Breaking News: Official State Reviewer Confirms Concerns over Science Textbook Adoption in Texas

A University of Texas scientist is expressing serious concerns about the qualifications of fellow reviewers examining new biology textbooks proposed for public high schools in the Lone Star State. A letter he sent to State Board of Education members this week also highlights concerns that SBOE Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, might have inappropriately tried to influence reviewers in Austin last month. His full letter is at the end of this post.

We reported on Monday that anti-evolution activists nominated by SBOE members to serve as official reviewers are pressuring publishers to weaken instruction on evolution in their new biology textbooks. Texas Education Agency staff appointed reviewers from the list of SBOE nominations and individuals who nominated themselves. State board members will use their reviews to help them decide whether to adopt the textbooks for use in Texas schools. The board has scheduled a public hearing on the textbooks for Tuesday (Sept. 17) and a final vote on adoption in November.

Late Wednesday, an SBOE member forwarded to the Texas Freedom Network a letter from Jimmy Gollihar, a doctoral student and scientist working at UT-Austin. Gollihar nominated himself as a reviewer.

Gollihar’s letter describes a “review process that is either broken or corrupt.” He explains, for example, that many reviewers on the biology panels were clearly unqualified to evaluate the textbooks:

“The net result of having a huge raft of non-scientists on the panels was that rather than checking for factual errors in the texts I was put into the position of having to painstakingly educate other panel members on past and current literature. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a reviewer from another table, who is also a well-known creationist without any training in biology, was quite proud that he was the one reviewing the sections on evolution for his table … with no scientific counterpoint to be had. As a result, even beyond the obviously ideologically-derived comments on the materials many of the comments found littered throughout those reviews make no sense whatsoever from a scientific viewpoint and are absolutely not germane to the content prescribed in the [Texas curriculum standards].”

He also expresses frustration over his name appearing on a document in which another reviewer insists that “creation science based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption”:

“At no time did I ever sign anything resembling such nonsense. In fact, the author of that comment and I never worked on anything together. I do not know how this inaccurate statement and my name have been paired, but because I am a professional in good standing I strongly ask you to please remove my name from anything that does not have my direct signature when providing materials to the public. To do otherwise is to potentially sully my reputation.”

Gollihar calls on SBOE members to ensure that reviewers actually have the appropriate qualifications to review a textbook:

“Future panel members should be experts in their respective fields, preferably practicing scientists up to date on the modern information that students need. . . . We should absolutely not see network, mechanical or chemical engineers, dieticians or others making decisions or pressuring publishers to change books on biology. Let biologists do biology. We’re actually pretty good at it.”

Gollihar’s letter also suggests that SBOE Chairwoman Cargill, who has called for biology textbooks to teach “another side to the theory of evolution,” might not have been entirely forthcoming with her fellow board members last month. At a board meeting on August 1, Cargill assured her colleagues that she hadn’t inappropriately interfered in the work of the biology textbook review panels.

At that meeting, board member Marisa Perez, D-San Antonio, had expressed concerns over a TFN Insider post revealing that Cargill had spent considerable time working with those panels, which were meeting in Austin at the time. Perez asked whether the participation of board members would compromise the integrity of the review process.

Cargill, sounding a little peeved, expressed surprise that anyone would suggest she was trying to influence the work of the reviewers:

“My goal in going was to go to every table, literally, and thank the panel members for being there. Plus I’m a science teacher, so I love listening to all the science talk. So regardless of what was interpreted by people who were there, or weren’t there, that was my goal.”

But Gollihar’s letter suggests that reviewers “were taken aback” by what they saw as Cargill’s attempt to influence the panels’ examination of the textbooks:

“I and other members of my group grew increasingly concerned with both the actions and presence of Chairwoman Barbara Cargill during the review of course materials for high school biology. We appreciated her kind words about our service to the state, but we were taken aback by the sheer amount of time spent with other panel members, especially those who might reasonably be regarded as creationists. From our vantage, Ms. Cargill was clearly trying to steer the independent review process by providing specific guidance and direction to the two other teams. She appeared to be pointing to specific locations within certain texts and encouraging the members of the panel to recommend changes to the publishers. It is our understanding that the review process should be absent of any undue influence from SBOE members.

