I'm from Missouri

This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Proposed Texas science standards released

The long-awaited proposed Texas science standards (the science standards of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills -- or TEKS for short) have been released. These standards are especially controversial because of the following reasons:

(1) -- There is a large number of Darwin-doubters on the Texas School Board, including the board's chairperson, Don McLeroy.

(2) -- the ouster of the Texas Education Agency's science director Christine Comer, at least partly for violating the TEA's policy of neutrality by misusing her TEA email address to forward an announcement of a lecture about a conspiracy theory that critics of evolution are conspiring to take over the USA. She is now suing the TEA over her ouster. She has her own post label in the sidebar.

(3) -- efforts by Darwinists -- notably Steven Schafersman and his Texas Citizens for Science -- to remove language about teaching the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories. This language has been in the state standards for around 20 years or more.

(4) -- a map chart prepared by the National Center for Science Education and the Fordham Foundation (no connection to Fordham University) shows Texas as being only one of only eight states -- mostly in the Bible Belt -- that now has state science standards that only mention evolution "briefly, unclearly." The map chart shows the current science standards of all the other states (not counting Iowa, which does not have its own science standards) as treating biological evolution "straightforwardly and/or thoroughly." The proposed new Texas standards would move Texas into the category of states in the map chart that treat evolution "straightforwardly and/or thoroughly."

(5) -- Texas is one of the biggest single buyers of textbooks. In most states, textbooks are selected on a school-by-school or district-by-district basis, but textbooks are purchased on a statewide basis in Texas. Also, Texas has a lot of national influence on textbooks' contents because many states and school boards adopt Texas's selections. The new state science standards could influence the contents of future Texas textbooks.

I don't know of any Internet address for receiving comments about the proposed science standards -- an address will probably be established in the future.

The standards are divided up into three separate parts: high school, 6th-8th grade, and K-5th grade. I will comment only on the first two.
High school standards:

(1) The high school standards are divided up into disciplines, e.g. , biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy. There are no overall standards covering all the disciplines -- this causes problems, as I discuss later. To add to the confusion, there are separate standards for chemistry, physics, and "integrated physics and chemistry."

(2) The word "evolution" appears 9 times in the high school standards, but only 6 of those appearances are wholly or partly in connection with biology (to see the appearances of a term in a PDF file, click on the binoculars icon in the top border). IMO the standards inappropriately use the term "evolution" in several non-biological contexts, e.g., evolution of the universe, evolution and properties of the integrated Earth and planetary systems, evolution of Earth's atmosphere over time, and geological evolution. I presume that the Earth and Space Science panel, which the fanatic pro-evolutionist Steven Schafersman of the Texas Citizens for Science was on, wrote these phrases that use the term "evolution." I decided to look up the definitions of "evolution" in the Merriam Webster online dictionary (I previously looked up the word "evolve" and the definitions were not very helpful). One definition of evolution is:

"a process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state"

This is the usage associated with biology and IMO is the usage that most people are most familiar with. BTW, biological evolution does not always result in an increase in complexity -- for example, blind salamanders and fish are believed to have evolved from sighted salamanders and fish -- but the overall trend of evolution has been an increase in complexity and a change towards a higher or better state.

The M-W online dictionary also gives the following definition:

"a process in which the whole universe is a progression of interrelated phenomena"

The life of a star can be considered to be a "progression" of stages -- in fact, this is called "stellar evolution." I think that where changes follow a pattern of progression, the changes may properly be called "evolution." However, where the changes are just random and directionless, like the changes in continents, then IMO those changes are not properly called evolution. No one would ever speak of the "evolution of continents." So IMO instead of using only the term "evolution" to describe non-biological changes, IMO it is sometimes appropriate to use the terms "changes" or "evolution or changes."

(3) The "strengths and weaknesses" language -- which has been in the old standards for 20 years or more -- appears twice in the proposed new standards, but only in the standards for chemistry and astronomy (as noted, the standards are divided up into different disciplines). The language does not appear in the proposed biology standards.

(4) Though "evolution" (or "evolutionary") appears 9 times in the standards, 6 times wholly or partly in regard to biology, it is called a "theory" in only one place in the standards: "The student knows evolutionary theory is an explanation for the diversity of life"(page 9). In Florida, there was a big fight over whether to call evolution a "theory" in the state standards -- in a compromise, the word "theory" was added to evolution and other theories as well. What is not well known is that the Florida standards also redefined "scientific theory" as being a "well-supported" and "widely accepted" explanation. That is just not true -- there are "strong" theories and "weak" theories.

(5) Definition of the term "theory": The scientific meaning of the term is discussed in the biology, chemistry and physics standards. To search for the definitions, you must search for the plural word "theories" -- you will not find the definitions by searching for the singular "theory." Most of these definitions are not as bad as the Florida state standards' definition, which flatly defines "scientific theory" as being a "well-supported" and "widely accepted" explanation -- with no exceptions.

(6) -- fortunately, these proposed standards -- unlike the recently adopted Florida standards -- have no statement about evolution being central to biology or a similar statement. More about this below.

