Texas is doing OK

The latest news: in a vote on whether to keep the silly “strengths and weaknesses” phrasing in the Texas state science standards, the forces of light on the board of education have defeated the goblins of the darkness by a one vote margin. There are more votes to come, though, so the battle isn’t over yet.


  1. LisaJ says

    That’s great! I’m actually quite impressed. I’m just choosing to ignore the pitiful ‘by a one vote margin’ detail.

  2. ggab says

    Final vote tomorrow.
    I’ll be nervous until then.
    Tried to listen to some of the testimony last night.
    It was painful.

  3. Janine, Leftist Bozo says

    It is not just Texas that has to be concerned by this. Because Texas has a huge impact on the textbooks used in the US, the ripples will hit throughout the country.

  4. Ben says

    Plus, some ugly stuff slid through. The following are from Texas Freedom Network’s live blogging of the hearing:

    4:32 – We’re reeling here. McLeroy has launched a broadside against a core concept of evolution — common descent. This is like an army losing a battle (”strengths and weaknesses”) and then launching a nuclear strike.

    4:45 – Good God. It passed. Board members surely don’t understand what they’ve done here. Certainly not all of them. Strengths and weaknesses is out, but McLeroy has succeeded in using the standards to raise doubts about a core concept of biology.

  5. Jadehawk says

    isn’t it frustrating how much fighting and effort is required just to keep from sliding back…?

    I know this is a bit of a random thought, but I was talking to the boyfriend about this (in a different context though): he kept on saying that there’s all this noise about the issue, but that there is no progress, and why are people even bothering. At which point I had to explain that all the noise is necessary to simply keep from regressing, and that’s what made it look like nothing gets accomplished. this war with creationism feels much the same :-(

  6. Newfie says

    Maybe we could get a bunch of secular biblical and historical scholars and some scientists to rewrite their favourite book? With annotations, and up to date information of course. They’d be ok with that, right Don?

  7. schism says

    Seriously, there’s no realistic hope in this fight. Better to declare us a lost cause and focus your energies on places that isn’t a religious right fortress. Eventually, the anti-reality idiots will cause the state to become so ass-backwards that their support will dry up on its own.

    That, or we’ll all starve to death or something equally embarrassing.

  8. dinosmu says

    I’m glad it passed. The real problem isn’t the wording in the education standards, it is the fact the it doesn’t matter what it says the educators will teach what they want. When a high school biology teacher states that they have to teach it because it’s in the book, but they don’t care if you understand it or know it because it is “all fake anyway” and they will never test you over it…then what good is it? My high school bio teacher said that and so did the bio teacher for the high school I tutored at in Dallas ISD, but this is also the district that didn’t fully accept desegregation until 2003!!! My high school in Texas actually gave us the option of studying in the library instead of listening to the lesson on evolution! Until the science educators in Texas understand and are actually willing to teach evolution don’t expect it to really change.

  9. 386sx says

    I guess we have to wait for the smoke to clear to understand what’s really going on. At the end of the day, it will probably be that the cave-men are still running the show in 21st century Texas. Ugh!

  10. says

    Whoo… That was close.

    I can’t believe we’ve got two more years before we can vote those deuteronic dipshits off the SBOE.

  11. Kim says

    Sorry, from what I have read, we won the battle against ONE sentence, but lost on various much more important aspects.

  12. mayhempix says

    Don’t get your hopes up about Texas…
    they welcomed Bush back with open arms.

    “The entire state now stands as proxy for W. Bush, under attack for political reasons, … The rest of the country likes to look down on Texas as a nest of yahoos, racists and rednecks.”

    “Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.”

    – The late great Molly Ivins

    I wish she had been around to see the election of Obama.

  13. Sigmund says

    Since one in eight ‘science’ teachers in the US is a creationist it doesn’t matter what the standards say, they wouldn’t be able to teach it properly if you held a gun to their head. Come to think of it, the one in eight is an average for the US as a whole – imagine what its like in Texas!
    I really don’t understand the point of having these science standards when its obvious that the crappiest science standards will make little difference to a good teacher while the best science standards in the world will never turn a Ray Comfort clone into a proper tutor of biology.
    What you need is a ‘teacher standard’ that results in teachers telling non-scientific falsehoods in science class getting sacked.
    Isn’t science basically a method of determining the truth?
    How on earth can someone teach something they think is a lie and still have the gall to call themselves a science teacher?

