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Education United States Science

Mixed Outcome of Texas Textbook Vote 646

Posted by kdawson
from the compromising-on-established-mainstream-science dept.
The Texas Board of Education — as discussed here last week — has voted on the guidelines for textbooks in that state, which represents a large enough market to have influence nationwide. The good news is that the board dropped a 20-year-old requirement that both "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories be taught; score one for the teaching of evolution. The not-so-good news is that in a "compromise," the board also voted to require that students "in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations ... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Score one for the Discovery Institute. A Republican board member explained that the words "strengths and weaknesses" have become "code for creationism and [the similar theory of] intelligent design. So by being more clear in the language and using words that aren't seen as code words, we were able to get all of the 15 board members to agree that this is how we'll teach all sides of scientific explanation, using scientific evidence." Reporting on the Texas vote is all over the map, as a US Today blog summarizes. Some reports claim that an amendment was passed that preserves a requirement that students study the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of common ancestry and natural selection. Other reports claim that the board also adopted language that would have students study the "different views on the existence of global warming."
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Mixed Outcome of Texas Textbook Vote

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  • not-so-good? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 29, 2009 @10:49PM (#27383753)

    The not-so-good news is that in a "compromise," the board also voted to require that students "in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student."

    How is this not-so-good news?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      It sounds as though they're assuming that creationism/intelligent design have scientific evidence.

      • Re:not-so-good? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jc42 (318812) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:06PM (#27383869) Homepage Journal

        Does the Texas law include a legal definition of "scientific evidence"? If not, then the creationists can quite easily claim to be doing "science" under their definition of the term. And it's probably going to be hard to find a Texas judge whose legal training included techniques for deciding scientific issues.

        • Re:not-so-good? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Cassius Corodes (1084513) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:16PM (#27383943)
          Judges are not supposed to know everything - they only need to know who to ask.
          • by bidule (173941) on Monday March 30, 2009 @12:40AM (#27384439) Homepage

            Moreover, judges are not supposed to "take side". This means they must only "know" what they are told in the courtroom. If the other side does not challenge the creationist definition of science, the judge takes this "science" as a fact. Of course, a smart judge will poke holes at the kooky definition to make it un-credible, but hey!

        • Re:not-so-good? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by zappepcs (820751) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:45PM (#27384123) Journal

          BING BING BING -- we have a winner. The wording was changed just enough to stop argument and allow further plundering of science education by those who 'claim' to meet the criteria for course material via 'scientific evidence'....

          I live in Texas and I have to tell you that the news that makes national and world headlines from this state is never good... outside that one press release on the invention of breast augmentation. When it comes to science and the law, most people here are not really in the slot of sharp knives in the flatware drawer.

          Think about it clearly: the simple fact that this is an ongoing news-making argument means that they just don't get it and will have left a back door for ID and creationism to creep it's way into school curriculum, either directly or through the school's 'emphasis' on what is said in class.

          I can tell you that I'm fully frustrated that this is even being discussed. Religion belongs in some other class, not science class. The bible is not evidence. If it was then clips like this [kickyoutube.com] would be banned, and not as funny as this really is.

          The whole argument about creation in the science class is disgusting. Disgusting as anything I can think of. Fscking morons.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I feel your pain, bro. But look at the bright side - at least you're not in Louisiana. [arstechnica.com]
          • Re:not-so-good? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by GospelHead821 (466923) on Monday March 30, 2009 @12:18AM (#27384299)

            I agree with you wholeheartedly and I'm a Christian. I believe in some variant of intelligent design (I mean, if you're going to choose to believe both the Bible AND science, you kind of have to), but the only reason it should ever be mentioned in a science class would be as part of a lesson on spotting BAD SCIENCE.

            • Re:not-so-good? (Score:5, Informative)

              by atraintocry (1183485) on Monday March 30, 2009 @05:07AM (#27385635)

              I'd like to point out that believing in a creator or designer (that is responsible for evolution) is not the same as believing in intelligent design. Intelligent Design was a movement aimed at presenting Creationism in a new light, and avoid precedent that may have been set by courts ruling against Creationism.

              "Ken Miller on Intelligent Design" (he's Catholic but he testified on the side of scientists in Kitzmiller v. Dover)
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVRsWAjvQSg [youtube.com]

              Actually the ruling in that case is very instructive on this whole thing, for what I mentioned the relevant quote is "The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism." Part of the evidence was the comparisons of different revisions of _Of Pandas and People_, where they essentially used a find+replace to switch Creationism to ID.

