Getting involved with the Texas SBOE

The Texas State Board of Education is reviewing its high school science curriculum standards this year. The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) are the embodiment of those standards. These standards are important because they have a profound influence on how science is taught in Texas, including impacting textbook content. Because many other states adopt Texas standards and textbooks, TEKS can have a big impact across the country for a number of years. The stakes are high. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that concerned citizens can participate in the review process.

A draft of the TEKS was released on September 22nd and I have reviewed the Biology TEKS. Although I’m not a biologist, I certainly am familiar with how the creationist culture warriors might try to sabotage the standard. While all science TEKS have the suspect phrase, “Science may not answer all questions,” the standard looks pretty good with respect to evolution. There is no taint of the old “strengths and weaknesses” wording that they had slipped in in the past, opening the door for casting doubt on evolution and thus leaving the door ajar for “intelligent Design” pseudoscience that is just religion in a lab coat.

Unfortunately, the SBOE has been stacked with creationist members with a not-so-hidden agenda of sabotaging the teaching of evolution. More recently, the SBOE has appointed a creationist-friendly review committee to review the science TEKS. It’s not clear what mischief will come of these developments, but many science advocates are concerned and watching.

A number of groups have gotten involved by drafting reports, crating petitions, and marshaling concerned citizens. The National Center for Science Education is monitoring these culture war skirmishes from across the nation. The 21st Century Science Coalition is a group of scientists who have weighed in with a petition to the SBOE. The Texas Citizens for Science have monitored the board, specifically the political firing of Science Director Chris Comer. The Texas Freedom Network has done a great job of monitoring the SBOE and organizing citizen actions in response.

Concerned individuals can get involved in a number of ways. If you’re interested in monitoring the situation, signing a petition, or testifying in front of the SBOE on November 19th, TFN can help you. Consider doing all three. These things are serious grassroots activism for the cause of science education. Testifying may sound like a lot of work, but it’s a great experience that will allow you to express your perspective as a taxpayer and as a Texan. Usually testimonies are just a few minutes—just long enough to make a point or two. You’ll be doing it along side other concerned activists who will be there with you making a difference.
It is also possible to review the TEKS standards online and submit comments directly to the board. This is another great way to participate. To do this, go to the Science TEKS page and read the relevant portion of the “High School science” TEKS. You will then get the “High School Courses” form and fill in your comments. There are multiple ways of submitting the form. You will submit one form for each science course TEKS you would like to respond to. If you do this, please remember to follow the instructions and make your comments relate to specific sections of the TEKS. Be assertive, but polite.

The ACA would like to encourage all people interested in the quality of science education to participate in this important process for the betterment of our country and our futures or consider donating to these groups that are making a difference.

(See also Martin’s earlier blog post on the hearing.)

The heat is on Dunbar

Cynthia Dunbar took a pounding today on the editorial pages of the usually staid Austin-American Statesman, in a blistering piece that rightfully excoriates her as “an embarrassment who has brought heaping amounts of ridicule to this state,” and “a disgrace to public education and an embarrassment to Texas.”

But on top of her utterly asinine remarks about President-elect Obama (which, to the surprise of no one, were published by Brannon Howse’s home for wayward congenital idiots, the Christian Worldview Network), we’ve been concerned about her ilk for a long time. She is one of the fundamentalist faction on the State Board of Education, and is responsible for putting two fellow idiots from the Discovery Institute in positions of authority to “review” science education standards for the state. A purer example of putting foxes in charge of the henhouse you could not find.

Stephen Meyer’s and Ralph Seelke’s appointments also carry the taint of conflict of interest, as they are authors of the Discotute’s new anti-evolution “textbook,” Exploring Evolution. This is the book intended to replace Of Pandas and People. It has bleached its pages of anything that could be considered ID-promoting lawsuit bait, but still repeats the same bogus claims about evolution the DI has always been making. And Dunbar has been instrumental in machinating this latest assault on science education. As the Statesman editorial also notes, Dunbar “lists herself as an anatomy teacher but won’t tell even the Texas Education Agency at which school she teaches.” Is it any surprise that ideologues can get elected in a neoconservative political climate and freely lie about their own professional qualifications?

There has to be some way to oust this despicable fool from her position on a board she has no business serving coffee to, let alone serving on. I strongly encourage anyone who can to sign up to speak on the 19th. And send a polite but strongly worded letter (or fax or phone call) to Governor Perry demanding he condemn Dunbar for her anti-Obama remarks. (She will, of course, defend herself by waving the flag of free speech, but as so many neocons don’t realize, free speech includes both your right to say stupid shit, and everyone else’s right to nuke you for it.) Dunbar may be the kind of beyond-the-pale ideologue who blossoms rather than shrinks under the heat of scrutiny. But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t feel the heat all the time. We all should make the loss of this woman’s job our mission.

Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428, Austin, Texas 78711
Phone: (512) 463-2000
Fax: (512) 463-1849

Testify at the SBOE hearings

Yesterday on the TV show I mentioned that as soon as I confirmed the info about signing up to testify at the SBOE hearings, I’d post it here. So here you are.

