Archive for September, 2010

Creationism pages to be trashed, but they’ve been around!

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

The Orlando Sentinel’s education blog reports that the blatantly unscientific and pro-creationism garbage found on two pages of the marine science textbook Life on an Ocean Planet (see my previous post) will be removed. The reporter obtained an e-mail sent to the Department of Education from the book’s publisher that says:

“As a follow-up to the State Instructional Materials Committee meeting held on 14-16 September, 2010, we want to formally confirm that we, Current Publishing Corp., will remove the content that was sited at that meeting. Specifically the sidebar content located on pages 3-14 to 3-15 of the Life on an Ocean Planetstudent eBook (major tool) and the Life on an Ocean Planet student textbook (ancillary). We will also review all of the curriculum components and remove any content that refers to the information on these pages.

We are committed to providing up to date and accurate content that supports Florida’s high educational standards.”

Well, that’s good news!

However, I’ve been doing some research on my own, too. The previous edition of this textbook is on the list of approved instructional materials right now. So, I tracked down a teacher who is currently using the book in a marine science class and the teacher confirmed to me that the two pages of creationism nonsense is in that edition that is currently in Florida classrooms right now.

What’s good about all of this is that the grossly unscientific passage has been publicly exposed and will be gone. What’s sad is that this wasn’t caught years ago, and that it will be a while before the old edition is phased out in favor of the new edition. Now I’m curious as to how the sidebar was inserted in the textbook in the first place. Whose idea was it to include it and why? I welcome your assistance and input on this.

Newspaper reports on creationism in textbook

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

The Orlando Sentinel has a short story about the creationist material found in a marine science textbook going through the instructional materials approval/adoption process. Nothing new here. We still want to make sure everyone follows through as they say they will. (My previous post explaining everything here.)

Creationism pops up in textbook adoption process

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Creationism has become a possible minor issue here in Florida recently as instructional materials committees conduct a scheduled review of materials and recommend new textbooks for the state’s classrooms. A book meant for marine science classes contained some unusual language that raised red flags for a couple of members of one committee. “Life on an Ocean Planet” (a Florida edition published by Current Publishing Corp with a copyright of 2011, ISBN 978-1-878663-66-5) contained a two page informational sidebar entitled “Questions About The Origin and Development Of Life” that is packed with good ol’ fashioned creationist language. No, I am not exaggerating; it’s really packed. For a purported science book, these two pages manage to mangle basic science concepts to a jaw-dropping degree while at the same time injecting a laundry list of tired creationist objections to evolution. Here’s an example:

“First, Darwin proposed that natural selection is the driving force for change. It favors organisms with particular characteristics (color, size, etc.) that enhance survival. Those with these characteristics survive and reproduce more that those lacking them. Over time, the favorable characteristics predominate in the organism’s population. For example, suppose there are white and black variations of an insect, and birds eat fewer black ones because they’re harder to see. Over time, the insect population will become predominantly or almost entirely black. This is called microevolution or genetic drift. It is the expression or suppression of characteristics that already exist in the genetic code (DNA).”

Wrong. The terms genetic drift and natural selection are not synonymous but describe very different processes in evolution. Genetic drift is a random process not driven by environmental or adaptive pressures. Natural selection is nonrandom and is caused by environmental factors that affect the reproduction of living things.   The example provided in the text of white and black variations of an insect being eaten by a bird describes natural selection and has nothing to do with genetic drift. The statement “This is called microevolution or genetic drift” is a blatant error in fact.   Students reading this will be misled and confused.

That’s just the beginning. The authors followed the standard creationist script of inaccurately defining macro- and microevolution, insisting that there is a lack of transitional fossils, and claiming that some biological structures are irreducibly complex. An example from the text:

“Skeptics observe that general evolution doesn’t adequately explain how a complex structure, such as the eye, could come to exist through infrequent random mutations.”

The “skeptics” are never identified. Earlier in the text the authors’ term “general evolution” is synonymous with “macroevolution”, and it requires “that new information enter the genetic code”, which the authors cast doubt on. And, yes, evolution can produce complex structures.

Another curious quote to chew on: “Virtually all scientists accept genetic drift as a valid, well proven theory. General evolution, on the other hand, is the mainstream view in biology, but is not universally accepted among all scientists beyond biology.” As you can see, the grossly inaccurate use of “genetic drift” permeates the text. And what are the authors trying to say with the “scientists beyond biology” comment? Are biologists the weirdoes none of the other scientists want to talk to at parties?

