Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Witch Hunt

"That KU professor may have apologized, but don’t rule out a witch hunt yet," writes Kansas City Star columnist Mike Hendricks. "When last I checked on Tuesday, preparations were well under way among Kansas conservatives."

Hendricks -- a staunch defender of evolution -- is absolutely right. The fact is, social conservatives have long been wishing and hoping for an excuse to go after higher education in the state. When an e-mail by religious studies professor Paul Mirecki was made public, it just gave them the excuse they've been waiting for.


The Chopping Block

It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the interviews of Kansas State Department of Education employees conducted by Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins' transition team were a sign of bad things to come.

The purpose of the interviews was never clearly stated, at least until now.

“I don’t know what the commissioner will finally decide on. It (the report) might be fairly nuanced. We certainly didn’t go into this preparing anyone for the chopping block,” says G. Daniel Harden, the ultra-conservative Washburn University professor who will be paid $2,500 a month for three months to run the transition team.

For those naive folks who would take that at face value, just remember that science is religion, religion is science, vouchers are scholarships, and Corkins is Education Commissioner.


Dover: The Writing on the Wall

When questioning a witness, attorneys are well advised never to ask a question if they don't already know the answer what the answer will be. Likewise, journalists -- and here we include poor bloggers like ourselves -- will have learned never to predict the outcome of future events, such as a how a judge will rule on a case. Experienced journalists will be especially wary of predicting the outcome of events when they believe strongly they already know what the outcome will be.

Although we can't imagine how things could possibly have gone better for the Dover plaintiffs who oppose the former school board's mandate that a statement supportive of intelligent be read to ninth grade biology students in the district, Red State Rabble will not predict the outcome of the Dover intelligent design trial.

We will observe, however, from reading the defendant's brief in support of proposed findings of fact, that despite their protestations that they will appeal all the way to the Supreme Court, attorneys for the Thomas More Law Center, who represented the board, have apparently given up on the case.

The defendants proposed findings of fact range from the merely hopeful:

45. To Bonsell, Creationism means a literal interpretation of the Bible, which is a matter of religious faith for Bonsell.

46. To Bonsell ID is not Creationism.

To the irrelevant:
48. Buckingham never contemplated mandatory prayer for students while on the board or discussed it with anyone on the board.

It's a good thing the attorneys for the Thomas More Center offered their services to the district for free, because, apparently, they were so eager to be done with the case that they didn't even bother to proofread their brief, as in this example:
55. Any mention of Creationism by Bonsell during this meeting was plainly desultory as no witness has no independent recollection of what Bonsell said.

Additionally, a good deal of space in the brief is taken up with things the board members are reported to have said, but, for some reason, no longer remember.

In their heart of hearts, the brief indicates that the Attorneys for Thomas More -- having already lost their clients in the Dover school board election earlier this month -- are now reconciled to losing the case.

Despite all that, RSR will not predict the outcome of the case, we will tell you that the best holiday gift we can think of may come from Judge Jones toward the end of this month.


Mirecki Apologizes for E-Mail

At lot has been made in Kansas about an e-mail religious studies professor Paul Mirecki posted on a Yahoo listserv about a class he plans to teach next semester titled, "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism."

"The fundies want it all taught in a science class," Mirecki wrote. "But this will be a nice slap in their big, fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category `mythology.'''

Now, Mirecki has apologized.

"My words in the e-mail do not represent my teaching philosophy or the style I use in class," says Paul Mirecki of his e-mail. "I have assured the provost of the university that I will teach the course according to the standards this university rightfully expects - as a serious academic subject and in a manner that respects all points of view."

The religious studies department has formally approved the course, although the original title was changed by removing the words, "and other Religious Mythologies."

KU Provost David Shulenburger hasn't backed down in the face of vociferous criticism from right-wing legislators who have threatened the university's funding. "Given the current national debate," says Shulenburger, "it is especially appropriate that intelligent design and creationism be treated as academic subjects in a university-level religious studies class."


When Belief Trumps Fact

Ian Sample, writing in the Guardian Unlimited, reports that, in "a valedictory speech to mark the end of his five year presidency of the Royal Society, Lord May of Oxford will claim that fundamentalist thought in all its guises, from religious beliefs to the ideologies of green lobby groups, is skewing debates over some of the most pressing issues facing humanity, such as climate change and emerging diseases.

"Such is the influence of groups that ignore or misinterpret scientific evidence, that the core values that underpinned the Enlightenment and led to "free, open, unprejudiced, uninhibited questioning and inquiry, individual liberty and separation of church and state" are being eroded, Lord May believes...

"Fundamentalism doesn't necessarily derive from sacred texts. It's where a belief trumps a fact and refuses to confront the facts."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Kitzmiller Brief: Breaking Trust

The the plaintiff's brief in support of proposed findings of fact suggests that Board members’ untruthful testimony constitutes strong evidence of improper purpose, and that it calls into question the defendent's entire case:

Although Board members testified in their depositions and at trial that they never sought to put creationism into the curriculum, that they never advocated in favor of creationism, that they never made religious statements in favor of the curriculum change, and that they did not know the source for the donated copies of the creationist text Pandas, that testimony is not credible. It is belied by superintendent Nilsen’s and assistant-superintendent Baksa’s trial testimony. It is belied by superintendent Nilsen’s and plaintiff Barrie Callahan’s notes from Board retreats. It is belied by the Trudy Peterman memorandum. It is belied by the curriculum charts tracing the policy’s development over time. It is belied by the testimony from Dover science teachers Jen Miller and Bertha Spahr. It is belied by the testimony from plaintiffs Christy Rehm, Brian Rehm, Barrie Callahan, and Fred Callahan, all of whom attended board meetings in June 2004. It is belied by Joseph Maldonado’s and Heidi Berhard-Bubb’s testimony and newspaper reportage relating to the board meetings and postmeeting press interviews with Board members. It is belied by the Fox news videotape of William Buckingham on the way out of a Board meeting. And it is belied by the check that Buckingham, Alan Bonsell, and Donald Bonsell used in their shell game to hide the funds used to purchase Pandas.

One of the oldest, clearest, and most important rules in Anglo-American law is that, when parties testify under oath, they are duty-bound to tell the truth; and if they break trust with the court, their dishonesty casts a pall on their entire case...


Can ID Rise to the Level of Junk Science?

The plaintiff's brief in support of proposed findings of fact in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board would suggest not:
In the end, the hours and hours of complicated scientific testimony that the Court heard boils down to a simple conclusion: Intelligent design falls too short of the mark even to merit the label “junk science.” Whatever its merits or demerits might be as a theological claim, therefore, the claim that it could serve a useful pedagogic purpose as science instruction is indefensible.


The Search for Pupose

Intelligent design activists are turned off by the idea that evolution is random and purposeless. Here's an excerpt from an article in the Harvard Crimson by Anton S. Troianovski that contains an interesting insight into the mind of the creator:

Until the teaching schedule for the team-taught Biological Sciences 51, “Integrative Biology of Organisms,” changed this year, [Professor of Biology James] Hanken would talk about rabbits’ digestive systems in lecture. The animals can absorb the nutrients from plant matter only in the small intestine, but food is digested in a part of the gut that’s farther downstream.” So how do plant nutrients finally get into the rabbit’s bloodstream having already passed through the small intestine undigested?

“They secrete these things through their anus, eat them,” and pass them back through the small intestine, Hanken explains.

And then he adds, “Now you tell me, where’s the intelligence in that design?”


Nothing New

The Washington Post has a nice piece by Michael Powell this morning on the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History that includes this:

"Intelligent design," which holds that science can discern the hand of a supernatural force in the machinery of life, is the latest alternative theory to edge onto the public stage. It has attracted a small band of scientists and philosophers, and they are skilled debaters and publicists.

Such challenges are nothing new, extending back centuries. And while this exhibition makes clear that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, it also reflects the gnawing worry within the scientific class that it has failed to vigorously present its
case in the public arena.


How's that Work Again?

Now, let's see if we've got this right. Intelligent design is science, and evolution is religious dogma, at least according to the Discovery Institute and John Calvert of the ID Network.

And yet, when religious studies professor Paul Mirecki announced that he would offer a course teaching ID as myth there was an outraged reaction.

Responding to news of Mirecki's class offering Kansas State Senator Karin Brownlee said, we have to set a standard that it's not culturally acceptable to mock Christianity in America.

Now, if ID is science, how does teaching it as myth mock Christianity?

Can anybody help us out, here?


