Why Was Creationist Texas Ed Board Chair Barbara Cargill Interfering with the Science Textbook Reviews on Wednesday?

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 SBOE members to pressure publishers into making changes to textbook content. Further, the state board’s own rules bar “contact with any publisher or other person having an interest in the content of instructional materials under evaluation by the panel [of reviewers].” That rule is intended to prevent undue influence on the reviewers. The interference of board members in the work of the independent review panels would appear to represent an end-run around both the law and the board’s own rules.

Indeed, Cargill’s interference with the work of the panels raises serious questions about the integrity of the review process:

  • Is it appropriate for the SBOE chair to be influencing the work of the independent review panels?
  • Did state board members authorize Cargill to speak to the panelists on the board’s behalf? Or did she choose on her own to insert herself in to the process? If so, why?
  • What did Cargill tell reviewers? Did she discuss evolution or her concerns about what the instructional materials say about evolution, which has been the most controversial topic in every science curriculum and textbook review that comes before the board?
  • Why did Cargill appear to spend so much time with one particular panel on Wednesday?
  • Does Cargill realize that the presence of the state board chair could be intimidating for reviewers or, at the very least, could exert undue influence on their work?

Cargill’s interference helps make clear the importance of shining some sunlight on this entire review process. Observers in the hotel ballroom, including the news media, are permitted to watch only from a distance. They are not privy to the interactions among review panelists themselves nor their interactions with publishers. Yet publishers make changes to their textbooks based on objections they hear from panelists. Now we know that Cargill, a politician with her own ideological agenda, has essentially inserted herself in to those interactions.

It would be no surprise if Texans began to see the adoption of new science textbooks for their schoolchildren as corrupted by the same “culture war” politics that have caused so many problems at the State Board of Education for years.

31 thoughts on “Why Was Creationist Texas Ed Board Chair Barbara Cargill Interfering with the Science Textbook Reviews on Wednesday?

  1. Shameful. Shame on TEA and the SBOE for allowing non-scientists to make decisions about science instructional materials for our students. The decisions this committee make don’t just affect our students but students nationwide.

  2. Shameful. Shame on TEA and the SBOE for allowing non-scientists to make decisions about science instructional materials for our students. The decisions this committee make don’t just affect our students but students nationwide.

  3. Where are the Geologists who are experts on the age of the Earth? Where are the Biologists? Where are the expert educators? I see no peer-reviewed science. Freedom of religion should also mean the freedom from religion if you so choose.

  4. OMG, Texas, when will we, the science-minded, use our voice to overcome Cargill and others to take hold of education in our state! Scientists can protest too!

  5. The more religion gets thrown in my face, the less tolorent I become. Religion has no place in our schools or any public place. People that don’t believe also pay taxes and don’t appreciate religion being taught to their kids.

  6. Bohlin is a young earth creationist whose website is Bible first, science later (if at all).

    Bohlin is totally unqualified to review any science book and that he is on the committee is a travesty. You might as well have Ken Ham and Kent Hovind.

  7. Cargill has flouted SBOE and TEA rules before. I know of several examples. I consider her to be a dishonest and unethical person in addition to being a Young Earth Creationist. She is a shameless person who strongly believes in her right to politicize science and social studies education and push her narrow, extreme religious, political, and ideological agenda into state education curricula. She has been a disaster for Texas education whose malign effects will take a decade or more to correct if Texas wants to adequately educate its children.

  8. To quote Pope Francis just this past Saturday, “Peaceful coexistence between different religions is favored by the secularism of the state.”

    Not sure why its so hard for folks to understand that. Or maybe they do and just don’t give a damn.

  9. My Ghast is Flabbered — or my Flabber is Ghased that this “culture war” keeps dragging on. These ID/creationists will keep at it and we, on the side of science must soldier on. Have to get back to work.

  10. Any chance of filing a freedom of information request for a transcript of the proceedings of the review committees? The tax payers are paying for the reviews and should have access to the proceedings for which they have paid.

    1. Yes, you can do that. The discussion between review committee members is not recorded or transcribed but their written reports to the TEA about the instructional materials they reviewed are subject to the Texas Public Information Act.

  11. That “Teach the other side” sounds so fair. How about we teach the other side about the four humours of the body and the value of leeches to bring them into balance? And the chakra points? And the flow of chi?

    Do these fair-minded people teach the other side at their churches? Do they have sermons about how Islam, Ba’hai, neo-pagans or athiests might be right? Do they act as they preach?

  12. Hope you saw Marisa Perez call her to task over this, and when she mentioned that she had read the TFN blog, Cargill said blogs don’t tell the truth so don’t read blogs.

    Presumably that does not include blogs critical of CSCOPE, because those blogs ARE telling truth….

    Anyway: Go for it Marisa!

