War on science, war on education: Evolution under fire at Texas education board

July 21, 2011

Ryan at the Texas Freedom Network laid out the stakes:

Just a reminder about what new chairwoman Barbara Cargill — and her five “conservative Christian” allies on the State Board of Education — have in mind for the meeting this week:

I am a little bit concerned in looking at some of these science online supplementary materials. I looked at one of the links and there was a picture of a — a graphic of a human fetus next to a gorilla fetus talking about how they only differ by one amino acid. Therefore, universal common decent. So that is of some concern. And I am not quite sure if we are going to have the votes to overturn that. We will work diligently to rectify and correct some of that. But remember we lost a conservative seat, so we’re down to six.

In this unguarded moment, Cargill drops the double-speak and is honest about her plan for the first meeting over which she will preside as chair  — pressure publishers to censor scientific information from their materials and to insert bogus information questioning evolution. And she knows exactly what her task is: to get the extra votes necessary to accomplish this.

Stay tuned to TFN Insider on Thursday and Friday as we give you a front-row seat at the contentious hearing and board vote.

Live blogging the meeting starting at about 10:00 a.m today at TFN Insider at at Steve Schafersman’s blog, from the Texas Citizens for Science.

More, resources:

Friends of science and evolution: Testify next week in the Texas textbook process?

July 14, 2011

I get important e-mail from the Texas Freedom Network; they’re asking for help next week to fight creationism and other forms of buncombe popular in Texas:

Science and the SBOE: One Week to Go

Next week, the Texas State Board of Education will take a critical vote on science in our public schools. We need people like you to make sure the vote is in favor of sound, well-established science.

Up for board consideration are science instructional materials submitted by a number of publishers and vendors who want their product used in Texas classrooms. Even before the board meets, far-right groups have been hard at work trying to ensure materials approved by the board attack and diminish evolutionary science and include the junk science of “intelligent design”/creationism.

The attacks include one from a little-know firm out of New Mexico, International Databases, which submitted instructional materials rife with creationist propaganda.

It gets worse. Far-right SBOE members last month appointed creationists with questionable scientific credentials to teams tasked with reviewing the materials and making recommendations to the board.

And new board chair Barbara Cargill upped the stakes when in a speech just last week she framed the debate over science as a “spiritual battle.”

The board will hold just ONE public hearing on the science materials. Your participation is crucial.

It is critical that you act now by clicking here to express your interest in testifying before the board on July 21.

Please note: The deadline to sign up to testify is 5 p.m. Monday.

We must insist that the SBOE keep junk science – including “intelligent design”/creationism – out of our children’s classrooms. The board must approve only instructional materials that are accurate, that are in line with sound and well-established science, and that will prepare Texas children to succeed in college and the jobs of the 21st century.

Texas Freedom Network advances a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the radical right. www.tfn.org | www.tfninsider.org | General: tfn@tfn.org
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Trying to carve out time here.  Can you help?

Hearings will be most interesting.  Support for the Texas State Board of Education actually comes, often, from the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  TEA this week laid off just under 200 workers, to deal with the 36% budget chopping done to the agency by the Texas Lege.  Word comes this week that curriculum directors at TEA were let go, including the director of science curriculum.

It’s rather like the first 20 weeks of World War II in the Pacific, with the aggressors advancing on almost all fronts against science.  When is our Battle of Midway?

Information, resources: 

Texas Citizens for Science, new Facebook page

June 23, 2011

One more way to connect with Texas Citizens for Science, the defenders especially of good science in public school classrooms:

Texas Citizens for Science logo

Are you a member?

Hello, Friends of Texas Citizens for Science,

If you haven’t done so yet, please visit the new TCS Facebook Page at <http://www.facebook.com/pages/Texas-Citizens-for-Science/220812611277400?sk=wall> and become a Friend. TCS is only four Friends short of reaching the number to use a shortened URL.

Also, please make a note of our new TCS email address.

The July State Board of Education meeting will be important for us. I will attend and live blog the important parts.

Thank you all very much.

Steven Schafersman, President
Texas Citizens for Science

Liveblogging the Texas State Board of Education

May 21, 2010

Or, should that be “Texas State Soviet of Education?”

