Martin County textbook hearing: Evolution “is not proven science”

We should stop teaching evolution as established fact and instead supplement its teaching with all the gaps and uncertainties that so many of the world’s scientists admit that it is riddled with. That’s the main argument proposed by a few citizens in Martin County who testified before a hearing officer May 9, 2018, about new science textbooks the school district is in the process of adopting (Biology by Miller & Levine and Pearson’s Elevate Science). In years past, these same citizens would have submitted written complaints or spoken for a few minutes before the school board and then would have been politely thanked. End of story. But now due to a new Florida law, any citizen with complaints about textbooks must be allowed to present their grievances, regardless of their merit, in an official hearing presided over by an appointed hearing officer and responded to by school district staff.

The May 9 proceeding was an hour and twenty minutes long. Two men laid out their cases in person at the hearing against the teaching of evolution as fact and a few others who had earlier submitted complaints were represented by written statements due to their not being able to attend. The school district defended evolution in the science textbooks with testimony from the district’s chief academic officer and the district’s science coordinator.

The Collier County school district is also facing complaints from citizens about evolution in the science textbooks. The main similarity between Collier’s and Martin’s protests is that they’re claiming that the textbooks don’t adhere to Florida Statute requirements. Here is what one of the Martin County citizens said during the May 9 hearing:

“Florida Statutes declare that materials recommended for instructions should be accurate, objective, and balanced. Within the scientific community, the origin of species is a debated topic. Since there is controversy within a scientific community it is unbalanced to present evidence from only one side. And to present that one side as seemingly factual is also not accurate.”

But the Collier and Martin groups are taking significantly different paths in their efforts to make the textbooks “accurate, objective, and balanced.” Collier County protesters are boldly and proudly demanding that evolution be balanced with creationism, according to their (Florida Citizens’ Alliance) website, their multiple statements to the media, and their statements at a recent school board meeting. But the Collier citizens haven’t had their official hearing yet, so we’ll see if that tactic changes.

Martin County protesters are attempting to stay clear of overt mentions of creationism. Their written objections that had sparked the need for a hearing (see my previous post about the objections) did request things like: “Develop a curriculum which presents the fact that evolution is theory and not fact, making room for other beliefs.” But there was no explanation of what those other beliefs might be. And during the May 9 hearing, creationism was never mentioned. One protester stated: “I would like to first point out that my objections to these instructional materials are not solely based on my personal belief system but are grounded in our established Florida Statutes.” That’s about it.

Instead, the Martin citizens spent all of their time at the hearing testifying that the textbooks’ treatment of evolution is not accurate or balanced. They brought up a long list of examples of prominent scientists questioning the theory of evolution. The protesters pointed out several supposed inaccuracies in the textbooks. They insisted that evolution counterarguments need to be included in the textbooks or some type of supplementary materials and that the inaccuracies need to be removed. They argued that evolution should not be spoon-fed to students as settled science as that stifles critical thinking.

But when the hearing officer asked the gentlemen for specific information about what should be given to students, neither had an answer. For instance, here is one exchange:

Citizen: Well, my conclusion is that this textbook presents only one side of a controversial scientific subject. And I’m also concerned with the inaccuracies presented. To be accurate, objective, and balanced more information must be presented than is in this textbook. Therefore, I suggest the best solution will be to develop or procure supplements, supplementary materials, that offer parallel explanations and to not use the textbook as the sole source of information. Presenting only one side of a controversy should not be recognized as good teaching.

Hearing Officer: What parallel theories do you propose?

Citizen: I do not have that information.

And here is another exchange:

Hearing Officer: Now do you have a suggestion that the board should consider in terms of textbooks?

Citizen 2: I do not and the reason for not coming prepared with that is that I read the Florida Statutes and I did not see really, and this was just possibly my mistake, but I do not really see a place where I was specifically at you know instructed to bring my own supplementary materials. Of course, I did … when I originally filled up the objection form I believe that we should have replacement. I also understand that Al was talking about supplementary materials. I did mention supplementary materials as well. But yeah that’s my reasoning.

Hearing Officer: So that I’m clear, and I think this question goes to both of you and I think this is what I have gleaned from your presentations, is that you believe the current textbooks, Biology and Elevate Science, are short, deficient as good as word as any, in that they do not present the possibility of other theories to Neo-Darwinism.

Citizen 2: Not necessarily other theories because within evolution there are so many different ways that they believe it started. Even to just add that in. I mean, that there’s, you know, other ways that we believe life started. I’m not proposing any specific way. I’m just saying that I feel like our students deserve, you know, other ways to know that it’s not just set in stone. That there’s a frontier out there that they can really explore. But when you when you just kind of give them that this is what most people think, well then they’re gonna think like most people, and not critically.

Hearing Officer: So you believe that the material should be supplemented …

Citizen 2: Yes.

Hearing Officer: … by material that suggests there are other explanations, or that Darwin’s explanation needs to be expanded upon.

Citizen 2: Correct.

Citizen 1: We go so far as to say that the material ought to at least point out the fact that there are gaps in the theory. That there is controversy and it makes no mention of a controversy.

Hearing Officer: Sure.

Citizen 1: And I think that was some effort, people could come up with materials which present other information on the other side of the controversy.

In response to the complaints, the school district representatives relied heavily on the Florida State Science Standards. One powerful argument was:

For the standard, one of the main standards that we’re discussing, and mostly we’ve been discussing today the Miller and Levine biology book, the standard is SC.912.L.15.1 … (miscellaneous discussion about where the information is in the notes) … requires that students explain how scientific theory of evolution is supported by the fossil records, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, biogeography, molecular biology, and observed evolutionary change. Florida’s science standards do not call for any such material that includes a presentation of alternative theories.

Additionally, the school district had reached out to textbook author Kenneth Miller to get his response to the complaints. The district included in their testimony this quote from Miller:

However, authentic critical thinking does not involve misleading students by presenting ideas that have been rejected for cause by the scientific community in a way that gives them equal standing to accept a well tested theory and principle.

The next step in the Martin County process is for the hearing officer to submit a written recommendation to the school board based on the information he gathered at the hearing. That’s supposed to happen within 14 days; however, I don’t know if that is 14 days including weekends or just 14 work days. Depending on the answer to that, the document should be submitted by either May 23 or May 30. Then the school board will make a final decision on what to do about the complaints at their next board meeting.

