2010 Texas Democratic Platform: Reform of the Unbalanced State Board of Education

June 28, 2010

This post is seventh in a series on the education planks of the 2010 Texas Democratic Party Platform.

This is an unofficial version published in advance of the final version from the Texas Democrats, but I expect very few changes.

Generally I’ll not comment on these planks just yet, but I must say that I take delight in the perhaps unintentional commentary offered in the title of this plank.  I suspect the intent was to point to the bias of the State Board of Education, an imbalance of political views, and not to the sanity of the board.  But, I could be wrong — the title may be just an official Democratic labeling of the Board’s actions as unbalanced behavior.

REFORM OF THE UNBALANCED STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

The right-wing Republican extremists who have dominated the State Board of Education have made a laughingstock of our state’s process for developing and implementing school curriculum standards that determine what our students learn. The damage they have done is no laughing matter. In rewriting the curriculum for social studies, English language arts, and science, they repeatedly have dismissed the sound advice of professional educators. Personal ideology, not high academic standards, has guided their work. Their skewed vision slights the contributions of racial and ethnic minorities. Their slanted versions of American history and of science mislead students and violate the separation of church and state. They use loaded language to favor the roles of right-wing organizations and activists. Led by a Rick Perry appointee as chair, this State Board of Education wants to indoctrinate, not educate, the schoolchildren of Texas. Their actions are unlikely to encourage a company to relocate and bring jobs to Texas. Any substantive changes to curriculum must be reviewed by non-partisan experts, and that review must be made public prior to any changes in curriculum by the State Board.

Texas Democrats will realign the State Board of Education with mainstream Texas values, will realign the state curriculum with objective reality and the facts of history and science, and will insist on the exercise of sober fiduciary responsibility for the Permanent School Fund, exposing and prohibiting conflicts of interest.


Jerry Coyne in San Marcos: Why evolution is true, even if some Texans don’t think so

March 17, 2010

Steve Schafersman sends along a press release; Texas college biology departments continue to advance science and education despite foggings from the State Board of Education.  Odd thought:  You can be relatively certain that you can avoid Don McLeroy, David Bradley or Cynthia Dunbar, by being at the Alkek Library Teaching Theatre on the evening of March 23; learning will be occurring there at that time, and so it is a cinch that the leaders of the Austin Soviet will not be there:

Evolution expert to deliver lecture at Texas State

SAN MARCOS — Jerry A. Coyne, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, will present an evening talk and book signing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 23, at the Alkek Library Teaching Theatre on the campus of Texas State University-San Marcos.

Jerry Coyne and friend

Jerry Coyne and friend (image stolen from Larry Moran's Sandwalk; pretty sure he won't mind)

Coyne’s presentation is titled Why Evolution is True (and why many think that it’s not) and is based on his latest similarly-titled book.

Admission is free and doors will open at 6:30 p.m. A book signing with light refreshments will take place following the lecture.

Coyne is an evolutionary biologist whose work focuses on understanding the origin of species. He has written more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject.

In addition, he is a regular contributor to The New Republic, the Times Literary Supplement, and other periodicals. He runs the popular Why Evolution is True blog, and is an internationally known defender of evolution and critic of creationism and intelligent design.

The book Why Evolution is True has received widespread praise for providing a clear explanation of evolution, while succinctly summarizing the facts supporting this revolutionary theory.

Coyne’s lecture is sponsored by the Department of Biology and the Philosophy Dialogue Series at Texas State. Contact Noland Martin (512) 245-3317 for more information. For more information about Coyne and his book, please visit his blog: http://www.jerrycoyne.uchicago.edu. [and Why Evolution is True]

This lecture is part of a larger series on philosophy and science, featuring a few lectures that appear designed solely to irritate P. Z. Myers:

Philosophy dialogue to take up evolution, identity

031410gordon1

Texas State philosopher Jeffrey Gordon will be among the speakers at the university’s Philosophy Dialogue Series in the next two weeks. Texas State photograph.

STAFF REPORT

The Philosophy Dialogue Series at Texas State will present evolution and identity as its discussion topic for the next two weeks in Room 132 of the Psychology Building on campus.

Following is the schedule of events, giving the discussion titles, followed by the speakers.

March 16: 12:30 p.m. – Evolution and the Culture Wars, Victor Holk and Paul Valle (Dialogue students). 3:30 p.m. – Arabic Culture 101: What You Need to Know, Amjad Mohammad (Arabic Language Coordinator).

March 17: 2 p.m. – Phenomenology of Humor, Jeffrey Gordon (Philosophy)

March 18: 12:30 p.m. – Stayin’ Alive: Does the Self Survive? Blaze Bulla and Sky Rudd (Dialogue students).

March 19: 10 a.m. – Sustainability group, topic be announced, Laura Stroup (Geography). 12:30 p.m. – Talk of the Times, open forum.

