Live Blogging: Texas SBOE Science Debate

Texas State Board of Education members are beginning debate on new public school science curriculum standards. The board will likely take a preliminary vote (or votes) today on whether to amend the draft standards submitted by teacher writing teams and then post them for public comment. A formal vote on posting the standards comes on Friday, but we’ll get the main debate today. The final vote to adopt the standards will come in March. We’ll keep you updated over the next couple of hours on the action here.

1:17 p.m. – Board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, moves to put “strengths and weaknesses” back in the standards. She argues that “strengths and weaknesses” hasn’t been challenged in two decades (we assume she means in the courts).

1:21 – Board member Mavis Knight, D-Dallas, opposes the motion: “Longevity is not an indication of the quality of something.”

1:23 – Bob Craig, R-Lubbock, also speaks in opposition, arguing that the board should approve what the writings teams — made up of teachers and academics appointed by the board — have drafted over the past year. “Some (here) think they know better how to teach than the teachers.” “‘Strengths and weaknesses’ has taken on a different connotation from what it was 20 years ago.”

1:26 – Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, joins in opposition. “I think the clarification made by the teacher groups is very good.”

1:28 – Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, speaks in support of Dunbar’s amendment. She argues that not all the members of the writing teams (the members who want “strengths and weaknesses”) had their concerns heard and properly considered. She wants teachers to have “the freedom to talk about these things” (“weaknesses”).

1:34 – Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio, supports Dunbar’s amendment. “The sons and daughters of Texas must be able to discuss the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ of any theory.” He points out that three of the six “experts” on the state board’s review panel wanted to teach “strengths and weaknesses.” (Of course, one of those three is a co-founder of the anti-evolution pressure group Discovery Institute. The other two are also opponents of evolution.)

1:37 – Mercer mocks the warning that students who don’t have a sound education on something as important to science as evolution will be at a disadvantage in getting into the best colleges and succeeding there. He portrays that as discrimination against people whose religious beliefs lead them to reject evolution. (So much for the argument that this debate isn’t about religion.) Now he’s on to “Piltdown man” and a list of other phony “weaknesses” of evolution.

1:40 – Terri Leo, R-Spring, speaks in support of Dunbar’s amendment. “The way we do it here is the correct way in applying “strengths and weaknesses” to all theories,” not just evolution. (That’s blatantly false.)

1:43 – Lawrence Allen, D-Houston, speaks against Dunbar’s amendment. He notes that his constituents (“every one”) who have talked to him about this issue want him to vote against “strengths and weaknesses.”

1:46 – Mary Helen Berlanga, D-Corpus Christi, speaks against Dunbar’s amendment. “We’re not talking about faith. We’re not talking about religion. We’re talking about science.”

1:48 – Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, supports Dunbar’s amendment. “There is no one opinion from science teachers or from science experts.”

1:49 – Problem. Rene Nuñez, D-El Paso, is missing from the floor. Very strange.

1:52 – David Bradley, R-Buna, supports Dunbar’s amendment. “This one word ‘weaknesses’ is just kind of baffling.” (Yes, Mr. Bradley, it’s baffling why you’re so determined to keep it.) Bradley says the writing teams the board appointed came up only with recommendations. “It’s our decision. I wasn’t given a rubber stamp when I was sworn in.” (That’s fancy way of saying that it really doesn’t matter what the experts say.)

1:55 – Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio, is stalling.

1:56 – Agosto: “We have several camps here. Both are highly qualified in academia.”

1:57 – Agosto: He opposes Dunbar’s amendment. “I’m listening to my district.”

1:59 – Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, R-Dallas, says “real science is truly debate over all issues.” She says the experts the board put on the writing teams came to a consensus after such debate. Miller opposes Dunbar’s amendment.

2:02 – Craig: Nobody on the board wants anybody to be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs. “But we’re talking about science.” The new standards, he argues, do not restrict discussion but, instead, actually do a better job of encouraging it.

2:04 – Dunbar says the teacher writing teams are just some of the people board members need to be listening to. She says her constituents want her to support “strengths and weaknesses.” She accuses opponents of “strengths and weaknesses” of supporting using intimidation to stifle debate and questions in classrooms.

2:08 – Dunbar says supporters of evolution “are afraid of what weaknesses will show.” Students, she says, should have the right to “pursue academic freedom” in their courses.

2:09 – Knight takes issue with the suggestion that she is “rubber-stamping” the draft from the writing teams.

2:12 – Mercer argues again about “intimidation” against people of faith who question evolution.