              I guess what I am trying to say is that Intelligent Design is sort of like a trademark...it has a specific meaning and purpose which is separate from what the actual words in the phrase would lead you to think (gee, I wonder why) and by calling what I have to assume is a combination of belief in God and acknowledgment of evolution "a variant of ID" you are doing yourself a disservice and might give people the wrong impression.

          • by MasaMuneCyrus (779918) on Monday March 30, 2009 @02:21AM (#27384881)

            In 7th grade, I learned about Christianity and creationism, as well as Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hindu, and touched briefly on some others. It was quite informative and I'd recommend it to everyone.

            This was, of course, done where it belonged -- in Social Studies class, not Science. Perhaps if the people of the school boards of Texas would just agree to teach it similarly, there wouldn't be a big stink about it.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by jc42 (318812)

              In 7th grade, I learned about Christianity and creationism, as well as Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Hindu, .... This was, of course, done where it belonged -- in Social Studies class, not Science.

              Actually, it's not all that uncommon for scientific degree programs to include a few History of Science courses, where you'd expect coverage of the important religious-vs-science disputes. Such courses wouldn't need to go into great detail about the religious belief systems, of course, but they should include enough

          • by Chrisq (894406) on Monday March 30, 2009 @03:37AM (#27385217)

            I live in Texas and I have to tell you that the news that makes national and world headlines from this state is never good... outside that one press release on the invention of breast augmentation.,/p>

            Not so good. The flat-chested girls were the only ones who would date geeks.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sjames (1099)

          Of course it means a science teacher can properly ignore creationism and stick to scientific debate.

          Judges may not fully understand science, but they DO understand that science is done by scientists and they will understand that the creationist side can't seem to find a single credentialed scientist that will say creationism is a scientific theory.

        • from a Texan (Score:4, Insightful)

          by reiisi (1211052) on Monday March 30, 2009 @04:25AM (#27385433) Homepage

          You're assuming that the compromise wording is still code for "excuse to attack science."

          It's not particularly hard to find un-biased judges in Texas.

          It is, I admit, easy to find biased judges, as well, but that's not a peculiar problem to Texas.

          The specific issue here is perhaps the nature of the biases you find.

          But the question you're driving at is, without a legal definition of "scientific evidence", you must rely on common law, and common law in a particularly place tends to reflect the common sensibilities of that place.

          Being one who believes in that government should be by the voice of the people, even when the people are not perfectly correct, I don't see this as something to be fought on terms of the kinds of us vs. them arguments prevailing in this thread. Us vs. them is wrong, even when "we" believe in "the truth", whether the truth is "science" or "religion".

          Unfortunately, much though it might be uncomfortable to you and me as geeks, the best solutions to social problems tend to be social, and this is primarily a social problem.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jav1231 (539129)
        And yet the words "creation," "creationism," "intelligent," and "design" isn't even mentioned in this statement. What's funny to me is the fact that this statement seeks to encourage critical thinking, a supposed pillar of scientific thought, and yet it's the scientific community that seems to want to quell it. If it's truth, it will stand the test, Folks.
    • Re:not-so-good? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by scdeimos (632778) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @10:58PM (#27383815)

      I agree with the "how is this not-go-good news?"

      Good Science is all about putting science theory and practice under scrutiny and peer review. This promotes proper investigation and revision and kills-off Bad Science through attrition.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Putting science theory to the test is all well and good when it is scientists that are involved in weighing the evidence to see what fits and what doesn't.

        With "intelligent design", you have theologians trying to make scientific decisions.

        It doesn't work.
        • Did anyone else see the recent breakthrough announced by gay scientist research group Pink Tiger, with their discover of the Christian gene? Fabulous send-up...

          Gay Scientists Isolate Christianity Gene [thedailytube.com]

          Cheers,

      • Re:not-so-good? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Garrett Fox (970174) on Monday March 30, 2009 @02:43AM (#27384985) Homepage
        It'd be great if a curriculum genuinely taught critical thinking and the scientific method, along with the reality check that real scientists have disputes, personal ambitions, and moments of stupidity. Unfortunately, this school decision and ones like it seem to be meant to single out evolution as "a theory in crisis." In reality, even "proven" "laws" like gravity are the subject of ongoing study and debate.