ID Doesn't Fly at Harvard Divinity School

"When Harvard was founded in 1636, the University was charged with educating ministers in creationism and other central tenets of Christianity," writes Sarah E. F. Milov in The Harvard Crimson.
Three hundred and sixty-nine years later, in the midst of a national debate about God’s place in the classroom, even the University’s divinity faculty—the heirs to that theological mission—reject the latest argument for God’s role in creation: "intelligent design.”


Quite Convincing

Margaret Talbot has an article about the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board case in the new issue of the New Yorker magazine. An interview with Talbot is available online. Here's an excerpt:
... in order to show that intelligent design is not good science, and therefore that it’s unsound pedagogy to be touting it as an alternative to Darwinian evolution, it helps to remind people how broadly supported the theory of evolution is by recent developments across the sciences—in genetics, for example, as well as in paleontology. That was part of the case the plaintiffs’ lawyers made—quite convincingly, I think.


Green Light

The new Kansas science standards “give a green light to any district that wants to bring in creationism. They provide a rationale and justification for teaching creationism. They put a damper on the teaching of biology because a lot of science teachers might downplay evolution or not teach evolution at all because they don’t want to open a Pandora’s box,” says Jack Krebs of Kansas Citizens for Science in a interview with School Board News.


Physics for Fundamentalists

Physics for Christian Schools, by R. Terrance Egolf and Linda Shumate (Bob Jones University, 2004), addresses the question, "What is Christian about physics?"

Some people have developed the idea that higher mathematics and science have little to do with the Bible or Christian life. They think that because physics deals with scientific facts, or because it is not pervaded with evolutionary ideas, there is no need to study it from a Christian perspective. This kind of thinking ignores a number of important facts to the Christian: First, all secular science is pervaded by mechanistic, naturalistic and evolutionistic philosophy. Learning that the laws of mechanics as they pertain to a baseball in flight are just the natural consequences of the way matter came together denies the wisdom and power of our Creator God. ... Second, physics as taught in the schools of the world contradicts the processes that shaped the world we see today. Trying to believe both secular physics and the Bible leaves you in a state of confusion that will weaken your faith in God's Word.

For more examples of the flawed fundamentalist world view as taught in Christian academies and bible colleges -- soon to be financed in Kansas by your tax dollars -- check out "Here's the Problem With Emily Dickinson," by Thomas Vinciguerra in the New York Times.

Vinciguerra writes that intelligent design isn't the only flashpoint in the battle over religion in the nation's classrooms -- there are little things like history, literature, too.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Divine Design Proponent Drafts "Confidential" ID Bill

"Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, [Utah] said he is tired of concerned parents calling him to ask why their children are only being taught about evolution," reports Jens Dana, a Daily Universe staff reporter, "That’s why he is drafting a confidential bill to challenge the way evolution is taught in Utah schools. The current science curriculum is a form a censorship because students are taught nothing but evolution, he said."


Can't Believe Their Eyes

Writing in The Guardian Unlimited, Martin Kettle, challenges any British visitor to go into a good American bookshop and not be amazed at the scale and subject matter of the religious books on display.
A few blocks from the Darwin exhibition, [at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, RSR] there is a Barnes & Noble bookshop where there are shelves and shelves of the stuff - Bibles in profusion, yards of Judaica, vast tomes about Mormonism, apparently serious volumes about Oprah Winfrey's spiritual significance in modern America. Particularly fascinating is the Religious Fiction section. Believe me, we're not talking CS Lewis here. Check out the biggest shelf presence of the lot, the Left Behind series of novels by "prophecy scholar" Tim LaHaye with Jerry B Jenkins - 60m volumes sold so far - and you will get an inkling of the intensity of the apocalyptic "holy living in an unholy age" crusade against science in modern America.


Not to Worry

The Kansas State School Board's decision to re-define science may derail the state’s efforts to grow the bioscience industry. It may discourage high-tech companies from locating in Kansas. It may force college graduates to flee the state. It may cost us jobs and hurt the economy.

But, we don't have to worry about all the high-paying, high-tech jobs that are going somewhere else, because the board's anti-science, anti-education stance has spurred unexpected growth in the bumper sticker industry.


A Very Specialized Agenda

Steve Painter of the Wichita Eagle reports that, "Fresh from its controversial evolution decision, the Kansas State Board of Education is preparing to delve into the issue of diverting public money to private schools.

"Board members could decide next month whether to approve vouchers for at-risk and special-education students and make it easier to establish charter schools -- proposals supported by Education Commissioner Bob Corkins."

"This is a very specialized agenda by the commissioner of education," said Sen. Jean Schodorf, the Wichita Republican who leads the Senate Education Committee.

"This is why he was hired, to try to get kids to private and parochial schools and get public dollars to pay for it," she said.


David Awbrey: Gone But Not Forgotten

They haven't forgotton David Awbrey, the newly appointed Kansas Department of Education communications director, in Vermont. An article by Jack "Miles" Ventimiglia in the Blue Valley Sun, says that during the time Awbrey was the Burlington Free Press editorial page editor, the the National Education Association found he was no friend of education.
"We can't recall David Awbrey ever having a positive thing to say about education," Vermont NEA spokeswoman Laurie Huse said Friday. "He was here for three years and he railed pretty much constantly about what he called the 'education establishment.' He criticized teachers, their organizations, administrators, school board, even the Department of Education."

The problem with Vermont? It's "a really, really left-wing state," says Awbrey.


Update: Understanding Evolution Suit

Becky Bartindale and Lisa Krieger, writing in the San Jose Mercury News, have an update on the suit brought by Lititious Larry Caldwell, and his wife, Jeanne, against the UC Museum of Paleontology, which runs the Understanding Evolution Web site:

The suit, which was filed last month, specifically objects to portions of the Understanding Evolution Web site that deal with the interplay of science and religion. For example, it challenges the site's linking to doctrinal statements from a variety of religions to demonstrate that ``most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with evolution.''

That amounts to a government endorsement of certain religious groups over others, the suit contends, and is an effort ``to modify the beliefs of public school science students so they will be more willing to accept evolutionary theory as true.''

An attorney representing the Berkeley scientists said the lawsuit makes a variation on an argument that courts have repeatedly rejected -- that teaching evolution in itself is teaching a religious idea.

"The courts in many cases have said evolution is a scientific idea and there is no prohibition on the government teaching a scientific idea even if it conflicts'' with some people's religious beliefs, said university counsel Christopher Patti.

The article also gives us more insight into the science that lies behind the controversy:
"Yes, I'm a Christian,'' said [plaintiff, RSR] Jeanne Caldwell, "but I would not categorize myself as an ID proponent. I believe God created the world.''


Iowa School District Puts ID on the Agenda

The Muscatine (Iowa) Journal reports that, "Although they don’t all agree on the merits of intelligent design, most members of the Muscatine School District Board of Education believe that students should know about it, and they agree that it will likely be discussed by the Board within the next two years."


Broward County Textbook Search

Chris Kahn, the education writer for the Sun-Sentinal in South Florida reports that:

As Broward County schools shop for a new science textbook this year, one of the options is a biology book that could plunge the district into a roiling national debate over the origin of man.

The high school text, Biology: The Dynamics of Life, says on Page 388: "Many of the world's major religions teach that life was created on Earth by a supreme being. The followers of these religions believe that life could only have arisen through the direct action of a divine force.

"Some people believe that the complex structures and processes of life could not have formed without some guiding intelligence...

In the teacher's edition, the book also suggests that students form teams and debate how life began, using both religious and scientific explanations."In essence, you're sending a message to students that the religious perspective is just one more scientific answer," Conn [a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, RSR] said.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Political Purge

From an editorial in the Hutchinson News: "The Corkins-Harden team wants to unleash the dog-eat-dog world of market-force competition on kindergarten teachers, middle school counselors and high school band directors.

"And, to accomplish that dubious goal with limited institutional resistance, the Corkins-Harden team has initiated what amounts to a political purge of the Kansas Department of Education. Team members have asked department employees a series of questions, including what they find most satisfying and frustrating about their jobs. The outside ideologues also ask education department staffers for their opinions on litmus-test issues such as school choice, school vouchers, charter schools and parental empowerment...

"Remember the days when Kansans placed a priority on education and checked partisan politics at the schoolhouse door? Six radical Republicans on the state board of education who hired Corkins, who then employed Harden, have foolishly undermined that sound operating principle."



''We have to set a standard that it's not culturally acceptable to mock Christianity in America,'' says Kansas State Sen. Karin Brownlee, a Republican from Olathe in Johnson County.

Brownlee was responding to a message posted on a Yahoo listserv by religious studies professor Paul Mirecki, who announced the other day that he will teach a course at the University of Kansas titled ''Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationisms and other Religious Mythologies.