  13. There’s nothing shameful at all here (on the part of the TEA and SBOE) and this is the biggest bunch of propaganda and baloney I’ve seen in many years. Ray Bohlin holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of Texas at Dallas, a Masters in Population Genetics from the University of North Texas and an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in zoology. He is a highly respected author, lecturer, and probably would be better described as an Evangelical than a fundamentalist (there is a difference if you understand modern religious culture at all). Anyway, as an evangelical, he represents far more than 50% of the population base of the state of Texas! – You know –all those conservative Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Charismatics out there. Are you really saying that more than HALF of all the people in the state of Texas who hold to similar religious values as Ray does do not deserve to have a representative on the board that determines textbooks? Especially one as educated and distinguished as Dr. Bohlin? If so, you need to get your head out of the fascist sand and realize we still live in a representative democracy!

    1. Steve, good science isn’t determined by “representative democracy.” Would you choose a medical treatment suggested by a well-trained doctor who is knowledgeable about the best research or a treatment determined by majority vote among people who know little about medicine? It makes no difference whether Bohlin represents 50% or 5% or 95% of Texans. What matters is whether the science behind his arguments is sound. The fact is that his arguments are not supported by the scientific evidence. Teaching students otherwise undermines their education and fails to prepare them to succeed in a 21st century world.

    2. Steve Webb, your framing and propaganda might fool many, but not me. Bohlin is a Fundamentalist and Inerrantist as well as an Evangelical, which is why he believes in Young Earth Creationism and Special Creation. He is certainly an author and lecturer, but not a highly respected one any more than Ken Ham is respected. Both individuals are pseudoscientists of the worst sort since they are actively promoting their pseudoscience to the detriment of K-12 science students. This activity is shameful and unethical, not respectable.

      Bohlin’s possession of science degrees and membership in a majority class of Texas co-believers are irrelevant and illogical arguments; they don’t make him any more correct than an uneducated minority if he believes in Creationism and rejects modern evolutionary biology. Validated reliable knowledge about nature is an outcome of using the scientific method, and since Bohlin doesn’t use it, his statements about nature are corrupt and nonsensical.

      I agree with you that Ray Bohlin is educated and distinguished, but not in the way you would like to think. Education requires more than reading and mining quotes from the scientific literature, which is a fair summary of Bohlin’s modus operandi; it requires honest critical thinking, a task that Bohlin disdains. Finally, science and science education are not a democracy and thus don’t rely on popularity, majority opinion, votes, or authority. Science is based on several philosophies of knowledge, epistemologies, that must be used in a certain way. And they must be used honestly. These are the primary lessons of a science education and Ray Bohlin failed to learn them. So, obviously, have you.

    3. Steve, prove your point that fundamentalists and evangelicals aren’t the same thing, because their behavior would suggest otherwise.

      1. Actually, Christian, Evangelicals are a much larger religious class than Fundamentalists. Many Evangelicals are rational, completely accept science, including evolution, and some are Democrats and even liberal in the political sense. Their kind of evangelicalism mainly involves promoting the messages of the gospels. Ray Bohlin is NOT one of these Evangelicals. He is a different type: a Fundamentalist, Literalist, and Inerrantist Evangelical, which means he believes in a dogmatic, literal interpretation of the fundamentals of Christianity and that the Bible is without error and should be understood literally, not spiritually, abstractly, or mythologically.

        There are dozens of scholarly articles and books about the distinction between Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Evangelicalism is an old American strain of Protestantism that began in the early 18th century. Fundamentalism split off from Evangelicalism in the later 19th, early 20th century primarily in response to the rise of modern science. Rational Evangelicals–those who belong to the Evangelicalist branch of Protestant Christianity and accept modern science–don’t ascribe to inerrancy and literalism. These Evangelicals accept the authority of the Bible but not that it is necessarily without error or must be understood literally. They believe in the Christian dogmas and miracles (divinity of Jesus, death and resurrection of Jesus, life after death, etc.) but don’t claim to understand them literally and naturally but rather as miracles (that violate natural law, the worldly things that science explains). Evangelicalism mainly promotes Christian activism, proselytization, evangelism, and conversion. Evangelicals are not automatically against science. Some prominent scientists are Evangelicals, such as Francis Collins, the current Director of the National Institutes of Health and a well-known and respected geneticist and former head of the Human Genome Project (where he made his reputation). Collins is an excellent scientist, but his written attempts to justify his religious beliefs from a scientific perspective are frankly nonsense, and he has received immense criticism from those biologists who are also outspoken atheists. In this case, I agree with the atheist scientists (Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, etc.). Unlike them, however, I didn’t object to President Obama’s appointment of Collins to Director of the NIH, since it is an administrative position, not one that sets policy for the philosophical interpretation of science!

        Fundamentalists (i.e. Fundamentalist Evangelicals), on the other other hand, share many characteristics of Evangelicals, as they would since they split off from them in the late 19th century in the U.S., but they have additional more extreme characteristics. Fundamentalists (such as Ray Bohlin and David Shormann) distrust and deny the methods of modern science. Intellectual Fundamentalists, such as Bohlin and Shormann, claim that they believe in and follow science, but that is a deception designed to mislead outsiders. The type of science they accept is not the modern science taught in universities and held by the legitimate and mainstream scientists of the world. Fundamentalists explicitly reject modern genetics and evolutionary biology, but much of geology, chemistry, and physics as well. They frequently try to hide these facts (to escape the label of anti-intellectualism) through framing, sophistry, and deliberate deception, but are not successful in doing this today because scientists who study Creationism, such as me, understand their history and true beliefs so well. The Panda’s Thumb blog constantly exposes their absurd posing.