        If you're looking at science only long enough to hear about evolution, you might get the mistaken impression that evolution is the only area where there's still any uncertainty. It does kids little good to imply that there's Solid Science and that evolution is on some lower tier of reliability. And even less good to write curriculum language like this, and then use it as an excuse to pick on the one theory that most directly contradicts your specific religious beliefs. Note from the Discovery Institute's "Wedge Document" [wikipedia.org] that those guys are gunning for evolution specifically because it's so central to the scientific, rational understanding of reality. Eliminate evolution as an accepted theory, and reality looks more like an incomprehensible chaos where reason is helpless and only mystical insight is trustworthy. Put out the brightest light, and there's more darkness to sneak around in.
    • Re:not-so-good? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:08PM (#27383881) Homepage
      The problem is that many teachers aren't going to use that to engage in genuine critical thinking. They will use this as an excuse to bring up every single tired creationist saw which have been debunked hundreds of times over. Many teachers would likely do that anyways but this way they can do it in an approved fashion as long as they are a) minimally clever enough to disguise the creationist roots and b) intimidate children and parents into not complaining too much.
      • Re:not-so-good? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:14PM (#27383929) Journal

        So because you think that people who endorse creation will attempt to use this as some sort of loophole through which they can slip in arguments that don't actually stand up to scientific scrutiny, you would rather that the currently accepted theory not be encouraged to be subjected to any further scrutiny than it already has been either?

        Uhmmm.. wow. that's all I can say is just... wow. Talk about cutting of one's nose to spite their face.

    • Re:not-so-good? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kinnell (607819) on Monday March 30, 2009 @03:49AM (#27385265)

      The good news is that the board dropped a 20-year-old requirement that both "strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories be taught; score one for the teaching of evolution.

      And how is this good news? Once a scientific theory is established, we should ignore any evidence that may disprove it because it has become the accepted truth? I don't see how teaching evolution as "the truth" is significantly better than teaching intelligent design as "the truth". Science is not dogma.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by digitig (1056110)

      Spot on. If kids are not taught to "analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student" then they're not being taught science at all. Science is the process of critiquing scientific explanations.

      This could only be an issue if people fear that the teachers themselves are clueless about science. That might or might not be the case (I don't know any Texan science tea

  • Pardon but... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 29, 2009 @10:51PM (#27383777)

    Pardon me, but I fail to see how not teaching the weakness of a theory, whether it be evolution or gravity or special relativity, is a win for anyone?

    • Re:Pardon but... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by misanthrope101 (253915) on Monday March 30, 2009 @01:39AM (#27384693)

      It would be different if by "weakness of a theory" creationists don't mean the already refuted arguments they've been using for decades. It is a problem when I meet someone who thinks that it's a "weakness of the theory" that the 2nd law of thermodynamics makes evolution impossible, and they want that taught in class.

      If there are weakness in evolutionary theory, creationists won't be the ones to know them, because they don't understand the theory in the first place. Many of the arguments used by creationists are false--for example their claim that there are no transitional fossils, or that we've never witnessed speciation.

      They want to present these lies in class and act as if they're only presenting the weakness of the theory. They're just lying for Jesus. Every few years they have to change their wording because their tactics become known as baseless smears. Hence ID, the wedge strategy, etc.

  • Go Texas! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AtomicDevice (926814) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @10:52PM (#27383787)
    I think we should teach how gravity might not exist. After all, it's still just a "Theory" we havn't actually found the particles (or whatever) that cause it. I for one don't believe in gravity.
  • Score for who? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DaveV1.0 (203135) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @10:56PM (#27383813) Journal

    The not-so-good news is that in a "compromise," the board also voted to require that students "in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Score one for the Discovery Institute.

    No, score one for science. If one examines all sides of scientific evidence for those scientific explanations, then creationism and ID are left out in the cold because they are not based on science, are not scientific explanations, and thus can not be discussed.

    Further, if the goal is to encourage critical thinking, then ID and creationism are in trouble because they do not stand up to critical examination.

    • Re:Score for who? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bh_doc (930270) <blhiggins.gmail@com> on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:10PM (#27383893) Homepage

      You're assuming that both the students and the teachers have the competence, knowledge and understanding of the science in order to properly evaluate it, and that the teachers guiding such student evaluation do so in an honest and unbiased fashion.

      Good luck with that.

