Science is science, hopefully

August 20th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

Tampa Bay’s Creative Loafing blog Political Animal has a post up entitled School of thought: Florida schools are ripe for potential church-state violations. Of interest to us is this observation:

Science is science. You’d think there wouldn’t be any argument over whether something that’s not based on empirical evidence should be taught in science classes. But creationism still creeps into some classrooms. Obviously if a teacher is discussing religious tenets in the context of a humanities class, that’s one thing. But anyone who thinks Satan put dinosaur bones underground to trick us into thinking the universe’s age exceeds 6,000 years should probably not be teaching science. Or anything at a public school.

“If you’ve got a teacher telling you that creationism is the way and that you need to pray, we will come in there and we will fix that,” Seidel said. “If we can’t fix it, we will sue that school.”

Unintelligent Design

August 5th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

Lynn University in Boca Raton has a series of courses called Dialogues of Learning that tackle the main topic of Belief and Reason. One of the courses offered in the Dialogues series is Unintelligent Design. The course description says:

Ever since its original publication, the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection has been attacked by certain segments of society, largely on religious grounds. The most recent version of these attacks has been the invention of what is claimed by its proponents as an “alternative theory” called Intelligent Design. In this course we will study the scientific theory of Evolution, including how it has been expanded in the 150 years since Darwin first proposed it, and then compare it with the pseudoscientific idea of Intelligent Design. We will evaluate Intelligent Design in terms of its fitness as a scientific theory, and also analyze its arguments against naturalistic evolution. The goal of the course is to have students learn about a significant scientific theory, the difference between science and pseudoscience, and learn how to critically evaluate both scientific and non-scientific claims.

The Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin isn’t happy about it. Essentially, he doesn’t think intelligent design should be referred to as pseudoscience. Poor guy.

Sidestepping an important question about school vouchers

August 3rd, 2015 by Brandon Haught

science experimentThe Palm Beach Post published a Q & A session with representatives of Step Up for Students about Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program: Accountability next debate for private vouchers

I want to emphasize that Florida Citizens for Science as an organization doesn’t get directly involved in the voucher debate. Some people think vouchers are good and some people think vouchers are bad, but that’s not a debate we are going to get into. It’s not really in our mission.

But when it comes to science education in voucher accepting schools, we do take a stand. There needs to be some form of accountability, especially in the religion-based schools that teach some form of creationism. Quite a while ago I posted about at least “163 voucher accepting public schools in Florida that use creationist materials or boldly state that they teach anti-science.”

In the Post Q & A I’m happy to see science addressed. First, it’s clear that there is no accountability in the voucher accepting schools when it comes to science:

POST: Are these kids getting standardized tests on things other than reading and math?

EAST: They are not. They are getting history and science, yes. But not being tested.

I’m happy to see the question of creationism is posed:

POST: Are they being taught evolution versus creationism at the religious schools? Is that being asked by SUFS? Are there standards based on their curriculum?

But a big journalistic mistake is to ask a list of questions at once instead of just one at a time. That lets the interview subject pick which question to answer. Notice that Jon East doesn’t bother answering the creationism question. He just answers the last question about standards.

EAST: There are not. The teachers do not have to be certified. The schools do not have to be accredited.

The next question allows East to steer right into the same old unsatisfactory answer that’s been given over and over again for the past several years.

POST: Is that a gap or hole in the program that needs to be filled? What about accountability?

EAST: Accountability isn’t just regulation. Accountability also comes with choice. When a parent can decide whether or not he or she wants to leave a school because their kid may or may not be learning, there’s accountability there too.

Supposedly, parents will hold a school accountable by switching if the school isn’t meeting the parents’ expectations. What is never addressed is what to do when parents actually want bad education? Should something be done in the case of parents wanting their children to learn horribly wrong science? If state money in the form of vouchers or Scholarship Programs is going to anti-science instruction, shouldn’t the state and/or taxpayers stomp on the brakes?

We think so.

“Talk Science With Me” event in Gainesville

July 30th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

science-communicationThere is an interesting event happening in Gainesville tonight called Talk Science With Me. Scientists from the University of Florida will be at various locations around town standing by to chat with you and answer your burning science questions. Their publicity/social media isn’t the best at this point so I’ll try to help them out. I know where some scientists will be at but others aren’t as clear. Here’s what I pieced together from their Facebook and Twitter feeds.

  • Joe Meert is a geologist: Gainesville Public Library downtown from 6-8 pm
  • Andree George is a microbiologist who specializes in soil and water science. Right now he’s studying how salmonella interacts with tomatoes: Know Where Coffee, 5:30-7:30 pm
  • Jack Hutchings’ specialty is in Geology and Paleontology: (location is unclear)
  • Kim Hawkins is a medical scientist and her area of specialty is in neuroscience: (location is unclear)
  • Mike Perfit is a geologist: Gator Laundromat
  • Library Headquarters in downtown Gainesville in on the venue list but it’s unclear who will be there.

They’re going to try and live-tweet the event and use the hashtag #talkscience. If you know anything more about this event, please leave a comment.

