Archive for December, 2012

Potential change in textbook adoption process

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Early last month, Gov. Scott proposed changing the way school textbooks are adopted in Florida (see our previous post here). Currently, the state Board of Education must approve a list of books from which school districts can choose. Scott said he wanted to get the Board out of that process and leave book adoptions up to each district.

Now the Board has announced that they like that idea and they’re going to work with the state legislature to see if they can make that change happen.

We need to keep a close eye on this issue. First, if a bill is introduced in the legislature, we need to track it every step of the way to make sure no anti-evolution “academic freedom” language gets slipped in there. Then if the bill becomes law, our job of monitoring the quality of science textbooks will get much more difficult. Instead of focusing most of our attention on Tallahassee, we instead would have to be aware of what’s going on in nearly every single district throughout the state. That could be a nightmare.

New Education Commissioner

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

A new Florida Education Commissioner has been selected: Tony Bennett. Mr. Bennett started his career in education as a coach and a biology teacher before moving up the career ladder. From our perspective, that’s a good thing. The man should value science education.

However, now that he’s all but hired, I need to refer you folks back to a post I wrote last month that highlighted a couple of worrying items from Bennett’s past. He agreed to be a featured speaker at a creationist event, but then canceled his appearance after claiming he had not known what the event was about when he was first invited. In a separate incident, he was asked about private schools getting voucher money, specifically if he has any worries about what might be taught in the science classroom:

When asked by a member of the audience what Bennett thought about using tax dollars to send children to schools that do not teach evolution and use an ideological standpoint to teach history, Bennett said, “Honestly, I’m agnostic about the type of schools our children attend.”

Clearly, some people are happy with the selection of Bennett for the Commissioner job and others are upset. Personally, I’m leaning toward the “upset” end of the spectrum because of his strong advocacy for vouchers coupled with an apparent nonchalant attitude toward what that voucher money could potentially pay for. That’s especially important because we already know what is being taught in some of those private schools.

How important is a good science education to this former biology teacher? I guess it’s just a matter of time until we find out.

What is and isn’t a scientific debate

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

One thing that seems to crop up regularly in both bad science journalism and in pseudoscience and non-science is the idea of a scientific debate.The implication in each case is that there is a genuine split in the scientific community over the relevant issue, and that perhaps one might go to a conference and see a room full of researchers split down the middle with a good number on each side of the divide advocating their position

The truth however, is near inevitably that there is only a very small minority making a disproportionate noise about their case. Such is the case with topics such as evolution, the age of the earth or that HIV leads to AIDS, or that climate is changing. Yet the bottom line is. One or two people arguing a point (and often doing so primarily in the media) does not make a debate. Read the rest of this article which highlights why the media need to understand the difference between a genuine scientific debate and the fact that a very vocal minority can disagree with an overwhelming consensus of evidence

Rubio takes another stab at it …

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Florida’s very own U.S. Senator Marco Rubio had previously told GQ that the age of the earth was in question.

I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

See his full response in this previous post.

Now, however, he tells Politico that he was kinda sorta answering a different question from what people thought he was answering.

“There is no scientific debate on the age of the earth. I mean, it’s established pretty definitively, it’s at least 4.5 billion years old,” Rubio told Mike Allen of Politico. ”I was referring to a theological debate, which is a pretty healthy debate.

“The theological debate is, how do you reconcile with what science has definitively established with what you may think your faith teaches,” Rubio continued. “Now for me, actually, when it comes to the age of the earth, there is no conflict.”

Come on! The original question was simple: How old do you think the Earth is? He wasn’t asked what the theological debate was. The question was rather blunt and hard to misinterpret.

Keep in mind that when Rubio was Florida House Speaker and the debate over evolution in our state standards came up, he said this:

The “crux” of the disagreement, according Rubio, is “whether what a parent teaches their children at home should be mocked and derided and undone at the public school level. It goes to the fundamental core of who is ultimately, primarily responsible for the upbringing of children. Is it your public education system or is it your parents?”

Rubio added, “And for me, personally, I don’t want a school system that teaches kids that what they’re learning at home is wrong.”

Rubio, a Cuban-American, made a comparison to the strategy employed by the Communist Party in Cuba where schools encouraged children to turn in parents who criticized Fidel Castro.

“Of course, I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro,” he quickly added, while noting that undermining the family and the church were key means the Communist Party used to gain control in Cuba.

“In order to impose their totalitarian regime, they destroyed the family; they destroyed the faith links that existed in that society,” he said.

So, his recent “clarification” of his age of the earth answer is nothing more than political doublespeak.

12.5.12 This & That

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

New from Indiana: “Sen. Dennis Kruse said today he has no plans to refile a bill allowing schools to teach creationism along with evolution in science classes.

“But, Kruse added, he plans instead to pursue legislation that allows students to challenge teachers on issues, forcing them to provide evidence to back up their lessons.”

— An interesting and informative short read: Why People Believe Weird Things and 8 Ways to Change Their Minds

— A bad assignment given by a teacher or an overreactive school administration? What do you think?

Chemistry homework puts Seminole High on lockdown, deputies say – “Seminole High was placed on lockdown Tuesday morning as a precaution during a school assignment for a chemistry class, deputies said.”

Jeb Bush commends science at Max Planck appearance in Jupiter:

“[Former Gov. Jeb] Bush, whose name has been widely mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016, said yes when asked if evolution should be taught in schools.’I reject the premise that the GOP is anti-science,’ Bush said.”