I’ve written before about the ongoing battle to maintain decent science standards in Texas schools, and why this is not just a regional issue, but important for science education in the United States as a whole.
Today I went before the Texas State Board of Education to testify in support of the science textbooks currently under review. They’re all quite good on the subject of evolution, but there’s a chance that the board may require the textbook companies to modify them based on the testimony of their so-called experts (whose anti-evolution opinions can be read here). The outcome is very much in doubt right now.
I came expecting this to be a largely symbolic (though important) gesture, but I was completely wrong. The pro-creationism/Intelligent Design crowd was present in force, and even though they were vastly outnumbered by the science advocates, they were given extra time and friendly questions by some SBOE members, which amplified their voices.
Here are a few quotes from them:
“The best current perception is that natural selection explains survival of the fittest but not arrival of the fittest.”–Ide Trotter
(Scientists make) “boastful assertions of robust evidence for evolution, but (the textbooks) are actually poor on facts supporting it,” and “coincidentally support what the Bible says.”
“You can’t evolve a cat in the lab.”
“They have no evidence in those books to explain evolution”–Don McLeroy
“When we fail to present the weaknesses of Darwinian evolution, we teach indoctrination (of atheism)”
“Mutations don’t add any information”–Thomas Lancaster
There was quite a bit of media attention, which I was glad about (even though most of the press were gone by the time I gave my testimony later in the day).
One of the things I was struck by was the remarkable diversity of people who turned out to testify on behalf of the science textbooks. Professors, parents, students, pastors, and lawyers all took the day off to express their support for evolution.
We were only given 2 minutes (although some people got the opportunity to expand on their views when questioned by the board members).
Here is the testimony I gave to the board:
Good afternoon, my name is Jennifer Raff. I am a Research Fellow at the University of Texas, with a joint PhD in genetics and anthropology. I have taught biology and other science courses, conducted research, and mentored undergraduate and graduate students for about ten years.
I appreciate the opportunity to encourage you to adopt the science textbooks under consideration. Please do not be dissuaded by the testimony of anyone objecting to them on the grounds that they are controversial with regard to the theory of evolution. As an educator and researcher, who has spent my entire career working in the biological sciences, I can assure you that there is absolutely no legitimate controversy as to whether evolution occurred. Let me repeat that: there is no scientific controversy as to whether evolution occurred. Those who pretend otherwise either don’t understand science, or are promoting a religious or political agenda. Those agendas do not belong in a science classroom.
Using science education as a political battleground hurts students, hurts schools, and hurts Texas. Understanding evolution is critical for anyone who wants to be employed in a STEM field. I say this from practical experience: it would be impossible for anyone in my field to do top-level work without without a rigorous understanding of how evolutionary processes shaped human genetic diversity. Medicine and agriculture also require a thorough grounding in the theory of evolution, as natural selection can actually be seen in action in the evolution of antibiotic and herbicide resistance. These are just a few examples, but I could give you many, many more. We don’t teach evolution because of some political or religious agenda, like those driving hostility to the science. We teach it because it’s true. We teach it because it works. We teach it because it’s necessary for making scientific progress.
I myself have reviewed these textbooks. It is my judgment as a scientist and educator that they would provide a thorough scientific education for Texas students, and prepare them for advanced courses I and others might teach. That isn’t just my opinion; the community of experts and productive scientists with real expertise and hard-won credentials in this field is virtually unanimous on this subject. Please adopt these, on the recommendation of those subject matter experts, and put this sham controversy behind Texas. If you give our students sub-par curricula and textbooks, they will be unprepared for university-level courses. I have seen it happen before, and I would hate to see generations of Texas students find themselves ill qualified for STEM careers because the state crippled their education to satisfy an ideological agenda
Here is the Texas Freedom Network live blog of most of the talks. Unfortunately, mine wasn’t included, although Eugenie Scott of NCSE was listening to the proceedings and sent me a very nice message on Facebook thanking me for my testimony (bioanthropologists unite! She’s awesome). I will be posting links to more reports on the meeting as I get them, and will definitely be writing more about the TSBOE’s decision regarding the science textbooks as soon as it’s made. In the meantime, if you wish to show your support for evolution education, I encourage you to check out the hashtag #standup4science on Twitter, and contribute your own photos/comments there (and below).
Many, many thanks to everyone who came out in support of science education!
EDITED to add: If you want an example of the kind of testimony provided by the creationists, here is former SBOE Don McLeroy’s statement before the board (he was given considerably more time than I was, incidentally):