Another first-hand report from the science review panel meeting last month in Austin has emerged, and it seems to corroborate some of the concerns about the flawed process expressed last week by biology panel participant Jimmy Gollihar. Specifically, it raises more questions about what State Board of Education Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, was doing at that meeting.

This report comes from a member of the physics review panel, John Blanton, who writes about the experience on his blog Skeptical Analysis. During a break in the review session, Blanton struck up a conversation with biology reviewer Ide Trotter, long-time supporter of “intelligent design”/creationism, when suddenly:

…Barbara Cargill joined us in our conversation. Dr. Trotter and I were discussing Intelligent Design when she walked up, and I am afraid she was confused and thought I was a creationist. She remarked “I’m one of you,” and gave us a reassuring clap on the shoulder. She conferred for a moment with Dr. Trotter over some notes, and she went off to visit other volunteers.

(Blanton is not an “intelligent design” supporter, as he makes… Read More

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… Read More

Was Texas State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, trying to influence the work of the panels reviewing proposed new high school biology textbooks last week? Cargill, a creationist who has insisted that textbooks should teach “another side” when discussing evolution, met with the panels last Wednesday (July 31). We now know that those panels included at least four creationists invited to participate in the review. When a fellow state board member raised her own concerns about the independence of the panels at a meeting last Thursday, Cargill replied that she had simply been thanking the reviewers and answering their questions. She also invited anyone with concerns to contact her. So we did.

Unfortunately, Cargill’s responses to our emails weren’t particularly helpful. She simply told us that the meetings of the review panels were open to the public. That’s irrelevant in this case. Observers are required to sit so far from the panels that it’s impossible to hear discussions among the reviewers or what Cargill told them. Cargill ignored our questions about whether she was trying to influence the work of the panels.

Following is TFN President Kathy Miller’s email… Read More

Our report that Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) Chair Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, appeared to be interfering on Wednesday with the independent teams reviewing proposed new biology textbooks became a topic of discussion at a state board workshop session today.

As the session was about to end, SBOE member Marisa Perez, D-San Antonio, expressed her concerns about board members trying to influence the work of the review teams. She also asked for clarification on what Cargill had done and the board’s rules regarding members’ contact with the teams. Those were entirely reasonable concerns and good questions.

Cargill expressed surprise that anyone would suggest she was trying to influence the review teams. All she was doing, she said, was saying hello to the reviewers and thanking them for their service. She also invited anyone with concerns to ask her directly. So we’re taking her up on that invitation and are forwarding our questions and concerns. We will report back on what we hear.

But we think it’s important to correct some misinformation from today’s SBOE meeting. Contrary to what board members were told, the work of the review teams is not “open” to the public. Observers are directed to… Read More

According to at least one observer inside the Austin hotel ballroom where reviewers are going over proposed new science textbooks for Texas public schools, State Board of Education (SBOE) Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, spent much of Wednesday working with those supposedly independent panels. Cargill is one of the state board’s leading evolution critics. During a state Senate hearing last spring, for example, Cargill insisted that instructional materials should teach “another side” when discussing evolution.

Cargill reportedly spent time with all of the biology review panels but considerably more working with a panel that includes arch-creationist Raymond Bohlin, vice president of vision outreach for the fundamentalist Christian organization Probe Ministries in Plano. Bohlin is one of at least six creationists nominated by SBOE members to review the proposed new textbooks. The reviewers are charged with reporting to the Texas education commissioner and the SBOE whether the proposed textbooks and online instructional materials cover the state’s curriculum standards.

Publishers often make changes to their textbooks in response to objections raised by the review panels. All interaction between the review panels and publishers is outside of public view. State lawmakers in 1995 reined in the ability of… Read More