Archive for October, 2007

Crying Wolf

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Sorry for the cheesy title. The Panda’s Thumb blog gives FCS president Joe Wolf a pat on the back for his recent quotes in local newspapers about the science standards and evolution. On the other hand, Joe’s quotes attracted attention from the Discovery Institute’s own Robert Crowther. Not to worry, though; Crowther’s tirade is nothing but hot air, as ably shown by The Panda’s Thumb’s PvM.

Dueling letters on evolution

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Two letters to the Orlando Sentinel cover opposing viewpoints concerning evolution education. The first letter takes some previous letter writers to task for their misconceptions and convoluted reasoning:

Please remember that gravity is “just a theory,” too, but I have not heard of any Christians protesting its place in science classes, this despite the fact that the Bible describes numerous incidents of human flight. I also don’t understand how believing that man came from clay is all that much different from suggesting we emerged from “primordial slime,” as a recent letter writer suggested in your paper.

The second letter is standard “it’s just a theory” garbage, and the writer has some conspiracy “theory” issues as well:

Call it what you will to make it more palatable to the public, evolution is still just a theory. It is only a scientific fact in the minds of those who are unwilling to consider the possibility of a divine creator or that much of the scientific “proofs” of evolution are flawed. The idea that increasing the standards by which evolution is taught in the public schools will somehow improve a students understanding of the broad spectrum of science seems pretty far-fetched, and serves only to promote a humanist agenda in the education system.

Evolution roadblocks presentation at FAST

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Florida Citizens for Science presented “Overcoming roadblocks to teaching evolution” during the Florida Association of Science Teachers annual conference. Three FCS board members traveled to Orlando for the Saturday talk, finding an enthused and engaged audience. Some of the folks who listened to our talk commented that they were glad they stuck around to see us. Our talk had drawn the short straw; we were scheduled for the last block of sessions on the last day of the conference. Nonetheless, the audience didn’t just passively listen to our talk, but actively participate, sharing experiences and offering their own advice.

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Finally, a story done right

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

The Bradenton Herald did it right. The newspaper ran an article about the new draft science standards and the reporter did a great job of writing about the standards overall. The current standards are “a mile wide and an inch thick,” and so really needed to be changed. Of course evolution is mentioned, but it’s only a part of the story, not the focus. Additionally, the person interviewed put it all into wonderful perspective!

The result: a set of guidelines that will help teachers impart “big ideas” of biology, chemistry, physics and physical science to students.

Including evolution.

There wasn’t much discussion whether to include it. Everyone on the committee agreed “100 percent” that it should be taught, Pfeilsticker said.

“I do teach evolution, and I also teach Sunday school,” she said. “I do not feel or see a conflict.”

4th editorial supports evolution

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

We’re definitely on a roll. An editorial in the Orlando Sentinel states that evolution belongs in the state’s science standards.

It’s taken seven years, but Florida is on its way to developing a science curriculum for the new millennium — one that requires teachers openly and vigorously to teach about evolution.

This is a big improvement over the current science curriculum in the “Sunshine State Standards” in place since 1996. Under those standards, it required teaching Charles Darwin’s universally accepted theory without using the word “evolution.” That’s like describing an elephant without using the word “trunk.”

Evolution is one of the “Big Ideas” that drive the curriculum changes, along with “Earth in Space and Time” and “Forces and Changes in Motion.”

Let’s add one more big idea. In Florida, science should win out over politics when it comes to educating children.

Orlando Sentinel: Let there be light

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Columnist Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel writes in today’s paper that evolution is getting quite a bit of support in the draft science standards.

We are moving toward intelligently designed science curriculum in public schools.

And by that I mean we are leaving intelligent design out of classrooms.

By golly, Florida is evolving.

The Department of Education published the new standards on its Web site Friday. You can check them out and even comment on them at etc.usf.edu/flstandards/index.html.

Of 1,400 respondents to date, more than 80 percent support evolution.

Tappen welcomes alternative views. But she says nothing will be deleted from the standards without research-backed arguments backing up the removal.

Article on science standards/evolution in The Ledger

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

The Ledger ran an article today about the new draft science standards and predictably focused entirely on the inclusion of evolution. As I’ve mentioned before, I think that is irresponsible and sensationalist. I understand that evolution garners high interest, but the real story is that the standards are being improved overall. I know I’m not going to win that game, though.

