Archive for the 'In the News' Category

New York Times piece

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

There is a great column in the New York Times that’s worth printing out and saving for future reference.

In these arguments, evolution is treated as an abstract subject that deals with the age of the earth or how fish first flopped onto land. It’s discussed as though it were an optional, quaint and largely irrelevant part of biology. And a common consequence of the arguments is that evolution gets dropped from the curriculum entirely.

This is a travesty.

It is also dangerous.

Evolution should be taught — indeed, it should be central to beginning biology classes — for at least three reasons.

First, it provides a powerful framework for investigating the world we live in.

The second reason for teaching evolution is that the subject is immediately relevant here and now.

The third reason to teach evolution is more philosophical. It concerns the development of an attitude toward evidence.

Morning news dump

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Palm Beach Post: ‘Evolution Act’ passed by panel

“You cannot simply call a religious belief scientific information and thus open the door to teaching it in our scientific classrooms,” said Courtenay Strickland, the daughter of a Baptist minister and a science teacher.

Strickland spoke on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the Pennsylvania lawsuit that struck down the teaching of intelligent design.

She promised another “massive” lawsuit here if teachers use it to discuss religion in science class.

Tampa Tribune: Evolution Bill Moves Forward

Those who oppose Darwin’s theory of evolution aren’t all religiously motivated, backers said Wednesday, although Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, made her views clear when she said she thought kindergartners should not be taught Darwinian evolution because “that may be brainwashing.” She also told the committee of her own experience in college, where she refused to answer a science exam question about evolution with the accepted Darwinian answer and instead copied down the creation story in Genesis, Chapter 1.

St. Petersburg Times: High-profile issues move through the Florida Legislature

The debate over school science standards moved to the Legislature officially Wednesday when a Senate education panel voted 4-1 for “protections” for students and teachers who offer alternative theories to evolution — despite a report saying there’s never been a case alleging such discrimination in Florida.

How “scientific theory” got into the standards

Friday, March 21st, 2008

The St. Petersburg Times posted a story this evening outlining what was found in e-mails the newspaper obtained via public records requests from the Florida Department of Education. The purpose of the public records request? To find out where the last minute new state science standards option that featured the inclusion of the words “scientific theory” came from and why it was done.

The e-mails shed light on several developments in the still-simmering evolution debate that were never fully reported.

In the days leading up to the Feb. 19 vote, Smith and other DOE officials were scrambling to find a compromise, the e-mails show. And while they did not want to undermine the integrity of the standards, they were willing to push a politically driven alternative — or were themselves driven into pushing one — over the passionate objections of those who crafted them.

The urgent tone of many of the e-mails also sheds more light on just how close the Board of Education came to rejecting scientifically acclaimed science standards, and how key the compromise may have been to saving them.

The committee, dominated by scientists and science teachers, had spent months crafting the standards, using national and international models as guides. Many of its members were not happy with the turn of the events — and said so in a barrage of e-mails to DOE officials over the weekend.

“By caving in now, we are basically allowing majority vote to override facts, observation and evidence,” wrote University of South Florida chemistry professor Gerry Meisels. “We will never win a fight if we don’t fight. We may not win, but we owe it to our children and Florida’s future at least to try.”

Meisels signed off, “Gerry, a.k.a. Don Quixote.”

Florida columnist and NY Times see through the BS

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

Bill Maxwell, columnist for the St. Petersburg Times, draws a clear line between personal faith and public education, and admonishes state Sen. Storms for crossing it.

With state Sen. Ronda Storms officially joining the debate over the teaching of evolution in Florida’s public schools, reasonable residents should be wary and should contact their legislators today.

Why, I keep asking myself, do we have elected officials, including House Speaker Marco Rubio, and so many average citizens who are amenable to keeping our children ignorant of scientific principles?

The adults in our lives had common sense. The Bible had its place. That place was not in science instruction.

Again reasonable people should ask lawmakers in Tallahassee to keep Florida moving toward enlightenment by tossing out Storms’ backward-looking bill.

If passed, it will permit the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in our science classes.

And the New York Times has a few things to say, too:

Although some supporters of teaching evolution grouse that the standards were watered down, they actually look more airtight with the revisions. The standards make it clear that a “scientific theory” is well supported by evidence, not a mere claim, and that evolution is no different in this respect than many other widely accepted “theories.”

Some anti-evolutionists are now pushing Florida’s Legislature to step in and allow the teaching of alternative explanations of biological origins. The alternatives that they have in mind would almost certainly not be deemed “scientific” and would have no legitimate place in science classes.

If the standards are strictly followed, Florida may finally be on the way toward improving the quality of its science curriculum and the subpar performance of its students in national assessments.