I have no idea what to expect. If I was forced to make a prediction, I’d say that the hearing officer is going to recommend that the school board take no action on the complaints. The protesters didn’t come prepared to the hearing with a specific course of action for the school district to take other than change the textbooks or provide supplementary material. What specific changes? What supplementary material?

But I could be wrong. I don’t know if the hearing officer was swayed at all by the protesters’ lengthy list of dissenting scientists examples. And I don’t know the backgrounds of the school board members, other than board member Rebecca Negron is the spouse of Florida Senate President Joe Negron. It’s worth keeping an eye on this.

I’ve included “below the fold” of this post the full transcript of the hearing. You can also listen to the hearing — it was only audio recorded, not video recorded. I’ve uploaded the hearing recording to YouTube. During the upload, I was forced to break it into two parts. Part one. Part two. I’m sincerely interested in hearing your thoughts!

Below is a transcript of the entire hearing (one hour and twenty minutes). It’s not 100% accurate but it’s very close. Some speakers talked very fast and nearly everyone stumbled over words throughout, making the transcription process challenging. So, if parts of the transcript are confusing, it’s because there were many incomplete thoughts, long and rambling sentences, and overall nervousness.

Julian: Thank you all for coming. I’ve been around government for many, many years as a municipal attorney and school board attorney and whatever and I always found it very exciting when members of the public took the time to come and participate. So, you’re welcome. And with that my name is Ned Julian. I am the designated hearing officer for this hearing.

The hearing is governed by Florida Statute 1006.28 and the statute provides that individuals who may petition the board concerning a textbook or textbooks. The hearing is to be conducted by someone who is not employed by the school district or related to anybody school board members. The hearing is not subject to the provisions of chapter 120. Florida has a very extensive Administrative Procedures Act that governs many procedures by both state and local agencies but this proceeding is exempt from chapter 120. And basically the board has a policy and the parties have discussed the parameters of presentation. And after the hearing is concluded within 14 days I will submit a formal recommended order to the school board. And then it’s the school board will make its decision concerning that document.

Now we have a lot of time. Parties tentatively agreed that the petitioners will each make an opening statement 15 minutes plus or minus. Then Ms. Baxter will respond on behalf of the school district and the superintendent and the board plus or minus 15 minutes. And then each side is going to present whatever material they want me to consider in arriving at my decision. And then when everybody is finished with that phase the parties will each be given an opportunity to close. Now, I don’t want anybody to feel like they haven’t had an opportunity to say everything they want to say so I’m not going to run a time clock, but I assume that you will be conscious and conscientious about it and we’ll move forward.

The objections have been directed to two textbooks Biology by Miller and Levine and Elevate Science by Miller, Padilla and Wysession. Biology is a high school textbook and Elevate Science I believe is a seventh grade textbook? It is the seventh grade textbook. We have objections filed by Sydney Gallogly to both books, Nathan Joiner to Biology, the Hoffpauirs to both books, and Mr. Robinson to both books. So even though some of the objectors are not here, I think between Mr. Joiner and Mr. Robinson the scope of the objections will pretty well be covered.

Now this hearing is governed by the school board rule 25.20 and specifically the provisions [unintelligible]. But, anyway, the format is prescribed by policy.

Now the Gallogly’s objection basically says either find an objective and balanced textbook or develop supplemental avenues that present the, uh, both for and against the theory of evolution. That same objection has been presented by Mr. Gallogly or Sydney Gallogly, I guess, that maybe Mrs. Gallogly to Elevate Science. So the objections are all the same basically to each of the textbooks. Let’s see. Mr. Joiner says please replace this text book with one that doesn’t teach evolution such as a factual matter. And then Joan Hoffpauir has objected to Elevate Science and her objection states: find or develop material which teaches all theories of the origins of life in an objective matter by scientific method. Since Darwin’s theory is thoroughly explored I feel it is best to explain all theories in an objective manner. Many qualified scientists do not believe a fossil record is not solid enough to present it as fact. And then Brent Hoffpauir objects, directs his to Biology and his statement is find or develop curriculum that presents an objective case both for and against evolution. And then Mr. Robinson, going to Elevate Science: develop a curriculum which presents the fact that evolution is theory and not fact making room for other beliefs. And that same objection goes to Biology.

So, we’re going to start with opening statements. And I think we’ll start with Mr. Robinson. Now, if you will speak directly into the microphone. I don’t know how this system works but I find that sometimes people turn away from the microphone then we don’t hear everything they have to say.

[7:57] Unknown person: If I can just jump in real quick Mr. Julian, I did want you to know that the Hoffpauirs have submitted a written statement.

Julian: Right. I have that statement. It will be part of our record.

[8:11] Robinson: Well, I want to thank you for the opportunity to have my objection heard. My name is Al Robinson. I am a resident of Stuart and a retired teacher. I spent most of my career teaching sixth grade in a middle school environment and I understand the value of learning. And I must also say that I find it interesting that it was said that we are making history in the fact that there have been no other cases of objections, which in a history of this subject, I find difficult to understand.

First I would like to begin at a place of common ground. Martin County students ought to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidences, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues. Because of this, I am concerned with the presentation of the material that relates to the Origin of Species as seen in Miller and Levine Biology textbook. And I might add that while I also looked at the seventh grade textbook, my comments are directed towards the high school biology book and probably there are parallel objections.

Florida Statutes declare that materials recommended for instructions should be accurate, objective, and balanced. Within the scientific community, the origin of species is a debated topic. Since there is controversy within a scientific community it is unbalanced to present evidence from only one side. And to present that one side as seemingly factual is also not accurate. I believe the introduction of the textbook highlights the argument that I’m going to be making. It says: don’t just memorize to today’s scientific facts and ideas. And please don’t just believe them just because they are in a textbook.

The text states in the beginning of unit five, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, whose development beautifully demonstrates the nature of science, is the best scientific explanation for many kinds of patterns among organisms. Evolutionary theory demonstrates and explains relationships between structures of living things and their functions, mechanisms of change and their effects, and patterns of change over time. Well evolution does give one explanation of all these things but as was asked of the students at the beginning of this textbook, they must not believe these facts and ideas just because they are in this textbook. If that is how the information was presented on this origin of life in this text then I would not be sitting here.

