolution and religion.

Kenneth R. Miller, professor of biology at Brown University, spoke about the controversy involved with teaching evolution in high schools and the differences of beliefs in God and science that hinder Americans from accepting evolution as fact.

James W. Harrison, director of the Grace A. Tanner Center for Human Values, introduced Miller as the author of the most-used biology textbook in American high schools today.

"We have people like Miller who are capable of looking at both sides of the issue and showing us how we can come together," Miller said. "I am delighted to have him here."

Miller said he has written books on the issues of evolution and religion, and to his astonishment, his book Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, is now in its 28th printing.

"That tells you how hungry Americans are to get somebody to address issues at the intersection of science and religion," he said.

He also spoke about the August 2005 Time magazine story "The Evolution of Wars," by Claudia Wallis, which indicated that many Americans reject the theory of evolution.

Even former president George W. Bush has taken a position against evolution, Miller said.

"Evolution is an issue that divides Americans," he said.

Miller said that evolution has become a large factor in politics.

In the 2006 Ohio State Board of Education election, evolution was the determining issue, Miller said.

Miller quoted a talk show host in Cleveland who asked his audience during the election: "If you believe in God, creation and true science vote for (my candidate), and if you believe in evolution, abortion and theory vote for the opponent."

Miller talked about the times he testified in federal trials about the importance of teaching evolution in schools.

In Georgia a warning sticker was placed on textbooks, but after the trial the stickers were removed, he said.

"Evolution was so dangerous that it required a warning sticker to tell students that evolution was just a theory and not a fact," he said.

Miller said a lot of what he talked about during the presentation could be found in his book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul.

Miller said through evolution human beings may be related to the chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan because of similar chromosome structures and flaws.

Evolution is not a mistake, Miller said, it is just the way it works; science is compatible with faith.

"There is no design in nature; instead, it is random and accidental," he said.

Nicole Felton, a senior history major from Vernal, said the presentation helped her to better understand evolution.

"I liked the way he talked about things I haven't thought about before," she said. "It gave me a better idea on it.

Your Webside Seat to the Texas Evolution Showdown

http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/03/txevohearings.html

By Brandon Keim March 26, 2009 | 11:14:43 AM
Categories: Education, Evolution, Government

Over the next two days, the Texas Board of Education will decide whether to dilute its science education standards, and you can hear it all from the comfort of your very own seat.

At stake in the short term are curriculum guidelines referring to the evolution of complex organisms from a common ancestor, evolution's "strengths and weaknesses" and the intricacies of planetary formation. At stake in the longer term is the nature of science education in the southern United States, and whether children will learn to equate intellectual coherence with incoherence.

Earlier this week, the heavy hitters of evolutionary "debate" landed in Austin, from Lawrence Krauss to Casey Luskin. (Lest anyone think the controversy involves legitimate hypotheses about evolutionary mechanisms not described in the guidelines — of which there are many — other attendees included the conservative Free Market Foundation and Focus on the Family. This is not a fight over science, but over reason.) On Thursday and Friday, the Board members themselves will discuss the amendments.

The Texas Freedom Network and Texas Citizens for Science are liveblogging the hearings, which start Thursday at 10 a.m. Central time. You can also listen to them live on the Texas Board of Education website.

Texas ed board's vote a mixed bag for evolution

http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jKkeY6qfvjWTlGdDT-WC9YWijT9AD9761TOG0

By APRIL CASTRO – 3 hours ago

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas science teachers will no longer be required to teach weaknesses of scientific theory, including evolution, under new curriculum standards tentatively adopted by the State Board of Education on Thursday.

Supporters of evolution hailed the vote but were critical of amendments adopted by the board that they said could create new paths to teaching creationism and the similar theory of intelligent design in public schools.

If given final approval in a vote expected Friday, the new standards will drop a 20-year-old rule that requires both "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories to be taught. Critics say the requirement is used to undermine the theory of evolution in favor of religious teachings.

The new standards, which would be in place for the next decade, govern what appears on standardized tests and material published in textbooks. As one of the largest textbook purchasers in the nation, Texas has significant influence over the content of books marketed across the country.

"Publishers are waiting to hear what to put in their textbooks," said Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network.

In approving a handful of amendments Thursday, the board "slammed the door on creationism, then ran around the house opening up all the windows to let it in another way," Quinn said. "We hope the vote tomorrow will reverse a lot of that."

In one amendment, the board agreed to require high school biology students to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell."

Board member Don McLeroy said his amendment was intended "to account for that amazing complexity. I think it's a standard that makes it honest with our children."

Federal courts have ruled against teaching public schools teaching creationism and intelligent design, which holds that life is so complex that it must have come from an intelligent higher power.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press

Defeat and Some Success for Texas Evolution Foes

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/education/27texas.html?hp

By MICHAEL BRICK
Published: March 26, 2009

AUSTIN, Tex. — In an evenly split vote, the State Board of Education on Thursday upheld teaching evolution as accepted mainstream science.

But social conservatives on the board, using a series of amendments tailored to particular school subjects, succeeded in requiring teachers to evaluate critically a variety of scientific principles like cell formation and the Big Bang.

The debate over new curriculum requirements, to take effect in 2010, stands to influence educational standards nationwide. Once every decade, major textbook publishers revise their offerings to match the requirements newly set forth by Texas, which is one of their largest bulk customers.

More than 80 years after the biology teacher John Scopes was tried on charges of illegally teaching evolution in Tennessee, the controversy here has played out with more subtlety, involving political code words and efforts to undermine the theory itself.

