NTS LogoSkeptical News for 26 August 2011

Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings

Friday, August 26, 2011

US judges rule for teacher who called creationism 'superstitious nonsense'


Did hostile classroom remarks about creationism violate the mandate that the government remain neutral on religion? An appeals court says the teacher has immunity from being sued.

By Warren Richey, Staff writer / August 19, 2011

A public high school teacher in California may not be sued for making hostile remarks about religion in his classroom, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by a student charging that the teacher's hostile remarks about creationism and religious faith violated a First Amendment mandate that the government remain neutral in matters of religion.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the lawsuit against an advanced placement history teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo must be thrown out of court because the teacher was entitled to immunity.

MONITOR QUIZ: How much do you know about the US Constitution?

The establishment clause requires that officials act with neither favor nor disfavor toward religion and the religious.

"We are aware of no prior case holding that a teacher violated the establishment clause by appearing critical of religion during class lectures, nor any case with sufficiently similar facts to give a teacher 'fair warning' that such conduct was unlawful," Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the court.

As part of its ruling, the appeals court vacated a district judge's earlier decision that the teacher, Dr. James Corbett, violated the establishment clause in a comment he made in class that creationism was "superstitious nonsense."

The appeals court side-stepped the question of whether Dr. Corbett's comment on creationism and other derogatory remarks about religious faith were unconstitutional. Instead, the panel concluded that since Corbett was entitled to qualified immunity it was not necessary for the appeals court to determine whether his comments actually violated the Constitution.

"In broaching controversial issues like religion, teachers must be sensitive to students' personal beliefs and take care not to abuse their positions of authority," Judge Fisher wrote.

"But teachers must also be given leeway to challenge students to foster critical thinking skills and develop their analytical abilities," he said. "This balance is hard to achieve, and we must be careful not to curb intellectual freedom by imposing dogmatic restrictions."

The dispute began in 2007 when Chad Farnan, then a 15-year-old sophomore in Corbett's class, took issue with comments about creationism the teacher made during his lectures.

"Aristotle … argued, you know, there sort of has to be a God. Of course that's nonsense," Corbett said according to a transcript of his lecture. "I mean, that's what you call deductive reasoning, you know. And you hear it all the time with people who say, 'Well, if all this stuff that makes up the universe is here, something must have created it.' Faulty logic. Very faulty logic."

He continued: "The other possibility is, it's always been there.… Your call as to which one of those notions is scientific and which one is magic."

"All I'm saying is that, you know, the people who want to make the argument that God did it, there is as much evidence that God did it as there is that there is a giant spaghetti monster living behind the moon who did it," the transcript says.

Corbett told his students that "real" scientists try to disprove the theory of evolution. "Contrast that with creationists," he told his students. "They never try to disprove creationism. They're all running around trying to prove it. That's deduction. It's not science. Scientifically, it's nonsense."

Corbett told his students of a lawsuit in 1994 brought by a high school biology teacher who wanted to teach creationism in the public school system in addition to teaching the required course material on evolution. The courts in that case upheld a school district directive that the biology teacher must not teach creationism in science class.

In the 1994 case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that religious neutrality required that the biology teacher's positive views of religious ideas must be excluded from public school instruction. But in 2011, a different panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that the history teacher's hostile views of religion and faith must be permitted to protect the "robust exchange of ideas in education."

"Farnan asserts that it has been clearly established for many years that the government must remain neutral with regard to religion, and it may not show its disapproval of religion," Fisher said.

"This overbroad proposition, cast at a high level of generality, is just the sort of sweeping statement of the law that is inappropriate for assessing whether qualified immunity applies," the judge said.

Because the law was not clearly established, the panel said, they need not assess the underlying constitutional issue.

"At some point a teacher's comments on religion might cross the line and rise to the level of unconstitutional hostility," Fisher wrote.

"But without any cases illuminating the dimly perceived line of demarcation between permissible and impermissible discussion of religion in a college level history class, we cannot conclude that a reasonable teacher standing in Corbett's shoes would have been on notice that his actions might be unconstitutional."

Gov. Rick Perry says Texas public schools teach evolution and creationism


The Truth-O-Meter Says:
"In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools."

Gov. Rick Perry answered a boy's question about the age of the Earth and his mother's question about evolution during a campaign stop in Portsmouth, N.H. on Aug. 18.

Stumping in New Hampshire Aug. 18, Gov. Rick Perry responded to a woman urging her child to ask him about evolution, according to a blog post by ABC News.

"Here your mom was asking about evolution, and you know it's a theory that's out there, and it's got some gaps in it," Perry said. "In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools — because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."

We wondered whether he's correct that creationism, the biblical explanation of human origins, and evolution, the scientific theory, are both taught in Texas public schools.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional because it amounts to the endorsement of religion, according to Kristi Bowman, a Michigan State University law professor and expert in education law. She pointed to a 1987 decision striking down a Louisiana law that said evolution instruction in public schools was not allowed unless it was accompanied by instruction in "creation science."

We looked at the state's current science curriculum standards, which make no mention of creationism while indicating that evolutionary theory should be covered in high school classes.

The high school biology standards say that in all fields of science, students should analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including "examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking."

According to the standards, biology classes are to present evolutionary theory as a "scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life." Instructional details in the standards touch on fossil records, natural selection, adaptation and genetic mutation, among other topics.

The Texas State Board of Education adopted those curriculum standards in 2009, and the revision process drew national attention as some conservatives pushed for inclusion of provisions that could cast doubt on evolution.

The final version was described by some state board members as a compromise between "those who are critical of teaching evolutionary theories without scrutiny and those who feared attacks on evolution would lead to the teaching of creationism in Texas schools," according to a March, 28, 2009, Austin American-Statesman news article.

The revised standards removed the requirement that students be taught the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. Opponents of the "strengths and weaknesses" provision argued that it would eventually open the door to teaching creationism in science classes, according to a March 26, 2009, news story in the Dallas Morning News, while supporters pointed out that the rule had already been in the standards for two decades.

However, the board added the requirement that "all sides" of theories be scrutinized.

In a March 27, 2009, article, the Houston Chronicle quoted a lawyer for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which is an advocate of the idea that the universe is the product of an intelligent designer, as saying that the "all sides" requirement "is the strongest critical thinking standard in any state science standards."

The Statesman story reported that the institute called the new standards "a huge victory for those who favor teaching the scientific evidence for and against evolution."

After the approval of the standards, the Texas Freedom Network, which calls itself a mainstream voice to counter the religious right, still saw reason for concern. In a press release, network President Kathy Miller said: "The word 'weaknesses' no longer appears in the science standards. But the document still has plenty of potential footholds for creationist attacks on evolution to make their way into Texas classrooms."

The first test came this July when the Texas board adopted online science materials for public school classrooms to supplement current textbooks. The new materials had to follow the curriculum standards that the board approved in 2009.

A July 22, 2011, Statesman article reported that none of the high school biology submissions up for consideration by the board included teaching of either creationism or intelligent design. The one offering that did touch on intelligent design failed to make the list of materials recommended to the board by Education Commissioner Robert Scott. Nor did the Republican-controlled board add it.

However, the approval of the supplemental materials followed a discussion among board members of claims of errors in how evolution was addressed in a submission from publisher Holt McDougal, the Statesman story said. The publisher maintained that the points at issue, identified by a board-appointed reviewer, were not wrong.

The Statesman story also reported that five other reviewers of the biology materials — four teachers and a professor — said in a letter to the board that the error claims "seem entirely dedicated to undermining the presentation of evolution. Many of the claims derive from overtly creationist literature and arguments."

In the end, board members chose to turn the issue over to Scott, who later determined that Holt McDougal had "sufficiently addressed all eight of the reported errors," according to an Aug. 10 memo to the board from the Texas Education Agency.

In an Aug. 15 news release, the Texas Freedom Network applauded the final version of the Holt McDougal materials, saying they were "in line with established mainstream science."

Finally, we wondered what teachers are actually teaching in science classrooms.

Penn State University political scientist Eric Plutzer, who helped conduct a 2007 national survey of more than 950 science teachers in 49 states, including Texas, told us in an interview that in any state 10 percent to 20 percent of science teachers are "endorsing creationism in their classrooms, often devoting one to four class hours to creationism over the course of the year."

A synopsis of the survey, published in the Jan. 27, 2011, issue of Science magazine, says a "sizable number of teachers expose their students to all positions — scientific or not."

Plutzer told us: "One thing you can be certain of is that large numbers of public school science teachers in Texas are endorsing creationism."

In separate interviews, two advocates for science teachers agreed that some Texas teachers could be teaching creationism, but they stressed that the state doesn't require or even authorize that.

"It is false to say that is how it's supposed to be done," said Josh Rosenau, an analyst for the California-based National Center for Science Education.

Chuck Hempstead, executive director of the Science Teachers Association of Texas, said the Texas curriculum standards "require the teaching of evolution. Creationism is not science and is not addressed in Texas public schools."

John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told us that the science standards don't call for the teaching of creationism or intelligent design. He also said the institute's view is that the recently approved science materials don't meet the curriculum standards' requirement that "all sides" of evolutionary theory be analyzed, including information that is critical of evolution.

As we looked into Perry's statement, his spokeswoman, Catherine Frazier, said by email: "It is required that students evaluate and analyze the theory of evolution, and creationism very likely comes up and is discussed in that process. Teachers are also permitted to discuss it with students in that context."

The Texas Education Agency sent us a similar statement.

Our sense: No doubt, some Texas teachers address the subject of creationism. But it's not state law or policy to intermix instruction on creationism and evolution. We rate Perry's statement False. [emphasis added by editor]

Quackademic medicine invades Cancer


Category: Alternative medicine • Cancer • Medicine • Quackery
Posted on: August 19, 2011 3:00 AM, by Orac

I don't know if I should thank Peter Lipson or condemn him.

What am I talking about? Yesterday, Peter sent me a brain-meltingly bad study in so-called "complementary and alternative medicine" that shows me just how bad a study can be and be accepted into what I used to consider a reasonably good journal. I say "used to consider," because the fact that this journal accepted a study this ludicrously bad indicates to me that peer review at the journal is so broken that I now wonder about what else I've read at that journal that I should now discount as being so unreliable as to be not worth taking seriously. Maybe everything. I don't know. What I do know is that seldom have I seen such a blatant example of quackademic medicine in action, and, worse, seldom have I seen such a bad study in such a good cancer journal.

