No Sanity in Nevada

Jon Huntsman has said, “I’m not going to pander.”  When it comes to evolution and science, the Republican Presidential candidate from Utah has been straight-up and on the mark.  In August, he said, “To be clear. I believe in evolution… Call me crazy.”  Crazy would be the wrong call.  Call him courageous instead for serving as the lone voice in the Republican Primary wilderness supporting evidence-based science. 

Outside the evolution debate, Huntsman’s courage is in question with his latest move to  boycotting the Nevada debate.  By not showing in Nevada, Hunstman is completely pandering to New Hampshire voters who feel slighted by Nebraska pushing their primary date up and leap-frogging ahead of them in the schedule.  After all, Hunstman is relying on New Hampshire to deliver a win in the Republican Primary.

Without Hunstman at the debate in Nevada on Tuesday, there will be no voice of reason  on teaching evolution in our public schools.  Instead, we’re going to have a group of candidates who will throw science under the bus as they pander to far right extremists or simply mistake fantasy for science.

Tongue tied Mitt Romney supported teaching evolution before the 2008 election, but has been noticeably silent in this campaign.  Instead he’s been flip-flopping on social issues to curry favor with those in the Republican Party that also support teaching creationism.  Don’t look for Romney to be a vocal defender of science on Tuesday.

Confused Congresswoman Bachmann has claimed, “there is a controversy among scientists about whether evolution is a fact… hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel prizes, believe in intelligent design.”  When asked, she could not produce any Nobel Laureate Scientists to back up her claims.  She will be the leading voice of insanity at the debate.

Confused Texas Governor Rick Perry believes creationism “should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution.”  He doesn’t stop there though; he actually proudly asserts  that inTexas public school science class, students are taught creationism—despite that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled such teachings unconstitutional.

Rick Santorum doesn’t just have a Google problem, he also has a creationism problem.  He attempted to pass an amendment to No Child Left Behind which would have singled out evolution as a controversial theory.  This tactic served as an early model for Louisiana’s creationism law.

Panderer Gingrich has slithered away from his former “passion” for evolution like a Newt, adopting pandering positions that are as insane the ones Michele Bachmann has had.

Ron Paul may deviate from the standard Republican position when it comes to isolationism, but on evolution, he is in the middle of the pack of panderers.  He claims “[evolution is] a theory… and I don’t accept it.”  What Dr. Paul doesn’t understand is that a scientific theory is a strongly backed up explanation of natural phenomena, not just an untested hunch, as in the everyday use of the word.

As the last man standing for science among the entire field of Republican Presidential candidates, Huntsman could do wonders for students and the science community looking for a leader who understands that the principles of evolution undergird the science of the future.  Perhaps New Hampshire voters will hear this message Tuesday, but the rest of the country certainly will not.  Scientists, strap in; it will be a bumpy ride on a train of thought still stuck in the era of the square wheel.

Posted in LSEA | 1 Comment

The Republican Primary Panderer’s Parade

Since when did Newt Gingrich become Michele Bachmann?  Last I noticed, Gingrich was shorter, heavier, and aspiring to be  the  “intellectual” of the Republican party.  And yet, his latest comments mauling evolution sound eerily Bachmann-esque.

On September 29th, Gingrich mocked anyone who accepts evolution by asking, “do you think… we’re randomly gathered protoplasm? We could have been rhinoceroses, but we got lucky this week?”  These anti-science remarks belong in Bachman’s Land of Babble, where she makes claims about evolution like, “a grain of wheat plus a starfish does not equal a dog, and that this was what evolutionists were teaching in our schools.”

Ask any biologist, and she will tell you that’s not how evolution works.  Gingrich knows this.  Or at least he used to, before he decided to go as Bachmann this Halloween.  Who remembers 2006, when Gingrich asserted he had a “passion” for “how life evolved?”  When he declared that if he had chosen a career in science, he “would have been a naturalist” and followed E.O. Wilson’s example?  When Gingrich professed to understand that “evolution should be taught as science, and intelligent design should be taught as philosophy.”