Steve Schafersman (of Texas Citizens for Science fame)  is live blogging for the Texas Observer, here.

Texas Freedom Network blogs it here.

Did I forget to mention that earlier?


Texas social studies standards: Beware the ides of January

January 15, 2010

News reports in Texas this morning said that several of the right-wing, gut-education-standards changes proposed to social studies standards had failed in voting on Thursday, January 14.  But, much more was to be done, and the SBOE adjourned early last night to continue voting today.

In a pattern familiar to education advocates in Texas, board member Don McLeroy (R-Pluto) today proposed a long series of amendments, apparently off-the-cuff, but probably written up in earlier strategy sessions.  These last-minute amendments tend to pass having missed any serious scrutiny.

Will he be able to ruin Texas education for the next decade?  I cannot follow the live webcasts; Steve Schafersman is working to stop the amendments, rather than merely blog about them.  We probably won’t know the extent of the damage for weeks.  McLeroy cherishes his role as a Port-au-Prince-style earthquake to Texas education. (Pure coincidence, I’m sure — Ed Brayton summarizes McLeroy’s politics today.)

Watch that space, and other news sources.  I may provide updates here, as I can get information.

Social studies train wreck at Texas State Board of Education: Live! A Nation at Risk

January 13, 2010

Steve Schafersman will live blog the hearings on social studies standards before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) today, at Evo-Sphere.  Schafersman is president of Texas Citizens for Science, and a long-time activist for better education in Texas on all topics.

Rapid updates or live-blogging should be available at the blog of the Texas Freedom Network, TFN Insider.

It’s Item #6 on the SBOE agenda, with a title that tips off the trouble:

Item #6 — Public Hearing Regarding Proposed Revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 113, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies, and Chapter 118, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits.

Schafersman e-mailed an introduction to the meeting:

Some say the Social Studies public testimony by the religious right, liberals, etc., then the SBOE debate, motions to amend, votes, etc. is a bigger circus than adopting the science standards. Judge for yourself. You can watch the entire circus, carnival, and sideshow on the webcast video at http://www.texasadm in.com/cgi- bin/tea.cgi

This is Texas democracy in action, when sullen and tight-lipped State Board members listen to public testifiers for 3 minutes each and profoundly ignore them since they already know what they are going to do. But I, at least, feel better after speaking so I don’t later feel responsible for the crappy amendments, changes, and policies that come out of this horrible Board because I did nothing. The proposed Social Studies standards written by the panels composed of teachers and professors are excellent (when have I heard this before), but the SBOE can’t wait to shamelessly impose their own Religious Right agenda on them.

You’ll recall that SBOE has at every possible turn disregarded the advice of famous and serious historians, respected free-market-advocating economists, geographers and educators on these standards.  Economists, for example, want Texas kids to learn about “capitalism,” since that’s what it’s called by economists and policy makers, and colleges.  SBOE thinks “capitalism” sounds too subversive, and wishes instead to require Texas kids to learn about “free enterprise” instead.

‘A rose by any other name’ you think, until you start thinking of how Texas kids do on standardized tests, college admission exams, and the punchline on the joke, about Texas kids being told not to study capitalism.  No siree, no capitalism in the fictional home of J. R. Ewing, never mind the real-life capitalists like T. Boone Pickens or H. Ross Perot (Jr. and Sr.).

In Dallas, the city prepares to name a street after Cesar Chavez, the great Hispanic union organizer and advocate for working Americans.  In Austin, SBOE works to strike all mentions of Chavez, because they dislike the politics of heroes of our ethnic minorities (soon to be a majority in Texas).  In Washington historians and policy-makers follow the legacy of Thurgood Marshall, the great civil rights attorney and first African-American to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.  In Austin, SBOE thinks Marshall should be left out of history books.  Many of us suspect he’s anathema to the white right-wing in Austin:  A smart, successful and noble man of color.

Mel and Norma Gabler died years ago, but their history lingers in the halls of education policy in Austin.  It’s Shakespearean.

