Texas Textbook Reviewers and Ernst Haeckel

All of us at the Texas Freedom Network are grateful for our friends at the National Center for Science Education. NCSE has been a fantastic partner in our battles at the State Board of Education, including the current debate over proposed new science textbooks for Texas public schools. Josh Rosenau, NCSE’s programs and policy director, has been posting on NCSE’s blog this week about some of the worst objections of anti-evolution activists serving as official reviewers examining new biology textbooks publishers have submitted for adoption in Texas. We’re pleased to cross-post one of Josh’s analyses here.

On Monday NCSE and the Texas Freedom Network issued a joint press release about internal documents demonstrating how creationists and climate change deniers tried to take over the Texas textbook adoption process. By securing seats on review committees, the science deniers tried to rewrite textbooks, forcing good science out of the textbooks and wedging in bad science, pseudoscience, and personal ideology.

You can look over the review spreadsheets yourself, or see some of the most egregious examples that we picked out.

That list only scratches the surface, partly because we had to find examples that could be explained easily in the limited space of a press release. But here at the Science League of America, we can take on anything the deniers throw at us.

It doesn’t take much to explain what’s wrong with a reviewer insisting, “I understand the National Academy of Science’s [sic] strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that ‘creation science’ based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.” But it takes a bit more to explain what’s wrong with this reviewer’s speculation about the Glencoe/McGraw-Hill textbook:

This section seems to introduce Haeckel’s embryos and recapitulation theory in a somewhat sanitized form. Haeckel’s work was exposed as fraudulent during his lifetime and recapitulation theory was rejected a long time ago.”

Criticisms and complaints about drawings produced by Ernst Haeckel are a staple of creationism. Attacks on these drawings are a major theme of Jonathan Wells’s Icons of Evolution, as discussed in NCSE’s review, andaddressed in Explore Evolution, a propagandistic “textbook” largely written by the Discovery Institute’s staff. The allegation that Haeckel’s work is fraudulent is unjustified, as explained by the leading scholar of Haeckel’s life in his paper “Haeckel’s embryos: fraud not proven”. “When Haeckel’s science is placed in the wider context…his accomplishments appear in a decidedly more favorable light,” Robert Richards explains. “And in the particular instance under review here, I think that light shows that fraud has not been proven.”

Worse yet, the textbook in question doesn’t even talk about Haeckel. Here’s the page in question:

Click here for the rest of Josh’s post.

19 thoughts on “Texas Textbook Reviewers and Ernst Haeckel

  1. It seems like the Science League of America will take on anything EXCEPT 21st Century Science. Epigenetics is the hottest topic in biological sciences right now, yet it is virtually absent from biology textbooks being considered for adoption. All of biology makes more sense when epigenetics is considered. Why isn’t the Science League demanding coverage of epigenetics? Or how about the splicosome, a set of information that enables a single gene to produce gene products numbering in the thousands? There’s a lot of other 21st Century Science topics that aren’t being covered, but TFN and the Science League have yet to demand any of these be taught. Instead of promoting political correctness, please encourage good math and science education for ALL Texas children.

    1. Without talking about the merits of that claim, I’d say school textbooks should primarily cover settled science and better avoid going too deep into stuff that is still very fluid. Also the depth possible for school textbooks is limited. Other topics facing that problem would e.g. be quantum and particle physics.

      1. Hi Hartmut,
        I don’t know of any scientists who are “unsettled” over the fact that the genome is regulated by the epigenome. Think of the genome as “hardware” and the epigenome as “software.” When you were conceived, a single cell developed into over 200 different cell types, all with identical genomes, but vastly different epigenomes. There is nothing “unsettled” about the fact of epigenetics, yet it is missing in the textbooks up for adoption. If you care about giving Texas students the best they deserve, then please care about getting epigenetics taught in this round of textbooks.

          1. You’re right Gary, I am going to need a bigger boat for all the students who are jumping off the public school ship because of the poor education they’re receiving. I am going to need an entire fleet of homeschool/private school ships for all those interested in something other than textbooks filled with 20th Century science.

          2. It’s rich to complain about failing public schools when you’re calling on those same schools to lie to students and teach junk science in their classrooms.

          3. Hi Dan, referring to epigenetics as “lies and junk science” is like referring to genetics in the same way. Clearly, you don’t understand it, but I would be happy to bring you up to speed on this fascinating field of study. One reason public schools are failing is because groups like TFN are wasting time worrying about embryo drawings from the early 1900s instead of promoting good math and science education. Y’all overemphasize the creation/evolution stuff, instead of promoting testable science we can all agree on. We’re all Texans here, and I know there’s more we have in common than just that! It would be great if we could have a common goal of demanding 21st Century science be taught in Texas textbooks.

          4. You might as well take it elsewhere, David. You’re free to stay and post, but nobody’s buying what you’re selling here.

          5. I know why I care Gary, but why do you care? I care about liberty and justice for ALL children, and part of that means giving them the most liberal education possible. What happens when the students I’m teaching are learning about 21st Century Science, but government school students aren’t? Well, the homeschool students will have an unfair advantage. My company’s (diveintomath.com) math and science standards are already higher than any state standards in the nation, so we don’t need to make it any worse by publishing textbooks filled with 20th Century Science. Not every child has loving parents that can take the time to homeschool them. Some loving parents are in tough financial situations and don’t have time or $ to do it. Some parents don’t care. Is that really what you want to do, give their children crappy textbooks that will leave them at an even further disadvantage? If that’s not what you want, then quit worrying about Noah’s ark, and be an advocate for getting 21st Century Science into textbooks.

          6. Gary, you are correct. Questions about Earth age are not scientific questions, they are historic questions. I’m glad we found something we can agree on!

          7. Home schooled children may just as likely be subjected to junk science. The reason that book selection is important to publishers is the size of adoptions in Texas. Would they, in fact, publish bad science just for the $$ gained by publishing to the masses, influenced by the creationist Texas School Board. Geez, how sad! A good teacher, might, for some higher learners bring in new science, and new ideas, possibly, as well as old ones — sometimes at his/her own risk. I did (comparative mythology in English). That was fun. At any rate, there are two ideologies going on: Money and Idiocy.