Even within the scientific community researchers are still trying to resolve some of the questions the evolutionary theory raises. We must have academic honesty with the questions that remain unanswered. And here is the crux of my argument, if we are to maintain the three values found in the state of Florida Statutes for instructional materials which are objective, accurate, and balanced learning, then we must present the facts while being honest about scientific controversy.

[12:30] (Miscellaneous conversation: Mr. Joiner not this time is it only the opening statements yes sir. So now if you would speak directly in the mic. Be sure because we’re recording, and we want to make sure we have a good record. Okay. Yeah, I believe it’s working. How’s that? All right.)

Joiner: I’d like to acknowledge all of the board members here and also our mediators and everyone who just came out. And thank you all for being here. I’m so privileged and honored to be a part of these proceedings. It’s encouraging to see that our community is reaching out and showing support of our school governing body. As I’m sure you are aware Martin County, our County, has the best performance in Florida when it comes to test scores and graduation rate. That is something we can be proud of and certainly give credit to the leadership spearheading these results. Today I’m here not to discredit or undermine our faculty but to take the chance that I’ve been given to objectively disagree with the high school book titled Biology by Miller and Levine published by Pearson. However, I wanted to (rate?) that I’m not here to (withstand?) anyone’s beliefs or actions at this time. I’m simply here to support our wonderful school leadership and speak objectively on behalf of this newly adopted book.

[14:23] Julian: Alright, Ms. Baxter.

Baxter: And Mr. Julian, on behalf of the district I have sitting also at the table is our chief academic officer, Dr. Tracy Miller, and our science coordinator, Valerie Gainer, and they will be presenting on behalf of the district.

Julian: Alright do you have an opening statement?

Miller: Yes. I do thank you.

Julian: Would you state your name clearly for the record?

Miller: Sure. Tracy Miller chief academic officer for the Martin county school district. Thank you as well for being here today for the 2018 instructional materials adoption hearing which is part of the Florida Department of Education approved process for the adoption of instructional materials here in Florida. I am Dr. Tracy Miller chief academic officer for the school district and I’m here today representing the many teachers, administrators, parents, and local community members who took part in the 2018 science textbook adoption for which this hearing is a part. I’m also here to speak to the expectations of the Florida Department of Education set forth in the course code directory and the test item specifications in terms of the requirements for teaching science in the state of Florida, specifically for biology and grades seven comprehensive science.

I’d like to just speak to the adoption process a little bit, especially. We have a lot of people in the room who may not be familiar with the process. Our instructional materials adoption follows Florida Statute 1006.40, specifically sections 3-D and is designed in part to assure that all the materials are aligned to the next generation science standards and that they are, in fact, as you mentioned, accurate, objective, balanced, non-inflammatory, current, free of pornography and material prohibited under Section 847.0112. And I’ll take just a minute to briefly share the adoption process to date which is fully outlined in the instructional materials adoption timeline and it highlights the process that follows our state statute. And in your book, gentlemen, it’s tab two: the instructional materials process. Also included is the training presentation that was provided to members of the instruction materials review team to introduce the team members to their duties and also associate them with all applicable forms and requirements of being a member of this team.

Not only have we followed state statute in regards to the selection and adoption of the board approved materials and adhere to all processes and timelines as outlined by Florida Statutes and Martin County School District Board policy, but we have selected material that are on the state adopted list. In other words, the state of Florida has gone forth and set a short bid list which is exhibit 6b that outlines the fact that the state of Florida also went through a process to review and approve these materials, And so, although not required to go through this entire process, we choose to do this here in Martin County to assure that everyone who wants to have a say in the materials use in our classroom has that opportunity and to also assure that we are in fact following all of the guidelines and best practices set forth. So, in December, we sent invitations to committee members noticing them of a January.

Julian: What is your opening regarding the issues in the presentation of the objection? Because you’ll have time to present your documents.

Miller: Okay.

Julian: So, do you have a short statement concerning the position of the school board?

Miller: So, the school board’s position, thank you, is that we have in fact followed all the state statutes and we have recommended and approved materials that are, in fact, following all of the requirements under the law for state adopted instructional materials. And the fact that the Florida State Standards, specifically the next generation science standards for science, govern those studies and topics that are required to be taught in our schools. And our position is that that is in fact what happens here in the Martin County school districts.

Julian: All right Mr. Joiner would you care to present material, excuse me, Mr. Robinson, would you care to present any material or objections? (Miscellaneous conversation: Well, expound on your objection made your opening statement so they were okay)

[19:02] Robinson: Contrary to the admonition cited earlier, the students should not believe ideas just because they’re in this textbook, Biology by Miller and Levine presents a very one-sided view. They state, every scientific test has supported Darwin’s basic ideas about evolution, yet leading evolutionists admit a lack of proof.

Biologist Lynn Margulis, late member of the National Academy of Sciences and former University of Massachusetts professor, noted “I was taught over and over again that the accumulation of random mutations led to evolutionary change and led to new species and I believed it until I looked for evidence.”

The Royal Society in England is one of the world’s most prominent scientific organizations. In November of 2016 the Society held a conference called New Trends in Evolutionary Biology to discuss whether evolutionary theory, specifically the neo-Darwinian mechanism, can adequately explain the diversity of life or if other propositions are necessary. Around 200 scientists attended this meeting. Over 20 top scientists and scholars from around the world presented. Presenters included the president of the International Union of Physiological Sciences, the president of the European Society of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Association of Science. At the conference Gerd Muller of University of Vienna’s department of theoretical biology in a Konrad Lorenz Institute for evolution and cognition research, laid out the key ideas of biology that neo-Darwinism has not been able to explain. Most importantly, Muller highlighted that modern Darwinian theory has failed to explain the origin of new anatomical structures, which was the main goal of Darwin’s theory in the first place.

Last October the Royal Society published an article by Muller where he listed all sorts of challenges to traditional Darwinian theory. To quote him, “Indeed a growing number of challenges to the classical model of evolution have emerged over the past few years, such as from evolutionary developmental biology, epigenetics, physiology, genomics, ecology, plasticity research, population genetics, regulatory evolution, network approaches, novelty research, behavioral biology, microbiology, and systems biology. In other words, this affects a lot of sciences. Although Muller is a proponent of evolution he is one of a growing number of leading scientists who see substantial problems with the mainstream view of neo-Darwinian evolution.