This is a massive battle.  David Barton worked for 30 years to gut history standards nationally to teach a history of America that never was, and as the official religionist appointee of the right-wing SBOE members, he stands on the brink of accomplishing much of the revisionism he’s advocated.  See the Texas Tribune story on the issue, “Hijacking History.”

Generally we shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, Ronald Reagan said.  At the SBOE, we’ve put the terrorists in charge of history and economic curricula — if not the terrorist themselves, at least the terrorists’ camels’ noses.  Texas’s process has earned flashing red-light, claxon-sounding repeating of the words of Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Excellence in Education:  If a foreign nation did this to us, we’d consider it an act of war [excerpt below the fold].

Make no mistake about it.  SBOE’s goal is to roll back any of the reforms left from Reagan’s Commission’s work.  Our nation is more at risk from foreign competition than ever before.  SBOE plans to give away a bit more of our future to China, this week.

Our saving grace is the general incompetence of SBOE members to make significant reform in Texas’s wounded schools, reeling from unworkable and damaging requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act and a testing program that severely limits what can be taught in any social studies course other than those bastions of learning left in International Baccalaureate programs and Advanced Placement courses (estimates are that between 5% and 10% of Texas high school students can take one of those good courses).  Whatever silliness, craziness or lies SBOE orders to  be taught, it can’t be taught and tested well.  Inertia preventing change works to save America in this case.

In business, most CEOs at least appreciate the value of having good front-line employees who are the ones who really deliver the service or product and produce the profit of the enterprise (even if they don’t treat those employees so well as the employees deserve).  Education may be the last bastion of flogging the horse that should be pulling the cart instead.  In this case, having well-trained teachers in the classroom is the last hope for Texas, Texas parents and Texas students — and Texas’s economic future and future in liberty.  Teachers are the last defense of freedom in Texas.  Today SBOE will make another assault on the ramparts that protect the teachers in their work.

When will the French fleet arrive to lend aid?  Will it arrive at all?  And if it arrives, will Texas kids know better than to shoot at the ships?

Carol Haynes, who claims to have a doctorate in some discipline, told the board how to rewrite the standards to completely change the history of the civil rights movement in their last hearing on the topic.  According to Haynes, apparently, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was opposed to civil rights and Barry Goldwater was in favor — the Board didn’t offer to correct her revisionism, but instead asked her to go beyond her three minutes in fawning acceptance. This appears to be SBOE’s approval of various Other Universe hypotheses offered by Star Trek, allowing any damned thing at all to be taught as history (except the right stuff).  Haynes is scheduled to testify again (#128), probably very late at night, but perhaps in time for the 10:00 p.m. Texas television news broadcasts.  Oy.

Excerpt from the Report of the Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, below the fold.


Cover of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, the 1983 report that started the education reform mess. AFT graphic.

Stand up for your nation, it’s children and future; sound the alarm:

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Schafersman’s testimony on social studies standards, to Texas SBOE

January 13, 2010

Dr. Steve Schafersman will testify on proposed new standards for social studies in Texas public schools, at a hearing before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) scheduled for today, January 13, 2009.

Schafersman is president of Texas Citizens for Science and its driving force.  He’ll also live blog much of the hearing at his blog, Evo-Sphere.  You should probably watch TFN Insider, the blog of the Texas Freedom Network, too.

Schafersman’s testimony was released in advance, and reprinted below.

Public Testimony of
Steven D. Schafersman

Texas State Board of Education Public Hearing
, Texas; Wednesday, 2009 January 13

I am grateful for the opportunity to address you about Social Studies standards for which I am testifying as a private citizen. Tomorrow you will begin your work to adopt the new Social Studies TEKS. I closely read and evaluated the proposed Grade 8 Social Studies, High School U. S. History, U. S. Government, World History, and World Geography standards and found them to be quite satisfactory. The standards were extremely comprehensive, balanced, fair-minded, and honest. The members of the panels who wrote them did an outstanding job and I was very impressed by their knowledge and professionalism. I urge that you adopt these Social Studies standards without change.