''The fundies want it all taught in a science class," wrote Mirecki, "but this will be a nice slap in their big fat face by teaching it as a religious studies class under the category mythology.''

Red State Rabble thinks Mirecki's Yahoo post, while perhaps a bit intemperate, is perfectly acceptable in a political debate -- and that is exactly what Christian fundamentalists like Sen. Brownlee have let themselves in for by injecting their own particular brand of Christianity into politics.

Sen. Brownlee, like so many other fundamentalists of her ilk, believes that when Mirecki mocks "fundies" he's mocking all Christians, but that, of course, is false. Her holier-than-thou attitude -- that only those who believe as Sen. Brownlee does qualify as real Christians -- cries out to be mocked.

As a friend of ours would say, "Who died and made her god?"

If fundamentalists enter the political arena wearing their religion on their sleeves, they must expect opposition. The fact is, some of us -- many of us -- don't want to be forced to go to their church or worship at the altar of their god. We especially don't want our children indoctrinated in their primitive religious beliefs in a science classroom.

We have our own beliefs. We think they are just as good as her's, thank you very much.

As ludicrous as it is dangerous is the idea, advanced by Sen. Brownlee, that you can no longer criticize politicians who want to enforce their religious beliefs on the rest of us by writing them into the law. How will Sen. Brownlee set her standard that it's not culturally acceptable to mock Christianity in America? By passing a law? By making it illegal?

If fundamentalists such as Sen Brownlee are too sensitive to have their religious beliefs subjected to the rough and tumble of political debate, they should leave them at home or in the church they attend.


IDEA Clubs

"The national spotlight recently has focused on school boards in Kansas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere that are grappling with calls for including intelligent design, a concept critical of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, in science curricula. But a significant new front in this cultural conflict is opening in the halls of American higher education, spearheaded by science students skeptical of evolution and intrigued by intelligent design," reports Lisa Anderson in yesterday's Chicago Tribune.

Anderson's assertion that the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness Clubs represent a "significant new front" is thinly supported. It seems to be based on interviews with Casey Luskin, a founder of the clubs and now a staff member at the Discovery Institute, Hannah Maxson, a math and chemistry major at Cornell University, and Jaclyn Wegner, a senior majoring in integrative biology at the University of Illinois.

Anderson's article cites questionnaires collected by Will Provine, a biological sciences professor at Cornell University, that show about 70 percent of university students at Cornell believe human beings were created by God -- a figure that's remained consistent since 1986.

Anderson also reports Maxson's assertion that the Cornell IDEA Club has 60 members. She even provides a list of IDEA Clubs at the end of her article.

Red State Rabble finds the article to be quite interesting. We urge our readers to take a look for themselves, however, we are skeptical that the IDEA Clubs represent quite the "significant new front" that Anderson apparently believes they are.

Not long ago, we read a New York Times article by Laurie Goodstein and David D. Kirkpatrick reporting that more evangelicals are turning up in elite schools:
... these days evangelical students... are becoming a conspicuous presence at Brown. Of a student body of 5,700, about 400 participate in one of three evangelical student groups - more than the number of active mainline Protestants, the campus chaplain says.

Perhaps, the IDEA Clubs are part of the infrastructure of that movement. Certainly, biblical literalists -- of both the creationist and intelligent design variety -- are making a concerted effort to place young believers into science, much as the Rev. Sun Myung Moon placed Jonathan Wells into a PhD biology program in 1978 in order that he might devote his life to destroying Darwinism.

While we don't think that the number of biblical literalists is growing. We do believe they are moving into new territory, as the NYT article seems to indicate. They are energized and ready for a fight. They believe their time is now.

That is why, although the number of activists may still be quite small, it is time to act.

Not long ago, Hunter R. Rawlings, Cornell's Interim President, in his State of the University Address said, "I am convinced that the political movement seeking to inject religion into state policy and our schools is serious enough to require our collective time and attention," he said.

"When professors tend only to their own disciplinary gardens, public discourse is seriously undernourished," Rawlings added.

Perhaps more important than just calling attention to the problem, Rawlings committed the resources of the university to combating the problem.

This, it seems to us, is exactly right. The issue of creationism, intelligent design, and separation of church and state are bigger than science. Scientists and educators, who until now, have too often fought this battle alone, need support from all the disciplines in our universities. They need support from mainstream churches. They need support from citizens who see the danger of injecting religion into governmental policy.

We need to consciously enlist students in this battle as well. Anderson's article also reports that a Darwin club sprang up at the University of Illinois in response to the IDEA Club, there. That is something we need to encourage.

Friday, November 25, 2005


The Lawyer Who Would be a Scientist

Recently, Red State Rabble, listened as attorney John Calvert introduced himself to the adult education class at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Lenexa. Although Calvert has been an attorney throughout his professional life, he nevertheless placed great stress on the geology classes he took as an undergraduate.

Phillip Johnson, the father of intelligent design, likes to paint himself as a man with deep ties to science. A law professor by trade, Johnson took geology classes in college, too. Casey Luskin, a Discovery Institute staff member, is on the same career path. He took earth science classes before taking a law degree.

Is there is something about intelligent design "theorists" -- a deep sense of inadequacy, perhaps -- that compels them to provide their supposed scientific bona fides each time they step to the lectern to undermine science and science education?

Calvert, just now, is up in arms over a class that will be taught by Paul Mirecki, chairman of University of Kansas religious studies department, next semester. The class, “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies” treats ID not as science, as Calvert, Johnson, and Luskin would have it, but as the mythology it is.

Calvert has been stomping around lately casting doubts about Mirecki’s scientific expertise. He says that teaching intelligent design demands an extensive understanding of evolution and science.

“I think the guy is going to fall all over himself,” Calvert told Sophia Maines of the Lawrence Journal-World. “I would love to go to his class and say, ‘Explain to me how DNA arose in the primordial soup?’”

Ever the skeptic, Red State Rabble can't help wondering how Calvert's long-ago undergraduate geology classes better qualify him to understand evolution and science than a professor of religious studies. Aren't all undergraduates -- lawyers and religious studies professors, alike --required to take at least some introductory science courses?

Calvert's statement, moreover, betrays his own scientific confusion. Neither his legal training, long experience at the bar, nor his geology classes helped him, apparently, to understand that evolution -- what Darwin called descent with modification -- says nothing about how DNA arose in the primordial soup.

It is true that there are a half-dozen interesting hypotheses about how the origin of life might have occurred on our happy little planet. A number of scientific teams are working on the problem, but there is, as of yet, no satisfying scientific explanation that accounts for all the known evidence.

That is why the professional scientists and educators on the Kansas science curriculum committee did not propose teaching life's origins in the state's public schools. Paradoxically, it was the anti-evolution fundamentalists, the intelligent design minority on the committee and the creationist majority on the state school board who demanded that origins be taught.

They want it taught, not because there is persuasive science backing them up, but rather because they see the lack of scientific consensus as a gap. A gap that can be exploited by culture warriors like themselves to promote a literal reading of Genesis. A gap that provides breathing space for their own narrow vision of god.

Although he forgot to get himself licensed to practice law in Kansas, Calvert nevertheless has a lawyer's instinct for how to inject the patriarchal Old Testament god he worships into the science curriculum in the state.

As for science, DNA, evolution, he has no more clue... than, say, a professor of religious studies.


Indiana Infected?

"While the debate over whether public schools should be allowed to teach intelligent design along side Darwin's theory of evolution rages in Kansas and Pennsylvania," according to an editorial in Elkhart, Ind. Truth, " it hadn't yet surfaced in Indiana. But now some members of the Legislature may force the issue...

"State Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, plans to introduce legislation mandating it if no one else does."


Lone Star State Adapts to Evolution

An article by Karen Adler in the San Antonio Express-News indicates that intelligent design is not on the front burner in Texas just now. Two years ago, she writes, the Texas State School Board adopted Biology texts that ignore non-scientific criticisms of evolution recently put into the curriculum in Kansas. The Texas science curriculum specifically calls for the teaching of evolution, not alternative ideas about how the universe was formed.

In 2001, Kim Bilica, a science education specialist at the University of Texas at San Antonio, writes Adler,
"surveyed Texas biology teachers for her doctoral dissertation at Texas Tech University. In general, teachers said they wanted to spend more time teaching evolution but felt they didn't have enough administrative support. They also said they felt constricted by the amount of material they have to cover to prepare students for the state's accountability test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills... "

Although the textbook decision will not be revisited until 2010, according to Adler, eight of the 15 state board members are up for election next year. The board voted 11-4 to approve textbooks that ignore creationist and intelligent design inspired criticisms of evolution.