  14. says

    I used to be professor in the University of Texas at Austin. Went there in 1992, got tenure and everything but then some day I couldn’t stand it any more and left! I saw Dubya come and go, I saw religious fundamentalists, I saw ku klux klan demonstrations, I even had to suffer for years a colleague’s threats to kill me because he didn’t agree with my version of science. This was a mad guy who, being a bible study person, was not thrown away by the system. However, when at some point he annoyed his texas buddies, he was jailed. He’s now accused of capital murder plots. Oh, Texas, so many stories, so much hype, so much fundamentalism! I’m so glad I’m not there any more!

  15. philosoraptor says

    Fellow pharynguloids:

    We also have to deal with uninformed rightarded idiots clogging up our Canadian blogspace. When they stick to topics that they can *pretend* to know – like how to ruin economies and fail at war – everything is bearable. Every once in a while though, some far-right loon wanders into the evolution debate and lays down a steaming pile.

    It is then that I invite the gang over to rub his nose in it: Welcome to Raging Tory’s nightmare. Please show him a good time, Pharyngula style.

  16. says

    My coverage of the My coverage of The Dallas Morning News Story.

    A 7-7 tie with one Democratic board member absent is some hope, but not a lot, given all the other stuff. The “no common descent” issue, Ben, was also raised by Cargill in discussion of the “strength/weakness” amendment.

  17. says

    Per PZ’s post just previous to this one, it’s clear that SBOE member Barbara Cargill was referencing Graham Lawton in talking about the Tree of Life, and showing her idiocy. (And sorry about the bad editing in my original post.)

  18. Tex says

    I agree with the commenter who said we appear to have won the battle, but lost the war. Depending on how bad the final standards are, I think Biology Departments at Texas universities, should refrain from accepting any high school biology course, including AP courses, for college credit.

  19. BobC says

    Sigmund (#21):

    What you need is a ‘teacher standard’ that results in teachers telling non-scientific falsehoods in science class getting sacked.

    I agree these bad science teachers need to be fired, and they should be fired immediately. The best science standards in the world are worthless if the teacher is a creationist hick.

    Is anything being done about this incompetent science teacher problem? I think the problem is being ignored. Meanwhile, thousands of students are being cheated.

  20. Caymen Paolo Diceda says

    Most science teachers are very dedicated, but some are simply not equipped with the background to teach up-to-date science. I’m sure they would if they could and I’m also sure that most of those who lack the background would learn it by school and training.

    However in this country “you get what you pay for” and “we pay for what we value.” That has historically not been teachers and supporting them at a decent wage, or funding school programs such that they are not so overworked and have the energy to learn what’s new.

    “We pay for what we value!” It is so sad that we mouth support for S&T education … and the dire necessity of S&T educated kids who will eventually pull us out of our economic trouble. But we can’t come to actually pay for it. However we can pay for sports figures and captains of industry.

    I know … teachers are hired locally and paid with local tax monies. And local communities never have any money. Maybe it’s time to manage education nationally with national budgets?

    That might also eliminate local stupidities like this Texas thing. After all, Texas supplies kids to a national market. They have a responsibility to provide the country with quality, not ignorance.

  21. says

    I attended the meeting today and am one of the co-creators of TeachThemScience.org

    #### TEXAS IS **NOT** DOING OKAY ####

    Ed was reporting on a news report. Newspapers didn’t understand what was happening. I gave Ed an update from the hearing, so expect an update on his blog soon. Creationists did not succeed in inserting the word “weaknesses” — though they tried — so they inserted some of the actual “weaknesses” themselves.

    The chair of the SBOE managed to slip in a particular testable standard requiring that students learn the evidence for and against common descent. He spent 15-20 minutes quote mining evolutionary biologists to convince the SBOE that his addition was acceptable.

    There are 8 pro-science SBOE members and 7 anti-science ones. McLeroy only managed to slip this in because the pro-science people were not briefed on this particular creationist strategy beforehand.