My experience with this Board leads me to suspect that some of you don’t want to adopt these excellent standards–written by social studies curriculum experts and teachers–without change. After all, these standards were written by experts and some of you feel obliged to stand up to the experts. Some of you may want to change some of the standards to correspond to your own political and religious beliefs, such as the mistaken notions that the United States is a Christian nation, that we do not have a secular government, or that separation of church and state is a myth. Some of you may want to add more unnecessary information about Christian documents or Christian history in America. If some of you do wish to make such changes, I request that you restrain yourselves. Please resist the temptation to engage in the same behavior some of you exhibited last year when you perverted the Science standards and embarrassed the citizens of Texas by engaging in pseudoscientific anti-intellectual behavior. While the Texas State Board of Education has a long and proud history of anti-intellectualism, the economic conditions today demand that we stop that practice and return to professionalism and respect for academic achievement so that our children have a future in which they will use their minds to make a living in intellectual pursuits and not their limbs in a service economy.

During the adoption of the science standards, some Board members amended the Biology and Earth and Space Science standards by engaging in fast talking, omitting pertinent information about what was being changed, offering bogus “compromises” that were not really fair compromises, and referring to “experts” who were in fact pseudoscientists and not real experts at all. I hope to not witness the same behavior tomorrow but I am pessimistic. Two pseudo-historians, David Barton and Peter Marshall, were appointed as “experts” and there is plenty of evidence available that demonstrates that these two gentlemen are preachers and polemicists for their radical agendas, not legitimate history experts.

I urge the rational and conservative Board members–whom I hope still make up a majority of this Board–to resist proposed radical amendments that attempt to insert bogus histories of American exceptionalism, America’s presumed Christian heritage as the source of our liberties and Constitutional principles, and other historical myths perpetrated by the American Religious Right. I urge you to vote No to such radical amendments, not Abstain or your radical opponents will gain the same advantage that they enjoyed during the amendment process for the Science standards, where they were delighted when some of you abstained or did not vote since that made it easier for them to obtain majorities which allowed them to win several amendments that made changes detrimental to science education. Unlike last year, when you were prevented from consulting your legitimate Science experts during debate, please consult your genuine Social Studies experts, Texas Professors Kracht, Hodges, and de la Teja. Please try to avoid the same mistakes with the Social Studies adoption process that occurred with the Science standards adoption, so no one will be able to accuse you of being anti-intellectual.

What is a kilosteve? Buy the t-shirt, find out

October 24, 2009

You can get your kilosteve t-shirt here.

Why would you want one?

Every scientist named Steve should have one -- and so should you!

Every scientist named Steve should have one -- and so should you! (Front)

Because it puts you in the company of distinguished scientists who stoutly defend the teaching of good science to children, so they can go on to become great scientists themselves.

Plus, it’s a poke in the eye to the Texas State Board of Education, none of whom are named Steve, and few of whom would be invited to sign on if they were.

Here’s the back of the shirt:

KiloSteve t-shirt, back side.  1,099 total Steves. (Back)

KiloSteve t-shirt, back side. 1,099 total Steves. (Back)

A kilosteve is a thousand Steves.

Creationists fondly distributed a list of scientists who, they claimed, question whether the theory of evolution is accurate.  The anti-science Discovery Institute in Seattle distributed the list starting in about 2001, with a few hundred names.

To claims that many scientists opposed teaching evolution, NCSE created a list of scientists who support teaching evolution theory — but limiting that list to scientists with the first name “Steve,” or a derivative of Steve.  About 1% of people in the English-speaking world have such a name — so the fact that more scientists named Steve sign the list supporting evolution, than those of all names who sign the list denying it, means that the Discovery Institute list represents less than 1% of all scientists.

A comparison of the lists is always instructive.  In 2003 I started phoning people listed on the Discovery Institute list; of the first 20 I called, ten denied having signed any petition against evolution.  One demanded his name be removed.  Five made a modest defense of being skeptical of evolution, but none of them were biologists, and none had any publications which questioned any part of evolution in any way.

NCSE started the project in 2003, not long after the death of Stephen Jay Gould, the staunch defender of science and evolution who was the main witness in the first creationism trial, in Arkansas in 1981.  It’s a fitting memorial to a fine teacher.