Adler's article is a good source for keeping up with the current state of play in the Lone Star State. Defenders of science education will want to be alert and active as the Texas School Board election unfolds.


The 19th Hole

Are golfers the product of evolution or intelligent design? Frank DeFord of CNN/Sports Illustrated weighs in.


Difficult to Decipher

From an informative survey of attitudes of school board members about teaching creationism and intelligent design in San Diego and surrounding communities by Pat Sherman in the San Diego CityBEAT:
...the rancorous issue is a long way from winding up on their packed agendas. A random sampling of board members’ attitudes on intelligent design garnered responses from candid to cagey, with a few as difficult to decipher as the genetic code of ostrich DNA. Most said they would defer to California education standards for the teaching of natural science, which allows for evolution-only education. In September, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell defended California’s standards from efforts to inject intelligent design into science curricula, saying intelligent design would be “a blow to the integrity of education in California… because religious beliefs are based on faith, and are not subject to scientific test and refutation.”

Well worth reading...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Turning the Tables

In their heart of hearts, that motley crew of creation "scientists" and intelligent design "theorists" has always dreamed of that bright day in the future when ID would be taught in the nation's classrooms. Ironically, now that KU is making plans to do just that, they're all up in arms about it.

“All of a sudden, just from the title, intelligent design is being put in there with mythology,” says Bruce Simat, an associate biology professor at Minnesota’s Northwestern College, one of the barnstorming brotherhood of bible college biologists who testified for intelligent design at Kansas science hearings last May.

Intelligent design activists, to hear them tell it, are all about critical thinking when it comes to science, but critical thinking goes out the window when it's applied to their own religious and philosophical ideas. Oh no, they draw the line there.

Note: Discovery Institute's denials -- that they don't really want to teach ID in the classroom; that they just want to teach the "controversy" over evolution -- aren't credible, since they've worked assiduously to produce a high school textbook, Of Pandas and People, and a guide to teaching intelligent design for classroom teachers.


Palm Beach County Rejects ID

Chris Kahn of the Sun Sentinel reports that , "When [the Palm Beach County School District, RSR] chooses a new Biology 1 text, the district will avoid picking the one state-approved book that describes the concept of intelligent design.

"We talk about things we can measure, things we can observe," said district science curriculum supervisor Fred Barch. "We don't get into other explanations that involve religion."
The book, Biology: The Dynamics of Life, includes this passage: "Many of the world's major religions teach that life was created on Earth by a supreme being. The followers of these religions believe that life could only have arisen through the direct action of a divine force ... Some people believe that the complex structures and processes of life could not have formed without some guiding intelligence."


Eye of the Needle

Former Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, writing in The American Prospect, has put his finger on one of the great, and largely unexamined, contradictions for social conservatives who find themselves locked in an awkward embrace with the intelligent design.

They're dead set against the theory of biological evolution -- which they derisively label Neo-Darwinism -- but they're among the strongest supporters of the discredited notion of social Darwinism.

Here's how Reich puts it:
The modern conservative movement has embraced social Darwinism with no less fervor than it has condemned Darwinism. Social Darwinism gives a moral justification for rejecting social insurance and supporting tax cuts for the rich. “In America,” says Robert Bork, “‘the rich’ are overwhelmingly people -- entrepreneurs, small-business men, corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, etc. -- who have gained their higher incomes through intelligence, imagination, and hard work.” Any transfer of wealth from rich to poor thereby undermines the nation’s moral fiber. Allow the virtuous rich to keep more of their earnings and pay less in taxes, and they’ll be even more virtuous. Give the non-virtuous poor food stamps, Medicaid, and what’s left of welfare, and they’ll fall into deeper moral torpor.

Today, social conservatives push doubtful readings of the Bible on such controversial issues as evolution, abortion, and gay rights while they ignore Jesus' plainly spoken words: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24)


So, What's the Downside?

Responding to report that the University of Kansas will teach intelligent design as myth, ID activist John Calvert says, "it’s just another example of labeling anybody who proposes (intelligent design) to be simply a religious nut.”

RSR doesn't have a problem with that, do you?


Students Recognized for Opposing Book Ban

The Montrose (Colorado) Daily Press reports that "Norwood High School students were recognized by the Colorado Association of Libraries for protesting the banning of Rudolfo Anaya’s book Bless Me, Ultima.”

"The ban came in February, when District R-2J Superintendent Bob Conder pulled the book after a parent objected to the content."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


ID and Attacks on Public Education

"Supporters of the theory of human origins known as "intelligent design" want it taught alongside the theory of evolution. Opponents will do anything to keep it out of science classrooms. The disagreement is clear," writes Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute."

"But why," Coulson asks, "does everyone assume that we must settle it through an ideological death-match in the town square?"

Some think that recent columns by conservative columnists George Will and Charles Krauthammer indicate a split between libertarians and social conservatives on the right over intelligent design.

They may indeed be divided on that issue, but they are of one mind about what to do about public education. Coulson, like the right-wingers on the Kansas State Board of Education and our new Education Commissioner, Bob Corkins, believe there is a simple answer to the problem of what to teach in our nation's science classrooms.

Put an end to public education.

Of course, it wouldn't be right-wing thought if it didn't employ code words -- words that say one thing, but mean another. Here's how Coulson puts it:

"Fortunately, there is a way to end the cycle of educational violence: parental choice. Why not reorganize our schools so that parents can easily get the sort of education they value for their own children without having to force it on their neighbors?"

Red State Rabble finds it fascinating that those on the right who rail against multiculturalism --aka religious, racial, and ethnic tolerance -- are for the Balkanization of the nation's school system.

"Parental choice" otherwise known as vouchers will encourage economic, racial, ethnic, and religious stratification in Kansas. Our country was built on our ability to unify a diverse population around common goals, and the public education system has been a key player in that process.

It must be defended.


KU Faculty has had Enough

All the boys at the Discovery Institute want, they say, is to "teach the controversy." To expose students to other points of view. To give them all the evidence. Somehow, though, we suspect they won't be satisfied with this...

"Creationism and intelligent design are slated to be the subjects of a Kansas University class next semester — but as mythology, not science," reports Sophia Maines of the Lawrence Journal-World.

“The KU faculty has had enough,” said Paul Mirecki, chairman of KU’s religious studies department. He said he planned to teach “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies” next semester.


Kansas Alliance for Education Forms

Take a look at the new Kansas Alliance for Education website:

The Kansas Alliance for Education (KAE) is a nonpartisan grassroots organization formed in 2005 for the purpose of promoting the election of candidates to the Kansas State Board of Education who support quality education for all Kansas children. The Alliance is founded on the following guiding principles:

Alliance members believe that the current conservative six-member majority of the board is failing in its obligation to provide a quality educational opportunity for all Kansas children. They have been preoccupied with inappropriate science standards and unnecessary opt-in sex education guidelines. Recently they have hired a Kansas Commissioner of Education whose qualifications are woefully inadequate. We believe these actions demonstrate that they are more concerned with promoting their own agenda than they are with preparing the children of Kansas to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century.

The Kansas Alliance for Education is seeking contributions to support direct mail, print and electronic media advertising, email blasts, and press releases in order to promote the election of candidates to the Kansas State Board of Education who support quality education for all Kansas children.

Visit their website for more information on how you can become active.


Soothing Words

From an opinion piece by Tom Yulsman in the Denver Post:

On one side of the debate stand proponents of intelligent design, most notably at the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute in Seattle. They say they do not reject evolution outright, just the idea that complex biological structures can evolve by natural selection alone, without intervention by an intelligent designer. And they claim that their theory is not a religious concept because it says nothing about the nature of the designer.

These are soothing words intended to obscure the real agenda of intelligent design's proponents: the destruction of modern evolutionary biology in pursuit of a religious agenda. There is nothing nuanced about this.

Oh, they really won't like this one up in Seattle.


Darwin to be on Newsweek Cover

The November 28 Newsweek cover story will be, "The Real Darwin: His Private Views on Science & God." Senior Editor Jerry Adler details the documents and writings by Darwin and the scientists studying him, in the new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which examine his life, his theories and the controversies that surrounded his ideas.

In part, says Adler, the fascination with the man is being driven by his enemies, who like to say they're fighting "Darwinism," rather than evolution or natural selection.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Corporate Courage

The exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History in New York "has failed to find a corporate sponsor in the United States because American companies are anxious not to take sides in the heated debate between scientists and fundamentalist Christians over the theory of evolution," according to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The entire $3 million cost of Darwin is instead being borne by wealthy individuals and private donations.

