Texas textbook reviewers challenge evolution, climate change

Terrible Lizard! (Brian Choo - AP) (Brian Choo – AP)

Here we go again. In Texas, a new battle over curriculum is underway, this time between people who believe in science and people who don’t.

A few years there was a scandal when conservative officials in the Lone Star State changed the social studies curriculum in a way that many said distorted history. Last year, it became news when the Texas Republican Party included in its political platform a statement saying that opposed the teaching of “higher order thinking skills” because such instruction challenges a student’s “fixed beliefs” and undermines “parental authority.” After being publicly ridiculed, a party spokesman said it was all a big mistake.

Now, a new episode has begun. Right-wing conservatives on state teams that are reviewing new science textbooks made ideological challenges to the material in works from at least seven different publishers, including about the way evolution and climate change are handled. According to documents obtained by the nonprofit Texas Freedom Network,  some reviewers made the following challenges:

  • called for the inclusion of “‘creation science’ based on Biblical principles”

  • asserted that “no transitional fossils have been discovered”

  • insisted that there is no evidence for a human influence on the carbon cycle

  • claimed that there is no evidence about the effect of climate change on species diversity

  • promoted a book touting “intelligent design” creationism as a reliable source of scientific information

  • denied that recombination and genetic drift are evolutionary mechanisms

  • mischaracterized experiments on the peppered moth as “discredited” and as “fabrication[s]”

 

You can see the documents here, and a sample of reviewers’ comments here. For example, in a review of textbooks from publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Scientific Minds, for example, one member of the review team wrote:

I understand the National Academy of Science’s [sic] strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that ‘creation science’ based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.

 

In a review of publisher Glencoe/McGraw-Hill’s textbook, a reviewer objected to a passage on fossil evidence for evolution:

Text neglects to tell students that no transitional fossils have been discovered. The fossil record can be interpreted in other ways than evolutionary with equal justification. Text should ask students to analyze and compare alternative theories. The statement that there are hundreds of thousands of transitional fossils is simply not true. Moreover, those fossils that are considered transitional are often subjects of disagreement among biologists.

 

The National Academy of Sciencesbegs to disagree, saying in this piece that “the claim that the fossil record is ‘full of gaps’ that undermine evolution is simply false.”

Why does it matter what the review teams decide? Because the failure of a publisher to receive a top rating from the panel complicates efforts to sell the textbooks to school districts. Furthermore, the state Board of Education may decide to reject the textbook. It was members of this board who selected the people on the review panels, including the evolution and climate change deniers, the Texas Freedom Network noted.

Right now publishers and reviewers are negotiating changes in the material that will be in new textbooks, but, unfortunately, the Texas Education Agency can’t release documents about any changes before Sept., 17, when there is a public hearing scheduled on the issue. State officials will decide which textbooks to approve in November.  Stay tuned.

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · September 11, 2013

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