Live-Blogging the Texas Science Textbook Hearing (2013)

by TFN

5:29 – That’s a wrap. We’re calling this hearing a lopsided victory for science. Thanks, everyone. Watch the blog tomorrow for video of former SBOE chair Don McLeroy’s strange and confusing return to the board as a member of the public, and other fall-out from today’s hearing.

For pictures from today’s science rally (and virtual rally), check out TFN’s Stand Up for Science tumblr:

5:15 – And now a rebuttal to Mr. Bennett from the next testifier, Arthur Stewart, senior minister at Midway Hills Christian Church in Dallas, who states unambiguously that evolution should be in the textbooks, not any religious or theological beliefs. Amen.

5:10 – Gary Bennett, who identifies himself as Chairman of the Center for the Preservation of American Ideals, offers an unambiguous, explicit argument to include intelligent design and creation science “side by side” with evolution in the textbooks. SBOE member Thomas Ratliff asks which version of creationism should be in the textbooks. Bennett: “Biblical truth.” Then he says all creationist beliefs (from all faiths) that are supported by scientific evidence should be taught. That might be an interesting class. But it sure wouldn’t be science.

5:02 – Now the board hears from science defender (and YouTube sensation) Aron Ra, who attempts a 2-minute science lesson. No questions from the class.

4:55 – Another helpful exchange over how to make sure review panel members are qualified. Dr. Christopher Randall, a biology professor, argues that only published, established faculty should directly participate in reviewing the textbooks. He analogizes: If we have a problem with the street, we hire someone who knows how to repair a street. Other folks can monitor that process — that is, it will be public — but they don’t fix the street because they don’t know what they’re doing. This is a compelling argument, and one the board should weigh carefully. But we still maintain there is a way for the public to participate, while allowing the final word on factual errors and subject-matter coverage to those who actually understand the subject.

4:48 – Dr. Arturo de Lozanne, a cell biologist from UT-Austin, is now testifying before the board (having already spoken at TFN’s #StandUp4Science rally earlier in the day!). Dr. de Lozanne points out the wealth of resources on the science faculty at UT that could be tapped when reviewing these textbooks. We second that.

4:43 – We’d like to circle back and pick up on something SBOE member Marty Rowley said a few minutes ago. Rowley asks a legitimate question — if we restrict the review process to credentialed, qualified individuals, what role can the general public play in the review? This is a fair question. But the board could easily manage both by including members of the general public in the process, but ensuring qualified educators and subject-matters experts make up a majority of all the teams evaluating the products. It could further ensure that no publishers are held hostage to factually-inaccurate or problematic demands from review panels by adding an extra layer of review by real subject-matter experts with an advanced degree in the subject area. Texas’s colleges and universities are full of them! (The board already does something similar with the curriculum review process.) These are just two possibilities for balancing public input with expert review. We’d support any efforts by Mr. Rowley or other board members to find the proper balance moving forward.

4:40 – One more note on Cargill’s claims about review qualifications: Cargill suggests that a dietician has to take a lot of food science courses, so (she suggests) they’re qualified. This is incredibly dishonest. A food science degree doesn’t qualify someone to evaluate a biology textbook that includes instruction on a wealth of topics. Moreover, the biology panels include numerous engineers and chemists (most of whom are evolution deniers) who are simply not biologists. Cargill is defending the indefensible.

4:36 – Cargill now trying desperately to make the case that the biology panels were full of sufficiently qualified individuals (dieticians take lots of science classes!). I guess we know where the board chair stands on whether we need to raise the bar for these review teams. She seems satisfied with the status quo.

Cargill goes one step further to scold the lack of biology teachers on the panels: “I want to know where were these teachers when the call went out for reviewers?”

4:26 – Bradley back at it, questioning Matt Simpson of the ACLU of Texas. Bradley claims that all the problematic comments came from “one reviewer.” Wrong. David might want to read TFNInsider a little more regularly to save him from making fact-claims that are so easily falsifiable.

Bradley goes on to ask if Christians are “ineligible to serve” on the reviews and “in the public square” because of their religious beliefs? Of course they’re not. (As Simpson from the ACLU answered.) The question is what qualifications they have, not their religious beliefs. Many people of faith are great scientists.

4:20 – Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education helpfully makes the distinction between helpful and relevant comments by some members of the science review panels and the ideologically driven criticisms of evolution — often drawn directly from creationist literature — that others on those panels made. That’s a great point. Many of the volunteers who served on these review panels did careful and honorable work to improve these textbooks. It’s a shame we didn’t have a majority of those qualified volunteers on all the panels.

Money quote from Josh:

“To ensure that ‘Texas edition’ is a mark of quality, not a warning label, I ask that you assure publishers they won’t have to make revisions to satisfy these flawed reviews.”