No doubt at this point, some of you are thinking that I'm being way too harsh on the editors of this journal for having accepted such a steamy, stinky turd of a paper. I expect that you'll come around to my way of thinking after I describe the paper. In fact, I fully expect that some of you will come to the conclusion that I didn't go far enough after you take a look at this paper. So let's dig in, shall we? The journal is Cancer, which is the official journal of the American Cancer Society and has an impact factor of 5.131, which is, as we say, not too shabby. The investigators are from the Samueli Institute, the University of California San Diego, the RAND Corporation, and Healing Light Center Church, and the paper is Complementary Medicine for Fatigue and Cortisol Variability in Breast Cancer Survivors A Randomized Controlled Trial. It's about as perfect an example of what Harriet Hall refers to as "Tooth Fairy Science" as I've ever seen.

Fatigue is a big problem in cancer patients, and this study is designed to test the effect of what the authors call "biofield" therapies on fatigue in 76 breast cancer patients with fatigue. For purposes of this study, "biofield" therapies are more or less the same thing as energy healing, which includes reiki, therapeutic touch, healing touch, and others. In actuality, from a scientific standpoint, the experimental design of this study wasn't half-bad. The problem comes from how this study examines a therapeutic modality for which there is no evidence, namely something the authors call "energy chelation." (I kid you not. That's what they call it!) To sum up the study in a nutshell, it was a phase 2 randomized, intention-to-treat clinical trial that compared biofield healing with a "mock healing" control, and a waitlist control.

Never having heard of "energy chelation before," I read with interest how the authors described this new woo modality:

The specific technique used in the biofield healing group is termed energy chelation, and was selected by 1 of the authors (R.L.B.), whose healing techniques have been incorporated in modalities such as Healing Touch and Therapeutic Touch.26,27 During energy chelation, the practitioner practices hands-on healing with standard hand positions, beginning with hands on the feet, then to the knees, hips, bladder area, stomach, hands, elbows, shoulders, heart, throat, head, and back to the heart. The practice of energy chelation is 45 to 60 minutes, with a practitioner generally focusing for 5 to 7 minutes on each position.

Naturally, I wondered who "R.L.B." is and what "energy chelation" is. R.L.B., it turns out, is Reverend Rosalyn L. Bruyere, not surprisingly from the Healing Light Center Church. So I did some Googling and found her quickly. On her website, she is described thusly:

Founder and director of the Healing Light Center Church, Reverend Bruyere has committed her life to the teaching of these sacred and ancient disciplines, thereby providing her students with practical tools for living the spiritual life, while introducing them to the venerable traditions from which those tools are derived. Her goal is to encourage the compassionate healing and empowerment of the individual, believing that as we each heal, we can be of greater assistance in the healing of the world.

She is the originator of the whole-body technique known as Chelation which has become a classic, taught in many modern healing schools, as well as Brain Balancing and a pain-reducing skill which some have called Pain Drain.

Her book, Wheels of Light, A Study of the Chakras, is an invaluable text for the bridging of ancient and modern healing arts. Rev. Bruyere has studied extensively in areas of Egyptian temple symbology, Sacred geometry, ancient Mystery School rites, international shamanic practices, the pre-Buddhist Tibetan Bon-Po Ways, and various Native American Medicine traditions.

Rosalyn's knowledge of ancient traditions and practices has led to requests for her technical assistance on several films and documentaries. Among the more notable features on which she has served as technical consultant are "Resurrection" and "The Last Temptation of Christ".

Although I don't recall having blogged about it before, let me just mention right here that Brain Balancing is pure quackery. Pain Drain is a healing touch technique in which the quacktitioner practitioner holds one hand above an area of complaint until the pain recedes and then places the other hand near the area of relief. In other words, it's quackery too. As for energy chelation, I Googled that as well and found quite a few links describing it. For instance, here is a Q&A by a healer named Kay Morris Johnson who charges $65 an hour for her energy chelation who ensures us that it "works by moving heavy or stagnated energy, once this movement takes on a transformation then your whole body system reacts similar to downloading, accepting the changes in your energy field into your physical being" and that there is indeed detoxification with energy chelation (much like real chelation, I would imagine). She even gives a helpful primer on the difference between energy chelation and reiki:

Reiki is best use for general consistent work to maintain your energy whole field balance. Energy Chelation is best applied to detailed energy needs in defined areas of one energy field. Energy Chelation also has different vibrations associated with it, such as sound energy. Sound Energy is described as a deep vibration and is very effectively use on areas of old stagnate energy, such as childhood issues. These old issues are stubborn dense often times large energy blocks that require that extra boost of vibration to initiate movement.

Well, that's useful. Reiki is faith healing in which the person being healed is usually not touched but the practitioner believes that he's channeling healing energy into the patient from a "universal source," while energy chelation "hands on" energy healing. They're, like, totally different, dude! Really!

Another website helpfully proclaims the "physical reality on which human energy chelation therapy is based" as:

Human Energy Chelation Therapy (HECT), a process of transmitting or channelling energy, is based on the electromagnetic nature of the human body. The body's electromagnetic or auric field is generated by the spinning of the chakras. As it spins, each chakra produces its own electromagnetic field. This field then combines with fields generated by other chakras in the body to produce the auric field. An individual's auric field is manifested via a combination of energies from three chakras. Generally these are the first, third and fifth chakras, which empower the person's physical, intellectual, and etheric bodies. It is a combination of these three chakras that produces the primary auric field (the inner shell of the aura), which can be physically felt by the therapist's hand as it is passed over the client's body in the process of scanning.

And where does energy chelation get its name? Here's an explanation:

Heavy metals are toxic to the human body. Chelation has been a tried and true method in removing them from the body. The toxins must be removed before the body can benefit from any health promoting actions.

Stuck emotions are very similar to heavy metals in that they too are toxic to the body, mind and spirit. Healthy emotions are energy in motion. However when emotions are stuck, not acknowledged, stuffed and ignored they become like heavy metals and are toxic to the human system. They need to be removed before health-promoting actions can produce beneficial results. Just like chelation removes heavy metals from the body, energy chelation is a method which removes sticky, heavy dark energy from the human energy field.

Is "sticky, heavy dark energy" anything like the long, dark tea-time of the soul? It rather sounds that way to me. In actuality, it might as well be because energy chelation is every bit as much a work of fiction as anything ever written by Douglas Adams. In any case, I love it when CAMsters start using metaphors as names for their woo. Be that as it may, the next question I had, after having learned that energy chelation is the laying on of hands for faith healing hands-on energy healing was what the control group would be. In other words, what was "mock healing"? (And please note that it is taking all of my limited self-discipline not to make a whole bunch of jokes riffing on the term "mock healing.") You'll see why I resisted in a minute, as the mock healing group is funny enough without my forced sarcasm. Here is a description of the mock healing control group taken straight from the Methods section of the paper:

Mock healing practitioners were skeptical scientists who were trained to use the identical hand placements as biofield healing practitioners. Mock healing practitioners were asked not to intend to heal the patient when touching, but rather to disengage into ''planning mind'' by contemplating current and upcoming research-oriented studies and grants they were currently involved in. Given that biofield healing practitioners would have more familiarity with working with patients than mock healing practitioners, to preserve participant blinding mock healing practitioners practiced procedures with study personnel until the mock healing practitioner demonstrated mastery of the hand placements and confidence interacting with and fielding potential questions that a patient might ask the mock healing practitioner before or after the session.

I'm tellin' ya, ya can't make stuff like this up. (At least, I can't.)

OK, OK, in actuality, it's not a bad control group--if you accept the premise of the study. What is that premise? It's that there is a human energy "biofield" that healers using "energy chelation" can manipulate to therapeutic intent and that there has to be a degree of belief for that to work. I do like how that evil "planning mind" (as opposed, I suppose, to a "believing mind") can destroy the woo rays that supposedly heal by chelating all that bad energy. Damn, we skeptics are powerful that way, aren't we? Or perhaps it's that the woo is actually so weak.

So, after all that, what were the results? What do you think they were? I'll give you a hint. These results were entirely consistent with placebo responses or effects or whatever you want to call measured changes in outcome due to placebos. Basically, there was no difference in total fatigue levels between biofield healing and mock healing. Both produced a decrease in fatigue that patients on the waitlist control did not. In other words, "biofield" therapy didn't work compared to the "mock healing" placebo control. So, given this completely negative result, what did the authors do next? They did what any good woo-meister does (and, for that matter, all too many scientists do) and started mining the data for associations, delving into the Multidimensional Fatigue Symptom Inventory short form subscales. Not surprisingly, they found barely statistically significant differences between biofield healing and mock healing in a couple of measures. They also measured salivary cortisol levels and found a significant decrease in cortisol slope over time for the biofield healing versus both mock healing and control. What this means, I have no idea, given that they measured salivary cortisol rather than serum cortisol, and salivary cortisol "variability" (which they calculated) isn't really validated as a reliable diagnostic tool for anything that I'm aware of or correlated with fatigue.

I'm not impressed. Here's why. First, I can't help but note that none of these differences were mentioned in the abstract, which implies to me that even the authors didn't consider them particularly significant. More importantly, we have multiple comparisons among small groups of patients. (Remember, there were only 76 patients in this study.) Finally, fatigue is a variable symptom that waxes and wanes frequently. it's very prone to regression to the mean, placebo responses, and reporting bias. It's very hard to say a lot about whether these barely detectable differences in a couple of subscale measures are in any way clinically significant. Probably not. Not that that stops the authors from laboring mightily in the discussion section to make it sound as though their biofield therapy is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

There are a number of terms that are so spot-on in terms of describing a phenomenon that I wish I had coined them. One, of course, is "quackademic medicine," which I did not coin but which has become associated with me because I use it so much. Another is "tooth fairy medicine," which perfectly describes what this study is. As Harriet Hall puts it:

You could measure how much money the Tooth Fairy leaves under the pillow, whether she leaves more cash for the first or last tooth, whether the payoff is greater if you leave the tooth in a plastic baggie versus wrapped in Kleenex. You can get all kinds of good data that is reproducible and statistically significant. Yes, you have learned something. But you haven't learned what you think you've learned, because you haven't bothered to establish whether the Tooth Fairy really exists.