Will the real Newt Gingrich please stand up?  The Gingrich that does not march in the Republican Primary Panderer’s Parade?

The only candidate with real courage to take a sane position on evolution is Jon Huntsman.  In response to Governor Rick Perry’s claims that Texas unconstitutionally teaches creationism, he said, “I believe in evolution… Call me crazy.”  He is the only Republican presidential candidate to openly defend evolution.

And guess what? It’s not working for him.  Jon Huntsman isn’t gaining ground on the front-runners by maintaining his integrity and defending the evidence-based science that earlier incarnations of Gingrich had the courage to promote.

The important question is if primary front runner Mitt Romney is in lock-step. Back in 2007, Romney took a position strongly in support of evolution, saying, “They teach evolution at B.Y.U.”  He was completely right when he said, “science class is where to teach evolution” and “if we’re going to talk about more philosophical matters… that’s for the religion class or philosophy class or social studies class.”

And now, will Romney switch his colors like a Newt-or rather, a chameleon?

As these primary candidates spoon-feed voters what they want to hear, not what is accurate, honest, or real, the costs to this country mount. Costs to science education, science jobs, new scientific innovation.  Costs to democracy and the honest exchange of ideas.  Costs to the moral core of our country that Republicans profess to know so much about.

These candidates need to be challenged on their dramatic shifts in position. After all, anyone who knows anything about evolution knows it takes ages for a species to lose its spine.  These candidates must still have a backbone somewhere. It’s  high-time they found it and defended sound science once again.

Posted in LSEA | 3 Comments

The Texas Miracle

Texas Governor Rick Perry has been busy on the Presidential campaign trail touting his so-called “Texas Miracle,” claiming credit for job-growth in Texas that many believe is the direct result of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (see the Talking Points Memo article). But wait: there may be a Texas Miracle after all—though not the one Governor Perry had in mind.

Despite fervent efforts by the Governor and many in the Texas State Legislature to force creationism and intelligent design creationism into public school science classes, evidence and evolution-based science has prevailed.  That is a real miracle.  While Obama carved out a stimulus package to spur job growth, Perry launched a full-scale attack against teaching the theory of evolution in public school science class. Evolution is the foundation of modern biology, and is vital across the US and in countries like China and India that are competing for the world’s top-science and technology jobs.

Governor Perry prematurely announced that “in Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools.”  Creationist Barbara Cargill, the Governor’s appointed Chair of the State Board of Education, bragged that the Texas School Board has “six true conservative Christians,” out of 15 members. She means there are six creationists on the board. And yet, when the school board had to vote on July 22nd on whether to adopt new evolution-based biology texts or creationist ones, the Board chose science over politics and approved new biology books.  They voted down the on-line creationist textbook.  This is especially important because given its size, Texas sets the standards for textbook adoption around the country.

Governor Perry didn’t just stop with the school board. The Texas Legislature tried to pass an unconstitutional intelligent design creationism law.

Miraculously, the bill wasn’t even heard in committee.  Even if the bill had passed, it would have been challenged immediately for blatantly ignoring the 2005 court case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, which established that teaching public school science classes intelligent design creationism (which is creationism dressed up to look like science) violates the First Amendment and is unconstitutional.

When Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier defended the Governor’s statements about teaching creationism in Texas public schools, she noted that Texas education standards call for “all sides” of the theory of evolution to be discussed.  According to Frazier, this requires students “to evaluate and analyze the theory of evolution, and creationism very likely comes up and is discussed in that process. Teachers are also permitted to discuss it with students in that context.”  Unfortunately, Frazier is correct.  These “code words” within the standards allow a loophole for creationists to sneak the unconstitutional teaching of creationism in public school science class

This is a gaping hole in science standards that must be corrected.  Not only that, Texas science standards should be rewritten to emphasize the importance of evolution to all of biology. According to the American Association of the Advancement of Science, the largest science organization in the world with over ten million members, “the science of evolution underpins all of modern biology and is supported by tens of thousands of studies… It informs scientific research in a broad range of fields such as agriculture and medicine, work that has an important impact on our everyday lives.” We need to emphasize evolution in our public school science class and prepare Texas students to take cutting edge science jobs once they graduate. If that happened, that would be a real Texas Miracle.

