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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2017/01/20

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear friends of NCSE,

NCSE's Ann Reid and Glenn Branch comment for Stat on the secretary of
education-designate . Sad news of the death of Hugh Iltis. A Darwin
Day resolution was introduced in Congress, but antiscience legislation
was introduced in South Dakota. And a reminder that Darwin Day is less
than three weeks away!


NCSE's Ann Reid and Glenn Branch contributed "Will education secretary
pick Betsy DeVos dilute science instruction in schools?" to Stat
(January 18, 2017), a new national publication specializing in health,
medicine, and scientific discovery.

"A few loud voices dismissing science can be enough to intimidate
teachers into diluting their treatment of evolution and climate
change, permanently short-changing a generation of science learners,"
they warned.

Although Reid and Branch acknowledged that DeVos "hasn't taken strong
positions on either evolution or climate change," they noted that
during Senate hearings, when asked whether she would side with
students or with purveyors of junk science," she evaded answering the
question -- "but conspicuously used the 'critical thinking'
catchphrase beloved by creationists and climate change deniers alike."

The federal government's influence over curriculum and instruction is
slight. But Reid and Branch warned, "Science teachers will find their
jobs more challenging if our political leaders dismiss scientific
findings and question the motives of scientists and research

They concluded, "It will be up to all of us to let science teachers
know that we recognize, support, and applaud them for the crucial and
difficult role they play in equipping the next generation to
understand the power of scientific thinking."

For Reid and Branch's column in Stat, visit: 


The distinguished botanist, conservationist, and environmentalist Hugh
Iltis died on December 19, 2016, according to the University of
Wisconsin (December 30, 2016). Iltis was particularly famous for his
important research on the evolution of maize from teosinte, as well as
on tomatoes and spider flowers (genus Cleome), but he was also a
fierce environmentalist and one of the first scientists to articulate
the idea that humans are innately attracted to nature. The
university's obituary summarized the interconnection of evolution,
ecology, and environmentalism in his thinking: "To Iltis, plants
represented stories and places. And they embodied the evolutionary web
of their ancestors -- and their descendants -- assuming they could
survive 'progress.'"

A lifetime member of NCSE, Iltis was deeply concerned about threats to
the teaching of evolution. In 2005, after the school board in the
Wisconsin town of Grantsburg passed a third version of a resolution
apparently aimed at undermining the integrity of evolution instruction
there, Iltis -- then 79 -- told the Capital Times, "Total lunacy.
Embarrassing. A step back into the Dark Ages ... It's just an
outrage," adding, "it's largely due to ignorance, to a generation of
people who don't understand evolution and are scared to death about
the world we're seeing now." Iltis was also critical of the state
superintendent of schools and his colleagues at the University of
Wisconsin, Madison, for not criticizing the Grantsburg board publicly:
although many of his colleagues feel as strongly as he does, he told
the newspaper, "they don't like to get in the public arena and fight
about it."

Iltis was born in Brno, in what was then Czechoslovakia, on April 7,
1925; his father, Hugo Iltis, was the first biographer of Gregor
Mendel. He emigrated to the United States in 1938. After a year at the
University of Tennessee, he served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946.
After graduating from the University of Tennessee in 1948, he received
his Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis and the Missouri
Botanical Garden in 1952. He taught for three years at the University
of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and then in 1955 joined the University of
Wisconsin, Madison, where he spent the remainder of his career. He was
elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science in 1963; his honors also included the Asa Gray Award for 1994
from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists.

For the obituary from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, visit: 


House Resolution 44, introduced in the United States House of
Representatives on January 11, 2017, would, if passed, express the
House's support of designating February 12, 2017, as Darwin Day, and
its recognition of Charles Darwin as "a worthy symbol of scientific
advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global
celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond
among all of Earth's peoples." The bill was referred to the House
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where similar bills, such
as H. Res. 548 in 2016, have failed to receive a hearing.

