Courtesy Mark RyanYou’d think since the decision handed down in the Kitzmiller et al v. Dover court case in 2005 creationists would have given up trying to force their decidedly non-scientific views into public school science curricula. But apparently that’s hasn’t been the case. Those touting pseudo-scientific explanations such as intelligent design (creationism all dressed up in a monkey suit – as someone cleverly put it) are still at it, trying to get their religious-based ideas included in science classroom discussions.
A talk given by Steven Newton at this year’s Geological Society of America meeting in Minneapolis dealt with ways to counter the methods creationists use to push back against the information presented in earth science classes within the K-12 public school settings. The talk was one of several in a session titled, Geoscience Education X: Overcoming Threats to Earth and Space Science at K-12 Levels.
According to Newton, who’s with the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), the creationists’ methods amount to nothing less than sabotage.
Some of the feedback he said he heard from the nation’s public schools helps illustrate the kind of resistance earth science teachers continue to get from students, parents, and even school administrators. When a controversial subject such as evolution or climate change is being presented, teachers report being told to “tone it down” or “skip that chapter”* or to “teach both sides” (why just two sides? why not 200?). Newton said teachers also heard pleas of “don’t offend parents” from school administrators.
Of course, the earth sciences aren’t the only disciplines under attack. Just this past week, a story came out of Kentucky about how the school superintendent in Hart County complained in a letter to the state’s education commissioner and board of education members that he was concerned to learn that the state testing guidelines for biology considered evolution as a fact while at the same time “totally omitting the creation story by a God who is bigger than all of us.” It’s a harrowing example of the anti-science attitudes that are still prevalent in our country, and how creationists continue to threaten science education.
These don’t-rock-the-boat mitigations of scientific knowledge are harmful to science in general and aren’t doing the students any favors. Spoon-feeding watered down information or adding non-scientific knowledge into the mix confuses students and deprives them of a proper science education. Strong suggestions such as “teach the controversy” (when there is none) serves no purpose other than as a way to force religious or irrationally-based information into the public schools.
The anti-science crowd uses various means of attack to undermine geoscience knowledge in the schools and elsewhere. It questions the fossil record, pointing to something like the 19th century Piltdown Hoax as an example of how fossils and their interpretation can be faked. They make a huge leap of logic and argue that since one fossil was faked then all fossils must be questioned. The validity of radiometric dating is thrown into doubt with misinformation such and out-of-context or re-edited quotes from legitimate scientists, and even salted quotes.
Some worn-out creationist ploys have been lurking about for years, stories of dinosaurs spotted living in the Congo, fossil human footprints discovered alongside dinosaur tracks, a stegosaur figure found in the carvings of an ancient temple in Cambodia, a plesiosaur carcass hauled up from the depths by a Japanese trawler. These and other stories have either been thoroughly debunked or have failed to ever present any concrete evidence, yet continue to creep into otherwise serious evolution discussion,
The Internet is clogged with creationist viewpoints, some sites disguised with scientific-sounding domain names. This requires students to be alert and very careful about their research sources.
In hopes of legitimizing their point of view, creationist organizations of late have sponsored lectures and propaganda films in venues rented from legitimate scientific institutions such as they did at Southern Methodist University (SMU) and the California Science Center. When objections are raised and such events cancelled, the creationists proclaim it amounts to nothing less than censorship of ideas. But creationist ideas have always been poor in scholarship, lacking peer review or any kind of objective testing. Many are totally untestable.
Newton also warned against what he considers mistaken solutions to the problem of creationist pushback. Debating pseudo-scientists or giving their ideas equal time in the classroom only gives them unwarranted credibility. And why “teach the controversy” when there is none in the first place?
But, Newton insists that this doesn’t mean earth science teachers should avoid dealing with the pushback. Creationist tactics evolve over time, coming up with new ways to attack legitimate science. And just as new vaccines are developed to fight evolving flu viruses, science teachers need to stay a step ahead of the creationists and counter their anti-science attacks with a vaccine of cold, hard, scientific facts. Perhaps this affliction can be wiped out in our lifetimes.
*Attacks against science aren’t reserved only for the schools. Just this past week biologist and science-blogger PZ Myers alerted his readers to the fact that the Discovery Channel had purchased rights to broadcast the BBC documentary series by David Attenborough titled “Frozen Earth” but that it wouldn’t be including the last episode regarding climate change because the subject was too controversial. (Evidently, after a flood of well-deserved complaints the Discovery Channel has now reversed its decision and will air all seven episodes).
Courtesy Mark RyanEducators and students to our south (Iowa –not Mexico) are up in arms about a bill in committee in the Iowa legislature that they say is just another wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing attempt from anti-evolutionists to inject creationism into school curricula.
House File 183, aka the “Evolution Academic Freedom Act” would allow educators in public elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools to teach “the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution” without fear of dismissal, discrimination or being disciplined. But what exactly the full range of scientific views is, they don't say. That's because evolution is by far the best scientific explanation of biological life on Earth that we have at this time.
This attempt to open the way for getting non-scientific views about evolution into the schools is nothing new. The same tactic has been tried recently in other states, and all but one failed. The unfortunate exception was a bill in Louisiana which governor Bobby Jindal, a creationism supporter, recently signed into law.
Opposition to the Iowa legislation is being organized across the state.
“The bill sounds good in its language, but the reality is 99 percent of scientists believe in evolution,” said Hector Avalos, a professor of philosophy and religious studies at Iowa State University. “It is all about Teach the Controversy strategy — the idea it’s fair to teach both sides.”
Fifty-six professors from across Iowa and more than 220 other people have signed an Iowa faculty petition which calls for the legislature to reject HF 183.
“The premise of the petition is that this [legislation] is ridiculous. Let’s stop it here,” said John Logsdon, a University of Iowa associate professor of evolutionary molecular genetics. “It is teaching something that is not science cloaked in an academic freedom issue.”
Opponents say the wording in the bill smacks of the propaganda disseminated by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based purveyor of so-called Intelligent Design (creationism all dressed up as science and looking for love). In 2005, a court ruling ( Kitzmiller v. Dover) in Pennsylvania concluded that Intelligent Design is not science, and could not “uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”
Another favorite creationist tactic is to create controversy where there is none. For example, HF 183 states “instructors have experienced or feared discipline, discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution.” But in reality state education departments have found no such cases of discrimination nor have sponsors of the bill provided any.
HF 183 is supported mainly by conservative religious groups and not from any legitimate scientific or educational organizations. The bill’s sponsor is Rod Roberts, a five-term representative, and ordained minister who also works as Development Director for Christian Churches-Church of Christ in Iowa.
Both the Iowa State Education Association and the Iowa Department of Education oppose the bill.