2:17 – Nuñez is still missing. Dunbar’s amendment fails on a 7-7 tie vote. Now they move on to a motion of adopting the standards.

2:18 – Dunbar offers a new amendment replacing “strengths and weaknesses” with “evidence supportive and nonsupportive” of scientific explanations.

2:29 – We won’t go through all of the arguments being made on this. Essentially, “supportive and nonsupportive” is just another way to say “strengths and weaknesses.”

2:39 – Things are getting heated, with board members disagreeing on what the board’s six expert panels have said and support on this issue.

2:40 – Nuñez is back. Dunbar’s second amendment fails 8-7!

2:43 – The board is discussing specifically the standards for Earth and Space Science, a high school course. Some board members apparently have objections to various parts, but it’s unclear what those objections are. The board has yet to vote on the overall standards draft.

2:47 – Cargill wants what she calls “some qualifying language” in the ESS standards:
– She wants students to learn “differing theories” about “the structure, scale, composition, origin and history of the universe.” This is a stealth effort to allow “intelligent design” into classrooms. Craig, Miller and others don’t seem to be buying into it.

3:06 – Cargill’s amendment passes 8-7, with Hardy voting in favor.

3:07 – Cargill is proposing another amendment, but the wording isn’t available for the public to see at this time. Motion fails.

3:09 – Cargill is making a series of other motions. The thrust seems to be to add tentativeness to some of the standards, raising the possibility that scientific explanations suggested by those standards may or may not be accurate. This seems to be a subtle attempt to call scientific explanations into questions. It’s all rather confusing to folks in the audience.

3:15 – Most, but not all, of Cargill’s amendments are failing. We remain confused by Hardy’s vote in favor of Cargill’s first amendment and will try to clarify her position on this. It’s possible that she was unclear about Cargill’s intent at first.

3:33 – One of Cargill’s amendments calls into question the validity of radiometric dating methods used to calculate the ages of igneous rocks. This seems a clear effort to call into question the way scientists date the age of the earth. (Young earth creationists think the earth is only 6,000-10,000 years old.) That amendment fails to pass.

3:36 – Now Cargill offers an amendment directly attacking the concept of common descent through evolution. This passes, with two abstaining: Hardy and Miller. It looks like we have clean-up work to do before tomorrow.

3:58 – Now Leo is offering amendments for the biology course standards. As with Earth and Space Science, these amendments seem intended to add tentativeness to the standards, particularly standards regarding evolution. They may be setting their own trap: these amendments are efforts to treat evolution in a special way not applied to other scientific theories (something their own legal counsel advised them earlier not to do). It’s possible that they are leaving the standards vulnerable to a legal challenge.

4:07 – McLeroy is now offering amendments. One amendment: “Know the definition of science and know its limitations.” This is an attempt by McLeroy to make his point that natural phenomena aren’t the source of all explanations. He has argued in the past that science should be redefined to include supernatural explanations, even if he’s not offering that specific recommendation here. The overall standards already include a definition of science from the National Academy of Sciences noting that “some questions are outside the realm of science.”

4:23 – McLeroy wants to amend the section on biology dealing with evolution, calling into question common descent through evolution. This is a very bad amendment. Good heavens. McLeroy is a dentist, and he’s trying to argue against the heart of evolution right here. He has absolutely no qualifications here.

4:32 – We’re reeling here at the absurdity. McLeroy has launched a broadside against a core concept of evolution — common descent. This is like an army losing a battle (“strengths and weaknesses”) and then launching a nuclear strike.

4:45 – Good God. It passed. Board members surely don’t understand what they’ve done here. Certainly not all of them. Strengths and weaknesses is out, but McLeroy has succeeded in using the standards to raise doubts about a core concept of biology.

4:48 – The board has voted 9-6 to give preliminary approval to the standards. UPDATE: In the confusion at the end, we missed the final vote count. But the board did give preliminary approval to the standards draft.

5:04 – Time for deep breaths. One: The failure of creationists to reinsert “strengths and weaknesses” into the standards is a huge victory for sound science education. We need to fight to keep it out in tomorrow’s formal vote and again in the final March votes on the standards.

Second: Board members — none of whom are research scientists, much less biologists — appeared confused when they were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the standards. That’s why it’s foolish to let dentists and insurance salesmen play-pretend that they’re scientists. The result is that the standards draft includes language that is more tentative. Not good, but not necessarily disastrous overall.