Some reporters are paying attention, and so is the DI

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Yup, the folks at the St. Petersburg Times have been scooping up all the information popping up on the blogs about the obvious motivations behind the creationism bills and piecing it together. The more exposure this gets, the better.

Religion has nothing to do with it?

Are critics of the state’s new science standards asking the rest of the public to take a leap of faith?

But it’s worth pointing out that both Storms and Hays are Baptist, and both make no bones about their strong religious backgrounds. Hays notes on his House website that he picked up the Christian Coalition Faith & Family Award in 2005 and 2006. And last month, Storms filed a bill (SB 2010) to create an “I Believe” license plate, which would feature a crucifix and send proceeds to Faith in Teaching, a group “dedicated to funding education in Florida’s faith based community.”

And it looks like the Discovery Institute is whining about being called on their bluff. Mr Crowther, we can read between the lines. We know what is up and so do the reporters in the stories you quoted. Your scary bound and gagged graphic accompanying that post is just one example of how over-the-top ridiculous your cover story is. Smelly crap, indeed!

Drama, drama, drama

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

The Tampa Tribune has an article about the proposed creationism bill (“academic freedom act”) in the state legislature. There appear to be folks holding down forts on both sides of the fence on this issue.

A Senate committee chairman wants to hold a hearing on a proposal from Sen. Ronda Storms to allow public school teachers to contradict the theory of evolution in class.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, chairman of the PreK-12 Committee, said he hopes to schedule a hearing during the session on Storms’ evolution proposal. Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, confirmed Monday he will file the bill in the House.

But the plan faces plenty of resistance from lawmakers in both parties, who say they are loath to rewrite the teaching standards that the state Board of Education passed last month.

House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, told the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper last month that there may be enough votes in the House to pass the evolution bill. But Schools and Learning Council Chairman Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, said Monday he doubts that.

“The state Board of Education held public hearings; it’s their job to do what they did,” he said. “My expectation is that there isn’t a great deal of appetite to go in and undo what the state Board of Education did in their purview, under their authority.”

And the newspaper also did an editorial that slams this political goofiness.

Rubio further inflamed the situation by suggesting that this standard makes schools, not parents, responsible for a child’s upbringing.

Really, Mr. Speaker? We would suggest if parents’ years of influence are negated in a single science lesson, they probably didn’t make a big impression on their children.

If Florida lawmakers really want world-class curriculum, they’ll let education experts – not politicians – build them.

I’m sooooo tired of the word theory

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

I’ve been sitting here for a while now trying to sort out how I feel about this story in the Ocala Star-Banner. I’m fine with the sentiments of the quoted science teachers, but I have this nagging heartburn over how the word theory seems to be trampled on in the process. The point of the story, despite its misleading headline, is that there are starkly contrasting views within the overall religious community concerning evolution. I just wish that the whole “it’s just a theory … don’t worry about it” meme would go the way of the dodo.

On a separate subject, Florida Board of Education member Donna Callaway is one very confused individual. Read her ramblings at the Florida Baptist Witness. How in the world can she say with a straight face that she’s not bringing religion into her stance on the science standards? She’s writing in the Florida Baptist Witness! And look at how her justification bounces back and forth between “religion,” “not religion,” “religion,” “not religion.” I got whiplash reading that twisted logic.

Still here

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I just wanted to write a quick post saying I’m still around. Florida Citizens for Science activities swamped me the past month or so, taking away from other work, family and college responsibilities. So, I am now taking a short time out from FCS to catch up on everything else in life. For instance, I just finished up a paper for literature class comparing and contrasting moral themes in the plays Hamlet and Dr. Faustus. Yuck.

Meanwhile, for your reading pleasure:

Liam Julian of the Fordham Foundation wrote a guest column for the St. Petersburg Times.

Let’s first dispense with the thought that adolescents should debate the merits of evolution in their science classes. This is silliness, akin to asking them to hash out the germ theory or the atomic theory. Until Florida’s students are taught the basics of science, it’s folly to demand they critically evaluate its finer points.

A Tallahassee Democrat columnist also talks about the state science standards approval fallout.

The standards refer persistently to the scientific theory of evolution, so should they not at least touch upon the implied nonscientific theories of evolution? Surely we should ask, “Are there any such theories?” No. Not for any serious scientific or any other educational purpose.

What then, pray, is the point of belaboring, with the pompous prefix “scientific theory of,” the following: evolution, cells, geology, atoms? “The scientific theory of cells!” Is there any other kind of cell theory worthy of consideration? I know of none.

The compromise is a political sop to a large and concerned population of Florida voters who believe that, on the core issues of science, some other way of knowing (religion, perhaps; surely not art or philosophy) is equal or superior to science itself.