In the textbook, chapter 20 of Miller/Levine also presents a one-sided view of the origin of the first life. It states “do we understand the cell completely? Of course not. Many uncertainties remain in our current understanding of cellular complexity. Biologists are still learning how cells function in response to their environments and how they interact with each other. Such uncertainties are as much a part of biology as they are for any experimental science. In many ways this is good news because it means that there are plenty of mysteries to be solved by the next generation of biologists. Meanwhile, what we do understand suggests that complex cell structures and pathways were produced by known mechanisms of evolutionary change.”

Miller and Levine paper over some very large unanswered questions in regard to how the first cell came about. Is it accurate to say that science describes the complexity of the cell to known mechanisms of evolutionary change? In fact, Peter Schuster, professor of theoretical chemistry the University of Vienna, head of the department of molecular evolutionary biology the institute of molecular biotechnology in Jena, Germany and president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, made the statement and I quote “Many different ideas are competing and none is available to provide a sufficiently plausible route to the first living organisms.” [24:30] James Tour and WF Chow, professor of chemistry at Rice University, said, “Those who think scientists understand the issues of prebiotic chemistry are wholly misinformed. Nobody understands them. Maybe one day we will but that day is far from today. It would be far more helpful and hopeful to expose students to the massive gaps in our understanding. They may find a firmer and possibly a radically different scientific theory. The basis upon which we as scientists are relying is so shaky that we must openly state the situation for what it is it is: a mystery.”

Here’s another example of an inaccuracy in the textbook: under the homologous structures section in lesson 17, the author states that one kind of homologous structure, vestigial structures, are ancestral features that have lost their function. According to the text an example of a vestigial structure are the hip bones of dolphins. Why do these vestigial structures persist? One possibility is that they don’t affect an organism’s fitness so selection does not eliminate them. But biologists know that hip bones in dolphins do have a function. They provide support for the reproductive organs. And this research was done at the University of Southern California. The article was called “Whale sex is all in the hips.” This is Science Daily, September 8th of 2014. “Such reasoning lulls students into sloppy and uncritical thinking. This is a problem not just for science but for our society as a whole. A democracy needs well-educated citizens who can spot faulty arguments and think for themselves, not docile masses who swallow what they are fed by authority figures.” And that’s it.

[27:02] Julian: Do you have an alternative to propose to the school board?

Robinson: Yes. Could I state that in my conclusion in my closing arguments?

Julian: Yes. Well you can.

Robinson: I can make it now.

Julian: Yes, if you have an alternative you want the school board to consider. That’s part of your presentation.

Robinson: Well, my conclusion is that this textbook presents only one side of a controversial scientific subject. And I’m also concerned with the inaccuracies presented. To be accurate, objective, and balanced more information must be presented than is in this textbook. Therefore, I suggest the best solution will be to develop or procure supplements, supplementary materials, that offer parallel explanations and to not use the textbook as the sole source of information. Presenting only one side of a controversy should not be recognized as good teaching.

Julian: What parallel theories do you propose?

Robinson: I do not have that information.

Julian: Thank you. Alright, Mr. Joiner.

Joiner: Alright, so for the meat and potatoes of my argument I would like to first point out that my objections to these instructional materials are not solely based on my personal belief system but are grounded in our established Florida Statutes. Florida Statute 1006.31 states that the duty of the Department of Education and the school district instructional materials reviewer are to evaluate instructional materials and only adopt instructional materials found to be, as Al mentioned, accurate, objective, and balanced. As a third party I have been given the gracious opportunity to weigh in on these decisions by presenting evidence that not all of these instructional materials are accurate, objective, and balanced as they seem given the overall length and scope of biology as a subject. For the sake of time I will only present evidence based on whether the instructional materials meet the accurate, objective, and balance guidelines. Now here are my accuracy objections. [29:54]

Number one is the Miller-Urey experiment. When I became aware that the textbook uses the Miller-Urey experiment I was actually pretty surprised. I studied geology at FAU, Florida Atlantic University, for a semester and I had to be taught why this experiment is outdated. And it’s in the book. According to what modern geology, well, actually, I’ll read something over here that I have. Something by David Dreamer, Deemer, sorry, UC Santa Cruz, origin of life theorist. This optimistic picture began to change in the late 1970s when it became increasingly clear that the early atmosphere was probably volcanic in origin and composition, composed largely of carbon dioxide and nitrogen rather than mixture of reducing gases assumed by the Miller-Urey model. Carbon dioxide does not support the rich array of synthetic pathways leading to possible monomers. So the question arose again what was the primary source of organic carbon compounds. And University College London chemists, biochemists Nick Lane says that the primordial soup theory is past its expiration date, So according to what modern geology says about the early Earth there is no reason to continue teaching this tired inaccurate experiment in light of the new scientific evidence which I was explained in college. I understand that some would argue that this experiment is a good tool for helping children understand the origin of life. But I would argue that this material should be supplemented with updated evidence. Why should we plant this seed now if we know that it has to be ripped up later on. It’s harder to unlearn something in my opinion than to just learn it right in the first place. [32:15]

My next inaccuracy argument is getting from building blocks to functioning RNA. The origin of life found in these instructional materials seems to fill in the gaps at times with inaccurate presuppositions as evidenced by right here it says a Robert Shapiro, professor emeritus of chemistry and senior research scientist at New York University noted in Scientific American as a published summary the sudden appearance of large self-copying molecule such as RNA is exceedingly improbable. He also said regarding the RNA world model the flaw is in the logic. That this experimental control done by researchers and a modern laboratory could have been available on the early earth. And according to Scripps Research Institute biochemist and leading RNA world researcher Gerald Joyce, RNA fails as a possible plausible candidate for the first building block of life because it is unlikely to have been produced in significant quantities on the primitive earth.

Yes, and there are a couple more cases of inaccuracies in the book. Yes. Sorry I’m just picking out which part of my evidence I’d like to show here. Yeah, so right here chapter 17 states that recently discovered fossils now show clearly how modern species evolved from extinct ancestors. And it also carries an illustration that lines up with artist’s conception of extinct and living animals to document the evolution of whales from ancestors that walked on land. But the fossil experts are convinced that none of these animals descended from the animals portrayed before them and that’s why they’re all shown at the tips of branches from hypothetical line of ancestry and descent. And even if they were actually related nothing in the illustration shows how they may have evolved. So basically to summarize that, they’re saying they evolved from you know they went from you know between land or sea but they don’t actually have fossil record that backs up that land to sea or vice versa. They just show, at least in the textbook, now whether there’s evidence to prove that in the scientific community, it wasn’t shown accurately in the textbook. It was just artist rendition and then a picture that kind of invalidates it showing that you know the tree just kind of ends. There was no, they’re just kind of hanging out there. So that doesn’t really back up what the book was trying to say in that particular bit there. So I believe that being accurate as well.