4:19 – One more editorial note re: Mercer and Bradley’s complaint that no one is trying to insert religion in the textbooks.  Of course, we all know the courts would throw such a textbook out immediately. The real issue is that creationists (like Mercer and Bradley) are trying to dumb down our children’s textbooks by inserting junk science arguments against evolution. Is that clear enough, Ken and David?

4:15 – No questions for Zack Koppin. But he talks of his experience battling creationism in his home state of Louisiana. Asks the board to do an experiment by going to and doing a search for creationisms and see how many results you get, then do another search for biology jobs.

4:09 – Now SBOE member Ken Mercer tries Bradley’s tactic: “If you find Jesus, Buddha, Mohamed anywhere in the science TEKS, I’ll give you $500.” Again, we wonder where anyone got the idea Mercer is advocating a faith-based alternative to evolution?

“Is evolution a fact? Most people of faith agree with what is commonly referred to as ‘micro’ evolution, small changes that are clearly visible. We see this in new vaccines and new strains of flu. You can witness evidence of microevolution downtown in any city via the thousands of varieties of stray dogs and cats. The controversial ‘macro’ evolution was commonly understood as those major changes that could occur if one species jumped to another. For example, have you ever seen a dog-cat, or a cat-rat?”

— Ken Mercer,  San Antonio Express-News, December, 2008

4:07 – David Walls from Liberty Institute/Texas Values, the religious-right group based in Plano, is up. He defends the discredited science standards adopted by the SBOE in 2009. Those standards, he says, support academic freedom and critical thinking. And he defends the unqualified reviewers who have participated in the current textbook adoption.

4:05 – Barbara Cargill tells a pro-science testifier that she should have volunteered to serve on the review teams: “We could have used more qualified science reviewers. Trust me.” Oh, we believe you, Ms. Cargill. We’ve been making that very point for weeks now. So why were there so many unqualified reviewers on the review teams? Why have you defended those unqualified reviewers? And why were qualified reviewers denied spots on those teams?

4:00 – Bradley tries again to shame a testifier who is concerned about creationists corrupting the textbooks, saying there is no evidence anyone on the board has ever tried to do that. I wonder where she got that idea?

“If some of my associates want to believe their ancestors were monkeys, that is their right. I believe God is responsible for our creation. . . Given that none of today’s scientists were around when the first frog crawled out of the pond, there is no one who can say exactly what happened.”

– Bradley, responding to questions about whether the board will seek to add intelligent design to the state’s public school science curriculum in 2008 [Dallas Morning News, August 23, 2007]

3: 52 – SBOE member Tincy Miller: “We vote for the textbooks on the condition that the errors be corrected.” But we’re not talking just about so-called “factual errors.” We’re talking about revisions publishers make to meet the objections of reviewers who say a textbook didn’t cover all of the curriculum standards. The public must know before the board votes in November what changes the publishers are making to their textbooks.

3:48 – SBOE member David Bradley responds to a testifier with the old “Who’s talking about creationism here?” response. Umm…the official, board-appointed review panel members who are are sending their evaluations to publishers?!? It’s disrespectful to imply these testifiers are “conspiracy theorists” because they are concerned about the corruption of these textbooks by those with an ideological beef against evolution. They have every reason to be when the proof is right there in black and white on the official review documents.

3:38 – TFN President Kathy Miller gets her turn at bat. She starts by circulating a review of the textbooks we commissioned from actual scientists (available here). Then she rehearses the litany of problems that we’ve observed in this process, problems others have referenced today as well. Finally, Kathy calls on the board NOT to take a final vote on proposed science materials until they — and the public — have had an opportunity to review the final versions of those texts. Seems like common sense, huh? Not surprisingly, no questions from the board for Kathy.

3:36 Mark Cadwallader, an engineer (why is it always the engineers?), tells the board, “Evolution is a theory that has had many problems over the years.” Complains that by teaching scientific consensus on evolution the books are actually “adopting a minority religious view.” [Eye-roll]

3:28 – Editorial note: The complaints from SBOE creationists that TFN (who else are they talking about?) portrayed the in-person review reports as the final word from the panels are disingenuous. (Word of the day?) We noted in our press release that negotiations are ongoing between publishers and reviewers. Second, those panel review documents went directly to publishers, and publishers must decide how to respond to them — even to the reviews that are filled with junk science arguments. So let’s make this clear: unqualified reviewers have had the authority to rule that publishers failed to cover required curriculum standards and to identify what they see as “factual errors” in their textbooks. Publishers who choose not to cave to their demands risk not getting the state’s highest rating and in some cases can even be rejected by the state board.

3:23 – David Shormann, a creationist, trying to give the board a lesson on “epigenetics,” which he claims was given short shrift in the textbooks. He says these textbooks are already two years behind the materials he is producing… for a home-school curriculum company. (Shormann was a major problem a few years ago during the supplemental science materials adoption.) He concludes his testimony by saying the board should should reject textbooks unless they add what he wants. Cargill apparently has his back because she says she “hopes the publishers are listening.”

