Archive for the 'Our Science Standards' Category

Sweeping up the crumbs

Friday, March 14th, 2008

The Tallahassee Democrat quite rightly praises lawmakers who passed up seeing the Expelled movie. I have yet to see an official count of how many lawmakers actually went to the movie, but I have heard from sources that the number is in single digits.

But the evening at downtown’s IMAX Theater, which was rented out to Mr. Stein’s group for $940, was a bust, with only about 100 people attending the movie. And most of those weren’t lawmakers who were (tiptoeing out on that limb now) apparently not really interested in wading into a dispute that exacerbates two controversies.

A quick analysis

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Here’s my quick take on the whole Expelled mess and the relation to the creationism bills.

I’ve been closely watching the media reports concerning science education in Florida for a few years now. I’ve seen tidal waves of news coverage when anti-evolution/anti-science rises from the depths. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Ben Stein’s cameo appearance in Florida got some media attention, but it was minor compared to previous media tidal waves.

The stories that did run can’t be to the Discovery Institutes’s liking at all. The reports are actually funny to read as lawyer Casey Luskin and actor Ben Stein tripped and stumbled over intelligent design. As far as the creationism bills (“academic freedom”) are concerned, they would just rather tuck intelligent design into a closet and ask everyone to forget about that big failure. These bills are about “freedom of speech” and not intelligent design, except, well, for when it is about intelligent design. That big failure just keeps popping up at the wrong times. Comical.

So, my armchair quarterback assessment of the Discovery Institutes’s game? They apparently thought they would walk into Florida and dazzle everyone with their low-watt star power. Didn’t happen. They were trounced. My guess is that they hurt their cause more than they helped. A lot of credit goes to the Florida media who did decide to cover this. They knew what to ask, and they then reported what they heard.

As for the movie itself: Florida Citizens for Science would comment on the movie Expelled, but unfortunately, the people who are so concerned about academic freedom have seen fit to expel the press and the general public from viewing it, which censors any possible informed comments. This is an ironic and offensive move. Their excuse is that the movie is not quite finished. Something doesn’t make sense here. If you have an unfinished movie that you don’t want to screen to the general public, do you really want to screen it for lawmakers who might be making an important decision based on this unpolished work? Obviously, their desire to exclude reporters and the general public has nothing to do with the movie’s completion status. Hmmmmm … do you smell something? 😉

As far as the creationism bills go:

  • Comments made at the press conference make it clear: if these bills are passed, students will introduce intelligent design as they think it is scientific (which it’s not), and it will cause court cases and a judge to have to decide whether we are teaching science or theological non-science. This had already happened in Dover, Pa.
  • These bills and others just like them were rejected several times by other states, promoted now by a group on the West Coast, and being sold by a movie company. Let’s be serious here! Scientists and science educators FROM FLORIDA already considered these issues and made their recommendations. The FLORIDA Board of Education considered them also, and approved our new standards. Who are these outsiders trying to mess with FLORIDA kids?
  • These bills do not protect “academic freedom” as it is used by the scholarly community. K-12 teachers are responsible for teaching the curriculum. These bills would encourage irresponsibility on the part of teachers in bringing in materials without accountability and treating them as having comparable credibility with those of the standard curriculum.
  • Are legislators really desirous of passing a bill to teach nothing in particular, just in case something was left out of the standards? That certainly doesn’t sound right. That’s because the Discovery Institute of Seattle wants to teach something specific; and it is not scientific, contrary to their assertions.
  • The obvious answer to an item brought up during the press conference concerning who would decide what information is scientific is this: Let the scientists decide what is taught in the science classrooms, which should be whatever is the consensus of the scientific community. Those who clearly don’t understand science shouldn’t be making that decision.
  • These bills reveal their true purpose by singling out evolutionary science. If an actual principled defense of “academic freedom” were intended, the wording would be general enough to protect teachers wishing to discuss alternative views on any topic.

News roundup

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

My apologies for this quick news link dump. The chemistry class I’m taking now is kicking my butt. I hope to have some thoughts on the movie situation up here tonight. In the meantime:

Herald Tribune. I’m not buying what Mr. Luskin is selling.

Stein and John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Action, insisted the legislation would not permit teaching intelligent design or creation science because the bill only applies to criticism of evolution based on scientific information, not the introduction of other theories.

