Glaring Bloopers Found in Proposed Texas Science Curricular Materials - Evolution News & Views

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Glaring Bloopers Found in Proposed Texas Science Curricular Materials

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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Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, bogus embryo drawings, long-debunked claims about tonsils, and outdated information from a 1950s lab experiment highlight the glaring bloopers found in proposed science instructional materials currently being considered by the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"Retro-science must be in, because the proposed materials are filled with outdated scientific claims," said Casey Luskin, a policy and education analyst with Discovery Institute.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"In addition to promoting outdated science, most of the proposed instructional materials completely fail to meet the TEKS critical thinking requirements," said Luskin.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.

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An Evaluation of Supplementary Biology and Evolution Curricular Materials Submitted by Publishers for Adoption by the Texas State Board of Education


A Report from Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture


Executive Summary

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.


8 Comments

At some point perhaps common sense should be applied to the subject and a reasonable effort should be made to resist current biased opinions. After all, I was taught from elementary school onward that science is a subject based on objective evaluation of all information and theories. To stifle research and credible information because you simply disagree with the philosophy behind the research is childish. If Darwin's theory is wrong, are we not responsible for correcting the error? If Darwin was right should we not evaluate the counter evidence honestly instead of attempting to suppress it? Should we not provide our children with the information necessary to evaluate and come to their own personal conclusion based on all of the evidence available; both sides? Perhaps "science" has evolved past this process however and if so, what a pity.

You stated:

"Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively."

What did they know about evolution? Only what they were told and they learned that well. Even though there is no proof for evolution as the source of life they taught it as fact for years.

So, I see no reason to exclude Intelligent Design from the discussion.

I just re-read Icons of Evolution. I thought that after ten years, some of its arguments may have gone stale. But I can say that the arguments are as fresh as when I first read it. In fact, I was surprised that it was still so timely.

And apparently, the text-book publishers are still as irresponsible as ever.

I wonder if the National Center for Science Education will work to make the corrections needed to the curricula.

(BTW- the adjective 'racist' in front of the name Haeckel is inappropriate to this discussion.)

@David. Amen David. You nailed it. Sorry that you have to deal with your 10 pound note on a daily basis. : )

I despair with the human propensity to bend the rules at will or by some misguided notion that doing so will be in everyone’s best interest. I live in the UK, and the BBC is replete with these kinds of dated, misleading, Darwinist propaganda. They’ve got the media here in a full lock down, as you would expect – being Darwin’s native home. Dawkins rules the airwaves, both Radio and TV. You got it good in the US!

Jace apparently copied and pasted from YahooAnswers stating:

The experiment used water (H2O), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), and hydrogen (H2). The chemicals were all sealed inside a sterile array of glass tubes and flasks connected in a loop, with one flask half-full of liquid water and another flask containing a pair of electrodes. The liquid water was heated to induce evaporation, sparks were fired between the electrodes to simulate lightning through the atmosphere and water vapor, and then the atmosphere was cooled again so that the water could condense and trickle back into the first flask in a continuous cycle.At the end of one week of continuous operation, Miller and Urey observed that as much as 10–15% of the carbon within the system was now in the form of organic compounds. Two percent of the carbon had formed amino acids that are used to make proteins in living cells, with glycine as the most abundant. Sugars, liquids, were also formed. Nucleic acids were not formed within the reaction. But the common 20 amino acids were formed, but in various concentrations.

Jace then suggests: "Please do your research."

In reply, I completely agree with Jace that it's important to do your research! In that regard, copying from Yahoo answers is not necessarily a reliable source to rely upon when doing your research. In fact, Yahoo Answers has just promoted the standard mythic version of the Miller-Urey experiment which wrongly suggests that the experiment correctly modeled conditions on the early earth.The correct place to do research is by looking at the peer-reviewed scientific literature. In that regard, our report looks at the scientific literature and observes that the early earth’s atmosphere did not contain methane or ammonia, and thus the Miller-Urey experiment is likely not relevant to early earth conditions:

However, it has been known for decades that the Earth’s early atmosphere was not composed of methane or ammonia, and would not have been conducive to Miller-Urey type chemistry. As origin of life theorist David Deamer explains, “This optimistic picture began to change in the late 1970s, when it became increasingly clear that the early atmosphere was probably volcanic in origin and composition, composed largely of carbon dioxide and nitrogen rather than the mixture of reducing gases assumed by the Miller-Urey model. Carbon dioxide does not support the rich array of synthetic pathways leading to possible monomers…”3 Theorist Jeffrey Bada and other experts have likewise observed that “Geoscientists today doubt that the primitive atmosphere had the highly reducing composition Miller used…”4There are strong reasons to expect that the early earth’s atmosphere did not contain significant amounts of methane, ammonia, or high concentrations of other reducing gasses. The earth’s early atmosphere is thought to have been produced by outgassing from volcanoes on the early earth, and the composition of those volcanic gasses is related to the chemical properties of the earth’s inner mantle. Multiple studies have found that the chemical properties of the earth’s mantle would have been the same in the past as they are today.5 But today, volcanic gasses do not contain methane or ammonia, and are not reducing. A paper in Earth and Planetary Science Letters found that these chemical properties have been essentially constant over earth’s history, leading to the conclusion that “Life may have found its origins in other environments or by other mechanisms.”6[3] David W. Deamer, “The First Living Systems: a Bioenergetic Perspective,” Microbiology & Molecular Biology Reviews, Vol. 61:239 (1997).
[4] Adam P. Johnson, H. James Cleaves, Jason P. Dworkin, Daniel P. Glavin, Antonio Lazcano, Jeffrey L. Bada, “The Miller Volcanic Spark Discharge Experiment,” Science, Vol. 322:404-405 (October 17, 2008).
[5] Kevin Zahnle, Laura Schaefer, and Bruce Fegley, “Earth’s Earliest Atmospheres,” Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology (2010) (“Geochemical evidence in Earth’s oldest igneous rocks indicates that the redox state of the Earth’s mantle has not changed over the past 3.8 Gyr”) (internal citations omitted).
[6] Dante Canil, “Vanadian in peridotites, mantle redox and tectonic environments: Archean to present,” Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Vol. 195:75-90 (2002) (internal citation removed) (“Abiotic synthesis of molecules and hydrocarbons that can lead to life in early Archean mantle-derived volcanic gases requires they contain significant H2 and CO, but such reduced components are not supported by results of this and many other studies, which imply a scenario of Archean mantle redox not unlike that of today. Life may have found its origins in other environments or by other mechanisms.”) (emphasis added).

So to Jace I would suggest that you read some scientific writings on this topic rather than pop-evolution sources like Yahoo Answers or even many textbooks that get this issue wrong. You might enjoy reading Icons of Evolution as a good starting point. Thanks.

Sincerely,

Casey

Miller–Urey experiment

The experiment used water (H2O), methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), and hydrogen (H2). The chemicals were all sealed inside a sterile array of glass tubes and flasks connected in a loop, with one flask half-full of liquid water and another flask containing a pair of electrodes. The liquid water was heated to induce evaporation, sparks were fired between the electrodes to simulate lightning through the atmosphere and water vapor, and then the atmosphere was cooled again so that the water could condense and trickle back into the first flask in a continuous cycle.

At the end of one week of continuous operation, Miller and Urey observed that as much as 10–15% of the carbon within the system was now in the form of organic compounds. Two percent of the carbon had formed amino acids that are used to make proteins in living cells, with glycine as the most abundant. Sugars, liquids, were also formed. Nucleic acids were not formed within the reaction. But the common 20 amino acids were formed, but in various concentrations.


Please do your research.
Thank you