It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Live tweeting from Texas Education Board

Following StatesmanEDU on Twitter.

Also, Texas Freedom Network is liveblogging.
11:44 - A creationist testifier:
“Why are we supporting such a theory (evolution) that has no evidence supporting it?”
Also liveblogging the event is TFK (Joshua Rosenau).

Update: Today's Statesman story

Update 1/22: Here's the other side, an outfit called the Free Market Foundation.

If the Shafersman quote (which I've cringed at before, repeated by the FMF at the above link) wasn't messed up by the Statesman reporter, he's not a very competent ally. People who don't understand science defending science can be an embarrassment and a liability.

Also, here's some bland TV coverage (may expire; let me know if you find a stale link.)

More: The NYTimes has a good summary of the story.

And today's Statesman story, despite a couple of glitches (\u2026 is actually Python's rendition for the ellipsis ("...") character; hooray for the Statesman running buggy Python) unscrambles a fairly convoluted day pretty well:
The State Board of Education on Thursday rejected efforts to continue to require Texas children to study the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories including evolution. But a narrower challenge to evolutionary theory was approved.
However, the board later approved, 9-6, a motion by board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, to require students to evaluate the "sufficiency or insufficiency" of scientific theories about common ancestry of different species. The prevalent scientific theory explaining the diversity of species is evolution; creationism is the belief that the universe was created by a higher power.
Details from TFN:
4:23 - McLeroy wants to amend the section on biology dealing with evolution, calling into question common descent through evolution. This is a very bad amendment. Good heavens. McLeroy is a dentist, and he’s trying to argue against the heart of evolution right here. He has absolutely no qualifications here.

4:32 - We’re reeling here. McLeroy has launched a broadside against a core concept of evolution — common descent. This is like an army losing a battle (”strengths and weaknesses”) and then launching a nuclear strike.

4:45 - Good God. It passed. Board members surely don’t understand what they’ve done here. Certainly not all of them. Strengths and weaknesses is out, but McLeroy has succeeded in using the standards to raise doubts about a core concept of biology.

4:48 - The board has voted 9-6 to give preliminary approval to the standards. UPDATE: In the confusion at the end, we missed the final vote count. But the board did give preliminary approval to the standards draft.

5:04 - Time for deep breaths. One: The failure of creationists to reinsert “strengths and weaknesses” into the standards is a huge victory for sound science education. We need to fight to keep it out in tomorrow’s formal vote and again in the final March votes on the standards.

Second: Board members — none of whom are research scientists, much less biologists — appeared confused when they were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the standards. That’s why it’s foolish to let dentists and insurance salesmen play-pretend that they’re scientists. The result is that the standards draft includes language that is more tentative. Not good, but not necessarily disastrous overall.

Third, and this is more of a problem, McLeroy has succeeded in inserting language that has students waste time evaluating evidence on a concept that is established science — in fact, it’s a core concept in the study of evolution, common descent. What we saw is what happens when a dentist pretends that he knows more about science than scientists.
This is all mighty confusing. The press coverage struggling to establish who the players are and what is at stake in this or that amendment. It's a difficult task. (It's a quadruple negative. The science advisory group proposed to 1) strike the pre-existing text calling for the curriculum to investigate  2) "weaknesses" in evolutionary theory; the creationists proposed to 3) amend the recommendation so as to reinstate the language and 4) the majority defeated the amendment to that effect. Then the creationists came up with another way to get creationism into the curriculum which the exhausted moderates let slide, apparently out of inattention or something.

In the end, both TFN and the Statesman are calling it a victory for evolution, but a defeat for "common descent" is a neat trick that seems to achieve the fundies' purpose in a completely different way. I don't really like the sneering at the end of the TFN timeline but the declaration of partial victory is nonsense. They are hosed, and the schoolchildren of half the country may be hosed along with them.

FMF is a day behind. Playing close to the vest, perhaps? I call it a stealth victory for fundamentalist  superstition, myself.

The latest article on tfk has interesting points and comments.

how do they propose that anyone analyze and evaluate how natural selection doesn't apply to individuals but to populations? That's simply true, and doesn't require any analysis or evaluation.
Tony Whitson:
it seems to me that McLeroy's amendment on common descent is so silly that the Board won't have any problem getting rid of that in March.
Cheryl Shepherd-Adams:
So why would they vote with McLeroy and against the experts on matters of science content?
John Pieret:
I'm sure there is an element of face-saving in the reaction of the Disco Boyz, especially after they've spent so much time promoting the "strengths and weakness" ploy, but I'm not at all sure these amendments are small potatos.
Update 1/24: More resources in Millard fillmore's Bathtub (indeed). The Houston Chronicle's coverage is here.

Update 1/25: Dave Mann at the Texas Observer sees it pretty much the way I do.



Dano said...

I think we need Faf!blog to cover this event, as it seems to be the best voice to capture this properly.



bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

I don't get it. Why is an organization with the name "Free Market Foundation" in the business of defending creationism? What does the free market have to do with creationism vs. evolution? Something to do with buying and selling scientific theories, or what?

Michael Tobis said...

Yeah, that name is peculiar, isn't it?

Mike Haubrich, FCD said...

These are the mission and values of the Free Market Foundation, from their website:


To protect freedoms and strengthen families throughout Texas by impacting our legislature, media, grassroots, and courts with the truth. To do this we are guided by the principles, which limit government and promote Judeo-Christian values.

That all Texas government and culture would create and foster an environment of freedom that strengthens families and protects faith. That the intimate relationships of family, community, and church would take on their God-given responsibilities and government would relinquish these areas.

I have no idea where the "market" part comes in.

Marion Delgado said...

Its elitests like you said a TV weather guy could not do analayss of spectres and time in series and chemistyr and sience genrly so leave it to al gore and him henson but no anthony watt showed you like his grandfater invented steam engine!

there is no hockey stick or glaicers or warming and in fact ice age and similar the dinosarus some died in ice age caused by lack of pollution because adam and eve had no industry.

Marion Delgado said...

New Scientist contributed to this case. They contributed "Darwin Was Wrong" (about the common descent of life) in big headlines across the front of the magazine.

Now, why did the loony cons insert "problems with the common descent of life" in at the last minute, I wonder? Actually we don't need to wonder, the New Scientist was apparently cited in one of the Texas creationists' messages.