Creationists Appointed to Science Review Panels

by Ryan

The Texas Education Agency just released the full list of members serving on the science review panels that will evaluate instructional materials submitted for approval by the State Board of Education (SBOE). As TFN predicted earlier this spring, the review panel for biology includes a number of individuals with a history of promoting intelligent design/creationism or advocating the teaching of phony “weaknesses” of evolution in science classes.

Last month the Texas Freedom Network and the National Center for Science Education identified proposed materials from one vendor, New Mexico-based International Databases, that promote intelligent design/creationism as real science. Now evolution deniers on the review teams will likely use their positions as a podium to promote the same flawed arguments.

Read TFN’s press release here.

A preliminary analysis by TFN of the biology review panel identified at least three anti-evolution activists:

Ide Trotter (appointed by Terri Leo, R-Spring)
Trotter is a longtime standard-bearer for the creationist movement in Texas, both as a source of funding and as a spokesperson for the leading creationist group in the state, Texans for Better Science Education. Trotter is a veteran of the evolution wars at the SBOE, having testified before the board during the 2003 Biology textbook adoption and again in 2009 during the science curriculum adoption. In both instances, Trotter advocated including scientifically discredited “weaknesses” of evolution in Texas science classrooms. Trotter runs his own investment management company and served as dean of business and professor of finance at Dallas Baptist University. He claims that major scientific discoveries over last century have actually made evolutionary science harder to defend:

“The ball is rolling and it’s going downhill. There are not enough forces on the side of Darwinism to keep pushing it back uphill forever.”

David Shormann (appointed by Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands)
Shormann, who has a doctorate in limnology (the study of inland waters),  is an outspoken evolution denier who believes “creationism, not evolutionism, is the best way to interpret life’s origins…” He is also a young Earth creationist:

“Treating Earth history as just that, history, I can find physical and written testimony that the Earth is only 6,000 years old. And just as most of us have no problem believing Jesus Christ was a real person who lived 2,000 years ago, we should have no problem believing there were about 4,000 years from the Beginning to Christ’s birth. Studying natural history can be an interesting, fun, and adventure-filled pursuit, but it is not real science, and shouldn’t be treated like it is. Be wary of the opinions of those who insist otherwise.”

You can read more of Shormann’s beliefs about creation and evolution — and his poor opinion of the Texas Freedom Network! — on his blog Studying His Word and His Works.

Richard White (appointed by current SBOE chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas)
White indicated no relevant teaching experience in this area on his application (noting only that he works for Dell, Inc.). However, he testified before the SBOE on March 25, 2009, when he advocated the inclusion of phony “weaknesses” of evolution in Texas science standards:

“…These are all well-known scientific problems with modern evolutionary theory, and they do not exhaust the list. The entire list is a very long one.”

White went on in his testimony to insist that teaching the mainstream scientific consensus concerning evolution without also presenting its “weaknesses” amounted to forcing religious dogma on students.

Anti-evolution board members also nominated several other individuals for whom we could find no public record of their positions on evolution. (We did discover that another of Terri Leo’s nominees — Colleen Vera — is a prominent conservative activist affiliated with a group called King Street Patriots. Vera is currently organizing conservative groups to call on Gov. Perry to veto the new SBOE redistricting map.)

Fortunately, state board members also appointed many experienced scientists from Texas universities, as well as teachers and curriculum directors from school districts around the state. So the review panel will include a strong voice for sound science.

The review panels will meet in Austin during the week of June 13 – June 17, 2011, and submit their evaluations to the SBOE (and the public) before the July board meeting. Stay tuned to TFN Insider as this debate continues to heat up over the coming months.