Feb. 21, 2006 The Board of Directors of the world's largest general scientific organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has strongly denounced legislation and policies that would undermine the teaching of evolution and "deprive students of the education they need to be informed and productive citizens in an increasingly technological, global community."
Across the United States, at least 14 pending laws -- including Missouri HB 1266 -- differ in language and strategy, but "all would weaken science education," said AAAS President Gilbert S. Omenn, professor of medicine, genetics and public health at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "The AAAS Board of Directors opposes these attacks on the integrity of science and science education," he added. "They threaten not just the teaching of evolution, but students' understanding of the biological, physical, and geological sciences."
Pending U.S. anti-evolution legislation currently includes: Alabama SB 240, Arkansas HB 2607, Georgia HB 179, Kansas SB 168, Michigan HB 5251, Mississippi SB 2286, Missouri HB 1266, New York 8036, Ohio HB 481, Oklahoma HB 2107, Pennsylvania HB 1007, South Carolina SB 909, Texas HB 1447 and Utah SB 96.
Some of these bills would seek to discredit evolution by emphasizing "flaws" in the theory of evolution, or "disagreements" within the scientific community, the AAAS Board noted. Other bills would encourage teachers and students to explore the concept of intelligent design or other non-scientific "alternatives" to evolution, or to "critically analyze" evolution and "the controversy". But, AAAS emphasized, "There is no significant controversy within the scientific community about the validity of evolution." (more) Moreover, "Evolution is one of the most robust and widely accepted principles of modern science," the AAAS Board concluded, reconfirming its October 18, 2002 statement, as well as the December 2005 ruling of federal District Court Judge John E. Jones III, who found that intelligent design is based on religion, not science.
Science and religion "need not be incompatible," AAAS officials emphasized. "Science and religion ask fundamentally different questions about the world. Many religious leaders have affirmed that they see no conflict between evolution and religion. We and the overwhelming majority of scientists share this view."
Evolution on the Front Line Event
The AAAS Board statement was released to help kickoff "Evolution on the Front Line," an event for K-12 teachers at the 2006 AAAS Annual Meeting in St. Louis on Sunday 19 February. The free event -- open to teachers, scientists, policy-makers, students and reporters -- was organized by AAAS in collaboration with more than 30 leading educational and scientific organizations. (For a complete list of collaborators and other details, go to http://www.aaasmeeting.org/evolution.)
"The purposes of the Evolution on the Front Line event are to give teachers a voice on the evolution issue and to advise the scientific community how best to support them," Omenn said. "We hope to learn how we can best support teachers as they endeavor to help our children understand what is and isn't science. And, we commend teachers for their efforts to safeguard the integrity of U.S. science education."
Speakers at the event, moderated by Omenn, include Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO); Jeff Corwin, host of Animal Planet's "Corwin's Quest;" Rev. George Coyne, director of The Vatican Observatory; Ms. Linda Froschauer, president-elect of the National Science Teachers Association; Dr. Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden; and an all-star scientific panel, moderated by Cornelia Dean of The New York Times.
During the event, K-12 teachers from Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and other regions are being invited to use instant "clicker-survey" devices to identify the top four challenges that they associate with teaching evolution.
The starting list of evolution-related challenges was based in part upon advance focus groups with St. Louis-area teachers and students, conducted for AAAS by the nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, Public Agenda. The clicker-survey devices will allow teachers to instantly narrow the list of 10 challenges down to four key issues, in real-time.
While AAAS officials emphasized that focus group discussions do not constitute a scientific study, "It was interesting to note that four recurring themes seemed to emerge during these advance discussions with St. Louis-area teachers and students," Omenn noted.
Focus groups with St. Louis-area high-school teachers and students suggested the following four themes:
- 1. First, St. Louis-area teachers often don't teach human evolution because it's not assessed by statewide standardized testing. In fact, only a few states across the country are routinely assessing knowledge of human evolution, said Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, the science-literacy initiative at AAAS. "In practical terms, this suggests to us that human evolution is largely not being taught in many U.S. middle and high schools," Omenn said. "We at AAAS think that's a shame, an important deficiency."
- 2. Second, the way that teachers "frame" discussions of evolution in order to avoid unproductive resistance in the classroom may sound to students' ears like equivocation, advance focus groups suggested. A teacher might say, "Remember, this is only information, so keep an open mind." But, the student may interpret the teacher's verbal frame to mean, "Sorry that I have to teach you this," or perhaps, "Remember, evolution is only a theory." Yet, Omenn said, scientists know that "evolution is a theory in the same sense that gravity is a theory: It is a robust organizing principle that has been thoroughly tested and is well-supported by a large body of evidence from many converging fields."
- 3. The third recurring theme to emerge from the AAAS-Public Agenda focus groups was that parochial school teachers often experience less pressure than their public-school counterparts to insert religion into science classrooms.
- 4. Fourth, focus groups suggested that students may be far less concerned about evolution versus creationism and intelligent design than many of the adults around them. Students commented, for example, that evolution is "not a big controversial idea."
Eight outstanding teachers from Dover, Pa., and from Cobb County, Ga., are being recognized during the AAAS event for their courage in resisting pressure to insert non-scientific concepts into their science classrooms.
The event is sponsored by the William T. Golden Endowment Fund for Program Innovation at AAAS, with additional generous support from the Geological Survey of America.
"Religious beliefs and scientific pursuits can readily co-exist -- just not in science classrooms, lest we confuse our children about what is and isn't science," Omenn noted.
"The scientific community stands beside teachers as they work to provide students with an appropriate grounding in science and mathematics and a fundamental understanding of the nature of science."
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science (www.sciencemag.org). AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS.
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