Liberty Institute: ‘So-Called Scientists’

by Jose Medina

The State Board of Education late last week approved science instructional materials that will be in classrooms for the next decade, a decision lauded by TFN because the materials are free of creationist anti-science propaganda. But that’s not what we’re here for in this blog post. We’re here for the sideshow that is the far-right Liberty Institute, the Texas offspring of Focus on the Family.

Prior to Thursday’s SBOE hearing, TFN held a press conference in the lobby of the Texas Education Agency building for which plenty of media showed. Aaaaand Liberty Institute’s lawyer-lobbyist showed up.

We don’t really care that he was there. It was a public building and it was a public event. But it’s what he said after the press conference that caught our attention. Approached by a reporter to get his side’s viewpoint, he referred to our speakers as “so-called scientists.”

We would normally let such a cheap swipe go, but the people we invited to speak for us took time out of their busy lives — and in one case traveled across the country — for the sake of the education of the children of this state. So, yeah, we’re going to stand up for them a little.

Let’s do some comparisons by going over the qualifications of the “so-called scientists.”

At our press conference we had (in alphabetical order) Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education, Southern Methodist University Prof. Ron Wetherington, and Matt Winkler, the CEO of Asuragen and chairman of Mirna Therapeutics.

Here’s a little bit about each of our speakers:

Josh Rosenau is director of programs and policy for the National Center for Science Education. Founded in 1981, NCSE is a not-for-profit, membership organization providing information and resources for schools, parents and concerned citizens working to keep evolution in public school science education. NCSE educates the press and public about the scientific, educational, and legal aspects of the creation and evolution controversy, and supplies needed information and advice to defend good science education at local, state, and national levels. NCSE is based in Oakland, Calif.

Prof. Ron Wetherington is an archaeologist and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Prof. Wetheringon served as an expert adviser to the Texas State Board of Education during the revision of science curriculum standards in 2009. This year he served on a panel reviewing proposed science instructional materials submitted by publishers in the spring.

Matt Winkler is CEO of Asuragen and Chairman of Mirna Therapeutics. He received a B.S. degree in Genetics and a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of California at Berkeley. He joined the Zoology Department of the University of Texas in 1983. In 1988, as an Associate Professor, he started Ambion, Inc. a molecular biology “tool” company. Ambion became the “preeminent molecular biology tools company” focused on RNA with about 400 employees located in Austin, Cambridge, England and Tokyo, Japan. In March of 2006 he sold the research products division of Ambion to Applied Biosystems and with about 100 employees started Asuragen, an oncology centric, molecular diagnostics company with a strong focus around RNA. In December of 2007 Asuragen created Mirna Therapeutics, as a “carve out of Asuragen” to develop cancer therapeutics based on miRNA. He is the author of over 30 scientific publications and has 9 issued patents.

Not speaking at the press conference but with us throughout last week’s SBOE meeting was Steve Schafersman:

Steve Schafersman is a former university science professor who taught at Houston Community College, the University of Houston, Miami University (Ohio), and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He holds a PhD in Geology (evolutionary paleontology, sedimentary petrology) from Rice University. He currently works in the petroleum industry in West Texas and is the president of Texas Citizens for Science.

Now let’s compare the above with the science cred of Liberty Institute’s lawyer-lobbyist:

That’s right. None.

And these are the science credentials of the people Liberty Institute brought to the SBOE meeting:

Yup. None again.

Yet, Liberty Institute sneeringly refers to “so-called scientists” who testified in support of teaching about evolutionary science.

We’d like to take this chance to thank all of the scientists and friends from organizations like the National Center for Science Education and Texas Citizens for Science who were with us prior, during and after last week’s science adoption. We already thanked them last week but, really, they can’t be thanked enough.