Finger licking good

July 27th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

Forbes contributor Peter Reilly went down the Kent “Dr. Dino” Hovind rabbit hole and brought back some gems. He reports that some of those who supported one of my favorite Florida creationists during his legal trials and tribulations are disappointed that Hovind doesn’t see eye to eye with them on some biblical facts. Namely, is the earth flat or not? Troubles About Flat Earth And Other Kent Hovind Developments

There are several videos posted there that you can choose to get sucked into or not. I sampled a few but decided to it would be better to hold on to my sanity a while longer.

dinosaur-adventure-landReilly’s notes are pure gold, though. Such as: “Hovind’s experience has caused him to believe that prison is a very bad idea and not so incidentally unbiblical.” And Reilly got what may be the inside scoop on some of Hovind’s future plans: “The idea would be to use Kent Hovind teachings in each theme park in a way that Kent Hovind becomes to dinosaur theme parks as Colonel Sanders is to chicken eateries. […] His current plans are to seek retirement, enjoy his family, while continuing his teaching on creation, the flood, and the coming end times via social media, radio, and broadcast.”

Will Dinosaur Adventure Land rise again? If I understand correctly, Hovind’s family and supporters bought up the old so-called theme park’s property except for one section and they have been harassing the man who bought that one part to no end.


The conversation about science has started but will it continue?

June 24th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

EOC-PictureI encourage you to see for yourself what Mr. Padget and Ms. Stewart had to say about science scores (see my previous post on this). The video from the meeting is available here. Mr. Padget’s comments on science start at about 12:07. Ms. Stewart’s comments on science are at about 38:48.

I appreciate that they both acknowledge that there is a problem that needs attention. But in typical fashion, Ms. Stewart didn’t linger very long on the low scores, preferring to focus on some bright spots in the sub-categories. And both Ms. Stewart and Mr. Padget neglected to tell the whole story. Stewart said that the passing rate for the biology EOC exams are six percentage points higher than in 2012. True. However, look at the annual break down:

Biology End of Course
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
Spring 2014-2015: 65
Spring 2013-2014: 68
Spring 2012-2013: 67
Spring 2011-2012: 59

The big leap in scores came between the first and second years, 59 percent to 67 percent, which is a nice eight point jump. But then the following year the increase was only by one point. And this year there was a big drop off of three points. There was one really nice year and everything else since has been a disappointment.

They also acknowledged the stagnant science FCAT scores. But just barely. Most of the comments were about the biology EOC. Here’s the FCAT break down:

5th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2015: 53
2014: 54
2013: 53
2012: 52

8th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2015: 48
2014: 49
2013: 47
2012: 47

Once again, I appreciate that Mr. Padget brought up the subject and that Ms. Stewart said “We know there’s work to do.” Hopefully, any proposed solutions won’t get derailed or forgotten when the other exam results (the set of FSAs) are released.

Wow. Someone noticed.

June 24th, 2015 by Brandon Haught

I’m genuinely amazed. Someone with some authority took notice of statewide science scores. But will that translate into action?

Orlando Sentinel School Zone blog: State board member worries about declining science scores

“These are not new tests. They are tests the system is used to,” State Board of Education John Padget said. “As a realist and with a higher helicopter, we have to admit, total Florida, the passing rate in those subjects went down.”

Padget, speaking at today’s board meeting in Tampa, said he’d like to hear more at future meetings about what can be done to improve students’ science knowledge.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the Florida Department of Education will be working to do that, analyzing “where are the gaps that we need to fill in” and how can the state provide more support to school districts looking to enhance science instruction?

“We know there’s work to do,” she said.

Textbook trouble: history and sex ed

June 21st, 2015 by Brandon Haught

myworld-historyThe Lee County school board will hear from concerned citizens this week about the content of history textbooks under consideration for adoption.

Board documents show nine objections have been filed for a sixth-grade world history text published by Pearson. Among the complaints for the book, called “my (sic) World History,” are allegations the text is more of a comparative study of religions and cultures as opposed to being historical in nature, and it has a pro-Islam agenda, presenting a biased view of the religion in comparison to Judaism and Christianity.

This is not a new argument. This same issue was real big in Volusia County in 2013, but I believe a different textbook and publisher was in the spotlight then. Nonetheless, the complaint then was about an alleged pro-Islam slant, too. The Volusia school district responded with a “just the facts” document explaining that there was no bias. Volusia didn’t bow to pressure and adopted the textbooks.

That controversy inspired state senator Alan Hays to file a bill that would have dumped all textbook review and selection responsibilities on the school districts, taking the state completely out of the process. (Note: Hays filed an anti-evolution “academic freedom” bill when he was in the House of Representatives in 2008.) His textbook bill passed but with substantial changes.

A new bill, on its way to Governor Scott, would make school districts give parents the chance to object to textbooks used in schools.

The Senate, on Thursday, voted 31-4 for the bill that would require districts to hold a public hearing if parents object—but it wouldn’t get rid of an existing state review of textbooks.

But the legislation will not eliminate state review of textbooks as originally sought by sponsors of the bill. Instead, school boards will continue to decide whether to review textbooks locally, or continue to rely on the state-approved list.

The Florida House rejected the elimination of the state review and instead passed a bill that creates a process that lets parents object to the textbooks. It requires school districts to hold a public hearing if someone complains about the books that are being used.

Now, in addition to the history textbook hoopla, Lee County is also facing conflicting opinions on how much sex education should be in other textbooks under review.

One objection and two responses requesting additional content were recorded for a high school health and physical education text, which was published by McGraw Hill.

The sole objection came from Marian Scirrotto, who stated the book is “inappropriate” for presenting sexual education topics, which she believes “should be discussed as a family.”

Meanwhile, the two other responses praise the books and pleaded for additional content to be addressed with students.

Lee County is in southwest Florida, containing Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

I featured Lee County for several pages in chapter 8 of Going Ape. The County tried to implement Bible classes in 1996, resulting in a lawsuit.