Florida Citizens for Science president Joe Wolf sent a letter to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith earlier this week requesting that he review this material for himself prior to deciding on whether or not to adopt this text. Here is the final paragraph of that letter:

A textbook’s job is to present the current state of science so that students can engage with contemporary science.  However, this textbook’s treatment of “Origin and Development Of Life” is clearly bad science and bad pedagogy. The sidebar is simultaneously actively misinforming, at odds with state standards, and ultimately irrelevant to marine science.  It should be removed entirely, as there is so little information that is either correct or useful to make it worth retaining.

In the opening of this post, I said that this was a “possible minor issue.” First of all, this is just one textbook out of many working their way through the adoption process. This is an important issue, but not one that requires a “damn the torpedoes” mentality. Secondly, there is some confusion about the current status of this book in the process. Florida Citizens for Science was informed that the textbook was approved by its adoption committee on a 7-2 vote. The reason why Florida Citizens for Science sent a letter to Commissioner Smith is because he has the final say in textbook adoption after the committees submit their recommendations. The committee vote is clouded in uncertainty, though, because the Department of Education told the St. Pete Times that the committee approval was with the caveat that “two specific pages,” presumably the sidebar, be removed. Information we have about the committee vote indicates that they voted to approve the textbook overall, and then a second vote was called for to remove the sidebar. That second vote failed but a compromise was reached to “fix” the sidebar. Quite frankly, the sidebar is unfixable! Further muddying of the waters comes from there being two versions of the textbook: an electronic one on CD and a print one. It’s unclear whether the votes pertain to both versions or just one since it looks like the committee only reviewed the electronic one.

We are cautiously optimistic that the Department of Education’s statement is a clear indication that the problem is solved. However, Florida Citizens for Science is keeping track of this issue just in case. Updates will be posted as they become available.

Stick Science Winners!

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

It is my pleasure to announce the winners of the 2nd Annual Florida Citizens for Science Stick Science Cartoon Contest. First, I would like to thank our four judges for taking the time to carefully consider and rate each of our top ten entries. Our judges this year are:

  • Genie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education.
  • Carl Zimmer, science writer whose articles regularly appear in the New York Times and Discover magazine, “The Loom” blogger at Discover magazine, and author whose latest book is The Tangled Bank, An Introduction to Evolution.
  • Jorge Cham, writer and artist of Piled Higher and Deeper, a comic strip about life, or the lack thereof, in academia. He was a Research Associate at Caltech from 2003-2005 and obtained a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University, specializing in Robotics.
  • Jay Hosler, author and illustrator of science-oriented comics such as The Sandwalk Adventures, and Optical Allusions. He is also an entomologist and associate professor of biology at Juniata College.

The judges were asked to rate each of the top ten cartoon from 10 to 1, awarding ten points to the best, nine to the next best and so on down to 1 for the least favorite. I then added up the points, producing our first, second and third place winners.

  • The winner with 30 points is Jimmy Grayson from Stanford, California.

Scott said: The setup was good (stressing the good scientific point that decisions should be made after testing) and the punch line followed nicely — the naysayers’ favorite shapes matched their own (prejudices), which was another good point.

Hosler said: This cartoon is well rendered, funny and distills an illustrates the fundamental anthropocentric thinking of many denialists.

  • Second place with 29 points goes to Aaron McGinniss from Little Meadows, Pennsylvania.
  • Third place with 25 points goes to Anastasia Scott from Saint Augustine, Florida.

Congratulations to the winners. It’s now time to choose your prizes. My sincere thanks go out to everyone who helped out with prizes this year:

Jeremy Kalgreen at Amorphia Apparel
Carl Zimmer
The National Center for Science Education

See you next year!

A fusion of creation science and hip hop

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

You know it was bound to happen. It was just a matter of time. Bad science meets bad music. I give you Destiny Lab: “Our music is a fusion of creation science and hip hop.” Here’s a lyrics sample from their song Remembered As Dragons. Sorry to do this to you, but it’s stuck in my head and now I must implant it in yours.

You take your radiometric decay
And your carbon 14 and just put away
We won’t be swayed from the truth by your nonsense
We will protest and request you change contents
And recognize that you built your claims on pretense
And admit that evolution is a myth of pseudoscience

What would you do?

Monday, September 6th, 2010

What do you do when your child comes home and tells you that a science teacher is possibly using creationist talking points in the classroom? Follow along as Dale McGowan handles exactly that situation. Keep an eye on his blog for the latest updates. Here’s part one: Science Interrupted.

“He did this whole thing with overheads, and a bunch of it just didn’t make any sense,” he said. “This one overhead said something like…” Connor paused to remember the wording. “‘Experiments and evidence in the present can’t tell us anything about the distant past.’”

Stick Science Top 10

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

The second annual Stick Science Cartoon Contest is now down to its Top 10! Congratulations to all of our entrants who made it this far. Next, our celebrity judges will be picking their favorites and crowning the winners. We are on track to announce the winners September 19. Good luck to the Top 10!