"The failure of American companies to back the exhibition reflects the growing influence of fundamentalist Christians, who are among President George Bush's most vocal supporters, in all walks of life in the US."


Eugenie Scott to Speak in D.C. Area

The D.C. area Alliance for Science, formerly known as the Message Group, is sponsoring a public meeting on “News from the Front: Creationist Efforts in our Schools and Legislatures” featuring Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, on Wednesday, November 30th from 7 – 9:00 pm at Oakton High School, 2900 Sutton Road, Vienna, VA (the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Metro Stop on the Orange Line)

More information at:


What Happens When the Students are Smarter than the School Board

Garrance Burke of the Associated Press asks, "Will Kansas' rep on science hurt the college-bound?"

Sonia Arora, with a stellar GPA and recognition from the National Honor Society, is exceeding Blue Valley West High School's high expectations for the junior class.

Her school regularly sends its graduates to some of the nation's most selective colleges.

But since the State Board of Education voted last week that public schools should treat evolution as a flawed scientific theory, Sonia has started worrying that going to high school in Kansas could be a liability when she applies to college next fall.

"I can separate science and religion just fine. I mean, I'm Hindu, and we have our own creation story. I believe in evolution, too," said Sonia, 16, who dreams of pursuing a science degree at the University of California at Berkeley. "It's just that now I don't know if colleges will think I know the difference."


Alaska Student Council Puts ID in its Place

Kenni Psenak, the Mat-Su (Alaska) school board's student representative told the board that she brought the issue of intelligent design to her fellow Student Advisory Council members for their consideration, according to Joel Davidson of the Mat-Su Valley Fontiersman.

“Intelligent design is, possibly, at some future time going to be discussed, and so I thought it was my job and my responsibility to poll the consensus and the views of the Student Advisory Board on where they stand on that,” Psenak explained.

The student council's official position on intelligent design states, “Intelligent design shall be addressed in the social studies department, if it is addressed at all.”


The Cultural Divide

Topeka based AP reporter John Hanna has a piece in today's papers that takes a step back from the evolution-intelligent design controversy in order to look at the deeper cultural divide that drives the conflict in Kansas:

"The dust storm around the State Board of Education these days isn't really about evolution, sex education, a top administrator's credentials, the books assigned in classes or school vouchers," writes Hannah. "It's about trust, or a lack of it."


Taking a Stand

A gala fundraiser last week for the new exhibit on Charles Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History evolved into something of a rally against President Bush's preferred theory of intelligent design, according to George Rush and Joanna Molloy of Tribune Media Services.

"This is a time when those of us who care about science and Darwin have to take a stand," museum patron Tom Brokaw told the black-tied and bejeweled attendees... Clearly aware that Bush favors teaching creationism alongside evolution in science classes, the museum's patrons erupted in applause.


South Carolina State Senator Wants to "Teach the Controversy"

Greenville state senator, Mike Fair, wants the South Carolina state education department to revise science standards to encourage the teaching of alternatives to evolution in high school biology classes, according to the Associated Press.

Fair insists, reports AP, that "he is not suggesting an "intelligent design" curriculum or strictly the teaching of creationism."

"Where topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological evolution, the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society,"

RSR's guess is that the full range of scientific views are already being taught in South Carolina. What Fair really wants is the addition of one or two religion-based views.


Dover Case Prompts Open Access to Articles in SciPolicy -- The Journal of Science and Health Policy

SciPolicy -- The Journal of Science and Health Policy -- announced today that, as a public service, all of its articles are now free and open access on-line. The move is prompted by a recent ten-fold increase in demands on its already busy website for articles related to its Amicus Currie filing in Federal Court (Kitzmiller, et al v Dover Area School District and school Board) opposing government mandates to teach of intelligent design in public schools and the Science Wars controversies.

According to Stephen Miles Sacks, PhD, SciPolicy editor and publisher, “Several of Scipolicy’s Editorial Board members are leading scholarly authors who are protagonists and antagonists, in the Science Wars and Intelligent Design controversies. SciPolicy published an important core of 20 related scholarly articles on the on-going Science Wars conflict between physical scientists and Social Studies of Science authors over methods of science. Some of the authors include Norman Levitt, Paul R. Gross, Steve Fuller, Val Dusek, Gabriel Stolzenberg, and Angèle Kremer Marietti.

In dual action on November 7, SciPolicy, filed its brief for Amicus Curiae in Federal Court and it also issued the editorial: “Government Should Not Mandate Teaching Intelligent Design As An Alternative To Evolution.”


Skeptic's Circle at MileZero

The next edition of Skeptic's Circle will be going up early due to the Thanksgiving holiday at MileZero on Wed., November 23. Entries due by noon on Tuesday.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


The New Loyalty Oath

Back in the 50s, when Red State Rabble was a little younger than he is now, it was not uncommon for government agencies and corporations to demand that their employees sign a loyalty oath as a condition of employment.

In those days a palpable fear hung over the nation , much like the cigarette smoke that permeates the atmosphere in the brilliant new movie by George Clooney about newsman Edward R. Murrow's epic battle with Joseph McCarthy.

Most of us look back at that dark period in American history with a shudder and wonder how things could have gotten so out of hand. Others, all of them on the right, look back at the witch-hunt era as something of a golden age in American politics.

Those people are now in charge at the Kansas State Department of Education, and they've wasted little time in bringing back the old methods.

Scott Rothschild reports in this morning's Lawrence Journal-World that the transition team, put in place by newly appointed Kansas Education Commissioner, Bob Corkins, "has been asking State Department of Education employees whether they support private school vouchers."

Corkin's transition team is headed by G. Daniel Harden, a conservative professor at Washburn University.

"In private interviews with employees," reports Rothschild, "the transition team, appointed by Corkins after he was hired last month, has asked, 'What is your general reaction to school choice, charter schools and parental empowerment?'”

"Christy Levings, president of the Kansas-National Education Assn., said the question was unfair," according to Rothschild.

“'It’s a difficult position to put state employees in,' Levings said because Corkins is a known supporter of vouchers, which allows the use of state tax dollars to send students to private schools."

As the appointment of Corkins, the hiring of David Awbrey, and the contract with Harden demonstrate, political loyalty -- not competence -- will now be the standard by which all things are judged at the department of education.

RSR has already predicted that it will not be long before career professionals are forced out at the education department. These "interviews" about the "general reaction" of employees to "school choice, charter schools and parental empowerment" will be just the opening round of a systematic political cleansing at the department.

Kansans may be able to reclaim the board in next November. We may be able to overturn the vote to redefine science. We may be able to hire a new Education Commissioner. We may be able to end cronyism. We may even get a fresh start.

But, how long will it take to fix the damage done between now and then?


Harry McDonald: Restoring Sanity to the Kansas State School Board

Now that the right-wingers on the Kansas State School Board have redefined science -- over the objections of scientists and educators -- they are likely to turn their attention to school finance issues. The appointment of anti-tax crusader Bob Corkins as Education Commissioner, and the naming of culture warrior David Awbrey as as spokesman for the state's education department provide ample evidence of the new direction they intend to take.

Political partisanship and cronyism have replaced education and experience -- and, more importantly, wisdom -- as the necessary qualifications for job seekers at the state's education department.

Code words such as "scholarships" are now being used to describe vouchers. Charter schools are on the agenda. Some speak openly of dismantling public education in the state.

The painful irony for Kansans is that opposition to public education -- once the preoccupation of a few isolated individuals on the lunatic fringe -- is now being organized out of the State Board of Education and by the top administrators in the Kansas State Department of Education.

That is why it is absolutely essential for the people of Kansas -- the overwhelming majority of whom take justifiable pride in the state's history of support for public education -- to take the state school board away from the fanatics who now control it and put it back into the hands of experienced adults.

Next November, four of the six social conservatives who brought embarrassment to the state are up for election. Voters -- as they did in 1999 -- can put a stop to the nonsense. The recent election in Dover, Penn. can serve as an example.

Supporters of education throughout the state must do more, however, than wait for the November election to roll around. The far right has been raising money to finance candidates in the school board election. They have created a series of interlocked political action committees to skirt campaign finance laws in the state.

Once sleepy school board elections, most often run out-of-pocket by non-partisan candidates with a long history of support for and involvement in education, have been replaced by well-heeled anti-tax radicals running on an thinly-concealed agenda of hostility to public education.

To defeat them, the moderate majority must become active -- right now. That means actively working for, endorsing, and, above all supporting financially, candidates who will restore sanity to the state board of education.