So now I will go on to my objections for the balanced and objective. So these are inequalities I believe that exist. That is that scientists I believe disagree about the explanations for the origin of life. This is something similar to what Al was saying. Chemical evolution is foundational to biology because it deals with how the first self-replicating organisms came to be. Yet it is a field with few firm conclusions and one where scientists continue to vigorously disagree about competing explanations. Peter Chester professor of theoretical chemistry at the University of Vienna, and he’s the head of the department of molecular evolutionary biology, that’s microevolution, institute of molecular biotechnology Jena, Germany and president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. They say that many different ideas are competing. None of them is available to provide a sufficiently plausible route to the first living organisms.

And I’d like to kind of pause there. What we’re really saying is that it’s kind of like The Land Before Time if you’ve ever seen that. It’s something that they you know I think it’s a very entertaining movie but they kind of show you know the fish you know crawling out and on the land or something like that. And this is and in this case they’re saying you know this is how it happened or this is how we think it happened. And they’re giving these great visuals and they’re showing you know you know this is how this is how life began instead of saying we’re not really sure. This is how it could have happened. This is how many scientists believe it happened. But they’re not really, you’re not giving other you know possibilities. I mean we even within people the realm of of those who believe in evolution, which many of the many of those who are in fact I would say you know 90% of the people I’ve cited they do believe in evolution. They just don’t agree and exactly how it started.

And I believe this text book is a little too, narrows it down a little too much. And I understand it’s to try to get children to understand in just kind of a broad way. But it’s not really a critical thinking atmosphere. It’s just an atmosphere where the kids just kind of spoon fed this stuff instead of understanding hey there’s a lot of there’s a lot of things we don’t know. Maybe we need to you know imagine a little bit more. Maybe we need to you know think of how this could happen. Where should we do experiments?

I remember sort of and this is my own personal experience I’m gonna throw out there as a child in school. I remember thinking you know I would look at a lizard and I would look at a bird and I would say you know they kind of have similar structures as you’re saying in in my evolutionary class. I believe they’re kind of similar what’s what’s really the difference? And of course at that age they were like you know it just you know just accept it and whatnot. You know dinosaurs were reptiles. And then of course I went to college and I found out that according to new evidence dinosaurs had feathers. And so I was in a sense kind of vindicated. I felt good about. That but you know they didn’t have to be so didn’t have to say you know for sure dinosaurs were reptiles just because of the bone structure and stuff. And then later they find that there’s all these feathers and where did that come from? You know they just sort of fill in the gaps in some situations and I’m that’s why I’m showing you this evidence. I just want to give you a quick summary of that.

So sorry for that deviation there. I’ll continue here. George M Whitesides, professor of chemistry Harvard University, 2007 Priestley medallist: “Most chemists believe as do I that life emerged spontaneously from mixtures of molecules in prehistoric earth. How? I have no idea.” Here’s one: we still do not have even a plausible coherent model let alone a validated scenario for the emergence of life on Earth. Certainly this is due not to a lack of experimental theoretical effort but to the external ordinary intrinsic difficulty and complexity of the problem. A succession of exceedingly unlikely steps is essential for the origin of life from this synthesis and accumulation of nucleotides to the origin of translation. Through the multiplication of probabilities these make the final outcome seem almost like a miracle. And that is Eugene Kunin member of national academy of sciences senior investigator national center of biotechnology information National Institutes of Health.

So given the sharp disagreements that exist among scientists who believe in evolution or believe it at least it for it to be evident evidentially proved evidentially theoretically most likely. It would be poor science education to simply offer students one or more hypothetical explanation about the origin of life without any critical analysis. This would mislead students about the actual state of scientific evidence. And that will be all for my evidence.

[42:42] Julian: Now do you have a suggestion that the board should consider in terms of textbooks?

Joiner: I do not and the reason for not coming prepared with that is that I read the Florida Statutes and I did not see really, and this was just possibly my mistake, but I do not really see a place where I was specifically at you know instructed to bring set my own supplementary materials. Of course, I did my when I originally filled up the objection form I believe that we should have replacement. I also understand that Al was talking about supplementary materials. I did mention supplementary materials as well. But yeah that’s my reasoning.

Julian: So that I’m clear, and I think this question goes to both of you and I think this is what I have gleaned from your presentations, is that you believe the current textbooks, Biology and Elevate Science, are short, deficient as good as word as any, in that they do not present the possibility of other theories to Neo-Darwinism.

Joiner: Not necessarily other theories because within evolution there are so many different ways that they believe it started. Even to just add that in. I mean, that there’s, you know, other ways that we believe life started. I’m not proposing any specific way. I’m just saying that I feel like our students deserve, you know, other ways to know that it’s not just set in stone. That there’s a frontier out there that they can really explore. But when you when you just kind of give them that this is what most people think, well then they’re gonna think like most people, and not critically.

Julian: So you believe that the material should be supplemented …

Joiner: Yes.

Julian: … by material that suggests there are other explanations, or that Darwin’s explanation needs to be expanded upon.

Joiner: Correct.

Robinson: We go so far as to say that the material ought to at least point out the fact that there are gaps in the theory. That there is controversy and it makes no mention of a controversy.

Julian: Sure.

Robinson: And I think that was some effort, people could come up with materials which present other information on the other side of the controversy.

Julian: Okay. Do you accept that Mr. Joiner?

Joiner: Yeah, I believe that that’s a good argument. I do have a closing statement if …

Julian: We’ll get to that. So your position is it, well, you’ve stated it.

Robinson: I’ll say that the textbook is only very one-sided. It does not present any clue the young students that there is controversy. It presents it as fact, as information. I will say that there are plenty of process experiments in the textbook — things that students can work through to learn the processes of science. But the content in these chapters is presented as one-sided only. Only one view and makes no effort to point out the fact that there are plenty of scientists who do not believe in this theory.