Casey Luskin, a lawyer for the Discovery Institute, agreed but said he personally believes intelligent design is scientific.

It is unclear who would decide what information is scientific, though Stein suggested it ought to be left up to teachers.

The Miami Herald has in their headline “Intelligent Design could slip into science class”

The religiously tinged evolution-questioning theory of Intelligent Design could more easily be brought up in public-school science classrooms under a proposed ”academic freedom” legislation being pushed by conservative lawmakers. And it’s not just the ACLU saying it anymore….

Church-state separatists say religious groups are trying to use the bill as a Trojan horse to introduce religion in science classrooms.

”The Intelligent Design movement has embraced this political strategy to sneak its religious views into the science classroom, and that’s what you’re seeing now in Florida,” said Howard Simon, a Florida director for the ACLU, which filed the Dover case.

”The strategy is this: Let’s call Intelligent Design scientific information, and let’s make sure that teachers can teach that scientific information,” Simon said, adding that his organization would sue if the bill became law and teachers began proselytizing in class.

Said Simon: “There is no constitutional right to mis-educate Florida students. If a science teacher is teaching serious science and is censored, that’s an academic-freedom issue we would defend. But if they’re having Sunday school in science class, that’s a problem.”

Hernando Today has an article polling the local legislators about the creationism bills: “Hernando Lawmakers Weigh In On Evolution Bill”

The Tampa Tribune: “Actor Stein Plays Role In Debate On Evolution Education”

It remains unclear whether the bill permits the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.

“The answer is no,” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council. “This does not allow the permitting of alternate theories to be taught. It only allows the criticism and the presenting of relevant, objective scientific evidence which criticizes chemical or biological evolution.”

That would seem to settle the question. Yet moments later, Casey Luskin, an attorney for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute said that even as he agreed with Stemberger, he personally considers intelligent design to be “scientific information.”

All of which raises questions about what qualifies as “science” – and who, ultimately, decides.

The film’s producers said that decision was made because of the current rough form of the film, which they are completing for release to all audiences April 18, but the exclusive screening only fueled attacks from the skeptics.

“We are deeply concerned that, however many legislators show up, they will be spoon-fed this material and mostly no one from the public will be there to see what goes on,” said Brandon Haught, spokesman for Florida Citizens for Science.

Tallahassee Democrat: “Lawmakers attend Tallahassee screening of movie by Ben Stein”

Few lawmakers were among about 100 people who showed up for the private screening of Stein’s film.

Organizers refused to let reporters or uninvited spectators into the theater, which was rented for two hours at $940.63, but insisted that no discussion of pending legislation would occur.

But House Minority Leader Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, who testified in favor of evolution at the Board of Education meeting last month, said there is no evidence that teachers or students in Florida are being punished for challenging Darwinian theories. Gelber said allowing “any scientific theory” in classrooms was a back-door attempt at getting creationism into the curriculum and might result in racists or Holocaust deniers demanding a platform for their beliefs in biology or history classes.

“I wasn’t aware of anybody being penalized for questioning evolution,” said Gelber. “The Legislature needs to walk away from this debate. The State Board of Education has addressed it and that’s the end of the debate. This is a solution in search of a problem.”

I have not doubt I missed some stories. Feel free to link away in the comments.

Loose lips … will they sink the ship?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

It took a while, but the true motivations behind the creationism bills (“academic freedom”) are starting to show. As “academic freedom” was tossed out there on the playing field it was touted as nothing more than “freedom” to teach the so-called “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. Those of us who have been following the history of the creationism movement over the years already know that it’s all BS.

In a quote up on the St. Petersburg Times education blog. Senator Storms says:

“We can test on evolution,” said Storms, a former high school English teacher. “But the students, after having heard all the evidence, should be able to arrive at their own conclusions. To do that, they have to have all the facts. Under this bill, if you have a teacher who is pro-evolution and every student is intelligent design … that teacher is safe to teach that as a theory.”

She just couldn’t help herself. You see the whole “academic freedom” sham is just the evolution of the creationism movement. Intelligent design was shot down in Dover, Pa. as unconstitutional because of its overtly religious roots and the fact that there is no science in it anywhere to be found. So, intelligent design was shoved into the closet along with the other failed creationist attempts over the years to get a toe into the classroom. “Academic freedom” is just a political tactic that picks up where intelligent design left off. Unfortunately for Storms, she trips over her words here and helps expose the not-so-secret strategy.