Harry McDonald is such a candidate. McDonald, a moderate Republican is running for the seat now held by social conservative John Bacon in the 3rd District, located in east-central Kansas, in the August 2006 primary. He is retired Blue Valley High School biology teacher, and president of Kansas Citizens for Science. McDonald has been a leader in the fight to preserve real science standards in the state.

"The evolution debate is just a symptom of what's wrong with the State Board of Education," says McDonald. "My campaign is going to revolve around larger issues."

McDonald also pledges to support adequate state funding of the state's educational system. He will vote to have the State Board of Education do the same.

"Adequate funding should be determined by the actual costs of providing this education and not by the whim of the legislature," says McDonald. He also supports the right of local school patrons to provide any additional educational opportunities -- an important issue in this part of the state -- and to spend whatever additional money is necessary to provide these opportunities.

To win, McDonald believes he will have to raise nearly $100,000. He needs your help. RSR strongly urges supporters of public education in Kansas to support McDonald by writing a check to the Committee to Elect Harry McDonald and sending it to 11917 W. 143rd St., Olathe, KS 66062.

If you live out of state, as many RSR readers do, you should remember that much of the funding for the far right candidates will come from wealthy out-of-state donors who give regularly to right-wing causes.

Your contribution, here and now, may mean that you won't have to fight creation "science" and intelligent design in your own school district later.

In the coming weeks, Red State Rabble will feature other candidates across the state who pledge to restore our state's educational system to what it was before the right got their hands on it.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Awbrey Organized Anti-Education Tax Revolt in Vermont

When he worked as an editorial page writer for the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, David Awbrey, the newly appointed spokesperson for the Kansas State Department of Education, penned an editorial titled, “Tax Revolt,” that appeared two days before Vermont's annual Town Meeting Day when most communities vote on their school budgets.

"We urged citizens to vote against their budgets, in hope that the legislature would respond to such a show of public outrage," writes Awbrey in the Education Writer. "On Town Meeting Day, a record number of towns rejected their school budgets. The Burlington Free Press was widely credited — or blamed — for the result."


Awbrey: Gettysburg of the Culture War

"A year ago this August, the Kansas Board of Education fired a shot heard around the academic world," wrote Kate Beem in a July of 2000 article titled "In Kansas Board of Education races, more is at stake than seats" in the Kansas City Star,
The target was the teaching of evolution, and the board's vote to play down the importance of Charles Darwin's theory of how species changed over eons ignited a firestorm of debate across the Midwest and the world.

Applauded by conservatives but ridiculed by commentators, the decision by the state's top education governing body has become a battle cry. And now, as Kansas voters prepare to go to the polls in August to select candidates for the November election, conservatives and moderates are girding for battle.

"This is the Gettysburg of the culture war," said David Awbrey, a syndicated conservative columnist living in Lawrence. "It's that important. It really is. Kansas is an icon for the rest of the country for what middle America is."

It was Gettysburg, alright, and the conservatives were on the losing side. Angry voters swept conservative school board members out of office in that election.


David Awbrey: Troubled Ethics?

Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins has hired David Awbrey as the new spokesman of the state's education department. Awbrey is a former editorial page editor for The Wichita Eagle, The South Illinoisian in Carbondale, Ill., and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. He was also a columnist for The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Here's a little tidbit, titled "Ticketgate" from Peter Freyne of Inside Track, an irreverant read on Vermont politics, published weekly in the Seven Days Vermont's alternative newsweekly:

Looks like a few Montpeculiar pols have been scrambling for their checkbooks since the news hit last week about the complimentary b-ball tickets for Vermont VIPs.

But one VIP, David Awbrey, stood apart. That’s because Dave is not a politician. He’s the editorial page editor of The Burlington Free Press.

In the Freeps’ story, Awbrey said he had been “naive” in accepting the two center-court ducats.

As we pointed out here last week, most newspapers have ethical guidelines that prohibit journalists from accepting free gifts from people and institutions they cover.

We asked Freeps Executive Editor Mike Townsend this week if accepting free tickets is also prohibited by Gannett’s Code of Ethics. (A copy is posted on the Freeps’ website.)

“Let me put it this way,” replied Mr. Townsend, “I wouldn’t have done it.”

Pressed on whether the Gannett ethics code specifically bans gifts like Awbrey’s tickets, Townsend described the ethics code as a list of “guidelines.” He pointed to one guideline under the heading “Maintaining Independence” that states reporters should keep an “arms-length relationship” with the people and institutions they write about.

“Clearly, as a general rule,” said Townsend. “You’re not supposed to accept gifts.”

Asked if any disciplinary action will be taken against the editorial page editor, Townsend said such internal matters are generally not made public.

“It’s between me and him,” said the executive editor.

Funny, but Mr. Awbrey sees things differently.

“It’s not in the Gannett ethics code,” Awbrey insisted in a Seven Days interview. “There’s nothing on this,” he said, referring to his two tickets to the big game.

Technically, Awbrey’s right. Unlike other ethics codes, Gannett’s doesn’t specifically say “don’t accept gifts from the folks you cover.”

In fact, Gannett’s code of ethics reads like a Boy Scout handbook. It’s very broad-brush and overloaded with platitudes like, “We will obey the law” and “We will always try to do the right thing.”

Right for whom?

Awbrey, 55, a career journalist, recounted his earlier days back in 1977 as an AP reporter covering the Pennsylvania legislature. He vividly remembered the December day he strolled into the state capital press room and witnessed reporters carrying out cases of liquor. The tradition in Pennsylvania, he said, was to distribute the year’s haul of seized booze to Statehouse pols and press just before Christmas


Corkins Appoints Spokesperson

Chris Moon of the Topeka Capitol-Journal (registration required) reports that Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins has hired David Awbrey as the new spokesman of the state's education department.

More cominig soon...


FEMA-ization of Kansas Education -- The Beat Goes On?

There's a rumor circulating among supporters of science education in Kansas -- as yet unconfirmed -- that the board of education is about to make an appointment even more partisan and outrageous than their appointment of Michael Brown, eh... Bob Corkins for Education Commissioner.

Stay tuned for more...


How to Recruit Science Teachers to Kansas

Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of the six-member social conservative majority of the Kansas State School Board, Popular Science magazine now ranks teaching biology in Kansas as the third worst job in science -- just behind manure inspector, and human lab-rat.

Here's Robert Madison's suggestion for how we might recruit new science teachers to the state:

In December of 1901, Ernest Shackleton ran an ad in a London newspaper, to recruit men for a long, dangerous journey to Antarctica. The add read:

Men wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.
Shackleton received over 4000 replies to this add, and was able to hand-pick an "all star" crew, which, as things turned out, he would definitely need! For more on that story, check out this book: Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

So, it seems to me that Kansas Citizens for Science should sponsor a series of posters, in true Shackleton spirit, that science teachers would be PROUD to hang in their classrooms! Teaching science in Kansas would become sort of an "extreme sport" type thing.

Imagine the KCFS sponsored poster which would read something like this:

Teachers wanted for Hazardous mission. Small wages, bitter opponents, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, board support doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.


Transparently Ridiculous

Yesterday, Josh Marshall, who publishes the Talking Points Memo blog, observed that,
Virtually all of the arguments the White House is now advancing are transparently ridiculous on their face to anyone who has closely followed this evolving debate over the last three years. But that doesn't matter. The White House doesn't need to win any debates. What they need is for their core supporters to have something to say.

If we swapped the words "White House" for "Discovery Institute," wouldn't that statement be just as true?

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Road Kill

"The Bob Corkins-Connie Morris road show turned into road kill in Hays on Tuesday night. The duo from the Kansas State Board of Education office in Topeka ended its two-day tour of western Kansas in Hays and was greeted by a less-than-receptive crowd in the Fort Hays State University Memorial Union. It was supposed to be a meet-and-greet session, giving Corkins, the new state education commissioner, a chance to meet the people of western Kansas."

From the top story Thursday in the Hays Daily News.


National Science Teachers Association on Kansas ID Vote

Update: The link below should be fixed now... we hope.

"To the dismay of many, the Kansas State Board of Education adopted science standards on November 8 that contain serious errors and misleading statements regarding the theory of evolution. Disregarding the concerns expressed by many leading scientific and education organizations—including NSTA, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)—the Board voted 6-4 to adopt the standards." More here.


American School Board Journal Weighs in on ID

"One of the most confrontational issues before American school boards and administrators is the effort by some Christian fundamentalists to have their views on life and its origins taught in science classes as a scientifically valid alternative to biological evolution, and intelligent design movements seek to undermine and overthrow the teaching of science and critical thought and replace them with their specific interpretation of Christianity.