    • Re:Score for who? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by interiot (50685) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:19PM (#27383959) Homepage
      The problem is that "critique scientific explanations" means different things to different people. To a good science teacher, it means valid scientific critiques, and yes, that's very good. To a bad science teacher though, that means critiques that sound like science to the uneducated ear, but are really nothing of the sort. Surf some of the anti-evolution videos on YouTube for a few minutes to see just how good some people can be at blurring the line between science and hogwash.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drolli (522659)
      Let say our culture eliminates itself, and after 50000 years nearly no traces of us will be left. Still somebody looking at the Genes of the animals *will* find ID. He will find that certain genes were selected far beyond natural selection (actively bred), sometimes different from what you would expect in nature, and that new genes which do not belong to the pool of a species will appear (insulin in bacteria). What i want to say: there are scientific criteria for ID, but usually proposers of ID just want t
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by wyldeone (785673)

        Let say our culture eliminates itself, and after 50000 years nearly no traces of us will be left. Still somebody looking at the Genes of the animals *will* find ID. He will find that certain genes were selected far beyond natural selection (actively bred), sometimes different from what you would expect in nature, and that new genes which do not belong to the pool of a species will appear (insulin in bacteria). What i want to say: there are scientific criteria for ID, but usually proposers of ID just want to justify their superstition and therefore hesitate to define these. Would i be in their place i would also hesitate, because this has the big risk of failing spectacularly.

        There's a name for what you're describing: artificial selection. It has nothing to do with "intelligent design," which is the claim that all life on earth was created (more or less in its present form) by some unknowable entity. Artificial selection is part of evolutionary theory and you would find no competent evolutionary biologist who would deny its existence.

  • by jc42 (318812) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:00PM (#27383835) Homepage Journal

    I can almost hear the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Invisible Pink Unicorn supporters in Texas gearing up for the campaigns to pressure the school systems into teaching their alternative "scientific" explanations of evolution, cosmology, etc. It should be fun to watch.

    And how about the people who think that the mathematicians have make pi far too difficult for kids, and want their favorite alternative value taught in the schools. Wouldn't it be fun to contemplate a world in which engineers could build things using the exact (and rational!) value of pi that was taught to them when they were young ...

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:01PM (#27383837)

    The not-so-good news is that in a "compromise," the board also voted to require that students "in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations... including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Score one for the Discovery Institute.

    Everyone knows that scientific theory is not scientific fact. A better theory may come along and frequently does in the the sciences. Especially if this criticism examines scientific evidence as the amendment requests and not "biblical evidence" which a lot of creationism is based upon. (Lots of circular arguements that basically end with the bible said so and it's correct because it's the word of god, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.)

    Hopefully it would be interpreted that way and not just be a vehicle to introduce creationism. Afterall, scientific dogma is still dogma.

    • by Sabz5150 (1230938) on Monday March 30, 2009 @06:54AM (#27386109)

      Everyone knows that scientific theory is not scientific fact. A better theory may come along and frequently does in the the sciences. Especially if this criticism examines scientific evidence as the amendment requests and not "biblical evidence" which a lot of creationism is based upon. (Lots of circular arguements that basically end with the bible said so and it's correct because it's the word of god, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.)

      Hopefully it would be interpreted that way and not just be a vehicle to introduce creationism. Afterall, scientific dogma is still dogma.

      Bzzzt. Sorry. Theories are built by facts. They are frameworks for facts. If a theory is discarded in favor of another, it is because new facts have arisen that the original theory does not account for.

  • Well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evanbd (210358) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:01PM (#27383839)

    The wording as described in the summary sounds fine in the abstract; I suspect the problem will come in the implementation.

    As I see it, the problem with creationism and ID isn't that it's wrong, it's that it's untestable. Anything taught in the science classroom should be testable. There is a place for testable but wrong theories -- I remember learning about the aether, for example -- but things that make no testable predictions have no place. A discussion of how a popular theory (like the Ptolomeic theory of the solar system) gets disproved is quite valuable; if such a discussion was possible about creationism or ID it would have a place in the science classroom. But, as it makes no testable predictions, putting it in the same category as Aristotelean physics or Ptolomean astronomy is wrong.

  • Wasting Time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by devnullkac (223246) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:10PM (#27383903) Homepage

    Requiring students to evaluate every scientific explanation in light of the evidence that supports it will be a monumental waste of time. From the theory of gravity to the theory of the atom, spending time discussing the basis of scientific consensus will prevent students from getting very deep into any topic. I'm just glad that the most likely effect for students outside Texas is that science textbooks will be distributed in two volumes: the part Texas students are able to get through while critiquing the evidence and the rest of the curriculum all other high schools will be able to get to.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by servognome (738846)

      From the theory of gravity to the theory of the atom, spending time discussing the basis of scientific consensus will prevent students from getting very deep into any topic.

