Planet Earth

Advances in Deception

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerJan 23, 2004 11:07 PM


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If you'd like an example of the latest rhetorical tricks being used by antievolutionists, you can't do better than this press release issued today from the Discovery Institute. The Minnesota legistlature has to choose between two drafts of state science standards written by a committee. A minority of the committee wrote the second draft, which requires that "weaknesses" of evolution be taught. The Discovery Institute (a well-funded cryptocreationist outfit) is trying to mess with biology class, as it has in states across the country. DI would like to convince us that science is like politics--that there is a middle ground, surrounded on either side by the radical fringe. And DI would also like you to believe that they occupy that middle ground. Seth Cooper of DI tells us that legislators have the chance to let students learn about evolution "fully and fairly," rather than being "held hostage to the demands of extremes on either side of the debate." So, on one side, we have those who would "like religious views to be presented in biology class," and on the other hand we have people who recognize that evolution is as well established a scientific theory as the germ theory of disease or the theory of quantum physics. In the middle, we have the Discovery Institute, which supports requiring "students to be able to distinguish between changes existing within species (microevolution) and the emergence of new species and changes above the species level (macroevolution)." Let's look at this bogus spectrum again. I wonder who exactly wants religion taught in biology classes. Is the Discovery Institute selling out other creationists? Of course not. The oldtime "Creation Scientists" of yore never claimed to teach religion in biology class. They had "scientific" proof that a flood created all geological features a few thousand years ago and had no need to open their bible. For them, biology class simply provided an account of the world that they could feel comfortable with. If the Discovery Institute really is so set against the demands of this extreme, then they should work as hard against Young Earth Creationists as they do against science standards. I see no evidence of this. In fact, Young Earth creationists have been happily embraced as fellows at the Discovery Institute. On the other side of the spectrum, we have the other "extreme" that accepts evolution as a well-established but dynamic part of biology. Let's see who we've got here. Dozens of leading organizations of scientists. The authors of thousands of papers published in peer-reviewed journals. When scientists involved in the Human Genome Project offer insights into how a common ancestor gave rise to fruit flies, vinegar worms, and ourselves, apparently they are giving themselves away as extremists. Then comes an outright lie. "Cooper added that the minority report followed guidance from Education Commissioner Cheri Yecke, who had encouraged the standards committee to look to guidelines set down by Congress in the Conference Report of the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress urged states to present 'the full range of scientific views" on controversial topics "such as biological evolution.' "Last fall, Commissioner Yecke received a letter from Congress stressing that this guidance in the No Child Left Behind Act Conference Report was the official position of Congress on science education. The letter was signed by Minnesota Congressman John Kline and Congressman John Boehner, chairman of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee." You would never guess from this passage that the wording about evolution was cut out of the act before it became a bill. It is not Congress's official position. Finally, the press release ends by urging Minnesota to "teach the controversy." The Discovery Institute would like to pretend that their specious claims are actually part of a scientific controversy. If that were true, then you'd expect them publishing new findings in Cell or The Journal of Biochemistry, and being invited to give talks at major scientific venues like the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. Instead, they whine with their bogus claims of censorship. Having been unable to make a dent in the scientific arena, they create a political controversy, through which they hope to get from high schools what they can't get from real science: credibility. Pharyngula is a good place to see how things develop in Minnesota (Its author is a Univeristy of Minnesota biologist). I hope that they can marshall the same spirited grass-roots opposition to this nonsense that has emerged in other states like Texas and Ohio and Kansas. Update 8PM: PZ Meyers reports on Pharyngula that the first day of committee hearings today on the science standards featured a Young Earth creationist blaming evolution for venereal disease. I await a press release from the forces of moderation at the Discovery Institute, attacking this extremist. And wait, and wait, and wait....

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