Posted in LSEA | Leave a comment

Creationist Rick Perry wins endorsement from fellow creationist Governor

Bobby Jindal, creationist Governor of Louisiana, has endorsed Rick Perry, creationist Governor of Texas, for President of the United States. It’s not surprising. They are two of the most prominent creationist Governors in the country, and Louisiana and Texas are creationist hotbeds. They have a lot in common, and so do their states.

Both the Louisiana and Texas State Boards of Education were recently embroiled in fights over creationism and biology textbooks. Both Governors can empathize with each other that their state’s biology textbooks were not replaced with creationist materials.

Governor Jindal can also give Governor Perry lessons on how to sneak creationism into public school science classes. Back in 2008, Governor Jindal signed the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act. The Louisiana Science Education Act allows creationism to be brought into public school science classrooms.

Despite that the Texas legislature didn’t manage to pass its own unconstitutional creationism bill, Governor Perry is trigger happy when it comes to creationism. He recently claimed, “In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools.”

Neither Perry nor Jindal seem to realize how vital teaching evolution is. Biotech is going to be one of major technologies of the future. In New Orleans, they are working hard to grow their biodistrict. If Louisiana wants it’s science and technology industries to grow and its kids to work in them, we need to teach our students evolution.

At Rice University, I live directly across the street from the largest medical complex in the world. If Rick Perry wants Texas kids to get good jobs Houston’s hospitals, he is going to have to allow them to be taught evolution. Otherwise they won’t get those jobs.  And the dynamism of Houston’s medical center could be threatened.

Also, both Governors come from oil rich states with energy sector jobs.  But kids from Louisiana and Texas will not get jobs as petroleum geologists if we don’t understand evolution.

I can understand Governor Perry’s bad attitude towards science. He made a C in his genetics class. Given his organic chemistry scores, I’m sometimes afraid he’s going to start insisting there is also a controversy over chemistry and that we should teach alchemy in public schools. It looks like Governor Perry might have struggled with the “controversial” portions of his chemistry education.

Governor Jindal, on the other hand, is a Brown University educated biology major. His old genetics professor, Arthur Landy, implored him to veto the Louisiana Science Education Act saying, “without evolution, modern biology, including medicine and biotechnology, wouldn’t make sense… I hope [Jindal] doesn’t do anything that would hold back the next generation of Louisiana’s doctors.” I don’t know what Governor Jindal made in Professor Landy’s class, but as a Rhodes Scholar he probably made A’s, proving that at least at one point he learned how vital the theory of evolution is to modern biology.

While it is not surprising that Governor Perry was endorsed by Governor Jindal, Governor Perry will not get the endorsement of the science community. The largest general science organization in the world, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with over 10 million members, is supporting the effort to repeal Jindal’s Louisiana Science Education Act. He is also not going to get the endorsement of any of the forty-four Nobel Laureates who’ve endorsed the effort to repeal Louisiana’s job killing creationism law. Particularly those like Sir Harry Kroto who described Louisiana as a “laughingstock” or Roger Kornberg who said, “Shame on the legislature that enacted [the Louisiana Science Education Act], and especially on the governor who signed it into law”

Teaching our students evolution is vital to supporting our biotechnology industries and our hospitals. Teaching evolution is vital to creating cutting edge science based jobs for Louisiana and Texas kids. Our Governors have a choice. They can pander. They can sign creationism laws like Governor Jindal. They can appoint creationists like Barbara Cargill to Chairmanship of the State Board of Education like Governor Perry did.  Or they can do what’s right.  They can support a comprehensive state curriculum that not only teaches evolution, but recognizes, like the American Association for the Advancement of Science says, that, “the science of evolution underpins all of modern biology” and makes it the centerpiece of any biology course.