March 23: 12:30 p.m. – Evolution: An Interdisciplinary Panel Discussion, Harvey Ginsberg (Psychology), Peter Hutcheson (Philosophy), Kerrie Lewis (Anthropology), Rebecca Raphael (Philosophy & Religious Studies). Special guest panelist, Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago (Evolutionary Biology). Evening lecture – Why Evolution is True, Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago, time and place to be announced.

March 25: 12:30 p.m. – Constructing a Masculine Christian Identity: Sex, Gender, and the Female, and Martyrs of Early Christianity, L. Stephanie Cobb, Hofstra University (Religion and Women’s Studies).

March 26: 10 a.m. – Sustainability Group: Civic Ecology, and The Human Rights of Sustainability, Vince Lopes (Biology), Catherine Hawkins (Social Work). 12:30 p.m. – Talk of the Times, open forum.

Sponsors of the Philosophy Dialogue Series include: the American Democracy Project, the College of Liberal Arts, Common Experience, the Gina Weatherhead Dialogue Fund, the New York Times, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Phi Sigma Tau, University Seminar, the University Honors Program, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Vice President for Student Affairs.

For more information about this topic, contact Beverly Pairett in the Department of Philosophy at (512) 245-2285, or email philosophy@txstate.edu. A complete schedule of discussion topics and presentations can be found at http://www.txstate.edu/philosophy/dialogue-series/Dialogue-Schedule.html.

Probably can’t make it to San Marcos from Dallas on a school night.  San Marcos biology and social studies students, and teachers, should plan to be there.


Dembski’s students sent into the crucible of Darwinism, at SMU!

September 24, 2009

Oh, the sermons they’ll be able to preach!

We learn from a couple of sources that Bill Dembski has assigned his students in two different classes at Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary to try to crash a program honoring Charles Darwin and evolution theory at nearby Southern Methodist University, on Thursday, September 24.

Fall 2009

Christian Apologetics (SWBTS #PHILO 4373 – Fall 2009)

<> New as of 09.16.09! Dear Class, I want to share with you a few things: (1) For extra credit I’d like you to go to SMU on September 24th. On that day there are two back-to-back events at SMU celebrating Darwin — go to smu.edu/smunews/darwin/events.asp and scroll down to September 24th. I don’t want you going there merely as spectators but will indicate in class how you might actively participate and engage the Darwin-lovers you’ll find there.

*     *     *     *     *

Intelligent Design or Unintelligent Evolution (SWBTS #PHILO 2483 – Fall 2009)

<> New as of 09.16.09! Dear Class, I want to share with you a few things: (1) For extra credit I’d like you to go to SMU on September 24th. On that day there are two back-to-back events at SMU celebrating Darwin — go to smu.edu/smunews/darwin/events.asp and scroll down to September 24th. I don’t want you going there merely as spectators but will indicate in class how you might actively participate and engage the Darwin-lovers you’ll find there.

You gotta wonder just what would happen if one of those abused students were to actually pay attention to the science, turn honest, and become a defender of science and Darwin.  SWBTS students are not required to swear to honesty, however, so it’s unlikely they will turn (not at the tuitions they pay!).

SMU’s Year of Darwin programs feature the NOVA episode on the Pennsylvania trial on evolution and intelligent design.  The NOVA piece will be screened, and discussions will include the Honorable John E. Jones, the federal judge who presided over the trial and has since been maligned unfairly by Dembski and other religionists who reject the views of science.  Other lecturers include reporter Laurie Lebo and the team that produced the NOVA episode:

Sept. 24, 2009

Reception 10 a.m.

Lecture 10:30 a.m.

DeGolyer Library

The Friends of the SMU Libraries/Colophon and The Friends of KERA Invite the public to a special event in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species and the 200th birthday of its author, Charles Darwin. Featured speakers will be Paula Apsell, senior executive producer of NOVA, and Melanie Wallace, senior series producer of NOVA. Please RSVP to 214-768-3225 or cruppi@smu.edu, Complimentary Valet Parking.
Sept. 24, 2009

4-6 p.m.

O’Donnell Hall

Owen Art Center

Screening of “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial,” a NOVA documentary. Introduction by Paula Apsell, senior executive producer of NOVA, who received an honorary degree from SMU in 2008.
Sept. 24, 2009

Reception 6-7 p.m.

Panel 7-8:30 p.m.