Exactly. The investigators never established that "biofields" even exist, much less that "energy chelation" is anything more than the laying on of hands. They've gotten a bunch of data that seems as though it might show something, but, even if it all were anything more than random noise and experimental bias producing false positives, they haven't shown anything other than having measured whether the payoff from the Tooth Fairy is different if the tooth is wrapped in Kleenex. It's quackademic medicine triumphant.

ADDENDUM: Best comment ever, from Blake Stacey on Peter's blog:

"Energy chelation" is just one of several ways to remove interphasic parasites which live in subspace rifts and feed on the biogenic fields of organic life-forms who encounter them while using warp drive. . . .

Wait, you mean my Star Trek fanfiction can get published in peer-reviewed medical journals now? Well, if that don't just take the Vulcan biscuit!

Yup. That about describes this particular study.


Jain, S., Pavlik, D., Distefan, J., Bruyere, R., Acer, J., Garcia, R., Coulter, I., Ives, J., Roesch, S., Jonas, W., & Mills, P. (2011). Complementary medicine for fatigue and cortisol variability in breast cancer survivors Cancer DOI: 10.1002/cncr.26345

Friday, August 19, 2011

Evolution education update: August 19, 2011

Good news from the Lone Star State!


When the Texas state board of education voted on July 22, 2011, to approve scientifically accurate supplementary material from established mainstream publishers, there was a loose end hanging. A creationist member of the review panel released a list of supposed errors in the submitted Holt McDougal material involving evolution. While the board approved the material, it directed Commissioner of Education Robert Scott to review the list of supposed errors and to develop amended language for the publisher to incorporate.

Now a memorandum from the Texas Education Agency to the board dated August 11, 2011, indicates that Commissioner Scott determined that Holt McDougal "has sufficiently addressed all eight of the reported errors." Particularly noteworthy was Holt McDougal's response to the complaint (about a lab activity comparing hominid skulls) that "it is erroneous to pretend that common ancestry is the cause" of the similarity of human skulls with those of other hominids: "This lab activity was not changed."

In a post at its blog dated August 15, 2011, the Texas Freedom Network observed, "Here's the head-exploding part for the creationists. Not only does the final version of Holt not include creationist arguments against evolution, but they also include language explicitly affirming Darwin's theories," adding, "With Holt's materials finalized, we can now say with certainty that all of the materials approved from the nine publishers are in line with fact-based science and free of creationist attacks seeking to undermine science."

Video from the board's July 21, 2011, meeting, during which the supplementary material was discussed, is now available at NCSE's YouTube channel. Among those testifying on behalf of good science education in the Lone Star State are the Reverend Kelly Allen, Steve Bratteng, the Reverend Albert Clayton, Andrew Ellington, Vera Preston-Jaeger, Rebecca Robertson of the Texas ACLU, NCSE's Joshua Rosenau, Lorenzo Sadun, Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, Jennifer Steele, and Bernardino Villasenor.

For the TEA's memorandum (PDF), visit: http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/HoltMcDougalEdits.pdf?docID=2741

For the Texas Freedom Network's post, visit: http://tfninsider.org/2011/08/15/a-final-victory-for-science/

For NCSE's video from the board meeting, visit: http://www.youtube.com/user/NatCen4ScienceEd#p/c/7594B36FF84710C5

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Texas, visit: http://ncse.com/news/texas

Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

-- Sincerely,

Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x305 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 branch@ncse.com http://ncse.com

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.ncse.com

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/join

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Evangelical school gets the go ahead in Nottingham


by Christian Today correspondentPosted: Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 11:16 (BST)

A school that will teach that God created the world has been given approval to open in Nottinghamshire.

An application by the Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, has been accepted by the Department for Education.

The evangelical church will teach the Bible's belief that God created the world in six days, but evolution will only be taught as a "theory".

Education Secretary Michael Gove, had promised that creationism will not be taught in free schools. He is "crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact", the Department of Education confirmed.

In January, however, he said he would consider applications from creationist groups on a case-by-case basis.

Now it has emerged that a panel of civil servants interviewed Everyday Champions Church leaders last week after their initial application was approved. It is not known if they agreed to drop plans to teach creationism.

The church wants to open the new 625-pupil school in September next year and says there are currently not enough secondary places available in the area.

Pastor Gareth Morgan, the church's leader, told the Independent: "Creationism will be embodied as a belief at the Everyday Champions Academy but will not be taught in the sciences. Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory."

The church's website says the new school will be "multicultural in philosophy and will welcome children from all faiths or none".

However, it adds that the "values of the Christian faith will be the foundation of the school philosophy".

The website says: "We believe that the Bible is God's Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our every day lives."

Secular groups have criticised education officials for accepting the application and were "astonished" it was even considered.

Richy Thompson, of the British Humanist Assocaition, said: "Everyday Champions Church have been very clear that they intend to teach creationism as valid, and sideline evolution as just 'a theory'.

"Given this, how can the Department for Education have now allowed this proposal to pass through to the interview stage?

"The creep of creationism into the English education system remains a serious concern, and the Department have a lot more work to do if they want to stop extremist groups from opening free schools."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Evolution education update: August 12, 2011

Climate change is joining evolution as a target, according to Science. Plus details on NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon, and a reminder about NCSE's bumper sticker contest.


"The U.S. political debate over climate change is seeping into K-12 science classrooms, and teachers are feeling the heat," according to a report in Science (August 5, 2011). Science educators are increasingly reporting attacks on climate change education: Roberta Johnson, the executive director of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, commented, "Evolution is still the big one, but climate change is catching up." Her assessment was confirmed by a poll of NESTA's members, which found that climate change was second only to evolution in eliciting protests. And climate change is now routinely yoked with evolution as "controversial" in antievolution legislation such as the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008.

Ian Binns, a science education researcher at Louisiana State University, told Science that a law such as Louisiana's, which misdescribes established scientific theories such as evolution as controversial, "tells our students and teachers that there are problems that there aren't" and distort their understanding of the nature of science; NCSE's Joshua Rosenau added, "Science is not about providing balance to every viewpoint that's out there." NCSE is now monitoring controversies over the teaching of climate change as well as controversies over the teaching of evolution, but the scope of the problem is as yet unclear; as Rosenau explained, "Just like with evolution, it's difficult to know what a given teacher in a given classroom is teaching."

For the article in Science (subscription required), visit:


Explore the Grand Canyon with NCSE! Seats are now available for NCSE's next excursion to the Grand Canyon — as featured in The New York Times (October 6, 2005). From July 16 to 24, 2012, NCSE will again explore the wonders of creation and evolution on a Grand Canyon river run conducted by NCSE's Genie Scott and Steve Newton. Because this is an NCSE trip, we offer more than just the typically grand float down the Canyon, the spectacular scenery, fascinating natural history, brilliant night skies, exciting rapids, delicious meals, and good company. It is, in fact, a unique "two-model" raft trip, on which we provide both the creationist view of the Grand Canyon (maybe not entirely seriously) and the evolutionist view -- and let you make up your own mind. To get a glimpse of the fun, watch the short videos filmed during the 2011 trip, posted on NCSE's YouTube site. The cost of the excursion is $2625; a deposit of $500 will hold your spot. Seats are limited: call, write, or e-mail now.

For information about the trip, visit:

For NCSE's report on the story in The New York Times, visit:

For NCSE's YouTube site, visit:


There's only a month left for you to submit your idea for a new NCSE bumper sticker, so sharpen your pencils, cudgel your brains, and consult your muse! This is your chance to speak loud, speak proud for evolution, by crafting a killer slogan that could end up on the tail end of thousands of cars. The aim of this mobile message: to spread the good word about evolution and evolution education. Your bumper sticker can be funny, profound, fierce -- whatever, as long as it's good. Full details of the contest, and a list of the fabulous prizes on offer, are available on NCSE's website. The contest ends on September 5, 2011.

For details of the contest, visit:

Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

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

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

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NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Appreciating Darwin Has Evolved


Saturday Book Pick: Darwin's Pious Idea.

by CLARE WALKER 08/13/2011

Creationists and evolutionists both see Charles Darwin's theory of evolution as the linchpin of all attempts to prove or disprove the existence of God. Darwin's Pious Idea by Conor Cunningham turns this debate on its head. The subtitle says it all: "Why the ultra-Darwinists and creationists both get it wrong."

Activist atheists and fundamentalist believers vehemently try to persuade others to adopt their way of thinking. Cunningham argues that both are wasting their time.

Darwin's theory of evolution, he writes, "is frequently construed, by both its supporters and its opponents, as an attack on the idea of God and an attempted exposé of the frivolity of the piety of religious believers. On this account, both atheists and religious people alike tend to sing from the same hymn sheet: Darwinian evolution threatens to annihilate religion at its very root."

Cunningham's thesis is that the notion that "evolution threatens to annihilate religion at its very root" is a mistaken one, which means that both atheistic supporters and religious opponents of evolution are wrong. The question is not either the Darwinian model of evolution is true and therefore God does not exist or Darwinian evolution is false and therefore God does exist. The Darwinian model of evolution appears to be scientifically supportable, and God exists.

The Catholic Church, through at least three of its recent Popes (Pius XII, John Paul II and Benedict XVI), has already stated this numerous times. The classical Darwinian model of evolution, as described by Darwin himself in his writings, does not say anything contrary to religious faith, nor does the Church adhere to a literalist interpretation of the biblical creation stories.

What Cunningham calls "ultra-Darwinism," promoted by atheist polemicists like Richard Dawkins, is hostile to religion because it states categorically that God cannot possibly exist. Cunningham convincingly argues that ultra-Darwinism is also hostile to science because it is, at its core, unscientific: It attempts to say much more than Darwin ever intended and much more than its scientific validity allows.

Perhaps Cunningham's most intriguing and provocative argument, though, is that fundamentalist creationism itself is not authentically Christian. It is "a lapse into intellectual barbarism, a complete desertion of the Christian tradition." Cunningham is not a Catholic, so his view of the Christian tradition may differ slightly from Catholic teaching; but on the subject of evolution and creationism, he appears to be sound.

