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NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2014/08/01

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(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear friends of NCSE,

Sad news of the death of Walter Gehring. And movement in South
Carolina's impasse over evolution in its new state science standards.

WALTER GEHRING DIES

The eminent biologist Walter Gehring died on May 29, 2014, at the age
of 75, according to the Biozentrum at the University of Basel. His
scientific work concentrated on the fruit fly Drosophila and the
genetic control of its development. He and his colleagues are credited
with discovering homeobox genes -- which regulate the expression of
DNA in development -- and identifying the master control genes for the
development and evolution of the eyes. Two future Nobel laureates,
Christianne Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus, worked in his
laboratory. His 1993 Terry Lectures at Yale University were published
as Master Control Genes in Development and Evolution: The Homeobox
Story (Yale University Press, 1998).

Interviewed by the University of Barcelona, from which he received an
honorary degree in 2010, Gehring was asked, "Relative to the
resurgence of old theories such as intelligent design and creationism.
Does the scientist have the responsibility to try to avoid this
resurgence?" He replied, "Yes, I think we are always trapped. We are
thinking in human terms, we are humans, so we think in human terms. We
think that nature was constructed by a human engineer or a human being
or a perfect God similar to a human being," and proceeded to describe
in detail a case where he assumed, wrongly, that a biological pattern
was generated in a way that a human engineer would have produced it.
In the same interview, he approvingly cited Theodosius Dobzhansky's
dictum that nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of
evolution. Asked about the compatibility of evolution and religious
belief, he expressed agnosticism: "I personally don't [believe] in a
personal God that is like a human being. I told you evolution shows
that it's not a human engineer sitting in the sky on a cloud who
designs life, but life has generated by itself and this doesn't mean
that there is a divine superior kind of being behind nature. We
couldn't possibly grasp that. I'm trying to find out how nature works,
and if there is something else behind nature it is difficult to say."

Gehring was born in Zurich, Switzerland, on March 30, 1939. He
received his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Zurich in 1965,
and then went to Yale University, first as a post-doctoral researcher
and then as a faculty member. In 1972, he returned to Switzerland,
where he was Professor of Genetics and Developmental Biology at the
Biozentrum at the University of Basel until his retirement. He was a
foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal
