Glaring Bloopers Found in Proposed Texas Science Curricular Materials
According to a study released today by the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, bogus embryo drawings, long-debunked claims about tonsils, and outdated information from a 1950s lab experiment highlight the glaring bloopers found in proposed science instructional materials currently being considered by the Texas State Board of Education.
"Retro-science must be in, because the proposed materials are filled with outdated scientific claims," said Casey Luskin, a policy and education analyst with Discovery Institute. "It's truly amazing how much discredited information keeps getting recycled year after year."
In order to satisfy state educational standards set in 2009 (TEKS), the Board of Education asked publishers to submit supplementary instructional materials that would enable students to "analyze and evaluate" core aspects of evolutionary theory, and to "examin[e] all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking." But according to the 70-page Discovery Institute study, only one set of instructional materials out of the 10 evaluated managed to comply with the TEKS as well as avoid glaring scientific errors.
Top science bloopers in the proposed instructional materials include:
- erroneous statements that the 1950s Miller-Urey origin of life experiment produced amino acids under conditions that accurately simulated the early earth.
- long-discredited claims that the appendix, tonsils, and other organs are non-functional "vestigial" organs left over from a blind evolutionary process. In fact, these organs are now recognized by scientists to serve important biological functions.
- fraudulent embryo drawings originating with nineteenth-century German racist Ernst Haeckel that are used to claim that vertebrate embryos are the same at the earliest stages of development (not true).
"They're back!! Haeckel's bogus drawings were previously removed by the Texas State Board of Education during the 2003 biology textbook adoption process," said Dr. John West, a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute. "But like creatures in a zombie film, they keep returning."
"In addition to promoting outdated science, most of the proposed instructional materials completely fail to meet the TEKS critical thinking requirements," said Luskin. "The TEKS require instructional materials that will help students examine 'all sides of scientific evidence,' 'encourage critical thinking,' and 'analyze and evaluate' key claims of modern evolutionary theory. But out of the ten instructional materials we reviewed, only one made a serious effort to meet these requirements," said Luskin.
The full analysis of instructional materials prepared by Discovery Institute can be downloaded here, while the Executive Summary of the report is reprinted below.
A Report from Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture
In 2009, the Texas State Board of Education (TSBOE) adopted new Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that require critical scientific evaluation of the core tenets of Darwinian evolution as well as other scientific theories. For example, they require students to "analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Even more specifically, the new TEKS require students to "analyze and evaluate" core tenets of neo-Darwinian evolution, such as common ancestry, mutation, natural selection, and sudden appearance in the fossil record. They also require critical investigation of the chemical origin of life.
The purpose of this report is to evaluate whether supplementary curricula recently submitted for adoption for use in Texas comply with the 2009 TEKS pertaining to biological and chemical evolution. This report only evaluates the curricula as regards the evolution-related TEKS and does not evaluate the curricula for compliance with other TEKS.
Most Proposed Supplementary Curricula Fail to Follow 2009 TEKS and/or Contain Glaring Scientific Errors
Fifteen groups have now submitted online curricula for adoption by the TSBOE to comply with the new 2009 TEKS. Ten of those groups have posted sufficient curricula online to allow for analysis. Unfortunately, as regards the TEKS that pertain to biology and evolution, only one of the proposed curricula (International Databases, LLC) makes any serious attempt to fulfill the call for meaningful critical analysis of biological and chemical evolution. The remaining curricula that were accessible online make no meaningful effort to satisfy the TEKS' requirements that students "analyze and evaluate" neo-Darwinian evolution. Nor do they require that students critique Darwinian evolution or the chemical origin of life "by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing." In short, the 2009 TEKS notwithstanding, most of the proposed supplements do not examine "all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student." Rather, the proposed curricula promote biological and chemical evolution in a one-sided manner, presenting only the evidence supporting evolution and failing to mention any scientific viewpoints or evidence that challenge evolution.
In addition, many of these curricula contain glaring scientific errors based on outdated science. For example, three of the proposed curricula (from Adaptive Curriculum, Holt McDougal, and Rice University) use Haeckel's inaccurate embryo drawings--called fraudulent by multiple evolutionary scientists--to claim that vertebrate embryos are similar in their earliest stages. Clearly inaccurate as well as outdated, Haeckel-derived embryo drawings were previously removed by the TBSOE from textbooks designed for use in Texas during the 2003 biology textbook adoption process; these bogus drawings should not be allowed to re-enter the curriculum.
A number of the curricula promote several other notoriously inaccurate "icons of evolution":
- Some curricula wrongly report that the Miller-Urey experiment produced amino acids under conditions that accurately simulated the early earth (e.g. Apex Learning, Cengage, McGraw Hill, or Technical Lab Systems)
- Some curricula claim that the prevalence of dark moths over light moths is due to moths naturally resting on tree trunks in the wild where they are eaten by birds, failing to report the empirical data questioning this claim.
- Some curricula promote the Galápagos finches as if they provide evidence for adaptive radiation, failing to mention that the finches are highly similar and can even interbreed.
- One curriculum even resuscitates long-debunked claims that the coccyx, appendix, tonsils, and many other functional organs are "vestigial," failing to mention that these organs are now recognized to have important functions (e.g. appendix, coccyx, tonsils, etc.) or are not generally regarded as evolutionary holdovers (e.g. male nipples).
Both because they fail to fulfill the 2009 TEKS and/or because they contain glaring scientific errors, 9 of the 10 proposed curricula which posted enough material online to allow for analysis clearly require significant revisions.
One Curriculum Tries to Follow 2009 TEKS, But Inappropriately Covers Intelligent Design
A single curriculum, submitted by International Databases, LLC, attempts to follow the 2009 TEKS by encouraging critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation of Darwinian evolution and the chemical origin of life, using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence. However, this curriculum also includes intelligent design, which is not required by the TEKS, and which Discovery Institute (the leading intelligent design research organization) opposes requiring in public schools. As Discovery Institute's Science Education Policy page states:
As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively.
Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can't be questioned.
The TSBOE clearly did not intend to broach the issue of intelligent design in its 2009 TEKS revision. Therefore, the International Databases proposed curriculum as currently written goes beyond the curriculum standards established by the TSBOE.