Hopefully, this whole mess will die off in the legislature. Forcing this into the courtroom will cost Florida taxpayers a bundle, just like it did in Pennsylvania. Are you writing letters and making phone calls about this?

Sunshine Law violation?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

Is the movie being screened just for state legislators in any way a violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law? Florida has strict laws governing public records and public meetings. Any meeting of lawmakers must be properly advertised and must be open to the public. So, does having some lawmakers attend a movie that directly addresses two bills before them run afoul of any laws? The News-Press asks around, and apparently no one has any heartburn over the issue.

The invitation to “Expelled” is just for legislators and their spouses, along with legislative aides. The press and public is excluded.

House Minority Leader Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, asked House general counsel Jeremiah Hawkes if that’s legal — since Florida law requires open meetings whenever two or more lawmakers meet to discuss pending business. Hawkes replied that, as long as they just watch the film and don’t discuss the issue or arrange any future votes, it’s technically legal.

John Stemberger, head of the Florida Family Policy Council, was asked if it’s a smart political tactic to have a closed meeting. He replied that it’s all right.

“It’s not a closed meeting — we invited the whole Legislature,” said Stemberger.
“There’s no business being discussed. They’re just watching a movie.”

Creationism bills update

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

The creationism bill (“academic freedom”) introduced in the State House, HB 1483, was referred to the Schools & Learning Council, Friday, March 07, 2008 8:25 PM.

Our blog post tracking both the House and Senate bills is here.

Please write, call, e-mail, and fax your state senator and representative, as well as the members of the committees responsible for initial consideration of these bills. House Schools & Learning Council page here. The council director is Lynn Cobb: e-mail Lynn.Cobb@LASPBS.STATE.FL.US.

Two documents produced by Florida Citizens for Science can be helpful as you do this. Here is a background PDF and a response PDF.

Florida legislature getting Expelled

Friday, March 7th, 2008

Florida Rep. D. Alan Hays, who filed creationism bill (“academic freedom”) HB 1483, has invited his fellow lawmakers out to a movie. Let’s see here … what’s good playing right now that Florida’s legislator’s might like to see. Oh! I know! How about a film where good ol’ fashioned creationism is re-branded as persecuted “academic freedom.” That should be right up everyone’s alley.

That’s right, Ben Stein and the Discovery Institute’s Expelled is coming to a theater near … no, not you … near your in-session legislature, which just so happens to have two bills before it expounding the virtues of so-called “academic freedom.” Here’s the e-mail invite:

From: Rousseau, Tiffany
Sent: Friday, March 07, 2008 3:18 PM
To: !HSE All House Members & LAs
Subject: Special Invitation from Representative Hays

An exclusive invitation to members of the Florida Legislature:

Representative Alan Hays Invites you to attend an exclusive pre-screening to be held by Motive Entertainment of the New Major Picture Documentary:

No Intelligence Allowed
Starring Ben Stein

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, follows Ben Stein on his journey around the globe where he discovers that scientists, educators and philosophers are being persecuted because they dare to go against the theory of evolution.

IMAX Theater
Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee
200 South Duval Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301

Wednesday, March 12th 2008
7:30 p.m.

RSVP Online at

As a member of the Legislature, you are invited to attend this screening with 1 guest.

For questions, please contact Tiffany at:

***This event has been approved by House General Counsel and is not paid for by a lobbyist/principal.

Florida Citizens for Science has some questions here:

This is not paid for a lobbyist/principal. But would the benefactor possibly be crossing any lines here seeing as how this movie has direct relations to HB 1483 and SB 2692? I have no knowledge of such things, so please enlighten me in the comments, folks.

What in the world is the Challenger Learning Center of Tallahassee doing allowing this to happen at their facility? Take a look at their mission statement.

Our missions include the provision to K-12 students of standards-aligned, high-quality “hands-on” educational experiences in science and engineering through the use of high-fidelity aerospace simulators.

Expelled and the related bills filed in the legislature are the complete opposite of standards-aligned. Florida Citizens for Science is definitely going to be asking some questions. I encourage you to do so, too. At the very least, they should do as the Smithsonian Institution did in issuing a statement removing their co-sponsorship of the movie The Privileged Planet.