Julian: okay all right

[47:06] Miller: the issue before us today as identified by the issue statement is: do the following instructional materials adopted by the Martin County School Board on March 20th, 2018 meet the criteria for state adopted materials pursuant to Florida Statutes? According to section 1006.28, the school district is responsible for adopting courses of study which includes the instruction materials for use in our schools. The course progressions, which is in tab two of the binder, support that we have in fact adopted these courses and are teaching them in our district as required under the statute.

The two books that are being discussed today, Elevate Science course two for grades seven comprehensive science and Florida Biology for biology one, both on the state of Florida’s short bid list for science instruction materials, were approved at the March 28, 2018 board meeting for use in these two courses. And I mention this because this is part of the issue before us today: have we adopted materials pursuant to those statutes and are they meeting the intent of those statutes? Florida Department of Education determines the standards to be taught in those courses that we teach here in the school district. Copies of the course descriptions including the required standards are provided in tab four.

As educators in the state of Florida we must teach students the approved standards and these standards are uniform across all schools and all districts in Florida and adopted by the state in those course code descriptions. We do not create the standard. We don’t write the standard. But we’re required by law to teach them. Therefore, the school district approved the instructional materials before us today that are aligned to those state standards which as mentioned are required to be taught in the district.

In fact, the approved biology textbook is the updated copyright of the currently adopted and used biology textbook. It’s been in use in our classrooms here in the district for about six years. The Martin County School District, as referenced in the issue statement, has followed the state adoption process even further than the extent required. We follow all of the processes even though not required because the books are on the state adopted list and those books are in alignment with Florida statute 1006.40 and also follow 1006.31. So we believe these materials should be made available to the students enrolled in grade 7 comprehensive science and in biology one. And Mrs. Gainer, our science expert the coordinator of science, will share with you how in fact these materials do align to those standards.

[50:04] Gainer: Good morning. I appreciate being here and I appreciate all of you for coming out to support.

Julian: Your name for the record, please.

Gainer: Valerie Gainer. I’m the k-12 science coordinator for the Martin County School District. I have a bachelor’s degree in K-5 unified science, a master’s degree in biology and educational leadership. I’ve taught for over 15 years in three different states in two different countries. I’ve taught in our local Martin County School District at Jensen Beach High School. I taught biology, marine science, anatomy and physiology, and have tutored many students in this local County.

Julian: Take your time.

Gainer: I’ve also been a science administrator for five years. I’ve served on science committees local and statewide. I currently am on the board for the state science supervisors and work closely with the Department of Education, staff members, and the science coordinators throughout the entire state of Florida. Today I’d like to start out with just explaining how the science standards came about. They’re the next generation Sunshine State Standards. The purpose of them is to provide an actual expectation for what students must know and be able to do within the course. Martin County School District does not choose nor determine what these standards are. They are are provided by the state of Florida Department of Education. [51:35] We’re in the public school system so we implement the approved standards. And we require our teachers to teach those listed standards that are in the course descriptions. I already went through and showed you where those were. They’re in exhibit 4 A and B. Those are the course descriptions. They say all the standards, including our science standards, include English language arts, and math standards as well.

The course descriptions provide standards required by the state of Florida to be taught in each course. We also provide our teachers with the test item specifications which equips them with benchmark clarifications. So we have standards but then it tells the teachers how, I guess, for example how deep to go in the standards. And I’ll get into that a little bit more, because I have examples. If you look there is in district exhibit 8a, I did pull out, this is the definition for evolution that’s given directly because this is something that we’re referring to. And in this is a culmination a cumulative change in characteristics of organisms or a population over time from generation to generation. So this is what the state gives us a definition to use. This is what students are tested in biology. But also our eighth grade test that we have is accumulation of their sixth, seventh, and eighth grade standards. So this would be a piece of that eighth grade test as well. And that’s why when I say it’s the eighth grade item of specifications, it’s because that’s where they’re housed. Those specific standards.

So um the next next exhibit that I have is the seventh grade standards, and that is in 8-C. And then finally and these are all from the item specifications. The biology, I didn’t want to make copies of the entire item specifications for everyone but you are welcome to them if you would like to look at them. But I did pull out the related standards that we’re talking about that were in the book. When I looked at all of the objections, I took into account, these are the page numbers I tried to pull those standards directly out of the book.

So the purpose of our instructional material is to supply our teachers and students with resources to provide a comprehensive understanding of standards. If you’ll refer to 6b, this is actually the bid list. I did go in and highlight that this is the state of Florida’s short bid list. This means that they have been reviewed by the state of Florida. If they’ve made it onto the list they are approved as instructional materials for the state of Florida. And both of these books, I did highlight them in yellow I believe on there for you. Both of these books are on the bid list therefore they’ve been approved by the state as appropriate science instructional materials. The two books have also been reviewed … (miscellaneous discussion: oh I’m sorry okay it’s eight of 15 and then 11 of 15) … but I highlighted them in yellow for on the bid list. The two books have also been reviewed and approved by the Martin County School District instructional review team. Which that was comprised of we had public, we had teachers, and I was the coordinator for it. I did not have, I was not a voting member. And then also it has been approved by this Martin County school board.

Currently we are using this Miller and Levine textbook the one with a parrot on it and this is the updated version that we are putting forth to be approved. It has it is an updated version. It has more current and accurate information and discoveries. They’ve also changed. But I will tell you that many of the things are the same but they are updated throughout.

Next I’d like to go over just the exhibit 7a. These are the specific standards found in both textbooks that I believe when I was reading through the objections these were the related standards. So as you can see most of these are related to the theory of evolution. So obviously stated by the gentleman here that theory of evolution. That being said these two books specifically provide information about investigating in our natural world and how scientists use a systematic approach that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. The vast majority of scientists have concluded that the process is known as evolution account for the unity and the diversity of life. These authors, and I am taking information from the authors, have found that that is the reason that they focus these units, not only because it is the, except, they, as they told me, and it’s in within here as well, it is an accepted explanation of predictions in our universe.

Julian: When you say it’s within here you’re talking about … (Julian tries to clarify what Gainer is referring to and Gainer talks over him a couple of times.)