Despite the defeatist attitude from some people that I criticized heavily yesterday, it is vital that the pro-science contingency deliver a massive turnout of voices. Certainly, McLeroy and the other brain-dead creotards on the board won’t be swayed. But according to the TFN, there are two potential fence-sitters, who have in the past voted with the conservatives, but whose votes are not necessarily assured on this matter. As the TFN says, the fundies have declared open war on science here, and have made the weakening of evolution education a priority. They need to know just how much opposition there is to their idiocy, and they need to hear it from as many of you as can take the 19th of November off. Adjust your schedules accordingly and be there. Like, it’s only the edumacation of a entire generashun that’s at risk here.

Dan McLeroy: stupider than you thought

It’s physically painful to realize that someone this thoroughly idiotic is in charge of the Texas State Board of Education.

If science is limited to only natural explanations but some natural phenomena are actually the result of supernatural causes then science would never be able to discover that truth — not a very good position for science. Defining science to allow for this possibility is just common sense. Science must limit itself to testable explanations not natural explanations. Then the supernaturalist will be just as free as the naturalist to make testable explanations of natural phenomena. The view with the best explanation of the empirical evidence should prevail.

People, that’s thermonuclear stupidity!

Precisely how does McLeroy propose we test for those supernatural causes? Is he implying that supernatural explanations are testable but natural ones are not? How does he propose to differentiate the supernatural from the natural when testing it? Hell, how does he even define the supernatural in any context? Isn’t the word just a sockpuppet for “God”? Of course it is. Seems to me the last sentence of the above quote completely negates all the blather that preceded it, because like it or not, the natural explanations science presents us with are the ones with the best empirical evidence behind them. It’s hardly science’s fault if brainwashed, asstard ideologues like McLeroy just ignore evidence that doesn’t flatter their belief in their sky-fairy-of-choice. (Oops, there I go again trash-talking. I guess I’m due for a Kazim finger-wag.)

McLeroy raises these questions, to appear as if he’s actually intellectually engaged in the issue, but he provides no answers, of course, because he cannot answer. He isn’t interested in explanations for anything, anyway. Life to him is about belief, not knowledge. He’s just looking for a legal strategy, as are all these Liars for Jesus, by which he can shoehorn his religious beliefs into public school classrooms and help throw an entire generation of students back into the 18th century, while the rest of the world barrels along into the 21st. There simply cannot be any limit to the public ridicule these people deserve.

Wednesday science-y goodness in Austin

CFI-Austin, along with Texas Citizens for Science and the UT Section of Integrative Biology, is sponsoring a trio of talks this evening to be held at UT’s Burdine Hall, room 108. I think I had some classes there back in the day. The general theme is “Science Education in Texas,” which, as you may well know, is under a cloud due to the ideological machinations of the arch-conservative State Board of Education and its young-earth-creationist dentist chairman, Dan McLeroy.

Admission is free and it all starts at 6:30. The speakers include the TCS’s own Steve Schafersman, on “How Will Texas Oppose Aggressive, Organized Creationism in Texas?”; Ed Brayton, author of the blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, on the religious roots of ID (there’s also a Dispatches blog meetup for Ed at Stubb’s BBQ Thursday night at 7); and Josh Rosenau, NCSE staffer and author of the blog Thoughts from Kansas, on the evolution of the creationist movement.

I’m going to do my level best to attend. Hope lots of you can too. If you see me there, wave.


Addendum: Well, bummer, you won’t see me there. If any of our readers do attend, please post a report in the comments.

Go get ‘em, Chris!

Chris Comer has sued the Texas Education Agency and its commissioner Robert Scott in federal court, on the grounds that the agency’s idiotic “neutrality” policy as regards “intelligent design” is unconstitutional and that her firing was thus illegal.

The policy was in force even though the federal courts have ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal under U.S. Constitution’s provision preventing government establishment or endorsement of religious beliefs.

“The agency’s ‘neutrality’ policy has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion, and thus violates the Establishment Clause,” the lawsuit said.

Ms. Comer also said in her complaint that she was fired without due process after serving as the state science director for nearly 10 years.

Remember, all Comer did was forward an email announcing the CFI-sponsored lecture Barbara Forrest gave in Austin last November. For this, she was — what’s the word? oh, right — expelled.

Religious Liberty Trumps Sanity in Texas

The Texas State Supreme Court last week ruled that a church member had no right to sue a church for damages inflicted to her in the course of “church activities for which members adhere.” The case involved a 17-year-old girl who happed to be a victim of a “spiritually charged” garage sale preparation in which fellow believers became convinced she was possessed by a demon. She was forcibly restrained and “laid hands on her” in an exorcism for several hours despite her pleading to be set free. Amazingly, she returned to the church at a later date when a similar episode occurred again. Her family sued the church for abuse, false imprisonment, and distress; she suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident among other psychological fallout. An appeals court later lessened the original award of $300,000 to $120,000. A further appeal resulted in the Texas state Supreme Court ruling, which threw out the suit with a 6-3 verdict.

