McLeroy nomination – still dead?

May 26, 2009

Molly Ivins’ untimely passing becomes acutely painful when the Texas Lege comes down to the last days of a session.  Who can make sense of it without Molly?

We thought a couple weeks ago that Gov. Rick Perry’s nomination of creationist wedge politician Don McLeroy was dead, when the Senate Nominations Committee took testimony and failed to report the nomination, to chair the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE).

Then last week, in one of those surprise moves that even the Texas legislators responsible often cannot explain, the nomination rose from the dead and stumbled, zombie-like, to the Senate floor for a vote this week — maybe as soon as today, Tuesday, May 26.

The Houston Chronicle reports that all 12 Senate Democrats will vote against the nomination, dooming it (according to The Lonesome Mongoose, via Pharyngula).

The Bryan dentist has presided over a contentious 15-member State Board of Education that fought over curriculum standards for science earlier this year and English language arts and reading last year. Critics faulted McLeroy for applying his strong religious beliefs in shaping new science standards. McLeroy believes in creationism and that the Earth is about 6,000 years old.

“This particular State Board of Education under the leadership of Dr. McLeroy has been divisive. It’s been dysfunctional, and it has been embarrassing to the point of having commentary on this in the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

McLeroy’s leadership, she said, had made Texas “the laughing stock of the nation.”

It takes 11 votes to block a gubernatorial nomination. Van de Putte said all 12 Senate Democrats plan to vote against McLeroy

Don’t count your dead nominations before the silver stakes are driven.  Stay tuned.  Maybe you should call your Texas senator again on Tuesday. Pray, cross your fingers, hope, and pass the ammunition.

If the nomination fails, it is still foggy as Donora, Pennsylvania on its worst days as to who will head the group.  The chairman must come from one of the 15 elected members.  Most people who might win Rick Perry’s selection are creationists.  If Perry is wise, he’ll try to choose someone who is a capable administrator, wise chairman of hearings, and who lacks the desire to annoy key players in education, like administrators, teachers, parents, Texas college presidents and professors, and state legislators.  Alas for Texas, Winston Churchill is not a member of the SBOE, nor is Mitt Romney.

The Senate rarely blocks a governor’s appointment.

There is speculation in the Capitol and within the Texas Education Agency that Gov. Rick Perry might elevate Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, to lead the board. Like McLeroy, Dunbar also holds strong Christian beliefs and recently authored a book that advocates more religion in the public square.

“We believe that Texans deserve better than divisive, destructive, extreme leadership,” Shapleigh said. “If the governor chooses to appoint someone more extreme and more divisive, we’ll have to deal with that at the appropriate time.”

McLeroy’s tenure as chairman of SBOE is one of those waves we were warned about in 1983 lin the Excellence in Education Report, which warned of a “rising tide of mediocrity.”  The divisions and crude politics, heavy-handed destruction of statutory and regulatory procedures, at best distracts from the drive for better education, but more often leans toward the worst, sabatoging the work of students, teachers, parents, administrators and legislatures.

Do you pray?  Pray that Texas education be delivered safely and intact from this time of trial.  Whether you pray or not, call your Texas legislator and tell her or him to straighten out the SBOE.


Well, Texas! How do you like your culture war!

March 30, 2009

Historical Item:  William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper in New York favored war with Spain in 1898 — the Spanish-American War.  When the war got underway, on the top of the newspaper’s first page, in the corners (the “ears”), Hearst printed, “America!  How do you like your war!”

Creationism lost on the votes that had been planned for weeks, on issues members of the State Board of Education were informed about.  But creationists on the board proposed a series of amendments to several different curricula, and some really bad science was written in to standards for Texas school kids to learn.  Climate change got an official “tsk-tsk, ain’t happenin'” from SBOE.  And while Wilson and Penzias won a Nobel Prize for stumbling on the evidence that confirmed it, Big Bang is now theory non grata in Texas science books.   Using Board Member Barbara Cargill’s claims, Texas teachers now should teach kids that the universe is a big thing who tells big lies about her age.

Phil Plait wrote at Bad Astronomy:  “Texas:  Yup.  Doomed.”