    Many other smaller anti-science changes were also added, including one in Earth and Space Sciences requiring students to look at “arguments for and against universal common descent.” Look for more information soon. I don’t know whether any of this can be reversed tomorrow (Friday).

  22. Rat Bastard says

    Hm. Well, let me posit a suggestion as to why there are so many religitards here in the ol’ US of A. Recall that the founding fathers purposely intended to divorce government and religion- since a large majority of the original settlers were of some bluenose persecuted minority or other to start with. Never mind that they performed the same persecutatory behavior to incoming persecuted religious individuals. I’d expect that the enlightened founded fathers wer trying to evade that whole problem, but the end resultant is a lot of immigrants, EVEN TODAY, are PREFERRED for their religious refugee status. We are welcoming the crazies into our country! They’ll settle in and start asking/demanding footwash facilities anywhere they go, for example, and cry to the US Supreme Court until they get it… and they will. And we’ll stand around pushing religious tolerance (while the other “persecuted” bring on the torches).

    Until adult people (atheists) STOP letting the children (religious) get away with smashing the dishes while washing them (i.e., growing up and taking ownership) it isn’t going to get any better.

  23. logoseph says

    I’m a Texas high school student, but I go to a great private school. I’m just really glad and thank my parents (not God) for sending me somewhere where our science teachers take a little time to address such issues. I’m in chemistry now, and our teacher taught the students the actual chemistry and reality of alcohol without trying to scare us off of it, gives us the facts on climate change, and is even part of a board of religious science teachers (she’s an Elder at a local Presbyterian church) against ID/creationism. She’s a perfect example of a rational scientist with a personal faith that stays far away from her work. Also, she can see into the ultraviolet spectrum.

  24. Aquaria says

    Things are most definitely not OK in TX.

    Don’t let one piddly vote fool you.

    Don’t even think that what the state standards “say” will equal what science teachers “do.”

    About 30% of our teachers are damned good, smart, great with students.

    Another 30% mean well but they’re not too bright.

    The remainder are god-bots so ignorant and/or malevolent that they need to be locked up.

  25. Caymen Paolo Diceda says

    logoseph – thank you for your post. One of our defenses against creationist/ID non-sense is critical thinking students. In the end that’s what this is all about. Who really cares what the ID people think so long as they don’t damage the critical thinking skills of the next generation. Natural selection, huh?

  26. Bacopa says

    Things were not always thus in Texas. I got a pretty good evolution unit in a HUGE suburban district that prided itself on good science education. From what I can tell, things are still pretty good there over 20 years later HISD is even better if you go to one of the “good” schools like Bellaire or Lamar, or any of the Magnet programs, especially De Bakey and Booker T Washington. What are our major industries? Oil and petrochemicals, medicine and biotech, and aerospace. Shell, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Chevron, Marathon Oil, and all the hospitals of the Texas Medical Center have programs in place to help area schools teach REAL science.

    My only hope is that the oil companies throw some money into the next SBOE elections. Shell, Agip, and BP are the most likely to do so as they take a more international view.

  27. says

    So if the Discovery Institute is all hot for including “strengths and weaknesses”, and the vote went against them, why did Dr. John West issue a press release saying it’s good news? The Disco ball must be spinning wildly. The release says:

    “The Texas Board of Education took one step back and two steps forward today,” said Dr. John West of the Discovery Institute. “While we wish they would have retained the strengths and weaknesses language in the overall standards, they did something truly remarkable today. They voted to require students to analyze and evaluate some of the most important and controversial aspects of modern evolutionary theory such as the fossil record, universal common descent and even natural selection.”

  28. BobC says

    I wonder if there’s a better way of writing science standards instead of letting a bunch of uneducated hicks vote for which scientific facts they like or don’t like.

  29. Arabiflora says

    I apologize if this is noted up-thread, but a sentence from the NYTimes report just has to be debunked and the paper nees to be held to account:

    “…Dr. McLeroy has said he does not believe in Darwin’s theory and thinks that Earth’s appearance is a recent geologic event, thousands of years old, not 4.5 billion as scientists contend….”