The debate has centered on a longstanding clause that requires teachers to address the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories, including Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. Teachers quietly ignored the requirements for decades.

The board tentatively decided in January to drop the "strengths and weaknesses" language. On Thursday, Democrats and moderate Republicans on the board blocked a proposal by social conservatives to reinstate it. Even with one moderate board member missing, the measure was blocked with a preliminary 7-to-7 vote.

The full board is set to take a final vote on Friday.

Failing to overhaul the curriculum broadly, conservatives instead attached a series of measures specific to subjects like biology, where teachers would be newly required to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell."

In the earth-science curriculum, conservatives weakened language concerning "the concept of an expanding universe" to address instead "current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe."

With protesters on both sides of the issue carrying signs outside its meetings, the board has heard impassioned testimony from science teachers, parents and others.

A conservative board member, Bob Craig of Lubbock, expressed satisfaction with the overall changes.

"I personally believe that language is good language," Mr. Craig said in an interview. "It allows for full discussion of all sides of the issue."

Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that promotes the teaching of evolution, said the vote would not end the debate.

"If they don't get the political strategy, they'll go piecemeal," Mr. Quinn said. "The State Board of Education pretty much slammed the door on 'strengths and weaknesses,' but then went around and opened all the windows in the house."


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Science standards challenging evolution debated in Texas

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/03/25/texas.evolution.teaching/

(CNN) -- The Texas Board of Education this week will vote on science standards that critics say seek to cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

A woman stands in front of a mural depicting the development from ape to computer user.

The board -- considering amendments passed in January -- will hear from the public on Wednesday. It will then take votes -- an initial one Thursday and the final vote Friday.

"This specific attack on well-established science ignores mountains of evidence and years of research done by experts in a variety of fields," said Steven Newton, project director at the Oakland California-based National Center for Science Education, a proponent of evolution.

One amendment, critics say, undermines the idea that life on Earth derives from a common ancestry, a major principle in the theory of evolution. It calls for the analysis and evaluation of "the sufficiency or insufficiency" of the common ancestry idea to explain the fossil record.

Newton said the board is considering other amendments casting doubt on well-established ideas in the earth and space sciences -- plate tectonics, radioactive decay and how the solar system developed.

School board chairman Don McLeroy has wanted to tackle questions that highlight supposed weaknesses in the theory.

For example, skeptics of evolution point to what they contend are fossil record gaps casting doubt on the scientific evidence of common ancestry.

"I'm a skeptic. I'm an evolution skeptic. I don't think it's true," he said. "You need to present other ideas to the kids."

The issue reflects the strong feelings among representatives on the 15-member board, some of whom accept evolutionary theory and some of whom don't. The size of the textbook market in Texas gives it influence nationwide, as publishers adapt their material to its standards.

The board in January voted to remove language that called on science teachers to focus on the "strengths and weaknesses" in all scientific theories.

It was replaced by language urging students to use "empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing" to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations."

More amendments are expected to be brought up in the three-day hearing.

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution proposes that humans evolved over millions of years from animal species -- including, most famously, early primates that also are the ancestors of modern-day apes. Such thinking, which challenged religious accounts of a deity creating humans, was considered radical, even blasphemous, when Darwin published it in 1859.

Central to Darwin's thesis was his scientific explanation of life's diversity: that natural selection is enough to explain the evolution of all species.

The scientific community has overwhelmingly scorned creationism and its latest incarnation, intelligent design, as a pretext for biblical explanations of how the world came to be, and asserts that there is no weakness or doubt in the scientific community about evolution.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences called for the public to be better informed about the importance of understanding and teaching evolution. The academy released a booklet titled "Science, Evolution, and Creationism" -- the third explanation of evolution put out since 1984 by one of the nation's leading scientific organizations.

However, those who take issue with evolution believe it should be treated with healthy skepticism.

The San Antonio Express-news quotes Casey Luskin, a policy analyst with the Discovery Institute, a group that questions the theory of evolution:

"This debate will impact whether students are taught to think critically and scientifically when you learn about evolution. It's important for students to learn how to think like scientists and not be forced to treat these controversial topics like a dogma," he is quoted as saying.

Proponents of evolution say the dogma is on the other side, with the Discovery Institute and others purposely distorting and ignoring scientific evidence to reach their desired conclusion.

For decades, the teaching of evolution in public schools has been flashpoint in some states, with proponents of ideas such as creationism and intelligent design trying to gain a place in science classes.

The issue has been before school officials, legislators and courts in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Virginia.

The controversy over the teaching of intelligent design came to a head in Pennsylvania, where the Dover School Board voted that ninth-grade students must be read a statement encouraging them to read about intelligent design. A federal judge said the board violated the Constitution in doing so because intelligent design is religious creationism in disguise and injecting it into the curriculum violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

"Academic freedom" bills have emerged but failed in various state legislatures, the National Center for Science Education said.

An "academic freedom" act has been adopted as law in Louisiana, and there is legislation in Florida calling for an "academic freedom" bill that would mandate a "thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution."

The center says such bills are strategies by creationists to appeal to the American sense of balance, and give the false sense that there are different sides to scientific issues such as evolution.

"Two plus 2 is not 5," said the group's spokesman, Robert Luhn.

