A post at the Texas Free Market Foundation’s Texas Legislative Update blog, with a headline screaming “Action Needed!! Evolution & Censorship Collide!,” sounds an alarm for its Texas constituency to get their reprsentatives in the Texas House of Representatives to sign a letter to the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) to keep language about “Strengths and Weaknesses” in their revision of the TEKS standards for science education in Texas. The intended purpose is to force textbook publishers to abide by policies advocated by the Discovery Institute (DI), the home of Intelligent Design Theory.
The letter includes this:
Science education that does not encourage students to evaluate concepts is not teaching students about the way science really operates.
Compare that with this quotation, in a DI press release & blog post, from Stephen Meyer’s review of the revised TEKS:
“Science education that does not encourage students to evaluate competing scientific arguments is not teaching students about the way science actually operates,” emphasized Dr. Meyer in his written report. Meyer, a Cambridge-trained philosopher of science, directs the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute.
Meyer is one of the six “experts” appointed by the Board to review the standards. As I pointed out here before, the six were apparently selected to falsely represent an even division (3:3) between two sides of a “controversy” over evolution. In other words, the Board was willing to subordinate all other aspects of standards review for the purpose of maintaining this illusion of a “balanced” controversy — an illusion that has been conveyed in press coverage.
Such a “balance” between teaching for and against evolutionary biology in “science” classes is what TFMF & DI are lobbying for. As the representative for TFMF, Jonathan Saenz testified at the Nov. 19, 2008 SBOE hearing that
… the policy being advocated by some to only teach the strengths and not the weaknesses amounts to pure censorship in the classroom and the stifling of free speech and academic freedom. By teaching the students [only] the strengths, you’re only giving them half of the information.
— emphasis added; audio available here.
Apparently, the polemical blog postings of Casey Luskin, Robert Crowther, and their ilk, along with the books by Behe and Dembski, contain as much information as the mountains — more like oceans and continents — of substantial scientific literature in the journals publishing evolution-grounded bio-science research. (Dembski pretends to be an expert in the field of information theory. I wonder how he would go about supporting the claim that “weaknesses” of evolution make up “half of the information” that there is to be taught.)
The “pure censorship” claim is repeated in the “Action Needed!! Evolution & Censorship Collide!” post:
If the SBOE sides with liberal extremists and removes the “weaknesses” requirement, students will learn bad science and teachers will be censored from teaching true science.
This is where the TMFM campaign slides from shrill advocacy to a damnable campaign of lies. Here’s what they say:
Liberal groups in Texas are attempting to remove a policy that has been in effect for 20 years that requires schools to teach the strengths and weaknesses of all scientific theories. These groups want to ban teaching of the weaknesses of all scientific theories, particularly evolution. They want students to hear about the strengths of evolution, without ever hearing the weaknesses. They acknowledge that these weaknesses exist:
“Strengths and weaknesses” exist in any scientific theory or paradigm. Scientific skepticism and challenging is central to how science gets done. (p. 17 of PDF version) http://www.tfn.org/site/DocServer/FinalWebPost.pdf?docID=861
Yet they don’t want students to talk about them. True scientists agree that all scientific theories have weaknesses. If the SBOE sides with liberal extremists and removes the “weaknesses” requirement, students will learn bad science and teachers will be censored from teaching true science.
— emphasis in their original
Where to begin? Well, first, the language that they quote above is not “liberal qroups” acknowledging the existence of the “weaknesses” that DI wants taught, but which those “liberal groups” want to have “censored.” The language is found on page 12 of the report of the TFN-sponsored survey of Texas college teachers of Biology and Biological Anthropology (17th page of the PDF file). This is in the section on “FINDING THREE: Scientists Reject Teaching the So-Called ‘Weaknesses’ of Evolution.” Here’s the text that they are quoting from:
A biology professor at Texas A&M University goes even further and pronounces the alleged “weaknesses” of evolution a political argument — not a scientific one:
“Strengths and weaknesses” exist in any scientific theory or paradigm. Scientific skepticism and challenging is central to how science gets done. But this component of scientific methodology is being exploited by the creationists/ID types to attempt to insert their ideas into the curriculum. These attempts are not being done in the professional scientific realm, where they are supposed to be done, but in the political realm, so their approach is a distortion of how science reaches a consensus of understanding. I don’t hear calls for discussion of the “strengths and weaknesses” of quantum theory, or gravitational cosmology.
What scientists might recognize as a weakness of a theory is nothing like what the ID/creationists want mandated for inclusion in the textbooks. Very few specific examples of “weaknesses” were even mentioned in the November 19 hearings, but here’s an example of one that was brought up: SBOE member Mercer pointed to the Piltdown hoax as an example of a “weakness” of evolutionary biology. Andrew Ellington explained, to the contrary, that the fact that this hoax occured is not in any sense a “weakness” of the theory of evolution — either now, or at the time before it was definitively shown to be a hoax (get audio with Ellington’s testimony here). Evolution never depended on the Piltdown Man as evidence, and that kind of relationship between broad, rich, deep theories, and one or another factual claim like the Piltdown hoax — a relationship in which the broad theory is not dependant on any one particular claim of fact, among the vast myriads of observations that it does explain — is typical in science. For Mercer & company, a “weakness,” apparently, is anything that you can point to and claim as a reason for doubting and rejecting the theory altogether.
But the creationist SBOE members were not interested in understanding Ellington’s explanation. Ellington was whisked away from the microphone as quick as they could get him gone. (Compare that treatment with their treatment of Saenz: The creationist SBOE members engaged Saenz in colloquy for almost fifteen minutes following his prepared 3-minute presentation; Ellington was shuffled off after his 3 minutes without any questioning or comments. He apparently was not the sort they wanted to hear from.)
Having dealt with the substantive matter of the so-called “weaknesses,” we can shift to the TFMF misrepresentation of what the revised standards would do, without the “strengths and weaknesses” language. Let’s look again at what they say (edited to focus on this aspect):
Liberal groups in Texas … want to ban teaching of the weaknesses of all scientific theories, particularly evolution. They want students to hear about the strengths of evolution, without ever hearing the weaknesses. … If the SBOE sides with liberal extremists and removes the “weaknesses” requirement, students will learn bad science and teachers will be censored from teaching true science.
Contrary to this false representation, the revised TEKS without the “strengths and weaknesses” language would not “ban” or “censor” anything. The “strengths and weaknesses” language is meant to be used as an affirmative mandate, requiring the inclusion (in textbooks and instruction) of purported arguments (such as those from DI) for doubting evolution. The revised TEKS, without that language, would simply remove this as a mandated requirement. Contrary to what Mercer and others like to pretend, the revised TEKS — without the “strengths and weaknesses” language — would in no way preclude students from raising their hands and raising their own genuine doubts and questions, or preclude teachers from discussing those issues honestly and responsibly (as Steven Schafersman explained in response to Mercer — but without deflecting him from repeating his misrepresentation, both at the Nov. 19 hearings, and in print since then). What the revised TEKS would do, without the “strengths and weaknesses” language, would simply be to remove the mandatory imposition of phony “weaknesses” that are not genuine questions raised by students, or encountered in the work of scientists themselves.
Where is this campaign of lies coming from? The final dots to be connected here: As related by the blog of the Texas Freedom Network, the “Plano-based Free Market Foundation [is] the Texas affiliate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. If religion truly has nothing to do with this, then why, pray tell, is the lobbyist for Focus on the Family even here?”