Caruth Auditorium

Owen Art Center

A panel discussion on the legal, ethical and journalistic issues surrounding the making of NOVA’s documentary film, Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. Participants include John E. Jones, the federal judge who barred a Dover, Pa., public school district in 2005 from teaching “intelligent design”; Paula Apsell and Melanie Wallace, NOVA producers of the documentary; plaintiff’s council Eric Rothschild; and Laurie Lebo, author of The Devil in Dover.
Sept. 25, 2009

10:30 a.m. – noon

Karcher Auditorium

Storey Hall

“Intelligent Design in the Classroom,” a panel discussion on First Amendment issues featuring Judge John E. Jones III, Eric Rothschild (Pepper Hamilton, LLP), Hiram Sasser (Liberty Legal Institute) and Lackland Bloom, SMU’s Dedman School of Law.
Sept. 25, 2009

10-11:30 a.m.

3531 Garson

Owens Art Center

Master class on Documentary Film Making, taught by Paula Apsell and Melanie Wallace of NOVA. Strictly by RSVP (to Teri Trevino, trevinot@mail.smu.edu)
Sept. 25, 2009

2-3 p.m.

Hughes-Trigg Forum

Lauri Lebo will speak on “From Dover to Texas: Reporting on Extremist Views in a Fair and Balanced World” followed by a book signing of her book, The Devil in Dover.

I have attended sessions around Dallas where Dembski and other ID creationists were the featured speakers.  We know one thing for certain:  Dembski’s students will be given a more polite and mannerly reception at SMU than Dembski and his crew give scientists and critics at their own sessions.  For years, since 1991 at least, SMU has allowed Dembski and his accomplices to use the facilities and good offices of SMU to promote their anti-science screeds, though Dembski’s views are not shared by Methodists, and are contrary to positions taken by the Methodist General Assembly.

It is impossible to imagine that SWBTS would allow Methodists to do the same thing, teaching and promoting science and especially evolution theory, at the seminary.

SMU’s program is open to the public (go to the SMU site above to see more events set over the next few months).

Dembski is teaching apologetics.  Creationist apologists are not licensed, and generally cannot be sued for pedagogical or theological malpractice, even by their students.  Standards for apologetics don’t exist.  Scientists, on the other hand, are subject to peer review, and if using federal funds, prosecution should they tell falsehoods.

Nota bene: SMU’s lectures on Darwin’s Evolving Legacy are available on video, on-line.  See the wonderfully informative and explanatory presentation by Dr. Barbara Forrest, for example.


Bathtub reading, mortuary, cemetery, restaurant and airport version

August 30, 2009

Family funerals combine bitter and sweet.  A long life well-lived, the grief over loss, getting together with family and friends from eight decades — and then it’s back to work in a jolt.

Trying to stay caught up:

Outrageous insult to Darwin and Constitution in Missouri: Were the parents concerned about the quality of the brass section in the band, or did they really object to a humorous depiction of “the evolution of brass” in 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth?

They deserve to have their brasses kicked, but the innocent kids don’t.

P. Z. Myers caught the grossest tragedy:

Band parent Sherry Melby, who is a teacher in the district, stands behind Pollitt’s decision. Melby said she associated the image on the T-shirt with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt.” Melby said. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

She doesn’t want her school associated with evolution?  How about associating the school with the Taliban of Afghanistan?  How about associating her school with Homer Simpson’s stupider brother?  How about associating her school with backwards thinking, 16th century bad science?  How about associating her school with the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and the sort of stupidity that leads religiously-based violence?

Ray Mummert probably got the call to help Sedalia out, and he’s organizing to fight the forces of smart and intelligent people.  Comments from residents of Sedalia are shocking in their lack of information, and depressing.

Kids, pay attention in science class: A proud science teacher in Minnesota, and probably some proud parents, tooTip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula on this one.

Anybody who complains about this deserves to get their tail kicked with Tom Delay and every Republican who redistricted Texas last time around. (Sen. Ted Kennedy suggested the Massachusetts legislature should allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement to represent the state in the U.S. Senate in the event of a vacancy, until a special election can be held.)

First Amendment wins again: Kentucky had a law that said the state could be safe from al Quaeda attack only by the grace of God.  A judge, noting that it will take a lot of work by a lot of dedicated Kentuckians who deserve credit, and that it’s illegal to make such a claim in law, overturned the law.

Private insurance failed this woman; Medicare would pay for the treatment under some circumstances, but there is no lie opponents to health care reform won’t tell in order to scare people away from the facts. They claim the woman couldn’t be treated under government care, but Medicare pays for the expensive drug in question.  Can’t they at least tell the truth?

This is getting depressing.  I’m going to go look at mountains.


Christian environmental stewardship: Disciples of Christ and the Alverna Covenant

August 5, 2009

I learned something new tonight.  The Disiciples of Christ formally adopted wise environmental stewardship as a denominational goal in 1981.

History of the Alverna Covenant

The Alverna Covenant was written by members of the Task Force on Christian Lifestyle and Ecology of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) while meeting at Alverna Retreat Center, a Franciscan retreat in Indianapolis, Ind. The name has added significance. Alverna is named for Mt. Alverna in Italy, the mountain retreat given to Francis of Assisi. Francis is honored for his concern for the care of and relatedness of all creation. The 800th anniversary of Francis’ birth was celebrated in 1981, the year the Alverna Covenant was first introduced at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The Alverna Covenant

Whereas:

  • God has created the world with finite resources;
  • God has given to us the stewardship of the earth;
  • God has established order through many natural cycles.

And it is evident that:

  • We are consuming resources at a rate that cannot be maintained;
  • We are interrupting many natural cycles;
  • We are irresponsibly modifying the environment through consumption and pollution;
  • We are populating the earth at a rate that cannot be maintained;

As a member of the human family and a follower of Jesus Christ, I hereby covenant that:

  • I will change my lifestyle to reduce my contribution to pollution;
  • I will support recycling efforts;
  • I will search for sustainable lifestyles;
  • I will work for public policies which lead to a just and sustainable society;
  • I will share these concerns with others and urge them to make this Covenant.
  • What other denominations have statements on wise resource stewardship? What do they say?

    Tip of the old scrub brush to Darrel Manson, who writes at Hollywood Jesus.

    Resources:


    More Christo-totalitarianism: Science not welcome

    July 10, 2009

    Ooooh, I guess I push the buttons on these guys.

    I’ve been banned from two more blogs run by smiling Christo-totalitarians, Dr. Doug Groothuis in Denver (second or third banning, I can’t recall), and another pontificator of Christography, Paul Adams in Arizona.

    My sin?  I dared call their hand as they post false bloviations from the Discovery Institute’s Stephen C. Meyer in Meyer’s national anti-science campaign.  Adams claims I violated his guidelines.  Since I was polite, but sharp, I assume that they regard any dissent as “ad hominem” or discourteous.

    And, since they banned me, they wiped out my posts.  No need to answer the difficult questions if they can just pretend the questions don’t exist.

    They especially do not like my noting creationism and intelligent design as voodoo science, and the bizarre accounts creationists tell of the origins of evolution theory as voodoo history.  Truth hurts too much, I guess.

    Creationism might be on its last legs, when otherwise Christian people are driven to totalitarian actions like this, baby camel nose that it is.   Christianity generally flourishes when it’s oppressed.  When Christianity is the basis of oppression, however, the faith falters.  There is a darker possibility:  It may be Christianity that totters with creationism gnawing at the legs and tunneling through clay feet of the Christian monolith.

    You may have seen with the kerfuffle with the Kommissar of Houston, Neil Simpson, I don’t censor these Christ-claiming yahoos even when they get patently offensive.  One, their inability to muster rational arguments to defend their unholy War on Science always exposes them.  And two, there is always some hope that they might see the light, open their eyes and take their fingers out of their ears — at least there is hope on my part.

    Both Groothuis and Adams are otherwise edified philosophers (which only makes their actions more amusing).  What is it about philosophers that makes them try to philosophize away the world they do not like?

    On principle I am open to Groothuis or Adams trying to defend their assault on science in comments here, if they can.  This is an invitation to them to discuss their claims. I ask them to keep it clean and polite.   Since there is no rational or factual basis to their claims of intelligent design, they will have little to say.  Nor will they bother, I predict.  Creationism, including intelligent design, can only function in a fawning, unquestioning atmosphere filled with ignorance of science.

    If you want some good clean fun and you can stand a little aggravation when they get all huffy about it, Dear Readers, stroll over to Groothuis’s inaptly named Constructive Curmudgeon or Adams’s In Christus, and post the facts of science that Stephen Meyer wishes to ignore. Be aware, they are likely to censor comments and ban commenters who assault them with science.  Even Christians with Ph.D.s fall victim to Ray Mummert’s disease.

    These are two men who should know better.  These are two men whose faith claims should prevent them from supporting voodoo science, junk science, and the War on Education.

    Vampires of fiction and cockroaches of reality are negatively phototropic.  They avoid light generally, they cannot stand sunlight, the light of day.  Oddly, creationists share that trait.

    Update: Adams, whose philosophy appears to include neither manners nor good science, will not do me the courtesy of saying why he banned me despite two e-mails, but he will respond at his blog when a fellow totalitarian writes in, leaving off any evidence of what he claims is true.  Adams said today:

    I spent some time crafting my guidelines and intend on holding to them, expecting everyone to do same.
    They’re not optional. Perhaps I should change to “Rules.”

    In my estimation, Mr. Darnell committed the ad hominem fallacy violating guideline #2 when speaking to Doug’s inability to respond, rather than addressing the content/substance of Dr. Meyer’s presentation.