Gainer: I will. I’ll promise, I’ll show you. We contacted the authors of both of the books. And I want to make sure that everyone realizes that the Miller’s are different Miller’s. So the Miller that’s on this book is actually a different Miller. For the record, for the biology book Miller, this is a different Miller than the Miller in the Elevate Science 7th grade. Our school district has provided the objections to the authors. And since they were not able to attend today you can review all of their responses for each of the objections in 7b. So if you go to 7b we have copies of the objection. And then if you turn to the next page the author has provided their summary of the information to answer. But I’d like to provide you with a couple of excerpts from the authors that support the scientific evidence.

One of the things that is being talked about today is theory and how we look at theories and laws and how they need to be taught in our schools. So we have a seventh grade standard and that seventh grade standard is in 8 B. The standard is recognize and explain the difference between theories and laws and give several examples of scientific theories and the evidence that support them. So as you’re going through that, this benchmark gives you many clarifications on how it should be taught in the classroom. The students should be able to tell the difference between a theory and a law. And today we are only talking about theories we have not been discussing laws. Students will identify examples of theories or laws and students will be able to explain why theories may be modified but are rarely discarded.

So this is giving an example that the students should be able to critically think because we are providing information throughout their entire education. We have nature of science standards built in to all of our science courses. This standard, as well as other nature of science standards taught throughout the grade level, the theories must be supported by evidence and that they may be modified and updated.

In regards to the next, there was another objection that was on the Elevate Science, the 7th grade book. The objector was asked, what do you feel might be the result of a student using this material. They stated that students cannot critically think. The Florida Elevate Science program provides ample support in critical thinking. They provide activities that are a key part of the program. The lessons present opportunities for students to critically think, analyze the relationships, when they are when they are given new information and old information, they have to clarify different pieces. Also, one of the pieces that I thought was interesting is on page 332 in the Elevate Science book, when it talks about Darwin’s hypothesis specifically on that page it also talks about developing a theory. So it’s specifically saying that this is a theory. We developed a hypothesis. Now we have to explain what a theory is.

The next objection was on the fact that students would not be able to critically think, and that was towards the Miller and Levine biology book. The author states, so the author gave us information, the author states critical thinking is one of the principal themes of the book. It has case studies, problem-based assessments, and laboratory experiments that promote critical thinking throughout the entire book. [1:02:39] He also states that is an important note. However, authentic critical thinking does not involve misleading students by presenting ideas that have been rejected for cause by the scientific community in a way that gives them equal standing to accept a well tested theory and principle. Also the author spends much time on discussing theory in the biology book. The author provides information on the definition of theory which is given on our dash-2-3, which is a well tested explanation, unifies a broad range of observations and hypotheses, enabling science to make accurate predictions about a new situation. The nature of the scientific theory is discussed in detail on page 14 with the similar language. In fact the general accepted definition for a scientific theory is that it applies very well to the theory of evolution. Evolution has been tested as a scientific theory for more than 160 years. It is unified by observations in the field ranging from biochemistry, paleontology, microbiology, and it enables scientists to accurately make predictions in a number of ways. While no scientific theory is ever regarded as proven beyond a shadow of doubt, the theory of evolution is generally accepted and as a central organizing principle in the science of biology, as the test textbook states. So this is pulled directly from the author.

As a school district we understand the requests by the objectors, which is also to present alternate theories. However as stated the next generation sunshine state standards course descriptions that you can refer to in 4 A and B are the only standards that we are asked to teach. The textbooks are not the sole resource that are used in our classrooms. And I know that you can verify that just but if you’ve been in our classrooms. Our teachers do pull other resources. This is one resource that we make sure that they have to start with. But we do require our teachers to support our state standards. As these two books Florida biology by Miller and Levine and Pearson’s Elevate Science seventh grade course.

For the standard, one of the main standards that we’re discussing, and mostly we’ve been discussing today the Miller and Levine biology book, the standard is SC.912.L.15.1 … (miscellaneous discussion about where the information is in the notes) … requires that students explain how scientific theory of evolution is supported by the fossil records, comparative anatomy, comparative embryology, biogeography, molecular biology, and observed evolutionary change. Florida’s science standards do not call for any such material that includes a presentation of alternative theories. This approved textbook supplies students and teachers with the information, case studies, and learning activities required to meet our state standards. These textbooks offer students the opportunity to do scientific observations, experiments, and have their own discoveries. Scientific fact is a framework by which we unify our theories and construct our tests. This is true for the science of evolution and even the cell theory as well.

In regards to the objection of these materials most of the individuals examined a finite amount of the textbook. Thus it is impossible to know whether they might have found any specific problems with the material as a whole, which is how our students will be exposed to it. In order to create a critical review of the material, the entire book should have been reviewed because the objections presented is that it is not a balanced instruction. If the material was not reviewed in a thorough manner we argue that the opinion or the objection cannot be developed when only a small amount of the material has been reviewed. Also few of the objectors have read any critical reviews on the material or that they posted on their objection. So there’s no citations nor reference materials nor information being offered as to what the examples the book is missing.

Another point to be brought up to the objection is that students would believe in evolution. Since evolution is presented with available facts in a way that might lead them to make conclusions based on evidence that evolutionary process have shaped the history of life and continue to shape it. But this book does not explain that students should believe it nor do the standards indicate that students should be believing in evolution.

[1:08:56] Julian: Anything else?

Gainer: No.

Julian: All right then, Mr. Robinson, would you like to present your closing remarks?

Robinson: Well what I read earlier was (unintelligible) closing remark that that my objection is based on the that one statute of accuracy, being objective and being balanced. And I also stated that I agree that the book develops the processes of science well with the activities and the experiments that would take the students through. However the foundation of written material that they would use in going into these activities and processes is that it’s the text. And the text does not give them any leeway in there, any variance from the theory the evidence of presented on evolutionary science.

I appreciate the thoroughness of what you’ve done here. In my teaching experience I’ve been on textbook selection committees before and I know the amount of work that it takes. I’ve never had to be in your shoes of defending the choice. [1:10:33] However, I will say that not my first experience in arguing against evolution. When I taught sixth grade science I was required to teach a unit on Earth history or an earth and the age of the earth. And the three of us who taught the same course argued and spoke to our science supervisor. And we felt like this is this is not proven science. We’re representing only one side. And you know in our situation which was we were allowed to choose another subject because it was elementary science. We didn’t have to teach. (unintelligible) I realized that you are required to teach this evolutionary science by the state mandates. But I don’t think it has to be taught as the only answer. And I don’t think it has to be taught without giving students knowledge that there are gaps in the theory. Because this textbook and the teacher are the authority. They are the authority that students will believe, that they will walk out of that classroom being influenced by, and many of them will never seek further information. And so they are going to be influenced greatly by this textbook. I realize that you’ve satisfied all the standards, but the content of the book is what I’m objecting to. And the content is teaching that this is the way it is. This is the way that life was formed. And not giving the students any room to believe that or even if it would just offer the fact that there is controversy. I think that would be a great step.