A surefire way to tell that the changes were bad:  The Discovery Institute’s lead chickens  crow victory over secularism, science and “smart people.”  Well, no, they aren’t quite that bold.   See here, here, here and hereDisco Tute even slammed the so-conservative-Ronald-Reagan-found-it-dull Dallas Morning News for covering the news nearly accurately.  Even more snark here. Discovery Institute’s multi-million-dollar budget to buy good public relations for anti-science appears to have dropped a bundle in Austin; while it might appear that DI had more people in Austin than there are members of the Texas SBOE . . . no, wait, maybe they did.

SBOE rejected the advice of America’s best and greatest scientists.  If it was good science backed by good scientists and urged by the nation’s best educators, SBOE rejected it.  If it was a crank science idea designed to frustrate teaching science, it passed.  As the Texas Freedom Network so aptly put it, while SBOE closed the door on “strengths and weaknesses” language that favors creationism, they then opened every window in the house.

Read ’em, and tell us in comments if you find any reason for hope, or any reason the state legislature shouldn’t abolish this board altogether.  (What others should we add to the list?)

Texas science under siege: Help if you can

March 27, 2009

More bad news than good news from the Texas State School Board:  Yes, the board failed to reintroduce the creationist sponsored “strengths and weaknesses” language in high school science standards; but under the misleadership of Board Chair Don McLeroy, there is yet <i>another</i> series of amendments intended to mock science, including one challenging Big Bang, one challenging natural selection as a known mechanism of evolution, and, incredibly, one challenging the even the idea of common descent.  It’s a kick in the teeth to Texas teachers and scientists who wrote the standards the creationists don’t like.

Texas Freedom Network’s blog headline tells the story:  “Science Under Siege in Texas.”

Do you live in Texas?  Do you teach, or are you involved in the sciences in Texas?  Then please send an e-mail to the State Board of Education this morning, urging them to stick to the science standards their education and science experts recommended.  Most of the recent amendments aim to kill the standards the scientists and educators wrote.

TFN tells how to write:

You can still weigh in by sending e-mails to board members at Texas Education Agency staff will distribute e-mails to board members.

You don’t think it’s serious?  Here’s Don McLeroy explaining the purpose of one of his amendments:

Live blogging of SBOE activities today by Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science, here, and by the Texas Freedom Network, here.

Texas expects every Texas scientist to do her or his duty

March 9, 2009

Science needs your help, Texas scientists.

Last month science won a victory when members of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) agreed to strip creationist, anti-science language out of biology standards.

In the lightning round that followed the vote, however, some bad stuff was proposed.  The National Center for Science Education asks every Texas scientist to contact your representative on the SBOE to urge them to vote against the bad stuff at a meeting near the end of March.

Don’t take my word for it.  Below the fold, the full rundown of bad stuff, copied from NCSE’s website.

Details are available from Texas Citizens for Science.

New Texas Science Standards Will Be Debated and Voted Upon March 26-27 in Austin by the Texas State Board of Education — Public Testimony is March 25

Radical Religious-Right and Creationist members of the State Board of Education will attempt to keep the unscientific amendments in the Texas science standards that will damage science instruction and textbooks.


The Texas Freedom Network has good information, too.

Also check out Greg Laden’s Blog.

Even Pharyngula’s in — Myers gets more comments from sneezing than the rest of us — but if he’s on it, you know it’s good science.

Read the rest of this entry »

13 questions evolution can answer, intelligent design cannot

January 18, 2009

Stephen Bratteng, a biology teacher at Westwood High School  in Austin put this together.  I got the list from him when I heard him testify in favor of solid science in biology textbooks, in hearings before the Texas State Board of Education in 2003.

Here are questions that evolution can answer, but intelligent design cannot.

If intelligent design cannot offer any insight into these things, but evolution can, why should we allow intelligent design or any other flaccid “alternative” to evolution into science classes?  (Here’s the Institute for Creation Research, spending hundreds of words to fog over their inability to answer a single one of the questions!)

Why not teach our children the best we know, rather than junk we don’t know at all?

Mr. Bratteng’s 13 Questions

  1. Why does giving vitamin and mineral supplements to undernourished anemic individuals cause so many of them to die of bacterial infections?
  2. Why did Dr. Heimlich have to develop a maneuver to dislodge food particles from people’s wind pipes?