Lone Star Scientists Posse Up to Defend Evolution in Schools

http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/03/texasevolution.html

By Brandon Keim March 25, 2009 | 5:07:44 PM

A debate over evolution education in Texas could shape science classes in the southern United States for years to come.

The Texas Board of Education will vote Thursday and Friday on amendments to the state's proposed science curriculum. The amendments convey doubt about evolution that, according to scientists, simply does not exist.

"They haven't mentioned creationism or the age of the Earth," said Steve Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, a nonprofit science education and policy watchdog. "It's not openly creationist, but it's anti-science. It demeans and devalues science."

The most recent prominent science-curriculum battle took place last year in Florida, where a statewide campaign engineered by intelligent-design supporters fell short of obtaining science curricula that called for classroom evolution education to be balanced with "alternatives."

Members of the Discovery Institute, an intelligent-design think tank, helped draft critiques of evolution in Texas as well as Florida. According to Schafersman, the seven Texas Board of Education members who've supported the amendments are Young Earth creationists.

Because teaching creationism as fact in public schools is illegal, supporters have resorted to language about "alternatives" and "strengths and weaknesses" into science curricula. There's little danger of students learning that the Earth is 4,000 years old, or that a supernatural entity carefully arranged dinosaur fossils to look natural. But students might not learn that science is a process of testing hypotheses and accumulating evidence to produce theories, like that of evolution. And when a few outlying critiques are presented as valid alternatives to scientific consensus, critical thinking suffers.

The consequences of the Board of Education's decision won't be limited to Texas, said Schafersman, but will affect students in other southern states.

"Texas schoolbooks are used throughout the south," he said. "If we win, this will be the standard."

The amendments involve the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills guidelines, which determine what the state's public school students must learn. A committee of science-education experts wrote the science section, and removed previous language referring to evolution's "strengths and weaknesses" — a de facto code phrase for so-called creation science.

The draft guidelines passed by an 8-7 vote in January, but Board chairman Donald McLeroy, a Young Earth creationist, unilaterally added amendments that, though avoiding mention of "strengths and weaknesses," fail to pass scientific muster.

One amendment requires biology teachers to "analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record." That all complex organisms are descended from a common ancestor is commonly accepted by evolutionary biologists.

Other amendments to planetary-science guidelines "introduce unwarranted uncertainty to long-settled scientific issues," wrote Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and 23 leading members of Texas' science community in a letter delivered to McLeroy on Tuesday.

"These amendments serve only to undermine sound science education in Texas," they wrote.

Some observers of the Board of Education controversy have worried that Texas' position as the nation's second-largest purchaser of textbooks would result in changes to nationally used texts. That was historically the case, said Schafersman, but publishers now produce region-specific books. However, the demands of Texas schools still affect books used throughout the south.

The board's vote will conclude Friday, and the resulting curriculum will be enforced for the next 10 years.

Right now, said Schafersnan, when a schoolbook "is stamped 'Texas edition' on the front, that means it's been censored to keep the students ignorant." But if the board votes as it did in January, that will no longer be the case.

Editorial: State ed board should vote down evolution debate

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/DN-science_0326edi.State.Edition1.212982b.html

05:54 PM CDT on Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When you start combing through the science material the State Board of Education wants Texas kids to learn, the list looks pretty innocuous.

Kindergarteners need to know how heating and cooling changes the shape of materials. Fifth-graders must learn about the lifecycles of animals and plants. Ninth-graders should know the difference between scientific hypothesis and scientific theory.

Then the list reaches the subject of evolution, and reason stops.

The board votes today on several changes to the state's science standards, each of which is designed to get students to doubt evolution. For example, board chair Don McLeroy has gotten one change approved in an earlier meeting that would require students to:

"Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record."

The key word there is "insufficiency." The fact is, evolution is not subject to scientific questioning, as McLeroy suggests. If there are ways to present alternative views in a religion class – or, better yet, church – fine. But science class in a public school isn't that place.

Even many people of faith accept the theory of evolution. Daniel Foster, a professor at the UT Southwestern Medical Center and an elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas, exemplified this on yesterday's Viewpoints page, urging the board to reject amendments that question evolution.

"No" votes to the anti-evolution parts of the standards are doubly important because what happens in Texas doesn't stay here. Because the state has so many students, textbook publishers write to Texas standards and then sell their books to districts around the nation.

Doubting evolution shouldn't be Texas' legacy. More importantly, our students should not be subject to an erroneous line of teaching.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Texas board to vote on teaching evolution

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/03/23/Texas_board_to_vote_on_teaching_evolution/UPI-53061237830255/

Published: March 23, 2009 at 1:44 PM AUSTIN, Texas, March 23 (UPI) -- The Texas State Board of Education says it's been bombarded from the left and right as it nears a vote on teaching evolution in public high schools.

Scores of people have signed up for a public hearing Wednesday, the last before the 15-member board votes Friday on whether schools will present traditional teachings about evolution or what many scientists describe as a watered-down version, The San Antonio Express-News reported Monday.

The Texas Republican Party wants high schools to present both the weaknesses and strengths of evolutionary theory, the Express-News reported. Scientists, however, argue there is no weakness in basic evolutionary theory taught at the high school level.

The strengths and weaknesses standard is favored by the board's seven social conservatives and opposed by the board's five Democrats, with three Republicans remaining as the swing votes.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc.

High court rejects evolution suit against Cal

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/03/23/BAOU16LGNI.DTL

Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

(03-23) 11:59 PDT -- A long-standing lawsuit against a UC Berkeley evolution web site by a Roseville woman who takes the Bible literally has been rejected without comment by the U.S. Supreme Court, the court announced today.

