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Sep 16 2013

Texas Textbook Reviewer Slams Review Process

Jimmy Gollihar, a PhD candidate at the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology at the University of Texas and one of the people picked to review science textbooks for the Texas State Board of Education, has written a letter to the SBOE complaining, accurately, that the entire process is absurd. Like the fact that so many of the people reviewing the books had no science training at all:

First, it would seem that the selection process for reviewers is lacking, at best — politically motivated at worst. Coming into the live review session in Austin, I fully expected that as a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin I would be the least-qualified member on the panel. My fears of inadequacy would soon subside; it seems that I was in fact one of only two practicing scientists present; indeed, I was among a small minority of panelists that possessed any post-secondary education in the biological sciences. Given the high interest amongst the scientific community in improving science education in Texas, I doubt that the make-up of the panel reflected the application pool in any way.

In fact, I know that several of my colleagues who hold PhD or equivalent degrees in their respective fields were passed over in the selection process. Instead, we had several well-known creationists and even a Fellow of the Discovery Institute, an Intelligent Design think tank. Beyond the established creationists, apologists for “creation science” were scattered throughout each of the review teams. This does not in any way reflect the distribution of viewpoints within the scientific community. It is impossible to conclude that the teams reviewing textbooks were anything other than grossly skewed and obviously biased.

The net result of having a huge raft of non-scientists on the panels was that rather than checking for factual errors in the texts I was put into the position of having to painstakingly educate other panel members on past and current literature. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a reviewer from another table, who is also a well-known creationist without any training in biology, was quite proud that he was the one reviewing the sections on evolution for his table … with no scientific counterpoint to be had. As a result, even beyond the obviously ideologically-derived comments on the materials many of the comments found littered throughout those reviews make no sense whatsoever from a scientific viewpoint and are absolutely not germane to the content prescribed in the TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills].

He also complained about actions taken by the chairman of the SBOE, creationist Barbara Cargill, saying that she was “clearly trying to steer the independent review process by providing specific guidance and direction” to the creationist reviewers. And he ended with a plea to let the experts be experts:

Finally, I have recently been made aware that a reviewer from another team made what appears to be a grossly misrepresentative comment to the publisher. For example, in the review of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt textbook, an incredible resource, a panel member comments:

I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator and parent, I feel very strongly that “creation science” based on Biblical principles should be incorporated to every Biology book that is up for adoption. It is very important for students to use critical thinking skills and give them the opportunity to weigh the evidence between evolution and “creation science.”

This is disturbing for a number of reasons. The author of this comment has obviously not mastered the material contained within the TEKS, especially 2C. With such a gross misunderstanding of science, it is hard to fathom that any other comments the reviewer made would have been helpful or even accurate, and it further underscores the unfortunate skewing of the panels away from real, practicing scientists. Moreover, while I entered into this process hoping to improve it, I now find that my name appears on the final document containing this comment! At no time did I ever sign anything resembling such nonsense. In fact, the author of that comment and I never worked on anything together. I do not know how this inaccurate statement and my name have been paired, but because I am a professional in good standing I strongly ask you to please remove my name from anything that does not have my direct signature when providing materials to the public. To do otherwise is to potentially sully my reputation. In sum, the review process is either broken or corrupt.

In hopes of the former, let’s learn from this and ensure that the next generation of students from our state is equipped with a solid foundation in the biological sciences and can compete globally. Future panel members should be experts in the irrespective fields, preferably practicing scientists up to date on the modern information that students need. If necessary, it might be useful to partition the TEKS to academics and professionals who deal with these topics in their work and research. We should absolutely not see network, mechanical or chemical engineers, dieticians or others making decisions or pressuring publishers to change books on biology. Let biologists do biology. We’re actually pretty good at it.

But remember, the creationist reviewers and board members think that all these scientists are part of a huge conspiracy to destroy God. That’s why they have to denigrate scientific training and put non-scientists on these committees. Imagine if the state decided to appoint a bunch of auto mechanics and ministers to the medical review board that granted medical licenses and accredited med school curricula. Everyone would immediately see that as appalling and idiotic. It is no less so here. Designing a biology curriculum should be done by biologists, not mechanics and ministers.

19 comments

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  1. 1
    Trebuchet

    Like the fact that so many of the people reviewing the books had no science training at all:

    But neither do the students, so it’s all good! Besides, Goddidit.

  2. 2
    Modusoperandi

    Our children are too important to trust to the experts.

  3. 3
    Mr Ed

    Imagine if the state decided to appoint a bunch of auto mechanics and ministers to the medical review board that granted medical licenses and accredited med school curricula.

    I think this is how Texas got its restrictions safety standards for abortion clinics.

    Nice letter but it is rather obvious that conservative Christians have figured out that the only way to get the next generation of conservative Christians is willful ignorance.

  4. 4
    Gregory in Seattle

    Is it any wonder that US students fall so abysmally low on global test scores?

  5. 5
    John Pieret

    As Don McLeroy would say, someone has to stand up to the experts … and who better than network, mechanical or chemical engineers and dieticians? Oh, and dentists.