    Dr. Henry Heimlich

    Dr. Henry Heimlich

  3. Why does each of your eyes have a blind spot and strong a tendency toward retinal detachment? But a squid whose eyesight is just as sharp does not have these flaws?
  4. Why are depression and obesity at epidemic levels in the United States?
  5. When Europeans came to the Americas, why did 90 percent of the Native Americans die of European diseases but not many Europeans died of American diseases?
  6. Why do pregnant women get morning sickness?
  7. Why do people in industrialized countries have a greater tendency to get Crohn’s disease and asthma?
  8. Why does malaria still kill over a million people each year?*
  9. Why are so many of the product Depends sold each year?
  10. Why do people given anti-diarrheal medication take twice as long to recover from dysentery as untreated ones?
  11. Why do people of European descent have a fairly high frequency of an allele that can make them resistant to HIV infection?
  12. Close to home: Why do older men often have urinary problems?

    Cedar tree near Austin, Texas

    Cedar tree near Austin, Texas

  13. And why do so many people in Austin get cedar fever?

Of course, I don’t have the list of all the answers!  (Can you help me out, Dear Reader?  List what you know in comments.)


American Red Cross poster on Heimlich Maneuver, from BusinessInsider

American Red Cross poster on Heimlich Maneuver, from BusinessInsider

Update November 2016: Actually, malaria death rates have been below a million/year worldwide since 2000; in 2015, fewer than 470,000 people died. At other posts on this blog you can learn that most of this great progress against malaria has been accomplished without DDT.  Mr. Bratteng’s question remains valid, despite the happy decline in malaria deaths.


Evolution, other science on trial – today, in Austin, Texas

November 19, 2008

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) hearings on proposals for new science standards kick off today — and will probably run long into the night.

You can probably still sneak comments in.  You can listen to the hearings in streaming audio, live.  You can read the live blog reports from Texas Citizens for Science (TCS) President Steve Schafersman.

Texas science teacher Joe Lapp (a member of TCS) will give the board some good advice — will they listen?

Lapp will say:

My name is Joe Lapp, but I go by Spider Joe. I teach children about spiders, about the biology and physics of a spider’s world. My mission is to stoke passion for science in children and to empower children to think like scientists. I like to think that I’m launching these children into productive future careers as scientists, and indirectly, through them, contributing to solving some of mankind’s most serious challenges.

I’m watching what is going on here in the State Board of Education. You’re vying over what to teach about science and about evolution in particular. Some of you say, “teach the weaknesses with evolution.” Some of you say, “the ‘weaknesses’ are phony, don’t teach them.” You argue over whether science includes the supernatural or is restricted to just natural phenomena.

I ask you, how many of you grew up to be scientists? How many of you make a living teaching science to children? In a world full of people who dedicate their lives to science or science education, how many of you on the board are one of these specialized experts?

I’m suggesting that you recognize that you yourselves don’t have the answers.

We all come to the table with preferences and biases, but we’re talking about our children’s education and their future lives. When a scientist approaches a question, she may have a preferred answer, one that might win her the Nobel prize. When Pons and Fleischmann performed their cold fusion experiment, they wanted to see more energy output than input. Their bias blinded them to the truth, and rather than winning the Nobel Prize they became laughing stocks. If a scientist wants to know the truth, she must design an experiment that might show her desired outcome wrong; she must delegate her answer to the outcome of an experiment that ignores her biases.

The State Board of Education has a choice. One option is to play politics with our children’s future and vote your bias, regardless of the truth. The other option is to delegate your answer to the outcome of an experiment that ignores your biases, so that the answer better reflects the truth.

Fortunately for you, you have already performed the experiment. You delegated answers to your questions about science and evolution to experts in science and science education. They answered in the form of your September TEKS drafts. I urge you not to suffer the embarrassing fate of Pons and Fleischmann and to accept your experimental results. I suspect that politics introduced biases into the November drafts. Don’t fudge your results.

Please show your respect for children and science by making this a scientific decision and not a political one. Launch children into science by example. Envision children growing up to create new biofuels, cure cancers, eliminate AIDS, end malnutrition, reverse global warming, and save our wondrous natural resources for future generations.

Science is our children’s future.


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