Third, and this is more of a problem, McLeroy has succeeded in inserting language that would have students waste time evaluating evidence on a concept that is established science — in fact, it’s a core concept in the study of evolution, common descent. Even worse, it’s such a complicated and bizarre standard that teachers will have a very difficult time even translating it, much less teaching about it. (TEA has not yet posted it.) What we saw is what happens when a dentist pretends that he knows more about science than scientists do.

30 thoughts on “Live Blogging: Texas SBOE Science Debate

  1. This whole bloviation about the “origin and history of the universe” and trying to approach science with humility (?!) is a thinly-disguised effort to get Young Earth Creationism and Biblical literalism snuck into Earth and Space Science classes. Why, oh why, does their God insist that they lie on His behalf? It seems a particularly small and ineffective deity, who requires liars on school boards to do His work.

  2. I wonder if Cargill was going for Young Earth Creationism rather than intelligent design with the earth and space science thing.

  3. I attended the expert panel discussion yesterday, I made the drive from FTW. I discovered that Dunbar, Cargill, Bradley, Leo and Mercer were some of the most ignorant people I’ve ever heard speak! Science is not the issue here, it’s the fact that these people are completely and totally ignorant! We need to work together to pass SB No. 440, which will relieve them of their power over curriculum!

  4. Cargill is going through and introducing “tentativeness and humility” language on anything that doesn’t agree with literal interpretation of Genesis. Age of the Universe, formation of stars and planets, origin of the universe, etc. This, in the home of NASA and the McDonald Observatory. It is shameful.

  5. TFN’s coverage of this has been great …. just wanted to say thanks and keep up the good work!

  6. Any idea why Hardy and Miller abstained?

    Regarding the evolution language, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneaked the rejected language back into the standards that get voted on in March. That’s what Cheri Yecke tried to do in Minnesota.

  7. 3:36 – Now Cargill offers an amendment directly attacking the concept of common descent through evolution. This passes, with two abstaining: Hardy and Miller. It looks like we have clean-up work to do before tomorrow.

    In response to an earlier post I speculated that common descent is what the creationists really object to, never mind that many ID proponents have no problem with it (e.g., Michael Behe) and thus it has the least amount of dissent associated with it. Echoing Tom’s comment, this is shameful, and I’m even more disappointed by the abstentions. What’s Cargill’s alternative? Everything poofed into existence at once? Or just a starting set that fit on Noah’s Ark? It is 2009, right?

  8. James F. said: “Ugh. The Earth orbits the Sun, 8-7! I’ll take it, though.”

    James, I’m lurking. Please, please tell me you’re joking. Because without a smiley or some other indication you’ve run afoul of Poe’s law here.

  9. Eric,

    I’m joking by analogy…things that are as scientifically solid as common descent are being put up to a vote by people with little or no scientific training, and it will affect American public school science education for years to come. If I didn’t laugh, I’d cry.

  10. WTF?

    Are the swing voters easily confused? Or are they intimidated by McLeroy, and vote the way he wants because they know he’d propose amendments all night otherwise?

  11. If McLeroy is susceptible to pressure from his boss, Robert Scott, it is time to tell Scott what foolish things McLeroy is doing. Perhaps this would include his autocratic committee assignments yesterday, which ignored the Board’s own rules, and provoked vociferous opposition from Hardy and Berlanga. Someone with legal expertise needs to look at the amendments to see if McLeroy is setting the State up for a lawsuit.

  12. I think it is time to take this issue to our elected state senators and representatives. I was also very happy to see some members of the business community present yesterday.
    Tyrrany will not survive when subjected to the light – it’s time to help the public understand what is at stake.

  13. Second: Board members — none of whom are research scientists, much less biologists — appeared confused when they were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the standards.

    . . . and they trusted McLeroy on these because . . . ?

  14. Well, I guess we got a 50-50 split? S&W is out, but evidences against common descent is in? I can deal with any question about S&W and common descent. The evidences against is just creationism complaints. I’ll just deal with it I guess.

  15. Be ready for a March Surprise! This is what happened last year with the English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) TEKS; claims by these same folks that the process had been hijacked–by the teacher workgroups! In fact, many ELAR teachers are having deja vu. Cargill made the same exact claim about certain members of the teacher workgroups not being heard–the ones she agreed with, that is.

    The Malevolent 7 played all sorts of tricks over the three-year debacle of the ELAR TEKS. And what did they vote for? A set of standards that Cargill and Lowe patched together THE NIGHT BEFORE the final vote and slipped under the doors of board member the following morning before the final vote. Should I mention that those TEKS were never seen by the public until that final vote?