    How convenient that is.  Adams can claim that I posted nothing of substance against Meyers’ unscientific diatribe, and then Adams doesn’t have to answer.  As best I can figure it, when I note Meyer’s errors, Adams regards that as “ad hominem.”   If Adams were consistent, he’d take down Meyer’s piece. Meyer cannot talk without ad hominem, especially since he has no science to back his claims.  Don’t take my word for it.  Go look at Adams’ blog — warning, he’s unlikely to leave your post up if you point out any of Stephen Meyer’s many errors, or rudenesses, or ad hominem claims — and see for yourself.  If you think for a moment or two that Meyer starts making sense, keep that thought and go look at a serious review of his claims by professionals, here. Adams can’t tell you why he completely disregards Dr. Gotelli, nor will he explain why a link to Gotelli’s critique of Meyer is unacceptable on his blog.  There is no good reason other than Adams’ bigotry against science.  Gotelli, of course, is a practicing scientist in the field in which Meyer polemicizes about.


    David Barton: Mediocre scientists who are Christian, good; great scientists, bad

    July 9, 2009

    I’m reviewing the reviews of Texas social studies curricula offered by the six people appointed by the Texas State Board of Education.  David Barton, a harsh partisan politician, religious bigot, pseudo-historian and questionable pedagogue, offers up this whopper, about fifth grade standards.:

    In Grade 5 (b)(24)(A), there are certainly many more notable scientists than Carl Sagan – such as Wernher von Braun, Matthew Maury, Joseph Henry, Maria Mitchell, David Rittenhouse, etc.

    Say what?  “More notable scientists than Carl Sagan . . . ?”  What is this about?

    It’s about David Barton’s unholy bias against science, and in particular, good and great scientists like Carl Sagan who professed atheism, or any faith other than David Barton’s anti-science brand of fundamentalism.

    David Barton doesn’t want any Texas child to grow up to be a great astronomer like Carl Sagan, if there is any chance that child will also be atheist, like Carl Sagan.  Given a choice between great science from an atheist, or mediocre science from a fundamentalist Christian, Barton chooses mediocrity.

    Currently the fifth grade standards for social studies require students to appreciate the contributions of scientists.  Here is the standard Barton complains about:

    (24) Science, technology, and society. The student understands the impact of science and technology on life in the United States. The student is expected to:

    (A) describe the contributions of famous inventors and scientists such as Neil Armstrong, John J. Audubon, Benjamin Banneker, Clarence Birdseye, George Washington Carver, Thomas Edison, and Carl Sagan;
    (B) identify how scientific discoveries and technological innovations such as the transcontinental railroad, the discovery of oil, and the rapid growth of technology industries have advanced the economic development of the United States;
    (C) explain how scientific discoveries and technological innovations in the fields of medicine, communication, and transportation have benefited individuals and society in the United States;
    (D) analyze environmental changes brought about by scientific discoveries and technological innovations such as air conditioning and fertilizers; and
    (E) predict how future scientific discoveries and technological innovations could affect life in the United States.

    Why doesn’t Barton like Carl Sagan?  In addition to Sagan’s being a great astronomer, he was a grand populizer of science, especially with his series for PBS, Cosmos.

    But offensive to Barton was Sagain’s atheism.  Sagan wasn’t militant about it, but he did honestly answer people who asked that he found no evidence for the efficacy or truth of religion, nor for the existence of supernatural gods.

    More than that, Sagan defended evolution theory.  Plus, he was Jewish.

    Any one of those items might earn the David Barton Stamp of Snooty-nosed Disapproval, but together, they are about fatal.

    Do the scientists Barton suggests in Sagan’s stead measure up? Barton named four:

    Wernher von Braun, Matthew Maury, Joseph Henry, Maria Mitchell, David Rittenhouse

    In the category of “Sagan Caliber,” only von Braun might stake a claim.  Wernher von Braun, you may recall, was the guy who ran the Nazi’s rocketry program.  After the war, it was considered a coup that the U.S. snagged him to work, first for the Air Force, and then for NASA.  Excuse me for worrying, but I wonder whether Barton likes von Braun for his rocketry, for his accommodation of anti-evolution views, or for his Nazi-supporting roots.  (No, I don’t trust Barton as far as I can hurl the Texas Republican Party Platform, which bore Barton’s fould stamp while he was vice chair of the group.)

    So, apart from the fact that von Braun was largely an engineer, and Sagan was a brilliant astronomer with major contributions to our understanding of the cosmos, what about the chops of the other four people?  Why would Barton suggest lesser knowns and unknowns?

    Matthew Maury once headed the U.S. Naval Observatory, in the 19th century.  He was famous for studying ocean currents, piggy-backing on the work of Ben Franklin and others.  Do a Google search, though, and you’ll begin to undrstand:  Maury is a favorite of creationists, a scientist who claimed to subjugate his science to the Bible.  Maury claimed his work on ocean currents was inspired at least in part by a verse in Psalms 8 which referred to “paths in the sea.”  Maury is not of the stature or achievement of Sagan, but Maury is politically correct to Barton.