Eugenie Scott heads up NCSE.  In an e-mail this week to members of Texas Citizens for Science, who were discussing the kilosteve shirt, she noted it has already spread overseas.

Just wanted you to know that when I gave my talk at Cambridge University Tuesday, Steve #800 walked into the lecture room wearing his kilosteve shirt.

A proud moment!

(Of course I threw open my arms and said in a cheery voice, “STEVE!!!”)

It almost makes one wish one’s name were Steve.  (One also may wonder, who is Steve #800?) The shirt’s a great buy, especially considering that for the price of a kilosteve, one actually gets 1.099 kilosteves.  (As of today, there are 1,118 Steves who have signed the list.)

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula, which noted the achievement of the kilosteve when it actually happened, and to Texas Citizens for Science, just for the heck of it..

You came to this blog, and all you got was a plug for a lousy t-shirt; share your displeasure:

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46 states agree to work for common education standards — Texas left out

June 17, 2009

(This issue has moved a bit since I first drafted this post — watch for updates.)

Ain’t it the way?

46 of the 50 states agreed to work for common education standards through a project of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  Texas is one of four states not agreeing.  News comes from a report in the venerable Education Week (and to me directly via e-mail from Steve Schafersman at Texas Citizens for Science).

National standards for education are prohibited in the U.S. by law and tradition.  Education standards traditionally have been set by each of the more than 15,000 local school districts.  After the 1957 Sputnik education cleanup, and after the 1983 report of the Excellence in Education Commission, the nation has seen a drive to get at least state-wide standards, though a jealous regard for federalism still prevents national standards.

Almost all other industrialized nations have a set of national standards set by the national government, against which progress may be measured.  All the industrialized nations who score higher than U.S. students in international education comparisons, have standards mandated by a national group.

So if it’s an internationally recognized way of improving education, as part of their continuing war on education, and their war on science and evolution theory, the Texas State Board of Education takes the Neanderthal stance, avoiding cooperation with the 92% of the states working to improve American education.

You couldn’t make up villains like this.

Article below the fold.

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Man the ramparts: Texans, call your legislators!

May 22, 2009

Texans, the information on finding your state representative and state senator are below — call them, today.

In a surprise move, the Senate has moved the nomination of Don McLeroy to the floor for an up-and-down vote.

McLeroy has ushered in a new era of bitter, partisan and divisive politics to the State Board of Education.  In the past year he has insulted English teachers, citizens of Hispanic descent, unnecessarily gutted a good mathematics text from the approved list (just to show he can do it), and done his best to butcher science education standards for Texas.  He suspended work on new social studies curricula because, in part, he doesn’t like the term “capitalism,” insisting on “free enterprise” instead, contrary to almost all scholarly writing on the topic.

The man is a menace to education.  He uses wedge political issues to divide educators from parents, parents from schools, schools from the community, students from teachers, and education from propaganda.

I quote the entirety of the post from Texas Freedom Network’s Insider blog, below, to explain:

UPDATE: Click here to see video of the committee vote.

In a surprise meeting on the Senate floor, the Senate Nominations Committee in Austin has just approved the appointment of Don McLeroy as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education. It appears that McLeroy’s supporters plan to bring his confirmation to the full Senate early next week. Confirmation will require a two-thirds vote.

Committee Chairman Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, had said he would not bring up McLeroy’s confirmation for a vote in committee unless he thought there were enough votes to get it in the full Senate. We don’t know at this point whether opposition from nearly all Democrats and some Republicans has softened, but the signs are alarming.

If you haven’t done so already, it’s critical that you contact your senator and tell him or her that you oppose McLeroy’s confirmation. You can find the name and contact information for your senator here.

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller has released the following statement:

“If the Texas Senate genuinely cares about quality public education, they will reject as state board chairman a man who apparently agrees that parents who want to teach their kids about evolution are monsters. And we’ll see whether senators really want a chairman who presides over a board that is so focused on ‘culture war’ battles that it has made Texas look like an educational backwater to the rest of the country.”