In the early chapters of the book, Cunningham provides a helpful summary of what Darwin actually posited, how his theory has been distorted over the years, and how the debate within the Darwinian camp has developed ("evolved," if you will) into what Cunningham refers to as "denominations" of Darwinism. Later chapters explore psychological and social phenomena related to Darwinism (including eugenics) and explode the myth of "science versus religion."

Despite the author's frequent lapses into inscrutable phrases, which he often fails to translate into everyday English ("individualist ontology," "nominalist epistemology" and "essentialist assumptions of classical and neoclassical biology"), the book is readable, enlightening and seasoned with humor.

Register correspondent Clare Walker writes from Westmont, Illinois.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/appreciating-darwin-has-evolved

Evangelical church application to set up new free school where it will teach creationism is approved


By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 11:32 AM on 13th August 2011

An evangelical church with creationism at the heart of its belief system has been given outline approval to run a free school.

An application by the Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, Nottinghamshire, has been accepted by the Department for Education.

The church intends to teach the biblical belief that God created the world in six days, but evolution will only be taught as a 'theory'.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, had promised that creationism will not be taught in free schools. He is 'crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact', the Department of Education confirmed.

But in January he said he would consider applications from creationist groups on a case-by-case basis.

Now it has emerged that a panel of civil servants interviewed Everyday Champions Church leaders last week after their initial application was approved. It is not known if they agreed to drop plans to teach creationism.

Officials told the Daily Telegraph they could not comment on the application but each one would be treated with 'due diligence.'

Free schools can be set up by charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers and groups of parents.

They are independent from local authorities and do not have to follow the national curriculum. However, lessons must be 'broad and balanced.'

As with independent schools, free school teachers will not need formal teaching qualifications.

The church wants to open the new 625-pupil school in September next year and says there are currently not enough secondary places available in the area.

Pastor Gareth Morgan, the church's leader, told the Independent: 'Creationism will be embodied as a belief at the Everyday Champions Academy but will not be taught in the sciences. Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory.'

The church's website says the new school, with will be 'multicultural in philosophy and will welcome children from all faiths or none'.

However, it adds that the 'values of the Christian faith will be the foundation of the school philosophy'.

The website says: 'We believe that the Bible is God's Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our every day lives.'

Secular groups have criticised education officials for accepting the application and were 'astonished ' it was even considered.

Richy Thompson, of the British Humanist Assocaition, said: 'Everyday Champions Church have been very clear that they intend to teach creationism as valid, and sideline evolution as just 'a theory'.

'Given this, how can the Department for Education have now allowed this proposal to pass through to the interview stage?

''The creep of creationism into the English education system remains a serious concern, and the Department have a lot more work to do if they want to stop extremist groups from opening free schools.'

The Government has approved 35 free school applications to move to the business case and plan stage, and eight of these have been given the go ahead to move into the pre-opening stage.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2025587/Evangelical-church-application-set-new-free-school-teach-creationism-approved.html

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jobs in Jeopardy for Christian Scholars Who Believe in Evolution


By Fionna Agomuoh | Christian Post Contributor

The notion of whether or not there is a historical Adam and Eve has been an ongoing debate within the Christian world. Many scholars are finding that their beliefs are costing them their jobs.

More and more conservative scholars are concluding that due to overwhelming scientific evidence, they no longer subscribe to the Genesis 2:7 tale of God creating Adam from dust, breathing life into him, and extracting from him a rib in order to create Eve. They feel that religious doctrine must be updated in order to accommodate what are being called facts that can no longer be avoided.

"Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost," Professor John Schneider told NPR. "So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings."

Schneider taught theology at Christian Reformed School Calvin College for 25 years until he was forced to resign after writing a paper that questioned the historical Adam.

Scholars who continue to believe that the creation story is not only religious doctrine but also historical fact say that supporting evolution unravels the confines of religion and deems it unnecessary.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary states that Genesis taken literally explains the need for religion, the need for a savior, and the need for Jesus to die on the cross.

Referencing Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Mohler notes that the Apostle Paul explained that Jesus' death atones for Adam's original sin.

"Without Adam, the work of Christ makes no sense whatsoever in Paul's description of the Gospel, which is the classic description of the Gospel we have in the New Testament," he said.

Scholars like Schneider, however believe that there is plenty of room for science and religion to coexist.

Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University suggests that if the bible is read, not literally, but as an aggregation of poetry, allegory and history, God can be seen in nature and evolution.

"There's nothing to be scared of here," Venema said. "There is nothing to be alarmed about. It's actually an opportunity to have an increasingly accurate understanding of the world - and from a Christian perspective, that's an increasingly accurate understanding of how God brought us into existence."

Venema's position at Trinity Western University has remained secure but many have not been so lucky.

Daniel Harlow, a religion professor at Calvin College, was investigated by the school after writing a paper with the same premise as Schneider's, proposing that there is no historical Adam.

Karl Giberson was a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College until he was dismissed due to his support of evolution. Giberson co-authored the book Language of Science and Faith with president of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, who is also known for progressive views on science and religion.

Herbal Supplements Leave Out Safety Information


August 9, 2011

Herbal medicines have become popular in recent years as people seek out natural remedies to better their health, but many of those supplements can cause dangerous side effects when mixed with certain medicines or health conditions, says a new study.

Researchers from the University of Leeds evaluated several different kinds of five commonly used remedies—St. John's wort, Asian ginseng, Echinacea, garlic and Gingko—from popular pharmacies and health food stores. While typically safe, all five products can cause problems in people who take certain medications or suffer from particular diseases.

The scientists also looked for key safety messages, like the seal from the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine,and warnings about interactions and side effects.

They found that 93 percent of the tested products did not meet standard safety and quality requirements and more than half were marketed as food supplements. Only three of the 68 evaluated products contained an acceptable amount of safety information, researchers said.

"Most of the herbal medicine products studied did not provide key safety information which consumers need for their safe use," researchers wrote in the study, published in the journal, BMC Medicine. "Potential purchasers need to know, in both the short term and the long term, how to purchase herbal products which provide the information they need for the safe use of these products."

Experts noted several adverse effects when combining particular herbal remedies with other medications or health conditions. For example, St. John's wort can decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills and warfarin, an anticoagulant. Asian ginseng, often used to treat fatigue and stress, should not be taken by diabetics as it can meddle with a person's blood sugar levels. Gingko and Echinacea can cause severe allergic reactions and even garlic may interfere with drugs that treat HIV.

"Herb-drug interactions represent a serious problem," said Barrie Cassileth, chief of integrative medicine service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. "Herbal supplements often interact with prescription medications, and many cause serious unwanted side effects, such as interfering with coagulation of the blood. Our policy is to avoid herbal supplements if you are on prescription medication."

But other experts said supplement warnings would be too cumbersome, and many people wouldn't read them anyway.

Dr. Donald Levy, medical director of the Osher Clinical Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said the study's theoretical data should be backed up with patient experiences to find out if this a significant problem in the medical community.

"This makes me think there should be some generic universal warning because if we're going to have specific labeling for every herbal product out there, it could get crazy," said Levy.

Levy also noted that the study does not touch upon the many benefits of herbal remedies. He often prescribes ginger to patients suffering from nausea, licorice root for people taking drugs that cause stomach pains and milk thistle for liver protection in people taking high doses of acetaminophen.

Herbal Supplements Largely Unregulated

Herbal and dietary pills are largely unregulated when compared to pharmaceutical products. They are not evaluated by the FDA, and sometimes the dose and purity listed on the label is inaccurate, said Dr. Donald Hensrud, associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at Mayo Clinic.

"There are many factors contributing to lack of awareness of safety issues with herbal and other dietary supplements, and there may be times when a problem is occurring yet we are completely unaware," said Hensrud. "Requiring safety information on the label is one step in helping to decrease safety-related incidents."

"Now that's something I'd like to see," said Levy. "I really wish we had regulation where companies had to prove purity and dose in their products."

But because the industry is largely unregulated, experts said patients should tell their doctors about any natural or herbal remedies they are taking and doctors should ask about all supplements use.

"People should familiarize themselves with good information on the safety, side effects, and efficacy of any herbal supplements they take." said Hensrud. "This should be done through a reliable source, such as websites from the FDA, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, or the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine."

Guest Blog: The ignorance and prejudice of irreligious editors


By Neil Ormerod ABC Religion and Ethics 9 Aug 2011

While on-line blogging has become all the rage - rage often being the operative word - the realm of "letters to the editor" still carries some sense of prestige. Major newspapers receive hundreds of letters every day and from this large number they select the chosen few to appear in print.

Over the years I have had dozens of letters published in the Sydney Morning Herald, and of all the writing I do it is these letters that attract most "name recognition." I cannot count the number of times people have said to me, "I saw your letter in the Herald."

Given my role I often write on religious matters. So when a letter appeared in the SMH on Friday 15 July 2011 claiming that all Catholics are creationists and are guilty of rejecting "the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence against creationism," I felt compelled to respond.

I wrote indicating that Catholics are not creationist in the accepted sense of the word (as rejecting science on the basis of biblical texts), and in fact were quite comfortable with accepting the "overwhelming weight of scientific evidence" for evolution and cosmology.

I pointed out that in fact Pope John Paul II had made supportive statements about evolution and that the notion of the Big Bang was originally formulated by a Jesuit physicist Georges Lemaitre; further, his ideas were initially rejected by many of his colleagues because the notion of a Big Bang sounded too religious for them (too much like creation ex nihilo).

My letter was not published in the Saturday edition. There was a rebuttal letter, but it was of a more general nature on the religion-science debate pointing out (correctly) that "it's a false dichotomy to pit God against science," and that there are many scientists who are also religious believers. This was fine in itself, but it did not address my specific concern that Catholics had been singled out as creationist and as irrationally anti-scientific.

I sent a much longer email to the SMH letters editor. In this I referred to the Statement of Principles of the Press Council, that "Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced," and that "Publications should not place any gratuitous emphasis on the race, religion, nationality, colour, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, illness, or age of an individual or group."

I argued that in publishing the original letter they have published a report that was not "accurate, fair or balanced," and that the claim of the letter had held up Catholics to vilification as irrationally anti-scientific.