As an example, we were uneasy about having seen Ms. Cargill opening books for review in the corridor outside of the review area. When I and other panel members approached her, she indicated that she “had to do it the old-fashioned way,” by reading the hard copy of the book. This was puzzling, given that we assumed that we were the experts being asked to review the book, not her. Moreover, any demurs about providing general guidance were sort of obviated by this detailed examination of the materials to hand.”

It would seem that Cargill spent far more time with reviewers than would be necessary to express her gratitude for their service and engage in some small talk. So we once again call on the chairwoman to reveal what she told reviewers and to explain the extent of her participation in their work.

You can read all of Gollihar’s letter below.

Gollihar SBOE Letter

8 thoughts on “Breaking News: Official State Reviewer Confirms Concerns over Science Textbook Adoption in Texas

  1. Mr Gollihar, thank you! A great letter throughout. I, personally, would have had to bite off most of my tongue to type “In hopes of the former….”, but then I may be more cynical than you.

  2. And this is exactly why the USA is falling further and further behind the rest of the World, in terms of science, math and technology.

    Religion is theology, it is not now, nor has it ever been science. It’s just not. It’s one of many BELIEF systems present in the World and there is no way it can be considered science, unless you are someone who does not understand what science is.

    Science is based on VERIFIABLE and quantitatively fact based evidence and data that can be reproduced and peer reviewed. Religion is a belief in an invisible being that is specifically touted by Christians as being “unknowable”; no way of providing data, fact or anything else scientific about that, now is there? If God is unknowable, you can’t measure, quantify or experiment of him.

    Let’s keep religious studies firmly apart from science, as the two are polar opposites of each other.

  3. Yes, the textbook adoption system is broken or corrupt–AND HAS BEEN FOR AT LEAST 60 YEARS. I have been claiming the same thing for over 30 years. Will the system ever be totally fixed?

    I acknowledge that the system has been partially fixed by giving school districts the opportunity to adopt whatever instructional materials they want independent of State Board manipulation. They should hopefully choose to adopt materials written to comply with the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards and add whatever extra material they need to teach to the TEKS. That way students will not received a biased or censored education. Or perhaps publishers could offer two different books for the Texas market, one that complies with SBOE/TEA censorship and the other that is written to accurate and reliable scientific and scholarly standards that refused to misrepresent, censor, or disparage important scientific and historical topics that the radical religious right-wing ideologues on the SBOE don’t want students to read about. But this opportunity is only the first step. The system will not truly be fixed until the State Board and TEA stop politicizing science and history instructional content.

  4. Golihar says: “Future panel members should be experts in their respective fields…”

    Necessary, but not necessarily sufficient. In any field of science, there’s a small % who sell out to the more lucrative career of peddling pseudoscience. In evolutionary biology it less than 1%, and less than 0.1% if you include those who admit denying common descent. Surprisingly low given that 10-40% are very religious, and 100% would love to come up with a new theory.

    I also wish that Golihar had used your term “anti-evolution activists” instead of “creationists.” People who hear the latter term tend to react with “what’s the harm, let them believe.” In fact we ought to be suspicious of whether these activists even personally believe the nonsense they peddle. Especially since they all have a radical authoritarian agenda that forces them to do whatever is necessary to mislead people on evolution and the nature of science.

  5. Thank goodness there are still reasonable and rational professionals committed to educating our children on REAL science, accurate history and proper English. We cannot continue to under educate our youth and remain a leader in the free world. Our chkldren must be educated to compete on a world stage way beyond Texas!

    Thank you, Sir, for speaking out. I hope it makes an impact.

  6. Fine. You let scientists review religion textbooks (heck, why not the bible itself) and call for them to teach another side to the theory of creation, and we’ll call it even. Deal?

  7. Great letter, indeed, Mr. Gollihar. We need more like you! I hope it makes an impact. Needless to say, those SBOE members who are intent on turning the U.S into a theocracy will completely disregard your sensible and logical suggestions….