Note from our friends at NCSE: “Shormann hands out ‘The Mysterious Epigenome,’ listed in‘s ‘Christian Books & Bibles’ section.”

3:18 – SBOE member Ken Mercer suggests that people are losing their jobs because they question evolution. And he claims that folks are losing their jobs because of a religious litmus test. “That should never happen in a place called America.” (You could almost hear the faint strains of the national anthem behind Mercer as he spoke.)

3:15 – Chair Cargill complains that the “evaluations were evaluated.” You better believe they were. We at TFN have this crazy idea that the public deserves to see how these textbooks are evaluated and changed – especially when you have ideologues on official review teams telling publishers what should and shouldn’t be in the materials.

3:10 – And here’s another veteran of the science wars at the board — Ray Bohlin. Only Dr. Bohlin is on the other side of this issue from Wetherington. Bohlin is a fellow of the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, and he is a well-known denier of evolution. Bohlin is arguing strongly that the dissent from evolution is not entirely grounded in religious belief, though if you check out his public track record on this matter, you can see that his own objections are explicitly grounded in his conservative Christian theology and faith commitments. We will say this — Bohlin added his voice to those complaining about the review process this year. We agree with him on that.

3:07  – Now Dr. Ron Wetherington of SMU has taken the podium. Dr. Wetherington is a veteran of these evolution wars in Texas (and a star of the recent documentary on the Texas SBOE — The Revisionaries). He adds his own objections to the flawed review process underway in Texas, which he has seen first hand as a review panel member. The complaints are now piling up. But is the board willing to address these issues?

3:04 – Jennifer Darrouzet warns of the dangers of “science denial.” In addition to vaccines and evolution, she points out the denial that condoms are effective (as many Texas abstinence-only programs do) has resulted in an appalling high teen pregnancy rate in our state. Amen to that.

3:01 – John Blanton up now. Mr. Blanton served on the physics review panel and had an interesting encounter with chair Cargill at the in-person review session last month.

2:52 – Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science says the textbook adoption is “sick, broken and corrupt.” That about sums it up. (Steve is also blogging the hearing at Texas Theocracy Watch.

2:46 A testifier criticized the anti-evolution nonsense promoted by some of the biology textbook reviewers in their written evaluations of the books. SBOE Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, pointed out that the review panels work on consensus. That’s disingenuous. First, at least one of the three in-person panels included a majority (three of four members) of anti-evolution activists. Secondly, at least one evolution denier on another panel boasted to other reviewers that he was assigned (by his oblivious colleagues) to evaluate the coverage of evolution in textbooks that came through his panel. Those are among the many reasons why appointing unqualified ideologues to serve on the panels was so damaging.

2:40 – And with that, McLeroy’s fascinating (and nonsensical) testimony ends.

2:38 – Thomas Ratliff, who defeated McLeroy in 2010, asks McLeroy to try explaining again. McLeroy says students will see so little evidence for evolution in the textbooks that they will think that God didn’t use evolution.

2:34 – McLeroy is essentially arguing that the textbooks make such weak cases for evolution that the only alternative is what the Bible says. (“It’s weak!”) Interestingly, the creationists serving on the textbook review teams seem to disagree. Their reviews are filled with objections that the textbooks claim that evidence shows that evolution is well-established, mainstream science.

2:32 – What we see around us supports what the Bible says, McLeroy says. He claims even the textbook chapters on evolution supports what the Bible says.

2:30 – McLeroy claims that textbooks are “filled with dogmatic” support for evolution. But he says the board should still vote to adopt the textbooks because they will somehow destroy evolution (“strike a major blow to the teaching of evolution”). Huh? He claims that while the textbooks claim solid evidence for evolution, McLeroy says, the books actually don’t do so. Yeah, sure. If it makes you feel better to believe that, Don.

2:28 – Don McLeroy, former SBOE chair and leader of the creationist faction when the board adopted the controversial science curriculum standards in 2009, is about to testify. McLeroy lost re-election to current member Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant in the Republican primary in 2010.

2:27 – Trotter is getting friendly questions from the SBOE’s creationists, including Ken Mercer and David Bradley.

2:24 p.m. – The Texas State Board of Education’s public hearing on proposed new science textbooks started about 15 minutes ago, but WiFi access is wretched. We’re blogging as it’s possible. Ide Trotter, one of the state’s most strident creationists and one of the office state reviewers of the new textbooks, is testifying. He particularly goes after Pearson’s high school biology textbook, one of the leading textbooks in the market. He claims Pearson’s textbook has taken a step backward since the last adoption a decade ago, complaining that the text dishonestly portrays evolution as established science.

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