I further quoted the Press Council principles to the effect that, "Where it is established that a serious inaccuracy has been published, a publication should promptly correct the error, giving the correction due prominence."

The normal form of redress would be to publish a letter correcting the errors of the original letter. I urged them to publish my original letter.

I did not hear back from the SMH on the Saturday or Sunday, though I ensured my mobile number was available in the letter and I had my mobile with me. I was however pleased to see my letter published on the Monday morning. Until, that was, I read it more carefully.

My letter had been altered in two important aspects. I had stated that Catholics do not believe in creationism. This was changed to "Some Catholics." Now while I admit that there may be some misguided Catholics who uphold a biblical account of creation out of ignorance and a mistaken sense of loyalty, my point was that the Church does not teach creationism as a matter of doctrine.

They also felt free to change my original claim that Lemaitre's hypothesis of a Big Bang was considered too religious, to the claim that his colleagues found it too "irreligious" - the exact opposite of what I had stated.

The result was a frantic exchange of emails and phone calls between myself and the letters' editor (not the one who had changed my contribution). The outcome was the publication of a correction (not an apology) for the misprinting of my letter in the Wednesday edition.

What this exercise demonstrates, I think, is both a general level of ignorance and prejudice on the part of journalists in the secular media. It is one thing for someone to hold such beliefs as per the original letter in private. It is another thing for an editor to decide to publish the offending letter and think that it is a reasonable statement of fact.

It would seem an editor who decided to publish the letter saw no problem in portraying Catholics as creationists who reject the findings of science. And similarly an editor (probably not the same one) saw no problem in changing my letter prior to publication, in a way which matched the same sort of ignorance and prejudice.

Surely only "some" Catholics do not believe in creationism, even if the Pope clearly does not. Surely the notion of the Big Bang is an "irreligious" idea, not a religious one. Because all good scientific ideas must refute religion!

Much of this is the result of the Richard Dawkins propaganda machine and his followers. Dawkins has legitimated the widespread notion that religion is inherently anti-scientific; that one simply cannot hold to commonly held scientific theories and still be a believer.

In its wake we have witnesses a regular outpouring of scorn and vitriol in blogs in response to any public discussion of religious notions. For example, I have seen blogs that call the current pope stupid because the pope believes the world was made in seven days. Such ignorance is impervious to evidence.

But to see such attitudes move out of blogs and into the letter pages of a supposedly quality press is a depressing sign of decline.

Neil Ormerod is Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Australian Catholic University. His most recent books are Creation, Grace and Redemption (Orbis, 2007), A Trinitarian Primer (Liturgical Press, 2011) and, with Shane Clifton, Globalization and the Mission of the Church (Continuum, 2010).

Monday, August 08, 2011

Evolution education update: August 5, 2011

Evolution is front and center in a new framework intended to provide the basis for common state science education standards. Plus a preview of Alan R. Rogers's The Evidence for Evolution, and a further voice for evolution from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.


A Framework for K-12 Science Education -- a new publication from the National Research Council offering "a framework that articulates a broad set of expectations for students in science" -- emphasizes evolution as one of the "disciplinary core ideas" of the life sciences. "A core principle of the life sciences is that all organisms are related by evolution and that evolutionary processes have led to the tremendous diversity of the biosphere," the framework explains, adding, "Biological evolution explains both the unity and the diversity of species and provides a unifying principle for the history and diversity of life on Earth." Evolution and related topics such as deep time also appear appropriately in the material on the earth sciences.

The framework is intended as the first step in the development of common state science education standards. Over the next year, a set of science standards based on the framework will be developed by content experts from states across the nation, coordinated by the educational non-profit organization Achieve. The new standards are expected to be released in late 2012, according to a July 19, 2011, press release from Achieve. States will individually decide whether or not to adopt them; forty-four states and the District of Columbia have already adopted similar common state education standards for mathematics and English language arts.

Discussing public feedback to a draft, the framework notes that "a small subset of responders ... wanted to eliminate evolution" -- a desire that was not heeded. Helen R. Quinn, who chaired the committee that developed the framework, recently told the Symmetry Breaking blog that evolution and climate change -- which she described as "at least by some people, considered controversial, although scientifically they're not controversial" -- will be included in the new standards. She added, "we can say scientifically that this is what the science says and this is what students should know, and the standards will be written based on that. Then the states will have to decide what they do about adopting them."

NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott, who is thanked for her assistance in the acknowledgments to the framework, commented, "I'm delighted to see that the framework treats evolution in a scientifically and pedagogically appropriate way. I confidently expect that the standards based on the framework will follow suit. And I'm hopeful that these new national science education standards will be widely adopted -- eliminating the sort of divisive, distracting, and unnecessary fights over the place of evolution in state science standards that we've seen too often, in places like Florida, Kansas, Ohio, and Texas, over the last decade."

For the framework, visit:

For the press release from Achieve, visit:

For the Symmetry Breaking interview with Helen R. Quinn, visit:


NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview of Alan R. Rogers's The Evidence for Evolution (University of Chicago Press, 2011). The preview consists of chapter 5, "Peaks and Valleys," in which Rogers discusses the evolution of complex adaptations in the evolutionary landscape. He summarizes, "the adaptive landscape is rugged, with lots of peaks and valleys. ... We saw ... that complex adaptations can evolve via a series of small, individually advantageous changes. No valley need be involved. ... On the other hand, we need not appeal to miracles even if evolution does cross valleys. ... In small populations, gene frequences are buffeted by a variety of random forces, and these can push populations across valleys. We understand the mechanisms involved, and we have seen them operate in the laboratory. Evolutionists may argue about how often they happen in nature, but one thing is clear: there is no plausible basis for the argument that adaptive evolution requires miracles."

Endorsing The Evidence for Evolution, Steven Pinker writes, "Alan Rogers addresses the political controversy over the theory of evolution (there's no longer any scientific controversy) in the best scientific spirit: with evidence and logic. For anyone with an open mind, a curiosity about the natural world, and a desire to see controversies settled with evidence rather than rhetoric, this is an invaluable contribution and a fascinating read." And Warren D. Allmon, in a review forthcoming in Reports of the NCSE, applauds "this fresh and splendid little book" for "its focus on precisely why such indirect evidence actually favors evolution over its alternatives. The answer is hardly novel, but it is strangely missing (or at least dramatically deemphasized) in virtually all presentations of the topic: the most abundant evidence for evolution is that the characters of organisms are not scattered randomly, but rather are arranged in such a pattern that implies a hierarchical, branching tree."

For the preview (PDF), visit:

For information about the book from the publisher, visit:


The chorus of support for the teaching of evolution continues, with a statement from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, a place of adventure, discovery and education that welcomes everyone to enjoy the wonders of its collections and exhibitions.

Describing evolution as "the only scientifically rigorous and strongly corroborated explanation for the amazing diversity of life on Earth," the statement explains, "Our educational goal is to help visitors understand and explore the theory of evolution, the observable evidence that supports it, and the scientific questions and debates that are taking place at the edge of exploration about the mechanisms of evolution and its consequences."

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History's statement is now reproduced, by permission, on NCSE's website, and will also be contained in the fourth edition of NCSE's Voices for Evolution.

For the museum's statement, visit:

For Voices for Evolution, visit:

Thanks for reading! And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.

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

Read Reports of the NCSE on-line:

Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter:

NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter:

NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today!

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Scientific illiteracy at NIH (and in Congress)


Friday, July 29, 2011

You probably thought the age of snake oil and medical superstition was behind us, left in the dustbin of history by 20th- and 21st-century medical progress. After all, modern medicine (among its countless accomplishments) has driven the smallpox virus to extinction, eliminated cataract-related blindness as a normal consequence of aging, and even made it possible for AIDS victims to lead almost-normal lives.

You thought wrong. Medical superstition is alive and well on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

A visit to the NCCAM website is enlightening. You will find an exquisitely detailed description of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is based solidly on probably false principles. You will find a similarly detailed description of an ancient medical ideology from India called "Ayur Vedic." This system, faced with smallpox — for centuries and millennia an endemic disease in India — did absolutely nothing to eliminate this plague. In fact, smallpox became so firmly embedded in the life and culture of India that a Goddess of Smallpox (Shitala Mata) was incorporated into the Hindu pantheon.

What you will not find from NCCAM is any solid evidence that the weird practices and nostrums they've tested are clearly superior to the procedures of "conventional" medicine.

So why does NCCAM still exist, and why is its budget $131 million rather than zero? The answer is that it's supported by powerful figures in Congress who are scientific illiterates. Among the scientific illiterates is U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who shoehorned the NCCAM into the federal budget back in 1991 and has been its most important champion ever since.

Also among the scientific illiterates in Congress is our U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8). I have written two letters to Mr. Van Hollen concerning NCCAM. There has been no reply, and there is nothing on his website concerning NCCAM, so I called his office to inquire about his position. The staff member who replied to my inquiry informed me that Mr. Van Hollen's position is that NCCAM is a useful agency.

This is appalling. Our House member believes that NCCAM's research studies (usually so badly designed and so small in scale that they make no contribution to medical progress) are a useful way to spend $131 million of scarce federal research funds.

Montgomery County has a first-rate school system that turns out thousands of scientifically literate citizens every year. The county is also the home of the world's leading medical research establishment, NIH. Why, then, are we represented in Congress by a scientific illiterate?

James C. Giglio, Wheaton

On the evolution of quackery


Category: Alternative medicine • Medicine • Quackery • Science • Skepticism/critical thinking
Posted on: July 28, 2011 6:00 AM, by Orac

Once upon a time, there was quackery. It was the term used to refer to medical practices that were not supported by evidence and were ineffective and potentially harmful. Physicians understood that modalities such as homeopathy, reflexology, and various "energy healing" (i.e., faith healing) methodologies were based either on prescientific vitalism, magical thinking, and/or on science that was at best incorrect or grossly distorted. More importantly, they weren't afraid to say so.

Quacks did not think this good.