I find this ruling disturbing on many levels. First, there is no such thing as demons. The church members were caught up in a mass hysteria amplified by her non-participation. Courts of law dismissed spectral evidence as valid after the infamous 1662 Salem Witch Trials. The Texas Supreme Court should have been able to discern that demons are nonsense and that the church members got caught up in a mass hysteria for which they bore responsibility. The court seems to be saying that people, in a state of religious frenzy bear no responsibility for their actions.

Next, we’re talking about an underage girl without her parents present. She did not consent to whatever spiritual rape was inflicted on her. What about the idea of the state protecting children from harm? Didn’t the state just remove 400+ children from the FLDS compound because they were in danger of child sexual abuse? Perhaps this is not an equal comparison as the FLDS kids were brainwashed from birth. Presumably, the victim in this case had “chosen” by her free will to be part of the religious proceedings. She’s under age, however and cannot consent to being abused. The state got it wrong on this account, too. Perhaps cults should adopt a “safe word” concept so that people can escape when they’re not feeling the ecstasy that everyone else is feeling: “Darwin!” “Dawkins!” “Bertand Russell! God damn it! Let me go, you psychotic Jesoids!”

Seriously, though, the most disturbing part of the ruling is the Texas State Supreme Court placing “religious liberty” of a mob above the safety and liberty of an individual victim. Writing for the majority, Justice David Madina wrote, “Religious practices that might offend the rights or sensibilities of a non-believer outside the church are entitled to greater latitude when applied to an adherent within the church.” Is US and Texas law null and void in a church? Do they get to do anything they want as long as they can “justify” their position based on the Bible, which is nothing more than a Rorschach test for the morally challenged? It seems in Texas, that is the case. Send those FLDS kids back! The State has no claim against their cult. While we’re at it, let’s drop any case against the Catholic Church. Surely, they can think of some Biblical justification for molesting boys. They’re “adherents within the church,” right?

Finally, how exactly does the court decide who is an adherent? Is the court privy to some sort of mind reading device where they can decide who believes what? Isn’t one’s mere presence in a church is enough to be labeled an “adherent”? After all, Christians are famous for making up stories about non-believers having death bed conversions. Why not make up a story that someone who happened by a church “converted” to that church’s theology? I submit that sane people would be better off staying out of places and situations where they can be thought to be endorsing a particular religion. The Texas Supreme Court just gave us one more big reason not to support churches, or even darken their door.

Can I just be the 5 millionth person to say, “Eeewwww!”

Possummomma, being a parent, has quite a lot to say about this:

I know I haven’t commented much on the recent FLDS raid or its subsequent fallout, particularly as it’s practically a local occurrence. Mainly, my reaction was just to shake my head. It now appears that the state was completely punk’d, at least as far as that original phone call that led to the raid, now widely considered a hoax, is concerned. And the state’s draconian approach to its raid — simply to swoop down and haul everybody off without much at all in the way of a preliminary investigation — has led to its humiliation following the court’s recent ruling that the raid was just all kinds of wrong.

On the other hand, what clearer evidence do you need that pedophiliac sickness was part of these people’s standard operating procedure than the above photographs, showing übercreep Warren Jeffs smooching one of his child brides? I mean, it just makes you ill to look at it.

Something clearly has to be done to put the kibosh on these little cults that victimize children — as yes, you can call what you do “spiritual marriage” all you like, but all you’ve done is concoct a spiffy metaphor for “rape” — and shield themselves from repercussions by saying “But it’s our religion!” But the state’s raid wasn’t the right one. And you just know the FLDS will simply see this as a vindication of their way of life in opposition to the Satanic government that seeks to oppress and criminalize them. What to do?

Oh noes! Big Science iz in ur Skool Bored, bashin ur Yung Erf Creashunists

Why oh why do they hate the Ceiling Cat so much? In what will doubtless be trumpeted as more suppression of “free speech” by Dr. Evil and the Nazi Darwinist Stormtroopers of “Big Science,” the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board took a big fat sanity pill and unanimously denied the request of the Institute for Creation Research to be granted certification to offer a master’s degree program in science education in Texas.

The reason is, of course, obvious. Young Earth Creationism is in about as complete a state of opposition to actual science as the movies of Pauly Shore are to actual comedy. There is just a contingent of ideologues among the Christian faithful who simply cannot comprehend that it is not the purpose of science to validate preconceived religious beliefs, however precious those beliefs are to those who hold them. And in their bleating over the supposed denial of any “free exchange of ideas” in an academic setting, they are, of course, failing to make another meaningful distinction: free speech and free inquiry are not synonyms for “you get to teach whatever you want, even if it’s false, if enough people believe it.” Each person is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs; what you are not entitled to are your own facts.

But at least the creationists can take some cold comfort in the fact they aren’t the only ones being oppressed by the dogmatic, iron fist of “Big Science”!