One page on Cal's 840-page "Understanding Evolution" web site says Darwinism can be compatible with religion. The four-year-old suit by Jeanne Caldwell said the government-funded web site contradicts her religious belief about the incompatibility of religion and Darwinism and amounts to a state position on religious doctrine that violates the Constitutional separation of church and state.

Lower courts rejected the suit, saying Caldwell was not eligible to sue because the web site did not cause her significant injury. She appealed to the nation's high court in January.

Her husband, Larry Caldwell, an attorney who teamed up with the Pacific Justice Institute in Sacramento to file the suit, called the rejection of the suit "very unfortunate" since it was based on her eligibility to sue and not on the issue of government-funded statements on religious doctrine.

UC attorney Christopher Patti said, "We believe the lower court rulings were correct, and we're glad this ends the matter."

E-mail Charles Burress at cburress@sfchronicle.com

Research links evolution of fins and limbs with that of gills

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-03/uocm-rle032009.php

Public release date: 23-Mar-2009

Contact: Greg Borzo
greg.borzo@uchospitals.edu
773-702-0892
University of Chicago Medical Center

The genetic toolkit that animals use to build fins and limbs is the same genetic toolkit that controls the development of part of the gill skeleton in sharks, according to research to be published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on March 23, 2009, by Andrew Gillis and Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago, and Randall Dahn of Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

"In fact, the skeleton of any appendage off the body of an animal is probably patterned by the developmental genetic program that we have traced back to formation of gills in sharks," said Andrew Gillis, lead author of the paper and a graduate student in the Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. "We have pushed back the evolutionary origin of the developmental genetic program that patterns fins and limbs."

This new finding is consistent with an old theory, often discounted in science textbooks, that fins and (later) limbs evolved from the gills of an extinct vertebrate, Gillis added. "A dearth of fossils prevents us from definitely concluding that fins evolved from gills. Nevertheless, this research shows that the genetic architecture of gills, fins and limbs is the same."

The research builds on the breakthrough discovery of the fossil Tiktaalik, a "fish with legs," by Neil Shubin and his colleagues in 2006. "This is another example of how evolution uses common developmental programs to pattern different anatomical structures," said Shubin, who is the senior author on the PNAS paper and Professor and Associate Dean of Organismal and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. "In this case, shared developmental mechanisms pattern the skeletons of vertebrate gill arches and paired fins."

The research also showed for the first time that the gill arch skeleton of embryonic skates (a living relative of sharks that has gill rays) responds to treatment with the vitamin A derivative retinoic acid in the same way a limb or fin skeleton does: by making a mirror image duplicate of the structure as the embryo develops. According to the researchers, the genetic circuitry that patterns paired appendages (arms, legs and fins) has a deep evolutionary origin that actually predates the origin of paired appendages themselves.

"These findings suggest that when paired appendages appeared, the mechanism used to pattern the skeleton was co-opted from the gills," Gillis said. "Perhaps we should think of shark gills as another type of vertebrate appendage—one that's patterned in essentially the same way as fins and limbs."

The deep structural, functional, and regulatory similarities between paired appendages and developing gill rays, as well as the antiquity of gills relative to paired appendages, suggest that the signaling network that is induced by retinoic acid had a patterning function in gills before the origin of vertebrate appendages, the research concludes. And this function has been retained in the gill rays of living cartilaginous fishes.

Contact the lead author directly at cell: 312-753-8181; office: 773-834-4774; or jagillis@uchicago.edu.

Into the Breach of Science and Religion

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/realitybase/2009/03/23/into-the-breach-of-science-and-religion/

"Science is not a philosophy; it's an attitude."

So why, if I am trying to work out a new approach to science and human spiritual endeavor, would I spend 600 words in my last post jumping up and down about Texas, their school board, and creationists? That was the question some people had for me, so I think it's worth reflecting for a minute on what's at stake in all this.

I have argued that the traditional debate in science and religion takes three forms: the Sullen (creationism/Intelligent Design), the Silly (New Age quantum enthusiasm), and the Snarky (out-of-hand dismissal of all sentiment associated with spirituality/religion). These three options define the edges of the debate. But because each one takes an absolutist position on issues that are really pretty fuzzy, it affords them a soapbox from which to yell loudly and with great vehemence. In the midst of the yelling, it can and will be difficult to trace out the outlines of a more nuanced position that speaks to the broad concerns of human being.

What we seek is a stance that honors the integrity of scientific practice, but allows the full measure of our humanity and human response to the world (both interior and exterior). Tracing out those positions becomes particularly critical as we come to face harsh choices about a future which will, inevitably, demand that choices be made involving science, technology, and values.

I spent an entire chapter in my book exploring the traditional debate and why it had exhausted itself. That does not mean, however, that its potential to cause real problems has gone away. Of the three traditional positions, it is the Sullen who, through well-funded and well-defined political activity, are most intent on forcing their views on others.

This is why, from time to time, we are all going to have to turn around and deal with the urgencies forced on us by the traditional debate. As an astrophysicist, I am particularly sensitive to the state of the American scientific enterprise. It is impossible not to see what is happening in Texas as a fundamental threat to the health and vibrancy of this great national treasure. That means it's imperative for all who can speak out to do so when the need arises.