Then, sometime a few decades ago, supporters of quackery decided that they would never get anywhere selling their products, outside of a small minority of people, if they allowed practitioners of evidence-based medicine to define their favorite quackery as being...well, quackery. As a consequence, "quackery" somehow morphed into "alternative medicine." Alternative medicine was (and, when the term is used, still is) medicine that does not fit into the current scientific paradigm, a term used to describe medical practices that were not supported by evidence, were ineffective and potentially harmful, and were used instead of effective therapies. Physicians understood that modalities such as homeopathy, reflexology and various "energy healing" (i.e., faith healing) methodologies were based either on prescientific vitalism, magical thinking, and/or on science that was at best incorrect or grossly distorted. More importantly, they weren't afraid to say so.

Practitioners of alternative medicine did not think this good, either.

That's why, sometime lost in the mists of time (back in the 1990s), alternative medicine practitioners (i.e., quacks) decided that they would never get anywhere selling their products, outside of a small minority of people, if they themselves defined their own products as being outside the mainstream of medicine by calling them alternative. Thus was born "complementary and alternative medicine," which had the nice, pithy abbreviation of "CAM." CAM was (and is) medicine that does not fit into the current scientific paradigm, including treatments that are not supported by evidence, are ineffective and/or potentially harmful, and are used in addition to real medicine. Over time, the name change had its intended effect. No longer did most physicians automatically view modalities that were once considered quackery, later considered "alternative," and now considered "CAM" as quackery. Modalities such as homeopathy, reiki, various energy healing methods, and even reflexology were no longer dismissed. Somehow, despite several of them (especially homeopathy and the various energy healing modalities) violating known laws of physics and requiring that our understanding of physics be not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong, for them to work, somehow methodolatrists preaching "evidence-based medicine," valuing randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials above all else even when physics, chemistry, and common sense should tell them that a treatment (such as homeopathy) cannot work, allowed the noise and occasional false positive clinical trial to convince them that there might be something to these modalities. Also, by using their former quackery in addition (i.e., as complementary) to real medicine, CAM practitioners (mostly) neutered the biggest complaint about alternative medicine, namely the concern that patients forego effective therapy in order to pursue alternative medicine. The stage was set for the widespread adoption of CAM by medical schools.

And CAM practitioners did declare that this was indeed good--but not good enough.

That's why CAM practitioners, even though they had made huge inroads introducing quackademic medicine into medical schools and academic medical centers, bolstered by the influence of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the Bravewell Collaborative, an organization founded by Christy Mack, the wife of a wealthy investment banker, for the express purpose of promoting the study and use of CAM in medical academia, decided that even this was not good enough. A new term was needed. Thus was born in recent years a new term. CAM practitioners (formerly alternative medicine practitioners, formerly quacks) hit upon the perfect term for their treatments. It is a term so media-friendly, so seemingly reasonable that it is a wonder that no one had thought of it before.

"Integrative medicine."

Yes, no longer were CAM practitioners content to have their favorite quackery be "complementary" to real medicine. After all, "complementary" implied a subsidiary position. Medicine was the cake, and their wares were just the icing. That wasn't good enough. They craved respect. They wanted to be co-equals with physicians and science- and evidence-based medicine. The term "integrative medicine" (IM) served their purpose perfectly. No longer were their treatments merely "complementary," they were "integrating" their treatments with those of science- and evidence-based medicine! The implication, the very, very intentional implication, was that alternative medicine was co-equal to EBM, an equal partner in the "integrating."

And to IM practitioners, it was very good indeed, so much so that they are proclaiming that CAM is dead:

Over the past 25 years, practitioners integrating the best of Western, Eastern and other evidence-based models of medicine into their practices have endured a series of catch-all titles that describe their model of care. Not long ago, all medicine not tacking closely to conventional allopathic care was termed "alternative". Then about 15 years ago the term complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) began to seep into the medical vernacular. NIH's National Center for Cancer and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) became a full-fledged center in 1991. Although most of the major hospitals and cancer centers did not introduce their integrative centers until a decade later, NCCAM's "CAM" acronym stuck, and had an influence on new private clinics and centers across the country.

I'll say one thing about the guy who wrote this, Glenn Sabin. He doesn't know the history of NCCAM. In 1991, NCCAM was indeed born, except that it was not a full-fledged center. Rather, thanks to woo-friendly Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and $2 million of discretionary funding, NCCAM started its life as the Office of Unconventional Medicine, which was soon renamed the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM). It was not until October 1998 that NCCAM received its current name and was elevated to a full center. Mostly, this was a big "screw you" from Tom Harkin to the then director of the NIH, Harold Varmus, who, responding to objections to the OAM from the scientific academic community, moved to place the OAM under tighter NIH control. The result? Tom Harkin introduced and passed legislation that elevated the OAM to an independent center within the NIH. Soon after, appropriations skyrocketed to over $100 million a year. NCCAM's current budget hovers in the $125 million range.

One wonders what else Sabin gets wrong.

Whatever he might get wrong or right on a factual basis, Sabin does reveal the mindset of promoters of non-science-based medical treatments in the very next paragraph:

Today several integrative centers across the country still contain the words CAM in their name. This is both confusing to health consumers and damaging for these centers' brand. Most clinics and centers launched during the last decade have evolved with their branding to include today's more appropriate terminology of "integrative medicine", "integrative services" or "integrative therapies".

(Bold not mine.)

I will give Sabin credit. Whether he realizes it or not, he's basically just admitted that the move to rename CAM as IM is all about the marketing of quackery. Yes, I know that he would never, ever admit that's what he just did. After all, he liberally sprinkles his post with terms like "evidence-based integrative medicine," which makes me wonder why IM aficionados haven't renamed IM to "EBIM." Perhaps that's coming later.

But I digress.

Getting back on track, I note that Mr. Sabin does a wonderful job of expressing the confusion at the heart of so-called "evidence-based integrative medicine," almost certainly without realizing that he is doing so. See if you can figure out what I mean before I explain it:

Alternative medicine is often pushed in lieu of proven conventional care. Alternative medicine does not have an adequate science base behind it and is not practiced in clinics within an academic setting. Integrative medicine integrates proven therapies into conventional medicine. True, not all methods of mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques like, say, Reiki have a solid evidence base behind it, but in this case, many clinicians that offer services like Reiki do so because their clinical observations tell them that it helps many of their patients relax and may lessen the need of certain pain meds.

So, let me get this straight. IM is better than "alternative medicine" because alternative medicine is "often pushed in lieu of proven conventional care" while in contrast (allegedly) IM "integrates proven therapies into conventional medicine." Then, right after that, Sabin admits that "not all" IM methods have a solid evidence based behind them but that clinicians use them because of anecdotal observations. Here's a hint: Anecdotal observations are not the same thing as being "proven." Far from it! Anecdotal observations can be profoundly misleading, thanks to well-known phenomenon that confound "clinical observations," such as regression to the mean, confirmation bias, and placebo responses. That's why "conventional" medical researchers long ago realized that well-designed clinical trials, preferably randomized and well-controlled, are necessary to minimize these biases and to correct for placebo responses. Mr. Sabin comes across as profoundly confused about the science in that he doesn't seem to realize that the vast majority of "alternative medicine" modalities that he wants to see "integrated" with conventional medicine are not "proven" by any stretch of the imagination. "Evidence-based." You keep using that word, Mr. Sabin. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Not that any of this stops Sabin from proclaiming, even as he tries to misrepresent CAM as "personalized" medicine when it is anything but:

CAM is dead. The evolution of evidence-based, personalized integrative medicine, and its implementation in clinic, lives on.

Of course, CAM is dead. CAM advocates themselves killed it because they sensed a better marketing opportunity if they could come up with a term that didn't have the connotation that their treatments were inferior to those of conventional medicine. The killing of CAM was deliberate and calculated, but it is not complete yet. Rather, it is ongoing. But don't worry. Marketers like Glenn Sabin will make sure that before too long the corpse is well and truly dead, cold, and buried. In its place is rising the zombie that is "integrative medicine." Proposed creationist Free School gets through to interview stage http://www.cisionwire.com/british-humanist-association-press-room/r/proposed-creationist-free-school-gets-through-to-interview-stage,c9148620

Press release
British Humanist Association Press Room

8/4/2011 5:32 AM EST

Everyday Champions Church, the group bidding to set up a creationist Free School, have announced that their proposal has passed the first round of applications and is through to the interview stage of the process. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has said it is astonished that the application has progressed, after previously meeting with Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb and receiving assurances from him that creationism has no basis in science and should not be taught as such, and after the Department for Education (DfE) subsequently published guidance prohibiting such teaching.

Everyday Champions Church first submitted its proposal to open Everyday Champions Academy in February, with church leader Pastor Gareth Morgan stating that 'Creationism will be taught as the belief of the leadership of the school. It will not be taught exclusively in the sciences, for example. At the same time, evolution will be taught as a theory.' Secretary of State Michael Gove said at the time that applications from creationist groups to open Free Schools would be considered, however in March Nick Gibb went on record as ruling bids from such groups out, saying that 'we have been clear that creationism should not form part of any science curriculum or be taught as a scientific alternative to accepted scientific theories. We expect to see evolution and its foundation topics fully included in any science curriculum.' And in May, new guidance on how to apply to open a Free School was published, stating that 'Creationism, intelligent design and similar ideas must not be taught as valid scientific theories.'

However, the Church is now being interviewed by the DfE on their proposals this week. BHA Faith Schools and Education Campaigns Officer Richy Thompson commented, 'It is astonishing that a Free School proposal from a church which has been explicit in its intention to teach creationism has had its bid accepted, let alone progressed to the interview stage. Everyday Champions Church have been very clear that they intend to teach creationism as valid, and sideline evolution as just 'a theory'. Equally, the Department for Education has been increasingly clear that creationism should not be taught in Free Schools. Given this, how can the Department for Education have now allowed this proposal to pass through to the interview stage?

'The creep of creationism into the English education system remains a serious concern, and the Department for Education have a lot more work to do if they want to stop extremist groups from opening Free Schools.'

The BHA has already met with senior DfE officials about these issues on multiple occasions, and will be raising them again as a matter of urgency.


For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson on 020 7462 4993.

Visit the Everyday Champions Academy website.

Read the Department for Education guidance, Free Schools in 2012 – How to apply – Mainstream schools.