And you said that this is not a new textbook that you’re using the same textbook now but this is an updated version of that textbook. Well then I would say that this is probably not unusual that this subject has been taught for 160 years as you said. Maybe it’s time to change since science is changing and since authorities in science and many many esteemed scientists are saying that there are problems with this theory. Maybe it’s time for us to change that and offer the students that there is room to believe that there could be other science.

[1:13:31] Julian: All right anything further? Mr. Joiner?

Joiner: Yes, um, I think Al took much of the words out of my mouth on that last on his closing statement. I also believe that whereas you do meet all of the state requirements, I’m not arguing against the state requirements, of course, I am arguing against the text itself as he was saying. The text is, it is what it is. And as I have previously stated there are inaccuracies. And these inaccuracies have not been mended over time. They were taught when I was a kid and apparently they’re still being taught regardless of what even, you know, higher education, as colleges teaching something different. And so of course I’m not arguing against next generation, I’m arguing against biology. But I do find it ironic that the name is next-generation when it is clearly built off of generations upon generations of the same material that has not the same the same inaccuracies that just are used as little experiments, little things to explain the theory better. And I understand that it’s difficult. But I also believe that Martin County, that we can do better.

And so I will deliver my conclusion is that I hope I have not bored you all with the talk of science and intellectuals arguing back and forth about the science of biology. And perhaps now you understand or remember how children feel when they have to sit and listen to a new professor trying to make a point. But just to leave you with this, I think we would all agree that every second of instruction no matter how boring is important for the developmental growth of our students. I just implore you to consider the argument I have laid out and decide whether it has any merit. If you feel that I have a compelling discourse then please do everything in your power to rectify the situation. Make certain that our students do not have to sit and listen in vain. Thank you very much.

Julian: Thank you. Alright, that will conclude the hearing.

(Unknown): Actually, we have a closing.

Julian: Excuse me. I’m sorry. You do have a closing. I apologize.

[1:16:25] Miller(?): Gentlemen, we’d like to thank you. And I can assure you, you did not bore us. As Mrs. Gainer will tell you she has made it her mission to ensure that people believe science is important. It’s kind of her tagline or hashtag or whatever it might be that she was really on a mission to make science a top priority in learning for students. And so clearly you didn’t bore anyone today. So thank you. (Someone says, I’ve got a lot of notes.) And Mr. Robinson, I want to thank you for recognizing all the work that goes into a textbook adoption process. You mentioned that you’ve been through this before so you know we do take a lot of pride in the Martin County School District in following the law, what we believe the intent of the law is, and going through every single process in the procedure. And ensuring that we bring in members of the public, members of the school communities, teacher, anyone who wants to review the books and so we go to great lengths to publish the materials online and make that information available. And so thank you for recognizing the work of the committee and the teachers. We appreciate that.

And as you already know you know we believe we have followed all of the standards. We believe we’ve followed the state statutes, and specifically in the adoption of the materials, the process that we followed, and as stated in the issue statement, we believe that that we must adopt materials pursuant to Florida statute 1006.31 or statute 1006.403D. We believe we do both, not just one or the other. But clearly both of them in our assessment of these materials and in bringing them forth to the school board. And the Elevate Science course two for grade 7 and Florida Biology they do align with the Florida standards. And I think as you mentioned as well you’re not arguing with the standard. We all clearly realize that these are what we must teach. We don’t have a choice. We don’t have an option. We will teach evolution as defined in the standards. And we will use materials to support that to give teachers what they need in their classrooms to be able to support the teaching of the standards as required. But as we also mentioned we don’t decide when to change standards and when to modify them or when to update them. Those are prescribed to us and so that’s something that might be an issue for the Florida Department of Education as they move forward with revision of standards, as you mentioned the next generation science standards. And that just isn’t something that is an option for us as a district. And understanding that we must teach these standards including the theory of evolution and specifying that it is a theory. It’s outlined in the approved materials and addressed in the manner outlined in the law.

The materials are free of pornography and material prohibited under Section 847.012. They’re suited to the needs of students and their ability to comprehend the material presented and appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used or made available. So we do believe that these materials have been properly identified and presented to the board and approved for use in our classrooms.

Julian: Alright, anything else?

Miller(?): No

Julian: Good. This hearing is now adjourned then. Thank you very much. I will consider all that people have presented and render of an opinion recommended to the school board within 14 days. Thank you.

(There is a little bit of a conversation, presumably between Robinson and Joiner, caught on the recording at the end. I think they’re saying that the school district presenters “skirted the issue” of adhering to statutes.)

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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3 Responses to Martin County textbook hearing: Evolution “is not proven science”

  1. Pierce R. Butler says:

    Ye gods, transcribing that must have taken large parts of several days.

    Thanks and sympathies for all the work you did for just this single post!

    I don’t have time tonight to dig into the meat (such as it is) of the complainants’ claims, but nothing in this article about David Deamer indicates he opposes the theory of evolution: he instead quibbles with the marine volcanic-vent hypothesis of the origins of terrestrial life, proposing a hot-springs model possibly aided by spaceborne amino acids.

  2. Ted Bell says:

    From my perspective, 15,0000 kilometres away and not caught in the daily hurly-burly, I fail to see how the adjudicator will not find for the School Board. The Board’s summary of the Florida curricula and its analysis of the specific objections was devastating.

    It is telling when one objects to content but can’t/won’t offer any specifics about what should be covered instead. And there’s good reason for that: though their cherry picking of quotes was up to the usual standards, they have clearly learned that they must NOT mention the Bible and, after Dover, ID is a bridge too far, they are left with evolution as the only game in town. Quite a delicious irony.

    The transcript is extremely helpful and, I agree, must have taken an age to create. Thank you.

    • Brandon Haught says:

      I found a way to let technology do the bulk of the transcription for me. I just had to do the punctuation and editing for clarity. But, yes, even that took a while.

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