Later this week, I will do a post on Intelligent Design and its problems. For now, it is enough to reaffirm the imperative to search for a language that can describe science and its context in a human world that includes a sense of what is sacred. At the same time, we can also acknowledge that effort does not exclude a confrontation with intolerance. At times, it will be demanded of us all.

Adam Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester who studies star formation and stellar death using supercomputers. His new book, "The Constant Fire, Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate," has just been published. He will be joining Reality Base to post an ongoing discussion of science and religion—you can read his previous posts here, and find more of his thoughts on science and the human prospect at the Constant Fire blog.

Letter: Mills, Jindal craft public policy

http://www.2theadvocate.com/opinion/41721002.html

Published: Mar 24, 2009 - Page: 6B

Louisiana Family Forum official Gene Mills's ill-informed response to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology's decision to hold its meeting in Utah instead of Louisiana betrays his surprise that the creationist Louisiana Science Education Act — which his Louisiana Family Forum engineered — has caused damage that he didn't anticipate.

Louisiana not only has a creationist law on the books but also now suffers from nationwide, negative publicity. Consequently, the dollars SICB would have brought to New Orleans — as it did when it held its 2004, 1987, and 1976 meetings there — will go to Utah.

Why Utah?

Because in 2005, when a Utah legislator tried to pass creationist legislation, the state Board of Education announced that evolution is central to Utah's K-12 science curriculum.

Why is Mills so concerned with what other people's children are learning in public schools? Whom does he think he's fooling when he claims to be concerned with "academic freedom"?

Let's look at some facts that Mills himself has publicized. Mills's children don't attend public schools. They are homeschooled, with the older ones attending private Christian schools.

In his 2008 "Christmas Letter" to LFF supporters, he announced the continuation of his wife's "great homeschool adventure" and their sons' football activities at Christian Life Academy. He also touted LFF's success in helping to pass voucher legislation giving public money to private schools in Orleans Parish. So he has no personal stake in public education.

Mills has promoted creationism for years. In June 2008, when Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the LSEA, the LFF Web site offered a "fact sheet" titled "Origins Science Web sites" with hyperlinks to both young-Earth and intelligent design creationist Web sites. This is only a sample of such material.

LFF's new Web site is promoting error-ridden creationist textbook addendums and an intelligent design DVD, Investigating Evolution, as "practical alternatives" to the "uncritical teaching of evolutionism." The DVD features Discovery Institute creationists — LFF's partners in promoting the LSEA — fulminating about the supposed weaknesses of evolution.

One of them, Paul Nelson, believes Earth is only 10,000 years old. Mills's Christmas letter also credits "LFF's friendship with the Jindal administration" for LFF's success in the 2008 legislative session, when 100 pastors "circulated throughout the Capitol," providing "pastoral and chaplain services" to legislators.

Mills acknowledged Gov. Jindal's assistance throughout the year, when "another 89 Louisiana pastors served as special council to the governor at LFF's Governor's Roundtables. At each roundtable, twenty pastors of every denominational stripe broke bread with the governor at the mansion, talked about vision, and then prayed for each other and for our great state."

Mills, with Jindal's help, is crafting public policy that reflects his personal religious agenda. The responsibility for the negative economic blowback rests squarely on their shoulders.

Barbara Forrest
professor
Holden

Darwin in Texas

http://chronicle.com/review/brainstorm/index.php?id=1267

Remember the Kansas School Board decision to delete evolution from the state science curriculum? Here's an old CNN story on the decision, and here's a CBS News story from 2005 on it's second act, after the state revised the decision in the wake of national denunciation and ridicule.

Anybody who thinks that the battle ended there should look at what's going on in Texas. Here's a story from today's Wall Street Journal, entitled "Texas School Board Set to Vote on Challenge to Evolution." The Board plans to vote this week on a revised science curriculum, with the status of the theory of evolution the central issue. The debate has been brewing for several months, as this New York Times story from January indicates. Although social conservatives on the Board didn't get all they wanted that day, this one looks like a toss-up.

The person leading the social-conservative position, which doubts evolutionary theory, is Dr. Don McLeroy. The WSJ story relates his position on the science:

"Dr. McLeroy believes that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago."

Dr. McLeroy is a dentist.

On Wednesday, the Board will begin taking public testimony for three days on the issue, and one can expect that Intelligent Design theorists will be in line. Back in May 2005 in Kansas, scientists refused to participate in public hearings on the issue (see here). The WSJ story doesn't mention any plans by the scientific community, but if they don't appear, it may affect the outcome. Right now, the 15-member Texas board has seven social conservatives on it. "They are opposed by a bipartisan group of seven," the story says, "often joined by an eighth board member considered a swing vote, that support teaching evolution without caveats."

The pressures are rising. There are three Republicans in the bipartisan faction, and the Republican Party in Texas has passed a resolution pushing them to change sides. "One of the three," the story continues, "former social-studies teacher Pat Hardy, said she has received thousands of impassioned calls and emails." She pledges to stand firm, but doesn't know how her two colleagues will hold up.