(7) There is a lot of repetition, redundancy, and inconsistency between the standards for the different disciplines. This creates confusion and misunderstanding -- for example, one could be reading a standard for an individual discipline and falsely assume that that standard applies to all of the science standards. I have already pointed out that the standards for the different disciplines have been inconsistent in retaining the "strengths and weaknesses" language. Is this a sneaky way of trying to hide the fact that the "strengths and weaknesses" language has been dropped from the biology standards? Lousy trolls are now going to quibble that no one would be dumb enough to think that a standard listed under a particular discipline would apply to the whole science standards. Well, if people were not that dumb, there would not be those big fat "Wrong Way" signs on the exits to freeways. If people were not that dumb, there would not be that "This is not the road to Fresno" sign in Kings Canyon National Park. Duh. And all these inconsistent standards are just a tower of babble (sic) that is virtually impossible to deal with. There should be at most just one definition of "scientific theory" (IMO definitions of that term should be left to dictionaries), one statement about "strengths and weaknesses," etc.. IMO these high school standards should just be scrapped entirely and new standards should be written by starting from a clean slate.

Grades 6-8 Standards:

The words evolution, evolve, evolved, and evolving do not appear. "Natural selection" appears twice. Co-evolution is mentioned: "describe the characteristics of two species that may adapt to one another through generations such as humming birds (sic) and tubular flowers or the Yucca moth and Yucca plant" (page 14). Other statements in the standards are related to evolution.


I propose the following realistic goals for state science standards --

(1) -- keep out or remove statements about evolution being central to biology or unifying biology, that kind of thing. Fortunately, the proposed Texas science standards has no such statement. Unfortunately, the Florida state science standards that were recently adopted has the statement, "evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology," and the controversy over that statement was overshadowed by the controversy over the finally-adopted proposal to call evolution a "theory." How could evolution be central to biology when 13% of respondents in a national survey of science teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that an "excellent" biology course could exist that does not mention Darwin or evolution at all (and presumably a larger percentage would agree or strongly agree with the statement that evolution is not central to biology)? What percentage of science teachers would agree with, say, a statement that an "excellent" physics course could exist that does not mention Newton's Laws of Motion? Some people's brains have been parasitized by that stupid 1973 paper titled "Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution" written by Theodosius Dobzhansky.

(2) -- add or keep language about teaching the teaching both the "strengths and weaknesses" of scientific theories.

(3) -- discredit the National Center for Science Education and the Fordham Foundation/Institute as evaluators of evolution education standards. The NCSE is of course dedicated to the dogmatic teaching of evolution. Paul R. Gross, the principal author of the Fordham Foundation report, is a co-author -- with Barbara Forrest -- of "Inside Creationism's Trojan Horse -- The Wedge of Intelligent Design," which is an absurd book about a conspiracy theory that critics of evolution are a bunch of fundies who are conspiring to take over the country. Gross Gross (sic) also threatened to drop Ohio's overall science grade from a B to an F because of the state's lesson plan for a critical analysis of evolution (letter posted Jan. 21, 2006 on the website of Ohio Citizens for Science). Let's get the foxes out of the henhouse.

(4) -- oppose attempts to redefine "theory" or "scientific theory" in the standards. The new Florida state science standards define "scientific theory" as being a "well-supported" and "wide accepted" explanation. That simply isn't true -- there are "strong" scientific theories and "weak" scientific theories. These attempts to redefine words tend to create a tower of babble (sic) where people cannot understand each other. It is OK for things like laws to give special definitions of words because everyone realizes that those definitions are for one-time use only (sort of like the term pro hac vice, "for this time only," meaning allowing an out-of-state attorney to participate in just a particular court case when the attorney is not licensed in the state).

My post The state of evolution education in the USA and an agenda for sane evolution education has more recommendations for evolution education.

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Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

The National Center for Science Education now has an article about the proposed Texas science standards.

Friday, September 26, 2008 6:01:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Steven Shafersman said on the Houston Chronicle Evo.Sphere blog,

National Academy of Sciences on Scientific Explanations

Another issue was the language about observational evidence and the nature and testability of scientific explanations that some disciplines added to the introductions of their revised standards. The language is from the National Academy of Sciences' new book Science, Evolution, and Creationism, p. 10. One version of the language is as follows:

"Scientific explanations must be based on naturally occurring phenomena, and must be capable of testing by multiple independent researchers. If scientific explanations are based on purported forces that are outside of nature, scientists have no way of testing those explanations. Unless a proposed scientific explanation is framed in a way that some observational evidence could potentially refute it, that explanation cannot be subject to scientific testing."

I am certainly in favor of this addition to the various disciplines' TEKS. However, I notice that several science disciplines did not add this excellent language at all: IPC, Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy. In fact, it appears that only Biology, Aquatic Science, and Earth and Space Science added the NAS language, each with different wording, and Environmental Systems added a similar paragraph that does not use the NAS language. I can't account for the discrepancies, but I will recommend that each discipline adopt a uniform version of this excellent language that separates science from pseudoscience. Obviously, the pseudoscience that the NAS language addresses so well is Intelligent Design Creationism.

A lot of evolution theory is not capable of being tested by "multiple independent researchers" or by any researcher, at least not by currently known methods of testing, and hence is not scientific according to the above criteria. The above statement is a philosophy of science and therefore does not belong in state science standards. Putting this statement in the Texas state science standards is especially bad because -- as I said -- the contents of textbooks are often influenced by Texas education standards because the Texas state government is one of the biggest single buyers of textbooks.

Saturday, September 27, 2008 10:43:00 PM  

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