Thursday, April 27, 2017

And The Whining and Spinning About Texas Is On!

Now that the March for Science is over, the Discovery Institute (DI) Talking Heads are turning to other things, including Texas.  As I said just a few days ago:

"I'm sure the whining will come eventually, after all the Dover Trial was over 12 years ago and they are still trying to spin it! Who knows, they might be spinning things a different way, like this guy:
Don McLeroy . . . yes, that 'John Donald McLeroy', the conservative dentist, former member and former president of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) . . . is claiming the changes are a 'victory for science'." (Not as Much Whining As Expected, Maybe a Different Tactic)
Yes, like Don, they are trying to spin it as a win for themselves in this post "Despite Reports to the Contrary, Texas Preserves Language Calling for Critical Analysis of Evolution"  While I will admit it wasn't a complete victory for Science, you really can't call it a win for them.  The amount of time and energy they spent to first get Texas to approve the wording the standards in the first place and then the complaining about what happens to their version of science education if those phrases are removed . . . makes it hard to accept that they consider any re-wording, let alone the removal of many of the key phrases that real scientists and actual science teachers objected too, any form of a victory, especially re-wording that makes it easier for science teachers to teach science without having to bring in pseudo-science just for the sake of 'analyzing and evaluating all side' of one specific theory -- but we are talking about the DI here and spin is what they do best.

The original phrasing, for all the marketing by the DI, had one purpose -- the deliberate undermining of science education.  Don't agree, well from my point of view this whole critical analysis thing reminds me somewhat of some of the things that happened in Dover PA over a decade ago.  What I am talking about was the requirement to read a statement in biology classes.  Remember the statement?
"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.
Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.
As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments." (Wikipedia: Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District)
What the statement does, in a nutshell, is tell students that all of science is just a collection of guesses and that religious guesses are just as good as scientific guesses.  Look at the words, before a theory is taught, this statement makes it sound as if a theory is just that, a guess.  The first paragraph mainly says that they are going to learn evolutionary theory because the State mandates it, not because it has any validity.  It denigrates each and every scientific theory out there and then inserts Intelligent Design (ID), unsupported -- unexplained -- never tested -- never even used -- ID as an alternative, an alternative explanation that isn't even a scientific theory.  Don't believe me, you might try reading the Dover Trial Decision for yourself.  It's boring a loaded with legalese, but it gets the point across.

When the biology teachers refused to read the statement, a school administrator read the statement to students.  Seriously, what part of that statement didn't undermine the science students were going to be taught.  While it's loaded with innocuous sounding phrases, the reality is it was contrasting real science with imaginary pseudo-science to an audience ill-equipped to understand the difference.

That's what the wording did, it placed an unreasonable expectation on an audience ill-equipped to handle it. How do you 'analyze and evaluate' without the tools and knowledge needed to do so? By definition Analysis is:
"a detailed examination of anything complex in order to understand its nature or to determine its essential features : a thorough study" (Merriam-Webster: Analysis)
From the science standpoint, think of the amount of time an examination of this sort would take.  To properly 'analyze' evolution would take more time and other resources than any school system can afford.  This level of detail is beyond the scope of any high school not just because of the subject, but the requirements of performing an analysis.  What other subject matter requires an 'analysis'?  None!  Therefor the tools and skills to do such an analysis do not exist in the normal high school curriculum.

The 'all sides' was the part of the Creationist wording that was least able to be defended.  What 'sides' exist within science?  Intelligent Design (ID) is a religious concept and is not, has never been, nor is anticipated ever being science.  so basically without using the phrase 'Creationism' or Intelligent Design', the 'all sides' is an opening to bring those religious ideas into the classroom.  I know the DI will disagree and point to language that says it prohibits religious alternatives -- but when you start looking at the 'sides' what alternative sides to science are there?  ID isn't science, after all, where is the science they have been promising for decades?  Religious books and articles, presentations to religious audiences, and covert declarations as to the identity of their intelligent designer certainly haven't helped them make their case.

Of course an 'analysis' of the DI's pet 'alternative' to evolution would take considerably less time, because there is very little to analyze.  No scientific experiments to replicate, no peer-reviewed papers (real peer review, not the DI's pseudo-peer review), nothing but religious books and articles boiling down to whether or not you want to pretend a Deity created everything around us.  Such an analysis would be fairly quick and  . . . well . . . it has been done a number of times and each time to the detriment of its proponents.  Science has rejected Intelligent Design so many times that its proponents have to try tactics such as these word games because their pet 'theory' cannot stand the light of day.

This was the first whine I saw, they've already put up two more and I am sure more are on the way.  


  1. For every major creationist argument you can find over the nuanced meanings of evaluate, analyze and examine, I can show you hundreds that concern scientific explanations for stasis, abrupt appearance, complexity of the cell and the origin of DNA.

    1. Nuanced meanings are one thing, but those terms have specific meanings when it comes to educational objectives. Trying to force HS students to analyze and evaluate without giving them the tools to reach those specific educational objectives it a waste of time and only serves to damage real science education.

    2. As for your 'hundreds', I've already examined many of them and they all boil down to "Science hasn't explained these things to my [read 'your'] satisfaction, therefore God must have done it." I think you spent too much time trying to reconcile your religious beliefs and trying to force them on school children than you have examining actual science. Religious Freedom doesn't mean you have the right to force everyone to believe as you do. It also means there are other beliefs sets that are just as valid as yours, including no belief set at all. Science works regardless of your belief set.