Brush awarded the 2009 Pais Prize

http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/03/brush-awarded-2009-pais-prize-004693

March 23rd, 2009 NCSE 2009

NCSE Supporter Stephen G. Brush was selected by the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics to receive the 2009 Abraham Pais Prize for the History of Physics "for his pioneering, in-depth studies in the history of nineteenth and twentieth-century physics," according to a story in the spring 2009 History of Physics Newsletter. Beginning his career as a physicist, Brush turned to the history of physics, publishing a number of historical monographs, including The Kind of Motion We Call Heat: A History of the Kinetic Theory of Gases in the 19th Century (North-Holland, 1976), which won the History of Science Society's Pfizer Award. He also coauthored the popular textbook Physics, the Human Adventure: From Copernicus to Einstein and Beyond (Rutgers Universitiy Press, 2001) with Gerald Holton. On retiring from the University of Maryland in 2006, he was named Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of the History of Science. Among his writings relevant to the creationism/evolution controversy are "Creationism versus physical science" and two refutations of creationist misuse of the history of science — "Kelvin was not a creationist" and "Popper and evolution" — for NCSE's journals. He is also Steve #71 in NCSE's Project Steve (now with over 1075 Steves).

Cold fusion debate heats up again

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7959183.stm

The long-standing debate about cold fusion is receiving new impetus at the American Chemical Society's national meeting in the US this week.

Cold fusion, first announced 20 years ago on Monday, was claimed to be a boundless source of clean energy by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons.

Attempts to replicate their experiments failed, but a number of researchers insist that cold fusion is possible.

The meeting will see several approaches that claim to produce fusion power.

The American Chemical Society has organised sessions surrounding the research at its meetings before, suggesting that the field would otherwise have no suitable forum for debate.

In a bid to avoid the negative connotations of a largely discredited approach, research in the field now appears under the umbrella of "low-energy nuclear reactions", or LENR.

Gopal Coimbatore, ACS programme chair for an LENR session at the 2007 national meeting, said that "with the world facing an energy crisis, it is worth exploring all possibilities".

Heating up

The principle of cold fusion runs counter to that of other fusion production mechanisms that employ enormous lasers or magnetic chambers to contain searingly hot gas.

Pons and Fleischmann ran a current through a simple, room-temperature device called an electrolytic cell. I'm not at all surprised that something is being said today. It is an interesting date in the calendar of wrong results that claim to be science

They observed a heat rise in the cell, suggesting that power was being produced within it from nuclear fusion.

However, a flurry of attempts to repeat the experiment around the world, an extensive review by the US Department of Energy of cold fusion research, and a few years spent by Pons and Fleischmann themselves working on the approach in France failed to establish cold fusion as a reality.

Researchers who pursue LENR approaches say that their work has been marginalised and suffers from a chronic lack of funding in the wake of the initial, flawed announcement.

Frank Close, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Oxford, says that the far greater problem with cold fusion claims is that results from any given study have never been independently verified - a problem that plagued that first announcement.

"Nothing's really changed in 20 years. I'm not at all surprised that something is being said today," Professor Close told BBC News.

"It is an interesting date in the calendar of wrong results that claim to be science."

Many of the details of Pons and Fleischmann's original electrolytic cell feature in more recent work, including the type of metal used in the cell's electrodes and water made from a heavy isotope of hydrogen.

One wholly new approach will be explained by researchers from Hokkaido University, who have seen unexplained heat production in a chamber filled with compressed hydrogen and a chemical called phenanthrene.

Professor Close said that many inexplicable phenomena have arisen in the 20 years since Pons and Fleischmann's announcement that have been tagged with the "cold fusion" moniker.

"If I come up with a weird phenomenon and call it cold fusion, I know that reporters will be interested. Convincing the scientific community is another matter entirely."


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nature Paper Shows "Junk-RNA" Going the Same Direction as "Junk-DNA"

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/03/nature_paper_shows_junkrna_goi.html

When large-scale function was detected for non-coding DNA (once called "junk" DNA) Darwinists, knowing that their viewpoint had long boasted that junk-DNA was evidence for common ancestry and that they were losing that argument, responded in one of two ways: Some sought to rewrite history by claiming that evolutionary biology predicted all along that we'd find function for junk-DNA. Others, however, pushed the "junk" back to RNA. They effectively argued, "Sure, we know that most of the genome is being transcribed into RNA, but that doesn't mean that the RNAs have function. Much of the transcriptome might in fact be junk." Evolutionist biochemist Larry Moran, for example, argued that either "[t]he so-called transcripts are just noise from accidental transcription" or "[t]he regions of junk DNA could be transcribed regularly but the transcripts are rapidly degraded. They do not have a biological function. They are junk RNA." Intelligent design (ID) proponents were quick to predict the demise of that argument, and if a recent paper in Nature is any indication, "junk RNA" may have the same fate as "junk DNA."

The Nature article, titled, "Chromatin signature reveals over a thousand highly conserved large non-coding RNAs in mammals," finds that rather than being "transcriptional noise," over 95% of the non-coding RNAs studied in the paper show "clear evolutionary conservation." That's another way of saying that their sequences are more similar than would be expected if they were functionless and their encoding DNA was accumulating neutral mutations at a constant rate. After all, if such RNA has no function, you can mutate their encoding DNA with no negative consequences to the organism. But if they have function, then mutations in their encoding DNA would tend to be highly deleterious. By finding that they have highly similar sequences, we find evidence of stabilizing selection, which is strong evidence of function. The abstract of the article is worth reading in full:

