BREAKING NEWS: A proposed amendment adding “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories back to the science standards has failed on a 7-7 vote.

11:17 – With the defeat of “strengths and weaknesses,” the board is now on to other amendments. Ms. Cargill begins.… Read More

Note: A link for audio from the state board debate and vote is available here.

9:17 – The Texas State Board of Education meeting has begun, and we have some encouraging news. Dallas member Mavis Knight, a strong supporter of sound science standards, is participating by videoconference. It appears that Mary Helen Berlanga from Corpus Christi is not present, but no motion can pass on a 7-7 tie. So if all votes hold from January, the pro-science board members should be able to block bad amendments today. (We said “if” and “should be able.”)

The board has not yet reached the agenda item on science standards.

9:24 – A representative of the right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation is talking to the board about early revisions of the social studies standards, which the board will take up after science. We’re waiting for a copy of the document the representative is presenting to the board.

9:40 – Board member Terri Leo decries any suggestion to leave out of the social studies standards important historical figures to make room for “multicultural” issues and personalities. “I’ve never heard of half of these people,”  Leo says of one proposed list of… Read More

Note: Audio from the state board hearing is available here.

4:53 – Lots of conversations among board members between and during the testimony. We haven’t said much yet about the vote coming tomorrow and Friday. Essentially, we’re where we were in January — it will be very close. Chairman McLeroy and other board creationists have been circulating a list of amendments to the standards, nearly all targeting evolution. And they are certain to try again to force “strengths and weaknesses” back into the standards. We also expect efforts by pro-science board members to try to strip out anti-evolution amendments (particularly those challenging the concept of common descent) added in January.

5:18 – Board members are now being allowed to invite specific individuals to testify. It will be interesting to see who board members bring up.

5:25 – Board member Rick Agosto has invited Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education to speak. That’s encouraging. Genie makes it clear what’s at stake. Putting “strengths and weaknesses” back in the standards will give evolution opponents ammunition to demand pseudoscience in the 2011 biology textbooks. Other states will likely rebel against such nonsense. Says Genie: You will have a Texas… Read More

2:00 – We thought you might want to know a bit about the atmosphere here. The Texas Education Agency lobby was packed with science supporters when we arrived this morning. The litigators from anti-evolution Free Market Foundation Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family had already begun a press conference promoting the “strengths and weaknesses” propaganda. Following that, TFN started its press conference with educators and scientists. We’ve rarely seen so many cameras for a press event at TEA, although it appears that some of the cameras (including ours) were from non-news organizations.

Both press conferences were disrupted by observers. In our case, one observer shouted “my grandfather wasn’t an ape,” or something to that effect. Another chose to pray loudly in an effort to drown out what our speakers were saying. An argument also marred the Focus on the Family press conference.

It’s standing-room-only in the board room itself. In fact, many people are on the floor on the sides and in the back of the room. Numerous reporters — mostly television — are covering the hearing. A number of educators and scientists are in attendance, but it’s clear that creationist organizations — such as Focus and Probe… Read More

12:25 - Our press conference ran long, and we were late getting into the hearing. Unfortunately, State Board of Education Chairman Don McLeroy has rejected a request for a table for us in the board room (as at the last two board meetings). We're told that's "too distracting" for board members, although we set up in a far back corner. Frankly, the issue is more likely one of not liking what we've been blogging about at past meetings. In any case, we're here, we're blogging, get used to it. (We're so witty.) 12:33 - The board room is overflowing with folks. The creationists are out in force this time, but we still have lots of science supporters (wearing our signature green). 12:37 - A testifier who has worked in the textbook industry is warning the board that what is decided about science in Texas will be taught throughout the country. Indeed. 12:58 - Terri Leo is complaining because two people in a row have testified against "strengths and weaknesses." She points out witnesses should be alternating, for and against. For Pete's sake. 1:01 - A scientist is correctly pointing out that "strengths and weaknesses" is being used as a wedge to promote ideological arguments in science classrooms. 1:07 - Now we have a testifier arguing that the board should broaden the definition of science so that it can't "keep the creationists out." It really couldn't be clearer what the agenda is here. Creationism simply science. It's faith. Public schools have no business deciding whose religious beliefs to teach in science classrooms. 1:10 - Creationist pressure groups are bringing in their big guns. Coming up is Raymond G. Bohlin, president of Richardson (Tex.)-based Probe Ministries. Bohlin is one of the most prominent supporters of "intelligent design"/creationism in the country. Why are the creationists still pretending that their attacks on evolution have nothing to do with trying to promote creationism in science classrooms? The folks testifying for them are revealing that claim to be nothing but a charade. 1:21 - A member of the science curriculum writing teams notes that amendments creationists added to the standards in January are opposed by a team members. Board member Barbara Cargill notes that she got help from the board's "science experts" in drafting her amendments. Want to guess who? Couldn't be Stephen Meyer from the anti-evolution Discovery Institute, could it? 1:24 - And now Raymond Bohlin is testifying, arguing about "the limits of biological change." "You get just so far, and you can't push it farther." He argues that "there is no goal in natural selection," as opposed to "artificial selection," as when breeders try to eliminate problematic characteristics in something. We have a hard time following him, perhaps because he doesn't have much time to develop his thought and get to his point. (But we can guess his point.) 1:28 - Terri Leo: Is knowledge of evolution so necessary for scientific research? Bohlin: Not in my research. (He has a doctorate in molecular and cell biology.) 1:32 - Oh, yeah. Bohlin has recently posted a commentary on the Probe Ministries Web site answering the perennial scientific question: "Is Masturbation A Sin?" (Do you really want to know the answer? More to the point, do you doubt what his answer is?) Perhaps he would like the board to add a curriculum standard requiring students to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of masturbation... 1:35 - A pro-science testifier: "Texas can't afford to be thought of as an educational backwater." 1:41 - It's as if scientists have been talking to a brick wall for the past year. We're still hearing arguments that "weaknesses" of evolution are plentiful in scientific literature. Yet Nobel laureates and other distinguished scientists have repeatedly shown that's simply not the case. Are they all lying? 1:48 - A representative of the Austin Geological Society presents a letter calling on the board to support "honest and credible" science and is strongly supportive of teaching about evolution and in opposition to the "strengths and weaknesses" propaganda. 1:56 - TFN sent out the following press release after our 11:30 press conference before the board hearing. AUSTIN – As the State Board of Education prepares for a decisive vote on science curriculum standards this week, nearly 60 international, national and state science organizations have signed statements opposed to dumbing down instruction on evolution in Texas public schools. “What’s happening in Texas is clearly ringing alarm bells across the country,” said Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Institute and a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. “Most parents know that a sound science education will help their kids succeed in college and the jobs of the 21stcentury. The children of Texas deserve that, and the state shouldn’t have to deal with the legal challenges that are likely to result from the board promoting ideology over sound science.” Read More

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