In Texas, Messing with Textbooks: Ken Miller's <em>Biology</em> Skirts the Law, Marred by Errors and Omissions on Evolution - Evolution News & Views

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In Texas, Messing with Textbooks: Ken Miller's Biology Skirts the Law, Marred by Errors and Omissions on Evolution

biologycover09_155.jpgNew Scientist is reporting that "Children in Texas will spend the next decade reading biology textbooks free of anti-evolution propaganda, thanks to the defeat last month of creationist attempts to cast doubt on the evolution content of such books." What actually happened is quite different from how it's being spun in the Darwin-loving media.

In 2009, Texas adopted statewide science standards, called Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or "TEKS." These standards 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." More specifically, the 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.

Those 2009 standards -- still very much in effect today -- are not "anti-evolution propaganda," nor do they say anything about teaching creationism. Rather, they represent smart and effective ways to teach science. Indeed, even the prestigious Fordham Report said regarding Texas's 2009 standards that "the high school biology course is exemplary in its choice and presentation of topics, including its thorough consideration of biological evolution." You could almost borrow the language from the 2009 standards from a 2010 paper in Science which explained the best ways to teach science:

  • There are "a number of classroom-based studies, all of which show improvements in conceptual learning when students engage in argumentation."

  • "Critique is not, therefore, some peripheral feature of science, but rather it is core to its practice, and without argument and evaluation, the construction of reliable knowledge would be impossible."

  • Students best understand scientific concepts when learning "to discriminate between evidence that supports (inclusive) or does not support (exclusive) or that is simply indeterminate."

(Jonathan Osborne, "Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse," Science, Vol. 328 (5977):463-466 (April 23, 2010).)

Unfortunately, many Darwin lobbyists are dogmatic, and ignore the pedagogical benefits of teaching evolution critically. They single out neo-Darwinian evolution as a topic that must be insulated and protected from criticisms in public schools.

Case in point: Very soon after the TEKS were adopted, textbook author Ken Miller said in an interview in Science that he would not produce instructional materials that comply with the TEKS call for critical analysis of evolutionary theory. Rather, Miller planned only to "explain the robustness of evolutionary theory." He expressly admitted:

The advocates of these standards underestimate the strength of the scientific evidence for structures and phenomena that they mistakenly believe evolution cannot account for.

(Ken Miller quoted in Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, "Authors Scramble to Make Textbooks Conform to Texas Science Standards," Science, Vol. 324:1385 (June 12, 2009).)

Well, Ken Miller has now made good on his promise. This past year he submitted for adoption in Texas his standard high school textbook, Biology, published by Pearson, which most certainly fails to "examin[e] all sides of scientific evidence" regarding evolution, and certainly does not encourage "critical thinking" or "critique" regarding natural selection or common descent.

Fast forward to 2013, and New Scientist now reports:

Creationists on the 15-member Texas State Board of Education had been trying since 2009 to force textual changes designed to undermine the scientific consensus on evolution.

If the changes had been accepted, the "contaminated" books would almost certainly have spread to other states. Texas is the second largest buyer of schoolbooks, behind California.

The defeat of this attempt to sabotage the evolution content has cleared the way for the acceptance of the Pearson Biology textbook.

[...]

An unidentified volunteer reviewer complained to the board in November that the book contained 18 errors of fact. To settle the issue, the board appointed a panel of three eminent biologists to pass final judgement on the criticisms. "Our sources said all three panellists dismissed the claims of factual errors and recommended no changes to the textbook," says Dan Quinn, of Texas Freedom Network.

And what is the Pearson textbook? It's Ken Miller's Biology, of course.

If what Quinn says is true, then it's most unfortunate, because Miller's Biology is full of errors and omissions on evolution, and it will do students a great disservice if used in Texas. Not only that, it certainly fails to follow the pedagogically beneficial approach of teaching students about evolution critically. By my count, the reviewer identified twenty total errors, pertaining to the following topics:

  • Error #1: DNA and phylogenetic trees
  • Error #3: Formation of life's building blocks
  • Error #4: Gradualism vs. punc eq
  • Error #5: The scope of the Cambrian explosion
  • Error #6: Natural selection and the origin of novelty
  • Error #7: Plenty of time for evolution
  • Error #9: Mutations lower fitness
  • Error #10: Molecular homology, tests of evolution
  • Error #11: Origin of RNA
  • Error #12: Exaptation and flagella
  • Error #15: Human origins
  • Error #17: Gal├ípagos finches
  • Error #19: Exaptation and the Krebs cycle
  • Error #20: Tiktaalik
Over a series of articles, I'd like to elaborate on some of these, focusing on 1, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 17, also noting the language that was recommended to Pearson to fix the problems. Unfortunately, it seems the reviewers in Texas won't be requiring Pearson to correct these errors.


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