There is growing recognition that mammalian cells produce many thousands of large intergenic transcripts1–4. However, the functional significance of these transcripts has been particularly controversial. Although there are some well-characterized examples, most (.95%) show little evidence of evolutionary conservation and have been suggested to represent transcriptional noise5,6. Here we report a new approach to identifying large non-coding RNAs using chromatin-state maps to discover discrete transcriptional units intervening known protein-coding loci. Our approach identified 1,600 large multi-exonic RNAs across four mouse cell types. In sharp contrast to previous collections, these large intervening non-coding RNAs (lincRNAs) show strong purifying selection in their genomic loci, exonic sequences and promoter regions, with greater than 95% showing clear evolutionary conservation. We also developed a functional genomics approach that assigns putative functions to each lincRNA, demonstrating a diverse range of roles for lincRNAs in processes from embryonic stem cell pluripotency to cell proliferation. We obtained independent functional validation for the predictions for over 100 lincRNAs, using cell-based assays. In particular, we demonstrate that specific lincRNAs are transcriptionally regulated by key transcription factors in these processes such as p53, NFkB, Sox2, Oct4 (also known as Pou5f1) and Nanog. Together, these results define a unique collection of functional lincRNAs that are highly conserved and implicated in diverse biological processes.

(Guttman et al., "Chromatin signature reveals over a thousand highly conserved large non-coding RNAs in mammals," Nature, Vol. 458:223-227 (March 12, 2009).)

The article makes an extremely important point: "Strictly speaking, the absence of evolutionary conservation cannot prove the absence of function." This is important because in his book, The Language of God, theistic evolutionist Francis Collins argues that a greater level of differences among species' non-coding DNA than among their protein-coding DNA serves as evidence that the non-coding DNA is "junk." The alternative, of course, is that the large differences within non-coding DNA serve important functions that may actually help determine the differences between species themselves. In other words, the genetic holy grail — the differences in DNA that determine differences between species — was staring Collins in the face and he dismissed it as genetic junk. This shows how the "junk" DNA paradigm is deeply embedded within Darwinian thinking, and can serve to stifle scientific advance.

Collins could have used the advice of this Nature paper, which warns that a lack of conservation does not necessarily imply a lack of function. For details on Collins' mistake, see "A Reply to Francis Collins's Darwinian Arguments for Common Ancestry of Apes and Humans."

In closing, the Nature article is a wonderful study on testing function for so-called junk-RNA by knocking out the RNA and assessing whether there is any deleterious effect on the organism (in this case, a mouse). The article states:

The ultimate proof-of-function will be to demonstrate that RNAinterference-mediated knockout of each lincRNAs has the predicted phenotypic consequences. Towards this end, we examined a recently published short hairpin RNA screen of (presumed) protein-coding genes to identify genes that regulate cell proliferation rates in mouse ESCs29. The screen involved genes and some unidentified transcripts that had been identified as expressed in ESCs and showing rapid decrease in expression after retinoic acid treatment. Of the top ten hits in the screen, one corresponded to a gene of unknown function. We discovered that this gene corresponds to one of our lincRNAs (located,181 kb from Enc1) contained in both the 'cell cycle and cell proliferation' cluster (FDR,0.001) and the 'ESC' cluster (FDR,0.001; Supplementary Fig. 9 and Supplementary Table 16). This provides functional confirmation that this lincRNA has a direct role in cell proliferation in ESCs, consistent with the analysis above.

The paper ends by suspecting much function for these non-coding RNAs:

"we speculate that many lincRNAs may be involved in transcriptional control—perhaps by guiding chromatin remodelling proteins to target loci—and that some transcription factors and lincRNAs may act together, with the transcription factor activating a transcriptional program and the lincRNA repressing a previous transcriptional program"

Under the Darwinian vision that our bodies are the result of unguided and clumsy evolutionary processes, Larry Moran supported junk-RNA by proclaiming, "The take-home lesson here is that you can't assume that some region of genomic DNA is functional just because it's transcribed." As an ID proponent, I'm still waiting for Darwinists to let go of their precious "junk" arguments for blind evolution and common descent and learn the lesson that you can't assume that if we don't yet see function for a biomolecule, then it's probably just "junk."

Posted by Casey Luskin on March 16, 2009 10:50 AM | Permalink

Casey Luskin on Junk DNA and Junk RNA

http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2009/03/casey-luskin-on-junk-dna-and-junk-rna.html

Intelligent Design Creationists can't abide junk DNA. Its very existence refutes the idea that living things are designed by some intelligent being. This is why the IDiots go out of their way to make up stories "disproving" junk DNA.

The latest attempt is by Casey Luskin [Nature Paper Shows "Junk-RNA" Going the Same Direction as "Junk-DNA"]. Having failed to explain why half of the human genome is composed of defective transposons, he now pins his hope on the idea that most of the genome is transcribed. Luskin seems particularly upset by my statement that most of these transcripts are junk [Junk RNA].

Luskin thinks that a recent paper in Nature supports his view that a large fraction of the genome isn't junk. The paper by Guttman et al. (2009) says no such thing. Here's the important part ...

Genomic projects over the past decade have used shotgun sequencing and microarray hybridization1, 2, 3, 4 to obtain evidence for many thousands of additional non-coding transcripts in mammals. Although the number of transcripts has grown, so too have the doubts as to whether most are biologically functional5, 6, 13. The main concern was raised by the observation that most of the intergenic transcripts show little to no evolutionary conservation5, 13. Strictly speaking, the absence of evolutionary conservation cannot prove the absence of function. But, the markedly low rate of conservation seen in the current catalogues of large non-coding transcripts (<5% of cases) is unprecedented and would require that each mammalian clade evolves its own distinct repertoire of non-coding transcripts. Instead, the data suggest that the current catalogues may consist largely of transcriptional noise, with a minority of bona fide functional lincRNAs hidden amid this background. Thus, to expand our understanding of functional lincRNAs, we are faced with two important challenges: (1) identifying lincRNAs that are most likely to be functional; and (2) inferring putative functions for these lincRNAs that can be tested in hypothesis-driven experiments.

