Leading members of the Texas scientific community, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), have urged the Texas State Board of Education to reject amendments to the state’s draft science standards that would undermine sound science teaching.
The board is to take a final vote on the standards on Friday, 27 March.
In a 23 March letter to Chairman Don McLeroy and the other members of the Texas board, the scientists said certain amendments, introduced and approved during the January 2009 board meeting, “would mislead students should they make it into the final standards.”
Among the concerns, the scientists say, is an amendment to the biology standards that attacks one of evolution’s key principles: that all living organisms on Earth are descended from a common ancestor.
The pending amendment says students should “analyze and evaluate the sufficiency and insufficiency of common ancestry.” But scientists say there is no real argument about common ancestry, one of the foundational concepts of evolution.
“The scientific consensus is that evolution is the backbone of modern biology and many other fields of science, underlying advances in areas such as agriculture and medicine,” the scientists write. They note that the board “did the students of Texas a great service” when it earlier rejected insertion of language in the science standards that spoke of the “weaknesses” of evolution.
Critics fear that the amendment, using the terms “sufficiency and insufficiency,” is little different from the earlier effort to raise questions about evolution. Downplaying evolution’s place in science “only serves to confuse students,” the scientists say in their letter to the board.
The letter also notes that pending revisions to the Earth and Space Science standards “introduce unwarranted uncertainty to long-settled scientific issues” such as the processes of planet formation.
“We urge you to vote for removing anti-science changes to the draft standards and protect the future of science education and technology-based industry in Texas,” the scientists write.
The letter was signed by Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS, and David E. Daniel, president of the University of Texas at Dallas and 2009 president of The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST). They were joined by 23 others, including Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, and Robert F. Curl, a Nobel laureate in chemistry at Rice University.