Jim Himes (D-Connecticut), the lead sponsor of the bill, explained in
a January 12, 2017, press release from the American Humanist
Association, "In our modern political climate, when the very facts and
truths revealed by science are under attack, honoring the efforts of
scientists, the true heroes of human history, is vitally important."
He added, "By celebrating and commemorating the anniversary of the
birth of Charles Darwin, we not only acknowledge his enormous
contributions to our better understanding of the origins of life, but
send a message that we value education, knowledge and science as our
guiding principles."

"2017 has already seen its first state bill targeting evolution [South
Dakota's Senate Bill 55], so it's wonderful to see a resolution that
recognizes the importance of teaching evolution," commented NCSE's
executive director Ann Reid. "I encourage members and friends of NCSE
to urge their representatives to support H. Res. 44. The problem is
real: one of eight U.S. public high school biology teachers are
explicitly presenting creationism, and six of ten are reluctant to
teach evolution properly. So, yes, support H. Res 44, but don't
overlook the many ways to defend the teaching of evolution locally."

For information about House Resolution 44, visit: 

For the press release from the American Humanist Association, visit: 

And for suggested ways to defend the teaching of evolution, visit: 


South Dakota's Senate Bill 55, introduced on January 11, 2017, and
referred to the Senate Education Committee, appears to be the first
antiscience bill of the year.

If enacted, SB 55 would provide, "No teacher may be prohibited from
helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an
objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific
information presented in courses being taught which are aligned with
the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48 [the section
of the state code that governs the state education standards revision

Although no specific scientific topics are mentioned, the language of
the bill matches the language in bills aimed at evolution and/or
climate change, including South Dakota's SB 114 in 2015. And the
sponsorship is similar: Jeff Monroe (R-District 24), a sponsor of SB
55, also sponsored SB 112 in 2014, which would have prevented school
boards and administrators from prohibiting teachers from teaching
"intelligent design."

In sponsoring SB 55, Monroe is joined by Bob Ewing (R-District 31),
Phil Jensen (R-District 33), Stace Nelson (R-District 19), Jim Stalzer
(R-District 11), and John Wiik (R-District 4).

For information about South Dakota's Senate Bill 55 from the
legislature's website, visit: 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in South Dakota, visit: 


It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: less than three weeks
remain before Darwin Day 2017! Colleges and universities, schools,
libraries, museums, churches, civic groups, and just plain folks
across the country -- and the world -- are preparing to celebrate
Darwin Day, on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of
Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only
to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach
about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education --
which is especially needed with assaults on evolution education
already under way in state legislatures. NCSE encourages its members
and friends to attend, participate in, and even organize Darwin Day
events in their own communities. To find a local event, check the
websites of local universities and museums and the registry of Darwin
Day events maintained by the Darwin Day Celebration website. (And
don't forget to register your own event with the Darwin Day
Celebration website!)

And with Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend! Hundreds of
congregations all over the country and around the world are taking
part in Evolution Weekend, February 10-12, 2017, by presenting sermons
and discussion groups on the compatibility of faith and science.
Michael Zimmerman, the initiator of the project, writes, "Evolution
Weekend is an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the
relationship between religion and science. One important goal is to
elevate the quality of the discussion on this critical topic -- to
move beyond sound bites. A second critical goal is to demonstrate that
religious people from many faiths and locations understand that
evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.
Finally, as with The Clergy Letter itself, Evolution Weekend makes it
clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and
science are creating a false dichotomy." At last count, 290
congregations in forty-four states (and seven foreign countries) were
scheduled to hold Evolution Weekend events.

For the Darwin Day registry, visit: 

For information about Evolution Weekend, visit: 


Have you been visiting NCSE's blog recently? If not, then you've missed:

* Glenn Branch discussing a 1925 episode of evolutionary bookburning: 

For NCSE's blog, visit: 

Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- -- where you can always find the latest news on 
evolution and climate education and threats to them.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600
Oakland CA 94612-2922
fax 510-788-7971 

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