From the cover story by Robert George Sprackland, "Teaching About Origins: A scientist explains why intelligent design isn't science," in the November issue of the American School Board Journal.


Buttars is Back

Utah Sen. Chris Buttars, a Republican from West Jordan, "says he has opened a confidential bill file challenging the State Board of Education's position on teaching evolution in public schools — a measure he'll unveil at the conservative Utah Eagle Forum's annual convention just days before the 2006 Legislature begins," according to Jennifer Toomer-Cook of the Deseret Morning News.

Regular RSR readers will remember that Buttars is a proponent of what he calls "Divine Design." That's intelligent design without the cammies, aka creationism.

Maybe George Wills' column urging Republicans to rethink their ill-considered embrace of intelligent design hasn't reached Buttars out there in Utah, yet. Scroll down for more...


The Writing on the Wall

Red State Rabble isn't exactly your go-to guy for quotes from conservative columnists such as George Will. Even so, we were struck by this comment from Will's regularly syndicated column in today's Lawrence Journal-World:
The storm-tossed and rudderless Republican Party should particularly ponder the vote last week in Dover, Pa., where all eight members of the school board seeking re-election were defeated. This expressed the community’s wholesome exasperation with the board’s campaign to insinuate religion, in the guise of “intelligent design” theory, into high school biology classes, beginning with a required proclamation that evolution “is not a fact.”

Rick Santorum read the handwriting on the wall and backed away from his position in support of teaching intelligent design in public schools, last week. Now George Will is sounding the alarm.

To bad it's too late for Kansas school board members Connie Morris, John Bacon, Iris Van Meter, and Ken Williard to do the same. They're going to be stuck defending votes for intelligent design, the appointment of the woefully inadequate Bob Corkins, the failure to support adequate funding for public schools in the state, and their latest boondoggle: "school choice."

The election is a long way away. A lot can happen between then and now, but the hysterical attack by state board chair Steve Abrams on local boards and superintendents -- they're pushing porn in the guise of literature -- indicates they're already feeling the pressure.


The End of Irreducible Complexity

When he's not quacking like a duck, Lehigh University biochemist and intelligent design guru, Michael Behe, sometimes speaks of irreducible complexity, the notion that:
... a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly (that is, by continuously improving the initial function, which continues to work by the same mechanism) by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional. (Darwin's Black Box, p. 39)

As an example, Behe likes to cite the bacterial flagellum, that whip-like tail that propels an organism through its environment, as an example of irreducible complexity, which he sees as a powerful challenge to Darwinian evolution.

Ken Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, has already supplied an elegant response to Behe's nonsense. In an article, "Answering the Biochemical Argument for Design," Miller notes:
In 1998 the flagella of eubacteria were discovered to be closely related to a non-motile cell membrane complex known as the Type III secretory apparatus (Heuck 1998) These complexes play a deadly role in the cytotoxic (cell-killing) activities of bacteria such as Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes bubonic plague. When these bacteria infect an organism, bacteria cells bind to host cells, and then pump toxins directly through the secretory apparatus into the host cytoplasm.

This means that a portion of the whip-like bacterial flagellum functions as the "syringe" that makes up the Type III secretory apparatus. In other words, a subset of the proteins of the flagellum is fully-functional in a completely different context – not motility, but the deadly delivery of toxins to a host cell. This observation falsifies the central claim of the biochemical argument from design – namely, that a subset of the parts of an irreducibly complex structure must be, "by definition nonfunctional."

In other words, evolution has adapted a previously existing structure, the bacterial syringe, to another use, a flagellum that propels the bacterium.

But, what if the old function, such as the syringe, is still required for an organism's survival? How can evolution account for that?

Now, there's new evidence from Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Sean Carroll and HHMI predoctoral fellow Chris Todd Hittinger. Their report appears in the December 1, 2005, issue of the journal Development.
For an animal to acquire a new form during evolution, the proteins that control its physical development sometimes take on new or altered functions through changes to the genes that encode them. But these proteins often carry out many essential roles that must be preserved for the animal to survive, and the function of most developmental proteins has been conserved throughout evolution. Now HHMI researchers have shown how those proteins can evolve new functions while retaining their old ones—enabling new animal forms to arise.

As the gaps narrow, it won't be long before they're so small, intelligent design activists like Behe won't be able to draw breath.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The Baby and the Bathwater

The sentiments in Hays were clear last night.

More from CSA's report on the meeting of the minds between Hays, Kansas residents and Education Commissioner Bob Corkins and State Board member Connie Morris:

“Instead of setting up new, unproven charter schools for such students,” asked a mother with four children in both ends of the spectrum of special education classes, "why not let public schools keep doing what’s right, and fix what’s wrong in them?” (Audience applauds)

Corkins didn’t show any evidence that private schools do a better job of educating these students.

Scroll down for more reports from Hays.


Spending More Time with the Family?

Here's more from RSR reader CSA's report from the western front, last night:

“Connie, do you plan to go back to teaching after you’re voted out next year?” asked one frustrated Hays resident.

No answer from Morris.

And on that note, the C&M roadshow exited quickly stage right. Who knows if they’ll take their show back to Hays anytime soon.


Holier Than Thou

Hays, Kansas residents, carrying a sign that reads "No Vouchers" greeted Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins and State Board member Connie Morris, last night.

More from CSA's report from the Hays stop on the Kansas Roadshow:

“You’re talking about sending tax money to religious schools,” said one Hays resident. “You’re trying to promote religion in the state science standards. We’re all here because of religion, and you know it. Sir, I’m just as religious as you are (Morris smirks) and I don’t want my kids and grandkids having your religion forced on them in the public schools.” (Audience cheers and applauds)

Corkins and Morris both denied that religion is in the state science standards. Morris encouraged all to go to and read the standards to see that intelligent design isn’t mentioned in the standards.

“Then why did you take out ‘natural’?” the man asked to the sound of cheers and applause from those present.

“I’m not going to argue with you, sir,” said Morris.

“I’m not arguing, I’m asking a question,” responded the man.

Morris smirked again, and remained silent.


Signs of the Times

This was one of the many protest signs that greeted Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins and State Board member Connie Morris in Hays, Kansas last night.


Kansas Education Follies Roadshow -- Hays Edition

Kansas State Education Commissioner Bob Corkins and State Board of Education member Connie Morris were in Hays, located in western Kansas, last night to sell their plan for "school choice" -- better known as vouchers and charter schools.

Red State Rabble corespondent CSA was on the scene, along with about 60 other Hays residents, many carrying protest signs, and provides this report:

According to a Kansas State Department of Education rep, as of late Monday morning the Morris-Corkins Western Kansas Song & Dance Tour was being well received in communities across District 5. [RSR readers may want to compare the KSDE rep's assessment with a report that at least some of the meetings were not warm and fuzzy at all, RSR]

Hays, the last stop in the show, changed that perception pretty quickly.

Corkins and Morris arrived right at 8:00 pm at the Fort Hays State University Memorial Union. They were greeted by folks holding a wide variety of less-than-welcoming signs:

· (No) Morris 2006
· (No) Vouchers
· (No) Supernatural Science
· The Religious Right is Wrong
· KBOE: Kansas Board of Evangelism
· KSDE: Kansas Still Doesn’t Evolve
· We didn’t Elect You, Corkins!
· Teach Science, Not Intelligent Design
· What’s Wrong With Kansas? – Morris & Corkins
· Teach Science in School, Religion in the Home

This 30-minute session was billed as a meet and greet by the Kansas State Department of Education, and as an introduction of Education Commissioner Bob Corkins to western Kansas. When Morris bragged that the new science standards, just adopted, were designed to encourage kids to think critically about evolution, she was greeted with hisses from the audience.

Corkins, whose bio would have classified him as at-risk said he’s a product of public schools and talked approvingly of his chemistry teacher who told him that quantum mechanics is “just a theory,” to which someone in the audience responded, “so is gravity.”

“Who paid for this trip to promote your agenda?” asked one questioner from the audience. “You’re a new employee, with a job to learn and you’ve spent a lot of money on a PR firm and consultants to help you learn it. Why are you here?”

“Communities we’ve visited have told us ‘thanks for being here,’” responded Corkins, “Would you rather we’d not make these trips?”

Morris and Corkins never answered the question of who’s paying for the trip.

“If tax money is going to private schools in the form of vouchers, will those schools be held accountable to the same standards as public schools?” asked another resident.

“No,” replied Corkins, “we want these schools to have the freedom to develop their own innovative curriculum. These vouchers are only designed for at-risk and special education students.”