Read more about the BHA's campaigns work on countering creationism.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of ethically concerned, non-religious people in theUK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

Richy Thompson

Campaigns Officer (Faith Schools and Education)

British Humanist Association (BHA)
1 Gower Street, London, WC1E 6HD
Tel: 020 7462 4993

Find us on social networking sites via www.humanism.org.uk/meet-up/online

The BHA is a registered charity no. 285987 and depends on donations and legacies from its members and supporters to carry out its work. You can join or donate or register for our free e-bulletin online.

British Humanist Association (BHA)

Colonics can kill!


Today's tale of alternative medicine with potentially deadly side effects is the occasionally popular but surprisingly dangerous colonic irrigation. For those of you not in the know, a colonic is like an enema, but rather than a small bag of water flushing out your rectum, it's a large volume of water. Like 60 liters. And sometimes it's done over and over again. Alternatively, they can be very strong herbal laxatives, designed to make you evacuate your bowels with a force to shatter the very earth itself.

Despite its popularity among people looking for alternative treatments for various bowel problems, most medical professionals have for years claimed that detoxification — whether through colon cleansing or any other form — does little if nothing for your health. Now information is coming to light that colonics are downright dangerous.

So, just how bad are the side effects? It turns out they can be pretty nasty, especially if you have GI, heart, or kidney disease, or have ever had colon surgery — and since the procedures and supplements aren't considered medical, there's no requirement to warn people about the dangers. The side effects can be relatively mild (cramping, abdominal pain, fullness, bloating, nausea, vomiting, perianal irritation, and soreness) to pretty deadly (electrolyte imbalance and renal failure), with some that are frankly terrifying:

Some herbal preparations have also been associated with aplastic anemia and liver toxicity.

Case reports also have noted back and pelvic abscesses after colonic hydrotherapy, fatal aeroportia (gas accumulation in the mesenteric veins) with air emboli, rectal perforations, perineal gangrene, acute water intoxication, coffee enema-associated colitis and septicemia, and deaths due to amebiasis

If you really are that keen on flushing out your rectum, just consult your physician first.

The Defeat of Flood Geology


Posted on: August 6, 2011 9:08 AM, by Ed Brayton

In the old days when I spent a good deal of time debating the evolution/creationism issue, the one issue that always seemed the most absurd to me was flood geology -- the notion that most of the geologic record is the result of the Noahic global flood. Attempts by creationist geologists to support that argument are not just bad, they're absolutely laughable.

It requires either monumental ignorance or monumental dishonesty to distort the facts to make them fit the flood model. A perfect example of this is the rank dishonesty of Henry Morris and John Whitcomb in The Genesis Flood, the book that, more than any other, launched the whole concept of scientific creationism, when they dealt with the Lewis overthrust. I discuss that example in some detail in an old post from 2006.

Phil Senter has an article in the latest edition of the Reports of the National Center for Science Education that takes a comprehensive look at the negation of flood geology by the flood geologists themselves. He looks, for example, at the fact that there are all kinds of formations and artifacts that could only have been deposited on land, not underwater, at all levels of the geological column -- including those that creationists claim were deposited by this raging global flood.

A brief list of some of those formations and artifacts -- meteorite craters, nesting sites, tracks and burrows of terrestrial animals, terrestrial volcanic eruptions, terrestrial sand dunes, mud cracks, and glacial deposits. We find evidence of these throughout the geologic column, including in all of the "flood strata."

In many places throughout the world, for example, you can find dinosaur nesting sites well preserved in multiple strata over very long periods of time, evidence that dinosaurs returned to those sites again and again. They are found in strata that the creationists claim were deposited by the flood. So what on earth were dinosaurs doing building nesting sites while the whole world was underwater?

In 2007 I wrote a post about some of the many problems with flood geology. The astonishing thing is that there are so many people who continue to believe such nonsense.

Official: Vouchers could be creationism option


Board member wanted Springboro to teach theory

By Lawrence Budd and Christopher Magan
Staff Writers
11:02 PM Friday, August 5, 2011

SPRINGBORO — The Springboro school board member who raised the prospect of the district teaching creationism said this week she now wants parents of students in public schools to have options if they want their children to learn about theories like intelligent design.

After a week of receiving letters of support, rebuke and threats of legal action from across the nation, school board member Kelly Kohls revised her position on whether Springboro schools should teach creationism. She said parents should have the choice of using state funds to send their children to other schools if they want to learn about creationism and intelligent design.

Kohls had asked the district's curriculum director to look into ways of providing supplemental instruction on creationism.

Now Kohls said she doesn't see her district moving forward with the controversial issue anytime soon.

"I don't think it is something any of us are pursuing," Kohls said. "I think people should have options."

"I would like to (teach it), but not necessarily at this public school. I think it is important we understand why we don't."

Kohls' questions about a biology textbook at a recent board of education meeting led to further questions about her support for teaching creationism. "There is no push," Kohls said. "There were a couple of questions."

Instead, Kohls would like to see expanded "school choice" and possibly vouchers for parents who want their children to learn about such topics, she said. Vouchers, which use state money to send students to parochial or private schools, are only available to parents in low-performing districts. Springboro schools are rated excellent.

The issue has been frustrating for school officials and some parents. Tina Gangl, who has a daughter in Springboro elementary school and a son at the nearby Catholic Bishop Fenwick High School, said public schools should not teach religion.

"We need to educate our children about science," Gangl said, "If I want to teach my religion to my kids I'll send them to a religious school. There is no place for it in public school."

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the national Freedom From Religion Foundation have written Springboro school leaders, noting legal action would be imminent if the district decided to teach some form of creationism.

"It is wildly inappropriate for the religious beliefs of a few school board members to be pushed on a captive audience of public school students," wrote Rebecca Markert, staff attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Her letter cites six court decisions since 1968 rejecting creationism in public schools.

The latest court ruling came in 2006 when a judge ruled against a school district in Dover, Pa., that had taught intelligent design as a form of evolution. Like creationism, intelligent design argues that there are supernatural causes for life on earth. At the time, Ohio state school board members were debating whether to include intelligent design in the curriculum, but decided against it after the court ruling.

Fellow Springboro board members characterized the debate as a distraction from their work trying to right the district's finances after several levy defeats. Last week the board cut pay-to-participate fees and reinstated high school busing, but don't expect to ask voters for another levy until 2013.

"I think we have other issues more important to deal with," said board member Mike Kruse. "No way, no how, no place should it be in public schools. I'm hoping the board would bring this to a vote and get the issue resolved."

Two other board members, Scott Anderson and Gentry Ellis, both agreed the debate was a distraction, but said they would support an elective class on world religions similar to courses taught at the college level that would allow students to explore other beliefs about creation.

Kohls said she might support such a class. "If my board thinks that would increase the boundaries of the topic, I think so," she said. "I think my board is very enlightened and has the children's best interest at heart."

Friday, August 05, 2011

Reviewing a Law Review: A Darwin Defending Law Professor Seeks New Ways to Censor Skeptics


Evolution News & Views August 3, 2011 10:24 AM

[Editor's Note: The following article was co-written by a Discovery Institute Legal Intern and Discovery Institute Staff.]

Associate Professor of Law at Stetson University College of Law Louis J. Virelli looks for new legal arguments to squelch freedom of speech on evolution in public schools in his article, "Judging Darwin: Understanding the new Distributive Model of Evolution Instruction," recently published in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law. Virelli should be commended for his honest admission that it is not illegal under the Establishment Clause to permit teachers to teach legitimate scientific critiques of evolution. But as a Darwin lobbyist, he seeks new ways to censor the science that challenges Darwin.

Virelli apparently doesn't trust teachers to responsibly inform students about the scientific weaknesses in evolution, so he argues that his side needs a new legal approach grounded in administrative law. He coins a fancy-sounding term, the "distributive model," to refer to education policies supported by evolution skeptics that permit teachers to teach the scientific controversy over evolution:

[R]ecent enactments take what this Article contends is a dramatic turn from the preceding legislative or quasi-legislative prescriptions regarding evolution instruction toward a "distributive model" for addressing evolution questions, in which legislatures or regulators promulgate generalized statements that empower and encourage local educators to set evolution instruction policy through a series of individualized determinations about how evolution should be taught. ... responsibility is distributed to individual educators to make that determination by acting as policy makers who are empowered to decide for themselves how to best resolve the issue on a case-by-case basis

(Louis J. Virelli, Judging Darwin: Understanding the new Distributive Model of Evolution Instruction, 13 University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law 81 (November, 2010).)

Virelli concedes that this model likely does not offend the Establishment Clause, so he seeks other methods to defeat it. When properly assessed, however, we will see that Virelli's arguments against this model fail both in theory and in practice.

Virelli Adopts the Rhetoric of the Darwin Lobby

Virelli makes a number of common mistakes found in the arguments of Darwin legal lobbyists. For example, he writes that educational policies that require or permit scientific critique of evolution "significantly depart from previous practice." His implication is that those states which require or permit teaching scientific critique of evolution are doing something new. If you read his footnotes, he implies that the policy of teaching evolution critically was a response to the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling which declared intelligent design unconstitutional in Dover Area High School classrooms. Perhaps Mr. Virelli has been reading too many sources from other Darwin lobbyists that obscure the history of this issue. The position that schools should teach scientific critique of evolution in public schools is nothing new. As Casey Luskin explains:

As part of a strategy to link inquiry-based evolution-education with religion, opponents of TES [Teaching Evolution Scientifically] policies have tried to paint critical analysis of evolution as a policy approach that arose as a "fallback strategy" after the Kitzmiller v. Dover in Pennsylvania ruling struck down the teaching of intelligent design as religion. ... In fact, the Dover ruling was issued in 2005, and the history of pre-Dover public policy debates over teaching evolution makes it very difficult to seriously argue that critical analysis of evolution is a post-Dover "fallback" position. Since its first involvement with a major public policy battle in 2001 and 2002 in Ohio, Discovery Institute opposed mandating the teaching of ID in public schools and instead has recommended teaching critical analysis of evolution. This position is a matter of public record.

(Casey Luskin, The Constitutionality and Pedagogical Benefits of Teaching Evolution Scientifically, VI (1) Univ. of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy 204-277 (Fall 2009).

As explained here, a number of policies have required or permitted scientific critique of evolution for many years and have not been challenged in court.

