Texas Creationists Are Still Trying to Censor the State's New Biology Textbooks

by Dan Quinn

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) adopted new biology textbooks for public high schools last fall, but anti-evolution activists are still trying to censor those textbooks. And they seem to be targeting one in particular: Pearson Education’s high school textbook by authors Ken Miller and Joe Levine.

Through a request under the Texas Public Information Act, last week we obtained from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) a new complaint filed by the head of one of the oldest textbook censorship organizations in Texas. The complaint, filed by Neal Frey of Educational Research Analysts (ERA) in the East Texas town of Longview, alleges that information in the Pearson textbook about the genetic similarities between humans and chimpanzees is factually inaccurate. Frey claims that the textbook is wrong in two places where it says that DNA evidence shows chimpanzees are humans’ closest relatives. (ERA was founded by the late Mel and Norma Gabler, pioneers in the right-wing textbook censorship movement.)

Click here to read Frey’s complaint: Frey_Error_Complaint.

Frey lists seven general argument in support of his complaint against the Pearson textbook; all seven appear on the ERA website. He also claims that one of the textbook’s authors, Miller, had “significantly failed to address, much less refute, any of these 7 objections” in correspondence between the two. TEA did not release Pearson’s response to Frey’s claims. We assume that means the agency hadn’t yet received it from the publisher.

TEA turned over to us no complaints from Frey about similar information in any of the other 13 high school biology textbooks adopted by the SBOE in November. But we know such information exists in the other textbooks. Last fall we learned that Frey was pressuring some of those publishers to alter their textbook discussions regarding the genetic similarities between humans and chimps. We know of no publishers who made the changes he demanded.

Interestingly, the textbook from publisher McGraw-Hill, which Frey has publicly endorsed, says essentially the same thing about humans and chimps as the Pearson textbook does. In one passage, for example, the McGraw-Hill textbook tells students:

“Chimpanzees and bonobos are the closest living relatives to humans. All three share at least 96 percent of their DNA sequences.”

In December another anti-evolution activist in Texas circulated an email that included a review in which Frey praised the McGraw-Hill textbook for its “exceptional accuracy.” Yet Frey is now criticizing the Pearson textbook for telling students essentially the same thing the McGraw-Hill textbook does. (That smell is Frey’s credibility — such as it was — going up in smoke.)

If Pearson does reject Frey’s allegations, the issue could end up back in the hands of the SBOE. If the board agrees with Frey that the information is factually inaccurate, it could fine Pearson unless the company revises the relevant passages in its textbook.

It does seem increasingly clear, in any case, that anti-evolution activists are trying to keep the Pearson textbook out of Texas schools. Last fall a creationist serving on an official state review panel nearly derailed the adoption of Pearson’s textbook by claiming it contained well over a dozen “factual errors.” None had anything to do with the genetic relationship between humans and chimps. In December an expert science panel appointed by the SBOE rejected those error claims. But the attacks keep coming.

Local school districts are already considering which new science textbooks to buy. The new textbooks will go into classrooms in the fall. Let us know if you hear of attacks on any of the textbooks where you live: tfn@tfn.org.