22 July 2011

Supplemental debates in Texas: Good news

Yesterday, the Texas State Board of Education reviewed some of the proposed supplemental materials for the sciences in K-12 classrooms in Texas.

The supplemental material from International Databases, which was explicitly teaching intelligent design (see previous posts: first, second, third), was voted down. Unanimously. That is good news.

Slightly worrying, however, are reports of one publisher getting a list of last minute “errors.” One of the “errors” was telling, as Thoughts From Kansas reports:

(T)he reviewer objected to the passage: “Darwin observed anatomical features of organisms and hypothesized that organisms that appear similar have a more recent common ancestor than do organisms that do not appear similar. Modern biology proves on the molecular level what Darwin noticed on the anatomical level. The number of amino acid differences in homologous proteins of different species is proportional to the length of time that has passed since the two species shared a common ancestor. Thus, the more similar the homologous proteins are in different species, the more closely related the species are thought to be.”

Instead, they wanted the second sentence and after replaced with: “Yet modern biochemical phylogenies often contradict Darwin's anatomical phylogenies.” (There may have been more after that, but if so, it was cut off in reproduction.) This is rather dramatically different. The first is true and justifiable scientifically, while the latter means essentially the opposite, and is not true.

The problem is the weasel word “often.” I can find plenty of cases where morphology and molecules generate different suggested relationships. I will probably be blogging about some in crustacean taxonomy at some point. But there are a lot of trees out there, and morphology and molecules agree far more often than not.

Yesterday, the board voted against a representative from the publisher to address the board regarding the alleged “errors.”

What will happen with this publisher will be determined today. This may be where the sparks fly.

Reviews of yesterday’s events can be found at Texas Freedom Network, Thoughts From Kansas, and Steve Schafersman.

1 comment:

AK said...

I'm 110% in favor of the latter. While the vast majority of cases might show a correspondence, the case of the cetaceans, among others, is a particularly cogent example.

The former isn't science, it's making a religion out of an obsolete scientific paradigm. Anatomical similarities are simply too often misleading. The " number of amino acid differences in homologous proteins of different species" often isn't "proportional to the length of time that has passed since the two species shared a common ancestor", especially in cases of positive or purifying selection.

Textbooks shouldn't be "simplifying" science to the point that it isn't science. The problems, and contradictions between simplistic paradigms, are a real part of science and shouldn't be hidden.

Of course, it does sort of depend on what the text says beyond the cuttoff point.