Gov. Perry appointed McLeroy board chairman in July 2007. Since then, the board has turned debates over language arts and science curriculum standards in “culture war” battlegrounds. Chairman McLeroy has also endorsed a book that says parents who want to teach children about evolution are “monsters” and calls clergy who see no conflict between faith and science “morons.” This spring McLeroy led other creationists on the state board in adopting new science curriculum standards that call the scientific consensus on evolution into question and no longer include references to scientific estimates of the age of the universe.

Up-to-the-minute reports from the science ramparts — today’s evolution hearings

March 25, 2009

If you’re not thinking of Edward R. Murrow’s reports from the roof of the building in London as the bombs fell, you’re not aware of how grave things are in Texas.

The Texas Freedom Network is live-blogging the hearings in Austin, before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE).  Testimony of a sort is being offered on whether to force Texas kids to study false claims of scientific error about evolution.

Steve Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science is live-blogging, too, here at EvoSphere.

Schafersman listed several ways you can keep up with the hearings:

I will be live blogging the Texas State Board of Education meeting of 2009 March 25-27 in this column. This includes the hearing devoted to public testimony beginning at 12:00 noon on Wednesday, March 25. I will stay through the final vote on Friday, March 27.

Go to the following webpages for further information:

State Board of Education

March 25-26 SBOE Meeting Agenda

March 25 Public Hearing with Testimony, 12:00 noon

State Board rules for Public Testimony

Current Science TEKS as revised in 2009 January

For the live audio feed, go to http://www.tea.state.tx.us/ for the link.

98% of Texas scientists say ‘teach evolution, not intelligent design’

November 18, 2008

Many scientists and researchers call Texas home, working at the Johnson Space Center, Texas A&M University, the University of Texas, University of Texas at Dallas, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University, Baylor University, Rice University, the University of Houston, Texas Tech, the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center . . . well, you get the idea.

These are people who work in science every day.  Many of them dedicate their lives to research in biological sciences, where evolution theory is the foundation and framework that hold all the biological sciences together.

In a groundbreaking poll released today by the Texas Freedom Network, 98% of Texas scientists told the Texas State Board of Education to quit trying to inject religion into public school science classes under the guise of intelligent design.

Will the Texas State Board of Education members listen to wise, professional advice?

The report highlights five key findings from the survey:

1. Texas scientists (97.7 percent) overwhelmingly reject “intelligent design” as valid science.

2. Texas science faculty (95 percent) want only evolution taught in science classrooms.

3. Scientists reject teaching the so-called “weaknesses” of evolution, with 94 percent saying that those arguments are not valid scientific objections to evolution.

4. Science faculty believe that emphasizing “weaknesses” of evolution would substantially harm students’ college readiness (79.6 percent) and ability to compete for 21st-century jobs (72 percent).

5. Scientists (91 percent) strongly believe that support for evolution is compatible with religious faith.

The survey results show that politicians who argue that there is a scientific controversy over evolution are not supported by scientists even in a state as conservative as Texas, [TFN President Kathy] Miller said.

Texas scientists report that their students from Texas too often are unprepared for college science curricula in biology because evolution wasn’t taught to them.  This increases costs at the college level where remedial work must be done, and it discourages many capable students from pursuing careers in science. The report urges SBOE to listen to Texas scientists:

It is no exaggeration to say that Texas colleges and universities have a world-class science faculty and boast some of the most respected science educators found anywhere. These scientists should be an invaluable resource in crafting curriculum standards that prepare Texas schoolchildren for college and for the jobs of tomorrow. But is anyone listening? The State Board of Education would do well to heed the advice from these professors. The science education of a generation of students hangs in the balance.  [page 9]

Hearings on proposed changes to the science curriculum are scheduled for Wednesday, November 19, in Austin.  Steve Schafersman, Texas Citizens for Science, will live blog the hearings for his Houston Chronicle blog, Evosphere.


Texas Citizens for Science: Report on creationist certification

December 20, 2007

To provide a little greater access, below the fold I reproduce the complete report from the Texas Citizens for Science on the Institution for Creation Research’s bid to get approval from Texas to grant graduate degrees from the ICR’s Irving, Texas, campus.

If you are tracking this issue, you should also see these posts and sites:

The TCS report is also available at the TCS website.

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