    Joseph Henry is too ignored, the first head of the Smithsonian Institution. Henry made his mark in research on magnetism and electricity.  But it’s not Henry’s science Barton recognizes.  Henry, as a largely unknown scientist today, is a mainstay of creationists’ list of scientists who made contributions to science despite their being creationists.  What?  Oh, this is inside baseball in the war to keep evolution in science texts.  In response to the (accurate) claim that creationists have not contributed anything of scientific value to biology since about William Paley in 1802, Barton and his fellow creationists will trot out a lengthy list of scientists who were at least nominally Christian, and claim that they were creationists, and that they made contributions to science.  The list misses the point that Henry, to pick one example, didn’t work in biology nor make a contribution to biology, nor is there much evidence that Henry was a creationist in the modern sense of denying science.  Henry is obscure enough that Barton can claim he was politically correct, to Barton’s taste, to be studied by school children without challenging Barton’s creationist ideas.

    Maria Mitchell was an American astronomer, the second woman to discover a comet. While she was a Unitarian and a campaigner for women’s rights, or more accurately, because of that, I can’t figure how she passes muster as politically correct to David Barton.  Surely she deserves to be studied more in American history than she is — perhaps with field trips to the Maria Mitchell House National Historic LandmarkIt may be that Barton has mistaken Mitchell for another creationist scientist. While Mitchell’s life deseves more attention — her name would be an excellent addition to the list of woman scientists Texas children should study — she is not of the stature of Sagan.

    David Rittenhouse, a surveyor and astronomer, and the first head of the U.S. Mint, is similarly confusing as part of Barton’s list.  Rittenhouse deserves more study, for his role in extending the Mason-Dixon line, if nothing else, but it is difficult to make a case that his contributions to science approach those of Carl Sagan.  Why is Rittenhouse listed by Barton?  If nothing else, it shows the level of contempt Barton holds for Sagan as “just another scientist.”  Barton urges the study of other scientists, any other scientists, rather than study of Sagan.

    Barton just doesn’t like Sagan.  Why?  Other religionists give us the common dominionist or radical religionist view of Sagan:

    Just what is the Secular Humanist worldview? First and foremost Secular Humanists are naturalists. A naturalist believes that nature is all that exists. “The Cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” This was the late Carl Sagan’s opening line on the television series “Cosmos.” Sagan was a noted astronomer and a proud secular humanist. Sagan maintained that the God of the Bible was nonexistent. (Imagine Sagan’s astonishment when he came face to face with his Maker.)

    Sagan’s science, in Barton’s view, doesn’t leave enough room for Barton’s religion.  Sagan was outspoken about his opposition to superstition.  Sagan urged reason and the active use of his “Baloney-Detection Kit.” One of Sagan’s later popular books was titled Demon-haunted World:  Science as a candle in the dark.  Sagan argued for the use of reason and science to learn about our world, to use to build a framework for solving the world’s problems.

    Barton prefers the dark to any light shed by Sagan, it appears.

    More resources on the State Board of Education review of social studies curricula



    Texas science under siege: Help if you can

    March 27, 2009

    More bad news than good news from the Texas State School Board:  Yes, the board failed to reintroduce the creationist sponsored “strengths and weaknesses” language in high school science standards; but under the misleadership of Board Chair Don McLeroy, there is yet <i>another</i> series of amendments intended to mock science, including one challenging Big Bang, one challenging natural selection as a known mechanism of evolution, and, incredibly, one challenging the even the idea of common descent.  It’s a kick in the teeth to Texas teachers and scientists who wrote the standards the creationists don’t like.

    Texas Freedom Network’s blog headline tells the story:  “Science Under Siege in Texas.”

    Do you live in Texas?  Do you teach, or are you involved in the sciences in Texas?  Then please send an e-mail to the State Board of Education this morning, urging them to stick to the science standards their education and science experts recommended.  Most of the recent amendments aim to kill the standards the scientists and educators wrote.

    TFN tells how to write:

    You can still weigh in by sending e-mails to board members at sboeteks@tea.state.tx.us. Texas Education Agency staff will distribute e-mails to board members.

    You don’t think it’s serious?  Here’s Don McLeroy explaining the purpose of one of his amendments:

    Live blogging of SBOE activities today by Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, here, and by the Texas Freedom Network, here.


    Gov. Perry to Texas, biologists, educators, students, Hispanics, and parents: “Drop Dead”

    February 7, 2009

    That hissing sound you hear is hope leaking out of Texas scientists, educators and students.  Those trucks you hear are the moving trucks of science-based industries, leaving Texas for California (!), Massachusetts, Utah, New York, Florida and other states where science is taught well in public schools and assumed to be an educational priority.