    I’m sorry, but I’m in the science biz, and I couldn’t give a fat rat’s ass about what scientists CONTEND except to the extent that the data may or may not support those contentions. Surely a better phrasing might have been

    “… not 4.5 billion, AS ALL SCIENTIFIC DATA INDICATE”

  30. Anglagard says

    I address this to those who gladly left Texas due to an obvious anti-intellectual climate in many instances. I would like to feel I understand and emphasize with your frustration.

    As for me, I will remain here in West Texas in the “belly of the beast” not 40 miles from where Bush first landed to the applause of his sycophants in order to take the fight to the enemy on their own turf.

    By the fight I mean using all the influence I may have as a professional librarian, “by any means necessary” be it appeals to critical thinking, the patriotism involved in supporting religious freedom for all including atheists, the truth that the average scientist has done more to feed the poor and heal the sick than any megalomaniac TV preacher, or in short, the truth over self serving yet monetarily lucrative (for an extremist minority) lies.

    Perhaps the day may come when it wears me out as well but in the meantime I intend to keep up the good fight because if we lose in Texas it will be bad for everyone, man, woman, child, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, etc., no preference, and atheist.

    May self-imposed medieval serfdom be beaten back to where it belongs, in the history books.

  31. melior says

    Takis Konstantopoulos @ 22:

    I used to be professor in the University of Texas at Austin.

    Oh, Texas, so many stories, so much hype, so much fundamentalism! I’m so glad I’m not there any more!

    I once took one of your classes during grad school, and I’m sorry UT lost a good professor. I understand how you feel though, and hope Scotland is treating you well.

    I see signs we’re slowly winning the fight here, though. Support for Obama is running high in state polls (I saw one at 62% last week), and the state GOP is eating itself with its own hatred.

  32. says

    Melior at #41: I agree totally with that article to which you linked.

    The GOP, if it is to have any chance of electoral recovery, needs to return to focusing on the values of small, limited government and individual freedom, which have been largely abandoned during the past eight years. Pursuing a narrow Christian conservative agenda, hostile to those with different beliefs, is going to turn it into a small, unelectable, extremist faction.

    Lots of people don’t like the big-government statist mentality of the Democrats; but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to put up with loony policies, motivated by a narrow sectarian religious view, from the GOP.

  33. Jeanette Garcia says

    Sorry, but I wouldn’t be unhappy if Texas slid off into the Gulf of Mexico and kept traveling on down to the Antarctic. The feasibility of this being able to occur began to take shape in my mind while listening to 1 and 1/2 hours of these hearings.

  34. marc buhler says

    Jeanette Garcia (#43)…..

    While that would not make you unhappy, think how *I* would feel, having arrived in the safe harbour of Sydney almost three decades ago. The *last* thing we need is the State of Texas to come floating down this way (especially with the recently-defeated bush infestation it would carry). The aussies have a lot to answer for having sent Ken Ham north, but sending Texas this way is serious overkill in return.

  35. says


    Thanks for your good words. I’m sorry, too, that there was hardly any recognition for my efforts at UT.

    As for Obama, I did vote for him too. And I know there were a few pockets of Texas which were not all for the GOP, Austin being one of them. Thanks for the link.

  36. IAmMarauder says

    Even though I am not a US citizen (or even live in the US), I hope Texas does the right thing. There is something to be said for teaching kids the current scientific thinking.

    Interestingly though, this thread seems to be absent of any argument while there is a bit of a scuffle starting over at the Bad Astronomy blog… Is it possible that PZ and his cyberpistol are scaring people away?

  37. JBlilie says

    “the battle isn’t over yet”

    Unfortunately, I don’t think it will ever be over. These people will never give up, they are true-believers. For them, the fate of their “souls for all eternity” hangs on this. When one person’s “happiness in heaven for eternity” is compared to ANYTHING evil that must be performed in order for this “eternal happiness” to follow, then the “eternal happiness” will always win the cost-benefit analysis. It can be used to justify more or less anything.

    This is small potatoes compared to witch-burning and crusades.

  38. DebinOz says

    A teacher aquaintance of mine in Houston reports that the school was not allowed to watch Obama’s speech, because the head teacher didn’t agree with some things in it.

    Spare me.

  39. Ben says

    Cut and pasted from the Austin American-Statesman.