More to come shortly.


Hutchinson News Poll

The Hutchison News, published in a town with a population of about 40,000 in South-Central Kansas that is home to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, is running an online poll asking whether the new science standards adopted by the State Board of Education will improve the quality of high school science education in Kansas.

As of the writing of this post, 70.4 percent of respondents (355 people) say no, 26.4 percent (135) say yes, and 2.8 percent (14) say they don't know.


Psst. It's Not All Quiet on the Western Front

Later today, Red State Rabble hopes to post an eyewitness account of a visit to Hays, Kansas by state board member Connie Morris and Education Commissioner Bob Corkins. Until then, we leave you with this report from Scott Rothschild of the Lawrence Journal-World:

Education Commissioner Bob Corkins and State Board of Education member Connie Morris promoted charter schools on a two-day tour of western Kansas that ended Tuesday.

But the subject didn’t go over so well, according to folks who attended the meetings.

“It was not a warm and fuzzy meeting at all,” said Marvin Selby, superintendent of the Goodland school district.

“We certainly found out what their agenda is,” said Wes Fox, a history teacher at Liberal High School. “It is to promote charter schools.”


ID in College Classrooms

"With a magician's flourish, Thomas Ingebritsen pulled six mousetraps from a shopping bag and handed them out to students in his "God and Science" seminar. At his instruction, they removed one component -- either the spring, hammer or holding bar -- from each mousetrap. They then tested the traps, which all failed to snap.

"'Is the mousetrap irreducibly complex?' the Iowa State University molecular biologist asked the class.

"'Yes, definitely,' said Jason Mueller, a junior biochemistry major wearing a cross around his neck.

"That's the answer Mr. Ingebritsen was looking for. He was using the mousetrap to support the antievolution doctrine known as intelligent design."

From a report by Daniel Golden of the The Wall Street Journal.


Creationism in the Classroom

"As Florida's science educators prepare for a political fight over creationism, they might want to tidy up their own classrooms first. At a conference in Orlando this month, some science teachers were the ones preaching intelligent design.

"Marcia DeMeza, a 38-year national board-certified science teacher at Lake Gibson High School in Lakeland: 'I guess you could say I'm a creationist. I always tell the students human beings are awesome to me. There has to be something that designed all this.'"

From a Nov. 14 St. Petersburg Times editorial.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Top Ten Reason to Move to Kansas

From the hot, new Kansas Morons website:

The Top Ten Reasons to Move to Kansas:

What, you're still here? Get on over to Kansas Morons and check out the whole site. Believe me, you won't be wasting your time.


"Board Adapts After Voters Select"

Fearing that the Dover School District might have to pay attorney fees, reports Josh Getlin in the LA Times, "one outgoing board member urged his colleagues Monday night to abandon the intelligent design policy, especially in view of the election. His motion died for lack of a second."

Like the dinosaurs they are, these defeated Dover board members will not evolve. They will soon be officially extinct. The warm-blooded mamals that replace them next month... Well now, that's a different story.

Getlin's story, by the way, paints an interesting portrait of the defeated Dover board and the incoming victors:

"Intelligent design isn't finished here, it isn't finished anywhere," said Alan Bonsell, an outgoing board member, as he left Monday's meeting, his last. Several hundred people, who filled a school cafeteria, applauded politely when he said the board had "worked hard" to bring Dover students "a much better future.

"The eight victors, who sat in a group, had a different message: Bernadette Reinking, a newly elected board member, said in an interview that "Dover needs to heal and put the divisions behind it, because we have to get back to our lives. We have to let the bitterness die down from this battle and focus on our students."

She added, however, that "nobody ever believed this board should have tried to impose its beliefs on people. And we're certainly not going to do that now." The new board, she said, was likely to consider teaching intelligent design in a social studies or philosophy class — but not as part of the curriculum in ninth-grade biology.


Abrams Attacks School Superintendents

An opinion piece today by Kansas State Board of Education Chair Steve Abrams hits a new low by launching an unprovoked attack on superintendents of schools throughout the state:
In spite of the fact that... a large percentage of parents do not want evolution taught as dogma in the science classroom, what is the response from some of the school superintendents around Kansas?

They seem to indicate, "We don't care what the state board does, and we don't care what parents want. We are going to continue teaching evolution just as we have been doing."

But I guess we shouldn't be surprised, because superintendents and local school boards in some districts continue to promulgate pornography as "literature," even though many parents have petitioned the local boards to remove the porn. Obviously, that is a different issue from the science standards, but it still points out the lack of commitment on the part of administration in some districts to allow parents to control the education for their own children.

What, they're reading Penthouse in Kansas English classes? Well, not exactly. Here's a list of the pornography that Abrams refers to:
Like so much else that escapes Abram's notice, the Blue Valley school district -- one of those in which parents have petitioned to ban the books listed above -- has a process for reviewing books used in the curriculum. That process involves parents, students, teachers, and administrators. In Blue Valley, where RSR's children attend public schools, the process was followed and the books were retained. The board heard testimony at a number of public meetings where a majority of parents, students, and teachers defended the books that Abrams deems pornographic.

Kansans are stuck with the Mayor of Dogpatch as the top elected official directing the education of Kansas school children until at least 2008. Abrams isn't up for election in 2006, but we can vote out four of the six social conservatives that make up Abram's board majority next November.

Abrams wants parents to control their children's education? Hey, isn't that what they just did in Dover?


Truth With a Capital T

Dennis Overbye, writing in today's New York Times, makes an interesting observation:
In the early 1990's, writers like the Czech playwright and former president Vaclav Havel and the French philosopher Bruno Latour proclaimed "the end of objectivity." The laws of science were constructed rather than discovered, some academics said; science was just another way of looking at the world, a servant of corporate and military interests. Everybody had a claim on truth.

The right defended the traditional notion of science back then. Now it is the right that is trying to change it.

Overbye's article has a good discussion -- perhaps the best we've seen -- of the implications of changing the definition of science by removing just two words, "natural explanations," from the Kansas science curriculum.

Although little attention has been paid to it, when social conservatives on the school board deleted "natural explanations" from the definition of science, they also removed the phrase, "[s]ience is a human activity... "

"Out of the crooked timber of humanity," Immanuel Kant famously said, "no straight thing was ever made." It may well be that science moves forward in fits and starts. That science can't answer the existential questions that so bedevil us. That science can be bent to serve many masters -- corporate, military, and now, inexplicably, religious.

As a human activity, science is surely an imperfect tool, but it is also the best tool we have for understanding the natural world.

It provides deep insights into the way nature works: from the nature of the solar system, to the structure of the atom; from the evolution of species to the cause and cure of disease, no system of human knowledge has been more productive.

As human societies become more complex, and our impact on the natural world and its resources more profound, an understanding of the methods of science will become more, not less important.

That's why it's worth defending.


Nothing Left to Say

A blogger's job is to comment on the news, and RSR takes that responsibility very seriously. However, sometimes there's something in the news that leaves no room for comment. Like a rare orchid, come upon unexpectedly in the wild, these items are best looked at, savored, and left alone. No comment required.

That's the case with something Steve Abrams, chair of the Kansas State Board of Education, told Associated Press writer John Hanna in an interview published yesterday. Abrams said that he doesn’t know whether an opinion column he sent to the national media, saying critics have engaged in character assassination, will change any minds.

“I was trying to do some clarification,” he said. “I expect that some will still say that I’m an absolute idiot and have no understanding of science.”


Derail the Corkins Campaign Train

Kansas Families United for Public Education reports that Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins recently visited the Kansas City, Kansas area to meet with education stakeholders. In a recent memo Mr. Corkins indicated he met with a group of "mostly teachers." However, Moderate KSBOE member Janet Waugh, who serves that area, said she wasn't invited and that she heard that there weren't any teachers involved whatsoever.
Now Mr. Corkins has announced that he will be traveling through District 5 with Conservative KSBOE member Connie Morris. It appears to us that this is nothing more than campaign stops for Ms. Morris on our tax dime. Of course it's not surprising as Ms. Morris stayed in a luxury suite in Florida on our tax dime as well. Only reimbursing the kids of Kansas when the press brought it to the attention of Kansans and the KSBOE.

How do we replace Corkins? He serves at the pleasure of the KSBOE, so we have to change the make-up of the KSOBE if we stand a chance at changing the Commissioner of Education.

We can and we will change the make up of the KSOBE. Dover Pennsylvania did it, and so can Kansas.

Kansas Families United for Public Education is an organization that supporters of science education should support. You can learn more by visiting their website, here.

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