    In his year as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education, Don McLeroy has sown strife and discord among board members, professional staff, and educators across Texas.  He insulted Texas Hispanics and did his best to eliminate Hispanic heritage from Texas literature studies.  He repeatedly dismissed the advice of legally-required advisory committees of teachers and educators.  He insulted top scientists who offered advice on science education, and he ignored education experts in the development of curricula and standards for Texas public schools.  He promises a religious crusade to gut biology education in Texas.

    On Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry reappointed McLeroy as chairman of SBOE, to a term that ends on February 1, 2011.

    The Texas Senate must confirm.

    Resources:


    New Texas science education source, Teach Them Science

    January 15, 2009

    Joint project of the Clergy Project and the Center for Inquiry, Teach Them Science debuted on-line just a few weeks before the next round of science curriculum decisions by the State Board of Education.

    Science education is at risk in Texas and across the country.
    If you are a parent, educator, or concerned citizen, the information on these pages will help you understand the importance of a 21st Century science education. Particularly important in the 21st Century is a scientific understanding of evolution. These pages will also show you how you can help in Texas.

    Center for Inquiry and The Clergy Letter Project are secular and religious communities who have come together to protect our children’s future in science. We call on you to help defend science education.

    Joe Lapp, who I know through Texas Citizens for Science, played a big role in getting this site up and running.  Go look.  Pass the link on to all the science teachers you know, especially in Texas.

    (Go see this wonderful, wry photo by Ralph Barrera of the Austin American-Statesman.)

    Tip of the old scrub brush to Texas Citizens for Science.


    No one believes it. Is it so?

    August 9, 2008

    One of the great mysteries of history is how an entire nation of people can follow a leader into tragedy — a stupid war, economic morass, cultural suicide, genocide, or other tragedy — without appearing to notice they were going against their national values, against reason, against morality.

    I wonder if part of the answer can be found by studying the way our brains perceive things, in particular, the way our brains force us to see things that are not so.

    Some things are just so unbelievable, our brains tell us we’re seeing something different, something more believable. Here are two examples, the Charlie Chaplin mask illusion, and the Einstein mask illusion.

    Chaplin — you know it’s concave, but the nose sticks out every time:

    Einstein — is Big Brother really watching you? What do your eyes say?

    Here’s a nasty little kicker: Even when most people know that it’s an illusion, they can’t perceive the illusion-in-action; as Paul Simon wrote, “Still a man sees what he wants to see and he disregards the rest.”

    Historical applications

    • CIA chief William Colby was involved in Operation Phoenix during the Vietnam War. When investigations revealed that the operation involved torture, many people refused to believe the U.S. would be involved in torture (good!). And even after he admitted to Congressional committees that he had personally authorized the torture, people had difficulty believing it. David Wise wrote an article about Operation Phoenix for the New York Times Magazine, July 1, 1973: “Not one of Colby’s friends or neighbors, or even his critics on the Hill, would, in their wildest imagination, conceive of Bill Colby attaching electric wires to a man’s genitals and personally turning the crank. “Not Bill Colby… He’s a Princeton man.'”
    • “[T]he Russians are finished. They have nothing left to throw against us,” a confident Adolf Hitler told Gen. Franz Halder in July 1941. Russian mired down the German army, making the phrase “the Eastern Front” a dreaded death sentence in German commands. In the end, it was the Soviet Army that first got to Berlin, and captured Hitler’s command bunker where der Führer had committed suicide a short time before. Adding to the historic irony, twice over: First, Stalin refused to believe his intelligence service reports that the Nazis were massing on the border of Russia, just two years after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which pledged neither nation would invade the other. Second, Hitler’s generals had studied Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, working to avoid all the mistakes Napoleon made. So sure were the Nazis of their superiority to Napoleon in every way, they invaded Russia on the anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion, June 22, 1941. Great shades of Santayana’s Ghost!
    • Bush administration historians will wonder why Bush was able to do what he did, with even members of his own party who saw him close up believing he’d do something different. See this story by Ron Susskind, “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George Bush,” New York Times Magazine, October 17, 2004.
    • The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, based on an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin near Vietnam.  (See also documents from the National Security Agency archives.)
    • Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

    Do you have other examples of self-delusion by illusionary means?

    Tip of the old scrub brush to Vous Pensez.


    Quote of the moment: Sir Francis Bacon, creation as testament

    May 30, 2008

    Sir Francis Bacon (source unidentified)

    Sir Francis Bacon (January 22, 1561 – April 9, 1626)

    For certain it is that God worketh nothing in nature but by second causes: and if they would have it otherwise believed, it is mere imposture, as it were in favour towards God; and nothing else but to offer the Author of Truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie. But farther, it is an assured truth, and a conclusion of experience, that a little or superficial knowledge of Philosophy may incline the mind of man towards Atheism, but a farther proceeding therein doth bring the mind back again to Religion: for in the entrance of philosophy, when the second causes, which are next the senses, do offer themselves unto the mind of man, if it swell and stay there it may induce some oblivion of the highest cause; but when a man passeth on further, and seeth the dependence of causes, and the works of Providence, then, according to the allegory of the poets, he will easily believe that the highest link of Nature’s chain must needs be tied at the foot of Jupiter’s chair. To conclude therefore, let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain, that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the Book of God’s Word, or in the Book of God’s Works—Divinity or Philosophy. But rather, let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both; only let men beware that they apply both to charity, and not to swelling [pride]; to use and not to ostentation; and again that they do not unwisely mingle or confound those learnings together.