      Such discussions would result in students reviewing subjects in more depth, not less.
      Instead of just accepting an explaination of gravity or the structure of an atom, students will need to understand how the scientific models were constructed.
      For example a student will learn more about science on the atomic scale if they reviewed the his

  • the reason (Score:5, Insightful)

    by digibud (656277) on Sunday March 29, 2009 @11:14PM (#27383927)
    The reason it's not such great news is that phrasing, however subtle, is still meant to appease the fundies. The perception, I believe, is that it still allows for a principal or school board to put pressure on the teaching of evolution by pushing teachers to "examine all sides". The desire is to get ID and/or young earth creationism in here one way or the other. There is nothing wrong with teaching a theory and the evidence to support it - as long as that theory is a valid scientific theory with evidence that is widely accepted by the scientific community as such. ID isn't science (read the Dover transcripts if you are STILL confused on that point) but "examining all sides" is all about trying to get ID snuck into a science curriculum. Scientists are not against teaching weaknesses in any theory. Examining weaknesses is what science is all about. What scientists do NOT want done to "examine" those weaknesses by contrasting observations and facts that led to a theory (evolution) with observations that fit a pre-set fairy tale (creationism in whatever form you want to call it) and then pretend that both are valid science. The language used (above) is vague enough that it will provide the grist for many subsequent arguments between teachers and parents and schools and districts and I'm sure, many others. Nice job. Not.
  • Why Science Lost (Score:4, Informative)

    by ronys (166557) on Monday March 30, 2009 @12:17AM (#27384293) Journal

    Superficially, the decision sounds fine - of course we want students to analyze the scientific evidence! The problem is that the creationists are going to come back with a novel definition of 'scientific' evidence that treats Intelligent Design as a scientific hypothesis, and they're going to demand textbooks that include a treatment of all kinds of nonsensical 'theories'. ID is not scientific. It has no evidence in its favor (pointing out that we lack intermediate fossils showing the evolution of the lesser red-necked Argentinian swamp leech is not evidence that it was designed). But the Discovery Institute does have another bad textbook waiting in the wings for the next round of textbook-buying decisions in Texas.

    For more details, see here [scienceblogs.com].

  • by drDugan (219551) on Monday March 30, 2009 @12:29AM (#27384385) Homepage

    It is so sad that people even allow "creationism" as a debate still. Get a real
    spine and tell these people to shut up and leave the room.

    Here, these words will help:
    "Collective, viral mental illness"
    "Collective, viral mental illness"
    "Collective, viral mental illness"

    (keep repeating it...)

    They need treatment and counseling to address their illness. There was
    no virgin birth. There was no loaves and fishes feeding thousands. There
    was no man who came back to life. There was no garden of Eden. It is
    grossly ridiculous to discuss the world as 6000 years old. They are stories!
    There was no placement of fossils to test our "faith". And most of all, we
    have zero observations to support the story of a sentient creator
    . Personally,
    I don't know if there is a God, but collectively teaching blatant falsehoods
    should be completely unacceptable and called as such every single time.

    Loudly.

    Men wrote the bible. It was written long after the historical figure "Jesus
    of Nazareth" died. Men created the church, every church. There is absolutely
    no space for discussion with "creation scientists". Those with a straight face
    who "teach" such extreme views, (see for example here (if you can stomach it
    without vomiting): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_CLIGJW6Ic [youtube.com] ) are
    *mentally ill* and should be offered treatment.

    Even if a large group of people are deluded, they are still deluded.

  • by johnnyoxford (523789) on Monday March 30, 2009 @12:33AM (#27384401)
    The best class I took at the University of Chicago was one focused at dissecting a number of the scientific papers that were most "worshipped" - they were written by the best and the brightest and were highly referenced in the field. When we read them critically, we found that often (always in the set of papers we looked at) the claims of these papers simply could not be substantiated by the content. Sometimes, it was just not supportable - sometimes even the opposite result from the claim was demonstrated. Critical reading and thinking is hugely important. I have no problem with this. That is what real science is all about. As long as these kids also have the ability and opportunity to question the bullshit that is in these textbooks, then everything will be just fine.

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