    Conan O’Brien weighed in on the debate last night: “Members of the Texas public school board are debating just how evolution should be treated in science class. For instance, should they call it ‘the theory of evolution’ or ‘the lie that makes God cry.’”

  40. Caymen Paolo Diceda says

    Jblilie, I suspect you’re right. Much as it is good sport and lots of fun to tweak their noses, there’s much more at stake here. They will never give up as they have insulated themselves from logical thinking about the issues. In their minds (I believe) faith trumps all — period, end of discussion, so there’s little chance of ever persuading them to see things differently. Their reasoning is circular and there’s no way in.

    In the end, the goal is to prevent them from stopping progress in important social matters and prevent them from turning off inquisitive minds with promises of magic. So the actions of those above who are actually attending hearings like this and working local issues are very important.

    It’s however, gratifying to see that there are critical thinking students who have come through current culture despite the efforts of the ID/creation crowd. This is one consolation. Kids are not stupid.

  41. Desert Son says

    mayhempix at #20:

    Don’t get your hopes up about Texas…
    they welcomed Bush back with open arms.

    As a Texas resident, let me say, small price to pay. He’s out of office, new President’s talking about returning science to its proper place, the battle for legitimate education continues in Texas (as elsewhere), etc.

    Bush back in Texas? Honestly? Who cares? The sooner the nation stops paying him any more attention than history will alot him his proper place among the poorest examples of President of the United States, the better.

    In the meantime, Texas, as you observe correctly, still has a long way to go. Forget Bush back here. The real ordeal is in the school board, and in the minds of future generations.

    No kings,


  42. Ray Ladbury says

    I keep wondering: Isn’t there some way we could find a loophole in the Treat of Appomattox and let these folks go back to the pre-Enlightenment “civilization” they so desperately want?

  43. says

    I keep wondering: Isn’t there some way we could find a loophole in the Treat of Appomattox and let these folks go back to the pre-Enlightenment “civilization” they so desperately want?

    Wait!! You mean everyone in Texas is an assbackwards hick who wants creationism taught?

  44. abb3w says

    Before talking about “limitations” in science, you need to learn how to distinguish between limits for a Theory, limits in what Evidence we have, and limits of the philosophy of Science. The last often requires understanding the difference between primary assumptions and inferences which rest on other premises.

    Similarly, “strengths/weaknesses” for a hypothesis must be expressed relative to an alternative hypothesis, and that must be done mathematically. A fair bit of the math involved in Evolution is considered college-level already, and the most formal means needed for describing “strength/weakness” requires Church-Turing Automata theory.

    The current curriculum doesn’t include the prerequisite tools. It’s certainly not impossible to cover them (especially in “enrichment/accelerated” tracks for the giftie rugrats), but isn’t happening yet. Until you have the prerequisites, including these is just a back door route to slip in sloppy thinking.

  45. Dr. Karl E. Taylor says

    While I’m thrilled that the RRR freaks did not get their way in this case, I also see a disturbing trend.

    Part of any examination of a scientific theory is to examine both the strengthens and weaknesses of that theory. Only by a close examination of why there are weaknesses can the theory be updated to make use of available data. If the weakness is found to be a flaw in the analysis of the available data, then the theory gets a face lift, to better explain the data.

    In our drive to keep the science classroom pure and free from mythical overtones, let us not forget that the constant reexamination of any theory is a very big part of the scientific method. To deny that a theory does have weaknesses, is to venerate that theory to the level of dogma.

  46. BobC says

    Taylor, could you be more specific. Exactly what weaknesses do you think evolution has?

    I think you are misusing the word weaknesses. Would you say the idea our planet circles the sun has weaknesses? I don’t think you would. So why say the basic facts of evolution have weaknesses? Wouldn’t it be better to say there are research opportunities in evolutionary biology?

  47. says

    Your point is admirable in principle. In practice, however, the “weaknesses” that will end up being taught are going to be non-scientific creationism (the usual lies – human footprints next to dinosaurs, no transitional fossils, flood geology etc).
    Does anyone seriously think the advocates of the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ argument mean to teach real debating points of evolution – such as the ratio of contribution of natural selection versus genetic drift to overall evolution?
    Still, its all a side issue so long as you continue to allow creationist teachers to teach biology in the first place.