    Francis Bacon, Advancement of Learning (1605), Bk I. [for example, here]

    Tip of the old scrub brush to John Stockwell commenting at Constructive Curmudgeon


    Waco Tribune gets it: Science is golden

    December 31, 2007

    The Waco Tribune offered its editorial support to science, and evolution theory, today.

    Texas education officials should be wary of efforts to insert faith-based religious beliefs into science classrooms.

    * * * * *

    Neither science nor evolution precludes a belief in God, but religion is not science and should not be taught in science classrooms.

    Those are the opening and closing paragraphs. In between, the authors scold the Texas Education Agency for firing its science curriculum director rather than stand up for science, and cautions the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board against approving a course granting graduate degrees in creationism education.

    Support for evolution and good science scoreboard so far: Over a hundred Texas biology professors, Texas Citizens for Science, Dallas Morning News, Waco Tribune . . . it’s a cinch more support will come from newspapers and scientists. I wonder whether the local chambers of commerce will catch on?


    Texas Citizens for Science: Report on creationist certification

    December 20, 2007

    To provide a little greater access, below the fold I reproduce the complete report from the Texas Citizens for Science on the Institution for Creation Research’s bid to get approval from Texas to grant graduate degrees from the ICR’s Irving, Texas, campus.

    If you are tracking this issue, you should also see these posts and sites:

    The TCS report is also available at the TCS website.

    Read the rest of this entry »


    Quote of the moment: Ted Williams (the conservationist)

    December 8, 2007

    It’s a long passage, but worth the read. Go to the Audubon site for the full essay; it’s longer, and worth more. (Photo: Bald eagle, from the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

    Bald Eagle, USFWS photo

    This is from an essay the great conservation curmudgeon Ted Williams published in Audubon in December 2004.

    I envy young environmentalists of the 21st century, but I feel bad for them, too. They don’t know what it feels like to win big against seemingly impossible odds. When I started out, America and the world were environmentally lawless. There was no Endangered Species Act, no Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act, no National Environmental Policy Act, no National Forest Management Act. In 1970 I remember standing on the steps of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife field headquarters and arguing with a colleague, Joe, about the banning of DDT. “It will never happen,” he told me. When DDT was banned two years later, he said, “It won’t make any difference.”

    For a while it didn’t. The March 1976 Audubon reported “considerable gloomy speculation” about the plight of endangered bald eagles in the Lower 48—more birds dying than hatching, fewer than a thousand nesting pairs. Today there are an estimated 7,000 nesting pairs. The September 1975 Audubon reported that 300 brown pelicans transplanted from Florida to Louisiana—”the Pelican State”—had died from lethal doses of DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons. Today Louisiana has more than 13,000 nesting pairs. In 1972 I was assigned by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to write an article on the peregrine falcon in the East—a history piece, because the species had been extirpated from the region. By 1999 peregrines had fully recovered, and they were removed from the Endangered Species List.

    The hopelessness I felt about DDT in 1970 was nothing compared with what Rachel Carson felt when she started her campaign against this World War II hero. Writing a book about DDT seemed impossible; she was a nature writer, not an investigative reporter. Barely had she taken pen to paper when she was assailed by arthritis, flu, intestinal virus, sinus infections, staph infections, ulcers, phlebitis, and breast cancer. She didn’t get discouraged; she got mad. Her ulcers, she told her editor, “might have waited till the book was done.” Radiation treatments were “a serious diversion of time.” She found the phlebitis that prevented her from walking “quite trying””not for herself but for “poor Roger,” her adopted son.

    When Silent Spring appeared in 1962, Chemical World News condemned it as “science fiction.” Time magazine dismissed it as an “emotional and inaccurate outburst.” Reader’s Digest canceled a contract for a 20,000-word condensation and ran the Time piece instead. But only seven years later Time used a photo of Carson to illustrate its new Environment section. Silent Spring was not a prediction, as anti-environmentalists profess; it was a warning, full of hope. “No,” Carson wrote her friend Lois Crisler, “I myself never thought the ugly facts would dominate. . . . The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has always been uppermost in my mind.” If Rachel Carson could find hope in the face of what and who were closing in on her, no environmentalist has the right to feel discouraged in 2004.


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