FCS president Joe Wolf has been a busy man lately. He was interviewed for this story (even though the online version neglects to mention his first name), along with Jonathan Smith. The article mistakenly reported that Smith represents the National Center for Science Education. He’s actually a FCS board member. Both Jonathan and Joe have tried their hardest to make it clear that including evolution in the standards is actually no big deal. There’s no controversy in the scientific community. Joe also tried his hardest to broaden the reporter’s story focus by talking about the all the standards, not just evolution.

It’s obvious that the story was written by a reporter who knew next to nothing about the subject matter and was assigned to get it done on a short deadline. (No offense intended toward the reporter. This is just the nature of the business. I understand.) A note to anyone who might be interviewed by such a reporter in the future: be a passionate advocate for your cause. Don’t just answer the reporter’s questions and then hang up the phone. Assume that the reporter knows little to nothing about the subject and work hard to politely educate him or her. Give the reporter background information beyond the simple questions he or she might ask. Get the reporter’s e-mail address and follow up that same day with some links to authoritative source material the reporter can read. A list of statements from educational organizations would be a good one. A list of significant court cases is another one. Especially point out the Dover case in that list.

From the article:

A 45-member committee appointed by the state Department of Education began revising the science standards in May in response to a failing 2005 report on Florida’s public school science curriculum by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

I believe that’s incorrect. The standards are being revised as per an established schedule, not as a result of the Fordham report.

Jonathan Smith, a Lakeland resident and a representative of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit group critical of intelligent design, helped write the new standards.

“It (new standards) closed the door on any ambiguity” about evolution, Smith said. “There isn’t both sides. There is only one side as far as science is concerned.” That side is evolution, he said.

Good quote, Jonathan! This is where those links I mentioned above would come in handy as supporting material.

But Mickey Carter, pastor at Landmark Baptist Church in Haines City, said the revisions will be a disservice to students.

He said there should be a balance between both intelligent design and evolution.

“We are denying freedom of ideas, speech and shutting down one side,” Carter said. “The kids ought to be able to study both sides of it so we don’t just turn out a bunch of rubber-stamped robots in the classroom.”

This is not a free speech issue, Carter. This about teaching science in a science classroom. Let me quote from the Dover court decision here: In reference to whether Intelligent Design is science Judge Jones wrote intelligent design “is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community.”

Norm Holland, a dean at Southeastern University and professor of biological chemistry, said intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution. Southeastern describes itself as a “Christ-centered university.”

Numerous theories are taught at Southeastern, including creationism, an effort to mix science and religion, intelligent design and evolution, Holland said.

“We don’t leave anything out,” he said.

Do you really not leave anything out? Do you really have time for all of that?

Smith, who helped write the new standards, said they are much deeper and complex and aren’t just about evolution.

“It (evolution) wasn’t really an issue in framing the standards,” he said. “That would be like saying let’s discuss the alternative theories of gravity.”

Wolf, the Florida Citizens for Science leader, added that the current standards are too vague. The proposed ones focus on fewer topics and should ease the pace and stress of students and teachers.

Another round of good quotes from Jonathan and Joe.

Certainly not the best story about the subject, but FCS is working hard to put things in proper perspective.

In other news …

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I’ve been focusing on the flurry of activity concerning the new draft science standards and its inclusion of evolution here on the FCS blog lately. But there is other interesting stuff happening out there!

— Bill Nye (the Science Guy) is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida, Nov. 6. That should be a fun time!

— “Several University of North Florida students became ill — two needing hospitalization — when fumes from a natural science lab caused a building on campus to be evacuated Tuesday afternoon, according to a Jacksonville Fire-Rescue spokesman.”

— “Discovery’s astronauts are speeding toward the International Space Station and the start of the most demanding surge of construction work since outpost assembly began a decade ago.”

— “When it was launched 17 years ago, scientists and mission engineers for the Ulysses project knew they should expect, well, the unexpected. After all, the joint NASA/European Space Agency-managed spacecraft was going where no spacecraft had gone before – above and below the sun’s poles.”