[edited to add: It is important to highlight two posts from the comments thread: “I am told by Norman Thagard, MD, the director of the Challenger Center, that anyone not showing pornography is allowed to rent the CC and they cannot discriminate among those to whom they rent. Evidently this legislator has arranged this showing and rented the facility.” And: “The IMAX theater that is being rented has nothing to do with the Challenger Center. The IMAX theater is rented out by an organization that has no organizational or fiscal ties to the Challenger Center.”]

What is Expelled? You can start here at the official website. But more revealing is this movie review and PZ Myers’ experiences.

Just cruising for a lawsuit

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

The St. Petersburg Times has a good post on its education blog about the creationism bills (“academic freedom act”) filed in the state senate and house. The main question on the reporter’s mind is: what problem are these bills supposed to address? The reporter correctly notes that it’s the teachers who want to teach scientifically-accepted evolution who are feeling the pressure to downplay or even not teach the subject at all. Where are all the poor, oppressed teachers who want to teach something else? Honestly, I have no doubt there are plenty out there flying under the radar, especially in rural counties where their alternative views on science are essentially protected by the conservative community. Think of all those northern county school boards that issued anti-evolution resolutions. Setting that aside, though, where are all the persecuted teachers losing their jobs over their alternative views? Who will the proposed bills protect? Even the legislators who filed the bills have trouble answering that question.

I would encourage reporters to go a step further when digging into this issue. Note how Rep. Hays throws out an old canard about evolution having holes in it. Every scientific field/theory has holes in it. Heck, that’s practically a defining characteristic of science itself. It’s the never-ending pursuit of knowledge to fill in the holes. Will all the holes ever be filled? No. But that’s what draws folks into the science field and keeps them busy. Once again we see evolution being singled out, which is a purposeful ploy to fool the general public. Joe and Jane Public don’t need to know about all those other sciencey holes and stuff. They just need to know that there are holes in evolution. Ignore all the holes that have been filled over the years, folks. They mean nothing. I daresay that if you press Hays to come up with the details concerning some holes, he would say something silly, like there are no half creatures running around out there, so that means evolution is a crock. Oh, wait! He actually did say that!

“No one yet has found a half-animal of this or a half-insect of that,” Hays continued. “And they certainly haven’t found any half ape and half man.” It’s painfully obvious that Hays has no clue what he is talking about. Just stop and think for a moment. Human transportation certainly has changed over the years. So, by Hays’ reasoning, we should see some half buggies and half Ferraris out there, right? Hays needs some education on things like transitional fossils. Or maybe he thinks these chimeras he demands science to produce should literally be something straight out of circus side show exhibits. In that case, I have no idea how to get through to someone so potentially reality-challenged.

Before attacking evolution on the political front, Hays, Storms and others should be required to take a simple evolution exam. Nothing too complicated is needed. Just some basic concepts called for in our brand new science standards, say from the middle school level. I don’t expect our state legislators to be experts on every subject they deal with there at the state capital, but I do expect them to do some basic research and educate themselves on the subjects. This is especially important when the legislator is the one filing the doggone bill!

The St. Petersburg Times blog post focuses on the teacher aspect. But let’s not forget that students are addressed in the bill, too. “Public school students in the state’s K-12 school system may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but may not be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution.” A good question to ask here is what happens when a student fills in an exam question concerning evolution with: “I do not believe in evolution and based on that belief refuse to answer this question.” Or how about if the student goes the hard core route: “According to such-n-such verse of such-n-such chapter of the Bible, God specially created man.” The teacher then marks these answer as wrong and the student gets no credit and possibly fails the exam. Is the student being penalized? Can the teacher then be disciplined or even sued based on this bill?

Does this sound like academic freedom to you? It sounds much more like freedom from education to me. These bills are nothing more than the setup to an expensive lawsuit.

HB 1483 was filed on March 4 and had its first reading later that evening. SB 2692 was filed February 29 and hasn’t seen any other action yet. I have no idea when these bills will be considered in their respective committees (House and Senate. Let me know if I have the wrong ones linked here, please). Everyone needs to keep an eye on the committees and track the bills’ progress. The committee members are listed on the committee pages and links will take you to contact information for each person. Here are some good tips for communicating with those folks.
The track record for similar bills in other states is bad. I would hate for Florida to break that trend.