President, Texas Citizens for Science
Texas State Board of Education Textbook Adoption Hearing
July 9, 2003 Austin, Texas
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today about textbook adoption in Texas. I am a Texas university science educator who has participated in the textbook adoption process many times in past, during 1983-1994. A few of you long-serving members here today may remember me. Truthfully, I thought things were going well in Texas: our students have a good science curriculum in the Texas Essentials of Knowledge and Skills, the publishers make sure their textbooks destined for Texas meet the TEKS requirements, we have proper educational accountability now that the state has the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams for promotion and graduation, and this Board can reject and edit textbooks only if they contain "factual errors" that the publishers refuse to correct. So what is the problem? Why am I here today?
The problem is that this Board has rejected many perfectly good science textbooks in recent years because they contain passages that some of you think contain factual errors when they actually do not. This happened, for example, with the environmental science books last year. The reason you thought that the books contained errors is apparently due to your personal ideological beliefs, both political and religious. May I respectfully suggest that when you review science textbooks, you use your power to reject and modify textbook content wisely, with a full and competent knowledge of the methods and principles of science, and especially to exercise your responsibility to make sure you know what is science fact and what is science fiction.
Let's turn to the biology textbooks that we have before us today. I have examined all eleven of them thoroughly, primarily looking at their treatment of evolution, origin of species, origin of life, and age of the Earth. I first checked to make sure that the authors and publishers didn't self-censor any scientific content, and I am happy to report that they did not. In fact, the TEKS requirements would not allow them to do this. The five advanced placement biology textbooks are all completely unobjectionable; they are used in colleges and universities throughout the entire United States, and they are uniformly excellent. I have used two of them myself in university biology courses I taught. The six high school biology texts are also very good; their treatment of evolution and the other subjects is adequate to superior. They also all encourage critical thinking and have plenty of information that allows students to "analyze, review, and critique scientific explanations . . . using scientific evidence and information." All met the TEKS requirements in my study.
I was going to spend the rest of my three minutes this afternoon detailing how well the different books covered the topic of evolution, since there some differences, but I must address another issue. All the biology texts are factually accurate and free of errors concerning evolution; the books do not misrepresent any details of the modern scientific understanding of evolution, nor do they omit scientific information critical of evolution, because there isn't any such information, contrary to what you have been led to believe. I am aware that the Discovery Institute, a creationist organization out of Seattle, Washington, has become involved in the Texas education process just as they did recently in Kansas and Ohio. They have prepared written testimony about the books submitted here and apparently deputized a member of a Texas creationist organization, Probe Ministries, to speak on their behalf. Both Kansas and Ohio ultimately rejected the claims of the Discovery Institute, and I am confident that the same will happen in Texas.
The Discovery Institute written testimony, "A Preliminary Analysis of the Treatment of Evolution in Biology Textbooks," was totally derived from the book Icons of Evolution by creationist Jonathan Wells. Both this "Analysis" and the book misrepresent the history and modern theory of evolution, and try to confuse the reader about science fact by presenting science fiction in their discussion of four illustrations of how evolution works (Miller-Urey experiment, Cambrian explosion, Haeckel's vertebrate embryo illustrations, and peppered moths). Time does not permit me to explain in detail why the Discovery Institute testimony and book are misguided, deceptive, and indeed even fraudulent, but I will state that they were written--as creationist literature often is--to be superficially persuasive to non-scientist readers who lack a firm understanding of evolutionary science. Such readers are often convinced because they are unaware of the specious arguments, deliberate omission of relevant information, and ignored complexities of the subject. All of these issues are thoroughly spelled out in the dozens of reviews of Icons of Evolution by legitimate scientists, and by my analysis of the Discovery Institute written testimony. These items can be found on the Texas Citizens for Science website, which I sincerely hope you will visit to access the information necessary to avail yourself of reliable knowledge. In brief, the submitted biology books all use the four illustrations of biological evolution accurately and without "factual error." In particular, they show the "strengths" of evolution and are not "weaknesses." The TEKS 3(A) rule requires the inclusion of scientific weaknesses only if in fact they exist. There is no scientific controversy about the fact of evolution and thus no scientific weaknesses concerning its occurrence. There are also no weaknesses about the theory of evolution at the level it is presented in these textbooks. Disagreements and controversies ("weaknesses") concerning evolutionary theory are found at the frontiers of research and graduate education, not at the level of introductory biology textbooks.
Please remember your responsibility to judge scientific textbooks fairly and competently, by relying on the advice of scientists and science educators such as myself, and not on the claims of anti-evolutionists and pseudoscientists such as the authors of the Discovery Institute submission. If you plan to modify the biology textbooks by requiring the authors and publishers to remove or change scientifically-accurate material about evolution, or add pseudoscientific content to give the books a false veneer of being able to "critique scientific explanations," then please remember that "The eyes of Texas are upon you" and "You cannot get away" . . . with it. Any action on your part to misrepresent science by using your power to compel publishers to change the factual science content of biology textbooks is censorship, and will receive national attention and notoriety. I sincerely hope that this doesn't happen, but whether it does or not depends on you.
Thank you very much.
Dr. Steven Schafersman is an evolutionary scientist who for over two decades has taught biology, geology, paleontology, and environmental science at the University of Houston, Houston Community College, Miami University of Ohio, and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He has also taught chemistry and biology in several Permian Basin high schools. He earned his Ph.D. from Rice University in 1983 for research on the evolution of fossil marine zooplankton. He founded and was president of the Texas Council for Science Education during 1982-1994, when he helped to improve the quality and integrity of biology and geology textbooks and curricula in Texas. He founded the Texas Citizens for Science in early 2003 to meet the new threats to science education in Texas. Texas Citizens for Science website is at www.txscience.org.