In other words, most of the transcripts are probably transcriptional noise, or junk, just as I said. This is the consensus opinion among informed1 molecular biologists.

Guttman et al. wanted to identify the small subset that might be functional. They identified 1,675 transcripts that show evidence of conservation. The average transcript has six exons averaging 250 bp. Thus, each transcript has about 1500 bp. of conserved exon sequence.

Even if every single one of these lincRNAs have a biological function they will only account for 1675 × 1500 = 2.5 million bp. This represents less than 0.1% of the genome. Casey Luskin ain't gonna disprove junk DNA using this paper.

Luskin ends his article with ...

As an ID proponent, I'm still waiting for Darwinists to let go of their precious "junk" arguments for blind evolution and common descent and learn the lesson that you can't assume that if we don't yet see function for a biomolecule, then it's probably just "junk."

This is a point of view that creationists share with many scientists who haven't studied the subject. They assume that the only reason for labeling most of our DNA junk is because we don't know what it does. That's just not true. There's plenty of good evidence that most of our genome can't be functional. We know a lot about the part that consists of transposons and defective transposons, for example [Junk in Your Genome: SINES and Junk in your Genome: LINEs]. That's 44% of our genome.

1. I added the qualifier "informed" after a commenter pointed out that most molecular biologists probably don't know enough about the topic to have an opinion. Thus, according to this commenter, the consensus opinion would be "I don't know."

Posted by Larry Moran at 8:49 PM

Labels: Evolutionary Biology, Genes

Bill in Texas would allow creationists to grant Masters of Science degrees

http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Bill_in_Texas_would_allow_creationists_0321.html

Joe Byrne
Published: Saturday March 21, 2009

If a private college doesn't receive funds from any governmental organization, should they have to be held to any standards or requirements when they award degrees? No, one Texan lawmaker is insisting.

Texas State Representative Leo Berman has proposed House Bill 2800, which would exempt any private non-profit institution that requires students to complete "substantive course work" from having to acquire a certificate of authority from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board(THECB). "If you don't take any federal funds, if you don't take any state funds, you can do a lot more than some business that does take state funding or federal funding," Berman says. "Why should you be regulated if you don't take any state or federal funding?"

Because creationism isn't science, critics argue.

Berman admits that his 'inspiration' for the bill was the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School, a Young Earth Creationism institution that has been trying to achieve certification in Texas for two years. Young Earth Creationism, much more popular than the recent Intelligent Design Creationism, is essentially Biblical literalism – Earth is 10,000 years old, Noah's Flood occurred, Adam and Eve were real people. ICRGS insists that they teach more than just "Biblical Creationism," which is based only on the word of the Bible; they also have incorporated tenets of "Scientific Creationism" into their bylaws. Most of these relate to origins of Earth and the evolution of species. Originally the creationist research branch of Christian Heritage College in San Diego, the ICRGS was forced to split from that college when California regulators threatened to take away its certification. Now, the ICRGS operates mostly online, and its Masters of Science Degree is recognized by California and federal law. According to its website, however, Texas residents cannot receive a degree.

Degree-granting colleges and universities in Texas currently must be issued a certificate of authority by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The certificate allows the holder to grant a degree that a graduate would need to apply for a teaching position in a Texas public school. If House Bill 2800 was made into law, only state-funded colleges and universities would have to report to THECB; everyone else would be free to design their curriculums without any regulation.

Critics of Berman's bill are enraged, claiming that it will de-legitimize any degree coming out of Texas. Eugenie Scott, executive director for the National Center for Science Education, told Foxnews.com that "all you have to do...is start a non-profit organization, don't take any federal or state money, and then offer degrees in any fool subject you want. Teaching that the Earth is only 10,000 years old is a little irregular in modern science."

In June 2006, the Institute for Creation Research established the Henry M. Morris Center for Christian Leadership in Dallas, Texas. ICR said that the move to Texas occurred because of a more central national location, proximity to a major airport, and a greater suitable population for their ministry. However, accreditation for their graduate program is still not recognized under Texas law. According to their website, "ICR is currently examining its legal options regarding how it can best serve the educational 'gaps' of Texas residents."

An extensive article by Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science detailing the long history of ICRGS and its quest for certification can be found here [and here].

Teachers banned from promoting creationism

http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/4223855.Creationism_banned_from_schools/

11:47am Sunday 22nd March 2009

Teachers have been banned from promoting creationism in lessons.

The warning was issued by West Sussex County Council, the education authority, on the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin publishing his groundbreaking work The Origin of Species, which put forward the case for evolution.

Councillor Peter Griffiths, cabinet member for education and schools, was asked at a full meeting fo the council: "What is the policy of the County Council towards teachers in its employment who promote creationism and/or intelligent design rather than Darwin's theory of natural selection?"

Coun Griffiths said: "It is acceptable to answer questions about creationism in science but not promote it."

Teachers and students could also explore creationist ideas when learning about religious beliefs.

Mr Griffiths was also asked if there was a zero tolerance attitude to teachers who promoted creationism.

Coun Griffiths said it was currently reviewing its policy, but added: "I note that the view of evolution is changing and that it has been reported that the Vatican has accepted that Darwin's theory of evolution is compatible with the Christian faith."