        Fundamentalists also accept the miracles and dogmas of Christianity as literal events that happened within the natural world, not as myths or spiritual truths. This type of dogmatic, superstitious belief is fast dying out in the educated countries of Europe and Asia, which is why they are fast overtaking the U.S. in the realm of science. The U.S. is economically hampered by having a significant minority (in Texas, majority!) of Christian Fundamentalists who reject modern science, since advanced industrial design and production depend on a deep understanding and appreciation of science. Our economy depends overwhelmingly on science, so our economic success and survival, and our quality of life, is at risk by the spread of Fundamentalist beliefs and ideals into science curricula and society.

    4. Ray Bohlin is a creationist. That instantly makes him a fraud and a liar.
      Therre are ZERO creationism articles in the Library of Congress science catalog(15 million papers) Creationism is filed under religion.
      There are ZERO accreditted science departments at unuiversities nationwide who support creationism in any way. ALL reputable science organizations nationwide
      decry creationism as non scientific.
      MOST mainstream Christian denominations have releaesed statements critical of creationism.(NCSE website)
      The US Supreme and federal Courts have ruled ID and creationism are religion, not science.
      We don’t need critical thinking laws to encourage science.
      Thats what science is. But creationists like you and the fraudulent creationists “advising” textbook content, need to talk about critical thinking in an effort to cause people to think their magical claims in science have any basis in the evidence or data.
      Your claims have HUGE scientific, denominational and legal problems.
      Propaganda indeed. Go away and learn to think dogma man.

    5. Steve !
      You and Bohlin need to write down the data and evidence supporting your claims that evolution is incorrect, submit that work to a peer reviewed science journal like Nature or Science, get it published and collect your Nobel Prize!
      Ever wonder why Bohlin hasn’t done that, or that he has ZERO articles about his creationism ideas published in a peer reviewed science journal?
      I know why. And if you were not a scientific illiterate attacking logic reason and the scientific method along with crazy man Bohlin, you would know that too.
      Propaganda indeed!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. As a member of that review panel, I watched Barbara Cargill interact with many teachers, TEA employees, and panel members. None of the comments that I heard from her seemed to be made to bias the panel members. She stopped at every table, thanked us for our service, and asked about the process of review. Not once (in my hearing) did she ask about findings, give her opinion about any one book or publisher, or share her opinions about any science topic. I don’t think there was an ulterior motive here. There was nothing shameful in her actions, or her intent.

    As a reviewer, our jobs were to ensure that the textbook met the standards that are required to be taught in the classroom. There were SO MANY books to review, that we did not have time to read every word of every page in every book. The reviewers were there to make sure the facts were correct, and the standards met by the publishers. The publishers gave us correlations – which showed specific pages in which they met the standards in the books. We only took time to confirm or deny that the correlations cited by the publishers met the standards. There was no funny business going on.


    1. Thanks for posting, Ted. This is encouraging to hear. We hope the experience of the other reviewers is similar.

    2. Ted, I believe everything you wrote is true. But you are not aware of the tremendous behind-the-scenes effort by SBOE Creationists to corrupt the science materials, or of the publishers complicity in doing this. You confirmed the correlations, but perhaps you are not aware that several of the standards in biology and Earth and space science were inserted by the SBOE to promote Intelligent Design Creationism over the objections of the science panels that consisted, for the most part, of legitimate scientists, science teachers, and science curriculum experts, so the actual curriculum standards themselves are corrupt. Perhaps you are not aware of the insidious strategy of science instructional materials publishers to sometimes self-censor or pre-censor their materials’ content, to water it down and weaken it to placate the anti-science biases of the SBOE members who will vote on them, and thus avoid controversy in the first place. Perhaps you are not aware of the TEA policy that if even a single instructional material reviewer questions or objects to some content, the publisher is forced to respond and explain why that item was written that way. Perhaps you are not aware that, in order to defuse controversy and avoid rejection, publishers will almost always make changes to placate the reviewers–who are invariably Creationists planted on the review panels by corrupt, anti-science, Creationist SBOE members–and the SBOE members themselves who object, who are also invariably Creationists. Perhaps you are not aware of the long history of such forced changes that damage science instruction and the financial pressure publishers feel (a form of legal extortion–legal because of Texas’ politicized method of choosing instructional materials) to oblige the SBOE members and corrupt TEA officers who oblige them to make the changes. Perhaps you are not aware that the last publisher who refused to make false and debilitating changes concerning scientific content to satisfy anti-science and Creationist SBOE members had its textbook rejected; when it sued the TEA, it lost its first case on a technicality (despite the considerable merit of its case) and didn’t want to spend an immense amount on further litigation.

      In short, there is a lot going on outside the public eye to politicize and pervert the process of adopting science instructional materials in various ways that distort science instruction in Texas public schools and that result in students deliberately being confused and misinformed about scientific knowledge and methods.