  48. Aaron says

    The “strengths and weaknesses” proponents and opponents are both well aware of a simple fact: Almost all high school students lack the skills to correctly analyze modern scientific theories.

    They do not have a good background in statistics, logic, critical thinking, or most of the numerous other skills that scientists rely on every day.

    Students do not lack this capacity, but there is no substantial support from the “strengths and weaknesses” proponents to provide them with these abilities. Until that effort is made, any attempts to wedge these disclaimers into the science curriculum is disingenuous and dishonest.

    Or an analogy, if that’s your thing: Students should analyze the strengths and weaknesses of Virgil’s poetic hexameter in the Aeneid, without having first learned to read Latin.

  49. Sigmund says

    “Or an analogy, if that’s your thing: Students should analyze the strengths and weaknesses of Virgil’s poetic hexameter in the Aeneid, without having first learned to read Latin.”

    A more accurate analogy to the creationist position is
    “Students should analyze the strengths and weaknesses of Virgil’s use of Swahili and Mandarin in the Aeneid”

  50. (No) Free Lunch says

    A more accurate analogy to the creationist position is

    “Students should analyze the strengths and weaknesses of Virgil’s use of Swahili and Mandarin in the Aeneid”

    He did badly, as you can tell.

    Arma virumque cano …

  51. tomh says

    @ #39

    I had the same reaction to the story in the New York Times, the sentence you quote being the worst example, but they should be ashamed of the whole article. I used to write letters to the Times about things like this until I read that they get over 1000 letters to the editor a day. I gave up.

  52. Dr. Karl E. Taylor says

    Weakness in this case can be described as an observed event within the frame work of the theory that has as of yet to be explained adequately. Now, to be clear, I am not a biologist. My expertise is in computer science. With that in mind, I may be using the term(s) within a frame work that does not fit cleanly into evolutionary biology.

    Further, I am not talking about the preconceived weaknesses that are constantly brought up by the detractors of evolutionary theory. However, I am talking about when something within the theory requires a reexamination of the available data, or a portion of the theory that is modified because of the discovery of new data previously unknown. These events “can be” construed as a “weakness” in the theory.

    It does not take away from the overall accuracy and understanding of the theory, nor does it cause the theory to collapse. Instead, we see science in action because something that may not have been as strong as the rest of the theory, is built up or removed because of new discoveries and data.

    Looking at the last 150 years of the life of the theory of evolution, this has happened many times. Looking at what is out there now, compared to what Darwin wrote and had available, the theory is stronger than ever. But changes had to be made in order to make the theory stronger, clearer and what we use today.

    If I am using the term(s) incorrectly, my apologies. I work in a much different world then that of the biologist. I do understand the basics and accept the theory as a wonderful explanation for the diversity of life on this rock. But my experience in biology is limited to one year. I am no biologist ;-)

  53. Dr. Karl E. Taylor says

    Darn it, missed a word after three proofs.

    Second paragraph should read:

    Further, I am not talking about the preconceived weaknesses that are constantly brought up by the detractors of evolutionary theory. However, I am talking about when something within the theory requires a reexamination of the available data, or a portion of the theory that is modified because of the discovery of new data previously unknown. These events “can be” construed as CORRECTING a “weakness” in the theory.

  54. says

    Karl Taylor,
    High School biology isn’t the place that the big discoveries in evolutionary science are sussed out. The science filters down to them after it has been tested and subjected to the rigors of research. If we looked at every single new discovery in all of science as they became available you’d never get anything done in science class.

  55. Dr. Karl E. Taylor says

    You’ll get no argument from me on that Rev. High school is for learning what you need to survive, or at least to try and survive.

    Discoveries are not for high schoolers. There have been a few, rare exceptions, (young lady, I forget her name, who at 9 researched therapeutic touch and found it be BS), but for the most part, high school is for known facts.

    We’ll let PZ’s kids make all the new discoveries.

  56. James F says


    That was Emily Rosa.

    Actually, with the availability of internet databases like PubMed, high school students have more opportunity than ever to explore peer-reviewed scientific research for themselves. The issue is that using a science class to teach ideas that are outside of the scientific literature, or worse, that make non-scientific challenges to established science, is irresponsible and potentially fraudulent.