10 December 2007

Texas Education Agency and Chris Comer, Part 14

Robert ScottWhere do I sign?

The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that over 100 of my colleagues sent a letter to commissioner Robert Scott (pictured). The letter (Word document -- easy to miss on the American-Statesman page) argues that the Texas Education Agency should abandon its posture of staying "neutral" on intelligent design, the non-science idea that was tried in court and found wanting in Kitzmiller v. Dover.

You can tell scientists wrote the letter: they have data!
A quick database search of scientific publications since 1975 shows 29,639 peer-reviewed scientific papers on evolution in twelve leading journals alone. To put this in perspective, if you read 5 papers a day, every day, it would take you 16 years to read this body of original research. These tens of thousands of research papers on evolution provide overwhelming support for the common ancestry of living organisms and for the mechanisms of evolution including natural selection. In contrast, a search of the same database for “Intelligent Design” finds a mere 24 articles, every one of which is critical of intelligent design. Given that evolution currently has a score of 29,639 -- while "intelligent design" has a score of exactly zero -- it is absurd to expect the TEA’s director of science curriculum to “remain neutral” on this subject.

In the American-Statesman article, biologist Daniel Bolnick is quoted as saying:
As educators, we simply feel strongly that scientifically sound information be taught in public schools, and certainly having people sympathetic to quality evolution education at the TEA is important.
Incidentally, the American-Statesmanheadline is now referring to Comer's forced resignation as a "scandal."

Meanwhile, in my quest for points of view other than "You have got to be kidding,", I was lead to the blog Telic Thoughts, well known for its support of intelligent design. Some legitimate points are raised in this post:
How is the teaching of evolution compromised by Comer's departure? The answer. It is not.
Which is true. The science standards today are the same as the day before Ms. Comer was forced to resign. But this incident speaks to a pattern that is worrying. When you put together Don McLeroy's on the record support of intelligent design because it is compatible with certain religious views, Ms. Comer's revealing how a presentation by NCSE's Eugenie Scott was put off until 2:00 a.m., and so on... Forgive people for being concerned.

The post continues:
The agency should remain neutral on the issue of intellligent (sic) design. Why? Because it lies outside what should be the real focus of science educators namely, furthering the education of students in Texas.
As many have realized and pointed out, the prospect of weakening teaching on evolution is not compatible with furthering science education. Not saying it's happened yet -- but there is very good reason to be concerned and watchful.

The letter from the biology professors quoted above is very clear why the TEA should not be neutral: intelligent design isn't science.

Moving on:
There is no point to devoting time and resources to a struggle against intelligent design. Taxpayers are not funding that.
Taxpayers are funding the upcoming curriculum review. Periodic review is normal and desirable. There has been no suggestion that the agency should "invest resources" into fighting intelligent design -- but there is a very high probability that various interested parties will either bring intelligent design to the table, or, more likely, try to weaken or remove the bits of the state science curriculum that concern evolution. And it is certainly is within the scope of the Agency's mandate to assess what the state of science is, and what concepts students need to learn to be ready to understand the current state of science.

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