    Watch Mr. Agusto carefully. He was very supportive of the ELAR teachers of Texas and the workgroup-authored standards, until he voted against them in the final vote.

    And get ready history teachers of Texas! Your turn to be scoffed at and ignored is coming soon! If anyone knows that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, it should be you.

  16. Man says one thing…yadda, yadda, yadda. And God says another thing. As for me, I choose God’s explanation. Man’s interpretations of what God meant by what He said are so cute….so lacking in wisdom…..and so narrow …intellectually. About evolution, monkey’s don’t discuss God’s cosmic plans at the Tree of Knowledge. Monkeys don’t cloth themselves with leaf garments to cover their nakedness. Monkeys don’t till the soil. Monkeys don’t name their offspring e.g. Cain, Abel, Seth. Monkeys don’t bring a sacrifice of the best of the flock….as did Abel. Monkeys don’t grow beautiful fruit and veggies….then bring an offering of those fruits to God…….as did Cain. And monkeys don’t have eternal souls. Anyone who thinks nuclear fission, fusion, and the innumerable other atomic realities…….just happen………has to be a le-e-e-e-tle‘teched’ in the head. Come on! The slowing and coming death of the cosmos by way of expansion, the slowing and coming death of the physical body by way of expansion of years (age), the slowing and coming death of Satan’s evil by way of God’s allowed expansion/growth/prevalence of it practice in the world, and most important of all…..the well prophesied….seeming slowing and death by way of expansion of the Gospel of God and His Christ … clear proof of intelligent design by God…(Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached as a witness to all nations….then the end will come). My goodness, everything in the Bible has a clear and simple scientific explanation. For example, the gathering of the church…the going up to meet Jesus in the clouds has a simple scienctific answer. God’s ‘above the natural’ powers simple override the ‘natural’ law of gravity. With gravity neutralized…….swoosssh….up we go! God is the most practiced scientist ever known to man. Everything He uses to manifest realities of His nature and existance… ‘natural’ things. Light is necessary for Life (nothing on earth grows without light). Without Light (God in the soul of the believer) there is only darkness and nothing to sustain life (heart of the unbeliever is Dead). Water is necessary for Life (nothing survives without water). The demons cast out of the man among the tombs..begged Christ, “don’t send us back to the dry places. Let us go into the swine.” Christ had pity on them and allowed them to possess the herd of swine. So…where did the demons drive the herd of swine? Straight into the water. Even the demons hate their own existance…..the dark place with no light, water, nor life. Thus the reference by God concerning the demise of the Dead souls who reject the gift of life for the soul….’they’ll be cast into outer DARKNESS.” God’s ’scientific’ mind (:eyes rolled upward/smirky smile created light/darkess…one to reveal the other. He made male/female, good/evil, give/receive, rich/poor, hot/cold, life/death, love/hate, winter/summer, fall/spring, desert/wetland, mountain/plain, and so forth…so get the picture. So I just can’t buy that I have to wait for mortal scientists to tell me about the cosmos, the physical/spirit man, the past/present/future of our earth and heavens. What so mesmerizes me about the Word (Bible) is that it does tell me everything I so deeply desire to know. I want to know why God, why Satan, why the cosmos, why me, why others, why events of history, why events of today, why politics, why differing views, why wisdom/ignorance, why negative/positive infinity, why positive/negative anything, why disease/health, why joy/misery, why spiritual warfare in high places, and what are the limits and potential of man? Wow, wow, wow! I get the answers to all of that from the author of the Book. He’s the only one who knows what he meant by what he said. And He shares that intent with ME! SCIENCE…SCIENTISTS…THEORY OF EVOLUTION…is not worth the time it takes to study its findings. Any person who truly has an expanded mind, an intelligent mind to comprehend the immensity of our universe and world……can only come to a single conclusion….INTELLIGENT DESIGN! Those men of science who conclude for some accidental, happenstance, spontaneous, flukey, progressive development of something as magnificent and man and his universe……are deliberately and dangerously ignorant. Those who accept their conclusions without even the effort to ’search to see whether those things be true’ are equally dangerously and deliberately…ignorant.

  17. Okay, elias, thanks. Got any actual evidence to support any of your rantings?

    Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    Move along.

  18. I’ve re-written history
    with my armies and my crooks
    Invented memories
    and burned all the books

    Thanks to Marl Knophler