Posted in LSEA | 1 Comment

Which Republican Presidential Candidates have a Titanium Spine?

Republican presidential candidates at tonights night’s debate in Ames, Iowa should be asked whether they agree with Newt Gingrich’s 2006 statement, “I believe evolution should be taught as science, and intelligent design should be taught as philosophy.” Most would much rather spend their evening calling President Obama a socialist or demanding Tim Geithner’s resignation rather than being forced to choose sides in a debate which scientists resolved long ago. But answering this question will go a long way in telling us about their backbone, their sanity and their vision for creating jobs in the 21st century.

It would also make interesting theater.

Will Newt Gingrich crawfish away from his earlier statement as he did when he renounced his prior concerns about climate change?

Will Jon Huntsman stand by what he said in 2005, that “intelligent design should not be taught in science classes and that the time to talk about [intelligent design] comes largely at home or in religious settings,” or will he back off to pander to the religious right?

Mitt Romney has been running away from a lot of the best things he’s ever said and done, including providing a blueprint for health care reform with “Obamneycare.” Does Romney still think evolution should be taught in science class like he did in 2007 when he asserted, “science class is where to teach evolution” and “if we’re going to talk about more philosophical matters… that’s for the religion class or philosophy class or social studies?”

Let’s not forget Tim Pawlenty, because he’s easily forgettable. Will he finally realize that pandering to the creationists won’t help him outflank Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin? They’ve already cornered the market on crazy. In 2008 Pawlenty explained that “Governor Palin has said intelligent design is something that she thinks should be taught along with evolution in the schools, and I think that’s appropriate.” He also said, “Intelligent design is something that, in my view, is plausible and credible… from an educational and scientific standpoint, it should be decided by local school boards at the local school district level.” By the way, Governor, no gold star for you with that answer. It’s not a local issue; it’s a constitutional one. Teaching creationism in public schools was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Edwards vs. Aguillard back in 1987. And intelligent design, which is essentially creationism dressed up in a lab coat to make it appear scientific, was also found unconstitutional in Dover vs. Kitzmiller in 2005 (P. 43, 137).

The ultimate panderer is physician turned congressman Ron Paul. Paul’s libertarian cult followers are largely in support of evolution, but he knows they alone can’t win him the election. That’s why when he’s talking about evolution, he panders by saying things like “it’s a theory… and I don’t accept it.”

If the Republican candidates aren’t pandering, they’re just plain nuts. Paging Michele Bachmann. Bachmann seriously believes that “there is a controversy… over evolution” and there is “reasonable doubt” about it’s validity. Why? Because she believes “there are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.” So far, these Nobel Prize winning scientists only exist in her head, because she hasn’t come up with a single name.

These men and women are in the running to be leader of the free world and to take on the responsibility to put America back on top. We’re ranked 23rd globally in science according to the Program for International Student Assessment. What’s their plan to close the science deficit? If we’re serious about creating jobs and winning the future, we need to be number one in science education. To get to the top spot, we don’t have time to waste pandering to the religious right and pretending that evolution is not science.

Coming from Louisiana, the one state in the country that actually has a creationism law, I can see its effects firsthand. Too often Louisiana students don’t have the science background they need to compete with kids from around the world for admission into college and to get cutting edge science jobs when they graduate. And this anti-science attitude is driving away scientists and science investment and even tourism revenue from our state. While the rest of the world is competing to see who can teach science best, we are wasting time, energy and resources re-debating settled science.

We should not be putting creationism into public school science classes. Instead we should be teaching science better than every other country.

That’s why this question should be asked at Ames. We need to know which of these candidates is going to pander to the creationists. Politicians used to be able to say one thing and do another once they were elected, but not anymore. With the debt limit brinkmanship, the Tea Party has proven they will hold the Republicans to their pandering promises. America deserves to know who has the “titanium spine” needed to lead our country and who wants us to stay 23rd in science education.

Posted in LSEA | 5 Comments