Virelli uses another tactic common among Darwin's legal defenders by suggesting that teaching evolution scientifically is tantamount to diminishing evolution instruction in public schools. He writes:

Although the "strengths and weaknesses" language was omitted from the 2009 version of Texas' state science standards without having ever been challenged in the courts, it foreshadowed the current campaign in Texas and elsewhere around the country to modify state science standards to combat evolution instruction...

But the 2009 Texas Science Standards do not "combat evolution instruction," but instead encourage teachers to cover it as a science. According to the new standards, students must "analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations . . . including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking," and also "analyze and evaluate" core evolutionary claims, including "common ancestry," "natural selection," "mutation," "sudden appearance," the origin of the "complexity of the cell," and the formation of "long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life."

Virelli adopts the same tactic when he says that "[a]cademic freedom bills create a platform for governments that want to limit, or present alternatives to, the teaching of evolution." Virelli is wrong on both counts.

First, academic freedom bills do not "limit" the teaching of evolution because they (1) require teachers to present the standard curriculum and (2) only protect teaching more about evolution, not less. (See Lobbyists Resort to Myth Information Campaign on Academic Freedom Legislation for details.)

Second, academic freedom bills do not typically cover topics not already in the curriculum, and thus do not protect the teaching of alternative theories like intelligent design, which are not in the curriculum anywhere. (See Tennessee House Passes Academic Freedom Bill by 70-23 Vote for details.)

Virelli must live in an alternate universe, where calls for students to "analyze and evaluate" the evidence for evolution, or laws that allow teachers to cover evolution "objectively," somehow become attempts to "combat" or "limit" evolution instruction. Like many Darwin lobbyists, Virelli is misconstruing what it means to "teach the controversy" in an attempt to insulate evolution from scientific scrutiny in public schools.

Looking for New Ways to Censor the Controversy over Evolution

Historically, courts have used an Establishment Clause analysis to strike down laws that limit the teaching of evolution. Virelli admits that attempts to teach the scientific debate over the theory of evolution (what he calls the "distributive model") amounts to "facially neutral policy," meaning that at first blush, they do not appear to violate the Establishment Clause. As Virellis writes, "the distributive model's omission of religious language . . . helps distance the model from the reach of existing Establishment Clause doctrine." He goes on to say that "[a]ntievolutionist policies have become increasingly secular in their language and their stated purpose." Virelli wants to help Darwin lobbyists find alternative legal weapons to strike down the teaching of critical analysis over evolution.

Usually, people praise government policies that do not violate the Establishment clause. Not Virelli. He goes on to describe "the distributive model's facial neutrality for reviewing courts under the Establishment Clause" as a "problem" and bemoans factors that "make[] the Establishment Clause an even less attractive vehicle for plaintiffs challenging the policy on an as-applied basis." Virelli suggests administrative law may be that solution: "the distributive model is best understood through application of administrative law principles."

Virelli highlights several principles of administrative law that, he believes, can be used to attack the distributive model. He applies the concepts of agency expertise, accountability, and efficiency to attempt to break down aspects of the distributive model's political legitimacy. When those standards are applied, however, we see that they fail to strike down the distributive model.

Agency Expertise

Virelli cites "agency expertise" as a problem for the distribute model. According to Virelli, since the majority of scientists are Darwin supporters, the pro-Darwin viewpoint is the only explanation of human origins that should be taught in public schools. He writes:

Considered against the backdrop of these principles, the distributive model demonstrates significant weaknesses. The most obvious and oft-discussed is the problem of agency expertise. The overwhelming majority of current scientific experts support Darwinism as the only scientifically sound explanation of human origins, and opponents of evolution instruction have yet to present an alternative to Darwinism that survives scrutiny under the scientific method. Regardless of whether a scientific revolution is on the horizon, the scientific debate about human origins does not appear sufficiently robust in its current form to legitimize a policy decision based on encouraging students to confront that very debate in public school science classes.

There are two serious problems with Virelli's argument.

First, scientific debates aren't decided by numbers, and some scientific experts see serious scientific problems--grounded in the peer-reviewed scientific literature--with evolutionary explanations. This makes it highly ironic that Virelli mistakenly thinks that peer-review will keep scientific critique of evolution out of schools. As he writes:

A widely-used and popular approach to dealing with scientific reliability issues related to policy making is the use of independent peer review. Peer review involves the consideration by independent experts in the relevant field of the scientific "inputs" on which the policy--in this case the distributive model--is based.

Virelli suggests that without such "protective measures, scientific reliability and accuracy could suffer in ways that may bring the legitimacy of the entire distributive model into question."

At this point, it's revealing that Virelli chooses not to elaborate on what happened in Texas in 2009. When Texas adopted its new science standards, it heard from qualified scientific experts on all sides of this debate. Some of those experts testified that there is no scientific controversy over evolution; other experts testified that there are scientific controversies and they provided dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers to back up their claims. The Texas State Board of Education was convinced that there are sufficient scientific problems with evolution to warrant exposing students to this controversy.

In practice, when agencies rely upon experts to make decisions about evolution instruction, the result is that agencies often wish to teach the controversy. The only way that Virelli can rely on "agency expertise" to stifle scientific criticisms of evolution is to censor the many scientific voices that are critical of Darwinian evolution from being a part of the public policy-making process. Is that what Virelli wants? In any case, this much is clear: When peer-review is fairly considered, it achieves the opposite goal that Virelli wants because it justifies teaching scientific weaknesses in evolution.

Second, leading science education theorists explain that the best way to teach science is to teach students about argument and debate. As a paper in the journal Science last year stated:

Argument and debate are common in science, yet they are virtually absent from science education. Recent research shows, however, that opportunities for students to engage in collaborative discourse and argumentation offer a means of enhancing student conceptual understanding and students' skills and capabilities with scientific reasoning. As one of the hallmarks of the scientist is critical, rational skepticism, the lack of opportunities to develop the ability to reason and argue scientifically would appear to be a significant weakness in contemporary educational practice. In short, knowing what is wrong matters as much as knowing what is right. This paper presents a summary of the main features of this body of research and discusses its implications for the teaching and learning of science.

(Jonathan Osborne, "Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse," Science, Vol. 328 (5977): 463-466 (April 23, 2010).)

The problem is that science education does not sufficiently emphasize inquiry-based learning. Yet according to Osborne, there are "a number of classroom-based studies, all of which show improvements in conceptual learning when students engage in argumentation." In Osborne's view, "Critique is not, therefore, some peripheral feature of science, but rather it is core to its practice, and without argument and evaluation, the construction of reliable knowledge would be impossible". Osborne cites work from sociology, philosophy, and science education showing that students best understand scientific concepts when learning "to discriminate between evidence that supports (inclusive) or does not support (exclusive) or that is simply indeterminate." (emphases added) (For extensive documentation of science education authorities who recommend using such inquiry methods when teaching science, see The Constitutionality and Pedagogical Benefits of Teaching Evolution Scientifically.)

Thus, Virelli's recommendation, which would dumb down of evolution instruction in favor of blandly presenting a one-sided view, is actually the exact opposite of what science education experts would recommend. When properly implemented, relying on "agency expertise" does not defeat the distributive model as Virelli hopes it will.


In Virelli's discussion of accountability, he argues that the public is not competent to assess the scientific merits of a debate over evolution, so that debate should not be presented to the public at all. Attacking the intelligence of the public, Virelli writes:

By relying on the existence of a scientific controversy over evolution to support the distributive model, policy makers leave the lay public with little choice but to evaluate the merits of the decision on the policy makers' own scientific terms; the public must either accept that a scientific dispute about evolution exists or engage the scientific issue on their own. In neither case are policy makers accountable for their decision, as the public is forced to either accept at face value the existence of a scientific controversy involving evolution and, in turn, the legitimacy of the distributive model, or to engage in an independent scientific investigation of the matter that is likely beyond its technical competence.

Virell's argument here makes no sense: public policymakers are elected by the public, and so in our model of democracy the public elects policymakers which it feels are competent to address the relevant issues. Virelli is wrong that there is no accountability for policy makers: most policy makers are elected officials and if the public does not like their decisions, they can be voted out. So accountability is also not a problem for the distributive model.

Political Legitimacy

Here, Virelli initially suggests that the distributive model does not suffer from political illegitimacy. "By empowering individual educators to make decisions about evolution instruction in real time, the distributive model is potentially as efficient as fact-specific policy making could conceivably be." Nonetheless, he argues that the decisions teachers make could become "a potentially random series of pedagogical choices" which leads to "a lack of decisional consistency." What Virelli is suggesting is the opposite of academic freedom.

And why is academic freedom bad? Those teachers who choose to inform students about scientific controversies about evolution might in fact teach evolution in a pedagogically superior fashion than those who choose to teach the standard dumbed-down version of evolution. Virelli is correct that under academic freedom there might not be absolute uniformity among what teachers teach. But given the pedagogical benefits which come with teaching scientific controversies, we would argue that professional educators should have the freedom to teach about scientific controversies if they wish to do so.

If there is any "lack of decisional consistency," it is because some teachers will now exercise the freedom to use superior pedagogical approaches (e.g. teaching the controversy), while other will stick to the status quo. Virelli sees the granting of breathing room for improvement as a bad thing; we see it as a good thing.

Additionally, Virelli apparently does not trust qualified teachers to teach the controversy over evolution in a pedagogically effective manner. He suggests that by delegating some power to local authorities like teachers or administrators, "the distributive model will most likely be challenged on grounds that require judicial scrutiny under the arbitrary or capricious standard." If that is the legal standard, then teachers who properly teach the controversy over evolution have nothing to worry about.

Teachers who properly teach the scientific controversy over evolution can rest assured that their approach is backed by peer-reviewed scientific papers and the recommendations of leading science education theorists. So long as teachers use pedagogical tools (such as Explore Evolution) that are based upon peer-reviewed scientific critiques of Darwinian evolution, and properly implement the inquiry method, the only party that needs to be worried is the Darwin lobby, and perhaps law professors like Louis J. Virelli.

Virelli relies on faulty assumptions about the debate over evolution. He questions whether a debate even exists, conflates creationism with scientific critiques of evolution, and suggests that real scientists do not support challenges to evolution. But when the facts are fairly assessed, we see that the issues Virelli raises pose no challenge to teaching evolution scientifically and objectively in public schools.