  6. 6
    eric

    I look forward to the day when electronic publishing and the ability to tailor such books relatively cheaply and easily means that Texas’ textbook problems are no longer the US’ textbook problems. Yes, I’ll still be upset about the educational damage these idiots are doing to Texas kids. They should still be fought, and I’ll still support TFN. But at least the damage will be contained, and the school districts that want solid textbooks will not have to pay a price for Texas’ idiocy.

    And, frankly, I’m optimistic that the ability to do such tuning may actually help the overall quality. The reason the DI and other such organizations spend time and money to involve themselves in local Tx BOE politics is because they know of the undue influence Texas has on textbooks sold nationally. Strip away Texas’ ability to influence what goes into a book sold in the other 49 states, and suddently the ROI for interfering goes way down. It will then be an (albeit still uphill) battle of local creationists vs. local mainstreamers, rathre than a fight of national creationists vs. local maintreamers.

  7. 7
    Raging Bee

    You fools at FTB really need to get a grip on your adware. Just looking up your main page caused my browser to freeze and close FOUR TIMES in ten minutes. And that’s not counting the increasing number of pop-under ads that my company’s nannyware blocks as “unsafe” or “inappropriate.” Don’t you people have ANY control over what sort of crap your advertizers dump on your site? Or are you so desperate for ad revenue that you no longer have the ability to impose even the most minimal standards on your paid advertizers?

  8. 8
    eric

    @4:

    Is it any wonder that US students fall so abysmally low on global test scores?

    TFN and others could do some highly amusing (if snide) commercials on this theme. “The Texas BOE: helping Califoria seniors get into college for the past 20 years.” “As we all know, Louisiana is still suffering the ecomomic effects of Hurricane Katrina.The people of New Orleans would like to thank the Texas BOE for contributing to our economic recovery, by helping coporations and business decide to locate here, instead of there.” Etc.

  9. 9
    chilidog99

    I wonder if they refuse or ignore his request to remove his name if he would have grounds for a lawsuit.

  10. 10
    MarcusC

    @Raging Bee. You may want to try some basic maintenance on your computer. I’ve never had a problem with the FTB site on any of the 3 computers I generally use, and I’m sure if there was a systemic problem we’d be seeing more complaints. While the pop-under ad is mildly annoying there is only one and it only loads the first time you click something. You could use software to block it, although personally I don’t as I like the sites I visit to get their full ad revenue. I’d suggest clearing your browser cache as a minimum, that will often fix issues like browser lock ups or laggy pages.

  11. 11
    chilidog99

    My son is a freshman in high school taking an AP biology course.
    They spent the first three weeks learning the fundamental concepts of scientific method, including different ways to evaluate data.

    According to my son, the teacher spent an entire class period delineating the difference between science and belief in god and how god was not part of the process of scientific method.

  12. 12
    zero6ix

    It is very important for students to use critical thinking skills and give them the opportunity to weigh the evidence between evolution and “creation science.”

    And when they do, they’ll realize that there is no evidence for “creation science”, and that the term itself is an incredible misnomer. Then all those texan parents will complain that their precious children have been corrupted by libruls, and change the books again. A perfect circle of ignorance.

  13. 13
    d.c.wilson

    Imagine if the state decided to appoint a bunch of auto mechanics and ministers to the medical review board that granted medical licenses and accredited med school curricula. Everyone would immediately see that as appalling and idiotic.

    Don’t give them any ideas! Or we’ll have to deal with licensed faith healers soon.

    Texas: Bringing the national average down for over 150 years.

  14. 14
    Larry

    Texas: Bringing the national average down for over 150 years.

    Texas: proudly serving as the textbook definition for ignorant crackers since 1845

  15. 15
    kantalope

    Scientists are just so darn cute. Thinking that science books in texas are about learning – it, it is just precious. I just hope the methods used for drawing congressional districts doesn’t come up. The radiation from the bursting bubble will be seen on omicron persei 8.

  16. 16
    Artor

    Raging Bee, I’ve lost count of how many times this issue has come up, and the answer is always; No, Ed doesn’t have any control over the ads on this site. If you don’t like it, then download and install AdBlocker. It’s free, it works, and you have no excuse for throwing a tizzy fit. Download it now or STFU. I did it a few months ago, and I haven’t seen a single ad here since.

    Ed, sorry if I’m shorting you on ad revenue, but yeah, some of the ads here do really suck. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution.

  17. 17
    exdrone

    chilidog @11,
    Your son is now over-qualified to be on the Texas SBOE science textbook review committee.

  18. 18
    timberwoof

    Why don’t universities weigh in on this? When Kansas pulled its little stunt a few years ago, universities all around the country threatened to not honor Kansas high school diplomas. That worked.

    As for ads, if I see one that’s inappropriate because of religion or politics, I click on it. I figure it costs them while bringing money to FTB.

  19. 19
    magistramarla

    About eight years ago, when my daughter took a biology course at our local Texas university, on the first day of class the professor said “Evolution. It happened. Get over it.” A few students got up and walked out.
    My daughter and others in the class gave him a standing ovation.
    I hope that the professors in this state are still fighting the good fight.

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