State Board of Education Hearing July 9, 2003 by Steven Schafersman, President
Texas Citizens for Science
The Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture has submitted "A Preliminary Analysis of the Treatment of Evolution in Biology Textbooks" to the Texas State Board of Education that discusses the eleven biology textbooks being considered for adoption. The analysis is based entirely on Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute, and deals with four subjects covered by most of the biology books: 1. The Miller-Urey abiogenesis experiment, 2. The Cambrian explosion, 3. Haeckel's drawings of vertebrate embryos, and 4. The Peppered Moths and industrial melanism. The DI analysis exactly follows Icons of Evolution, a book that has been rigorously examined, harshly criticized, and thoroughly refuted by scientists in dozens of reviews in scientific journals. Scientists criticized the book for misuse of scientific data, misrepresentation of the relevant facts and arguments under consideration, use of sophistic arguments that mislead scientifically ill-informed readers, omission of significant information that negates the intended conclusion, and a harsh, anti-scientific attitude that attempts to use popularization, illogical reasoning, and political intimidation to achieve public acceptance of anti-evolutionary conclusions, rather than rely on traditional scientific methods and practice--such as performing actual scientific investigations and experiments that invalidate evolution or support intelligent design creationism--to legitimately make their case.
The State Board of Education has traditionally been overwhelmed with conflicting views regarding science textbook content from both scientists and creationist, non-scientist citizens. Most State Board members, who are ordinary citizens elected to their offices by a political process, have little or no knowledge of science, but this has not prevented them from exercising their power to edit (i.e., censor) science textbooks on the basis of their own ideological, political, and religious beliefs. Historically, the result has been the adoption of scientifically-inferior textbooks in Texas and poor science education in the state's public schools, with the result that Texas students historically scored among the lowest of all the states on standardized science exams. It may seem odd that Texas, a state that one might expect would epitomize rugged individualism and respect for accomplishment, nevertheless has a system of highly-centralized political control of the scientific content of public school textbooks, and historically has used this power to dumb-down and censor perfectly valid science textbooks by holding the books' adoption hostage to force publishers to make changes consistent with fundamentalist Christian and extreme right-wing political beliefs. This process has consistently repeated itself over the years, as recently as last year in 2002 with the social studies books.
As one might expect, this long-time process has had consequences: Texas businessmen have long complained about the poor thinking, communication, reading, and writing skills of Texas students, and the Texas Legislature has attempted to correct the problem by limiting the power of the SBOE to edit textbooks, instituting a state school curriculum that requires, among many other things, proper science instruction and critical thinking skills, and allowing schools to purchase reliable textbooks if the State Board process doesn't produce them. Still, it is less expensive for the state's school districts to use the textbooks adopted by the politically- and ideologically-charged process, and most do this. In 1995, the Legislature stripped the State Board of its power to force wide-ranging modifications of textbooks to suit their ideological and religious whims, and only allow changes to correct for "factual errors." But even this small allowance was enough for some of the State Board members to try to force their views upon the state's student population, because they have the power to decide what is or isn't a "factual error," irrespective of informed, legitimate scientific and scholarly testimony or objection. Thus, the State Board has the power to compel publishers (by refusing to adopt their textbook unless changes in content are made) to make changes in the scientific content of their books, and publishers have historically complied (since the Texas textbook market is approximately $570 million each year!). The only thing that has prevented the SBOE from achieving even worse ends, from a scientific point of view, is the effort of hundreds of concerned citizens who keep public, press, education, and business attention focused on the Board. Such attention has undoubtedly been the primary brake on the Board's ideological self-indulgence, but even this has not prevented many abuses that occurred just in the past year. This recent record is available in the press clippings posted on this site.
This year, the primary focus will be on the biology books, as it always is when this topic cycles in. Six Biology books have been submitted for adoption, and five Advanced Placement Biology books submitted. The latter books are ones used in colleges and universities all over the country, and are uniformly excellent and non-objectionable. In the early 1980's, 10th grade Biology books had controversial topics (evolution, origin of life, sex, etc.) so watered-down, dumbed-down, and even omitted completely, that the books were almost always a disaster. The biology textbooks that did not self-censor themselves in this way, such as the BSCS books, were never adopted in Texas. Two decades of effort by a few individuals helped to correct this tragedy, but the real impetus for change came when the Texas Legislature instituted the TEKS curriculum and stripped the SBOE of much of its power to censor and remove textbooks. The six biology books submitted now for Biology are far better than those of two decades ago: they are not self-censored and contain adequate coverage of the controversial scientific topics (controversial, of course, only in the minds of religious and political extremists). Because their coverage of evolution is at least adequate (some are superior), the six books have been heavily criticized in the Discovery Institute analysis. However, as I indicated above, the DI analysis is itself scientifically faulty and fraudulent; it consistently misrepresents the four evolutionary topics that it uses as examples and misguidedly finds fault with in the textbooks. Therefore, it is important to defend the six biology books for their coverage of evolution. The resources to do this are presented below.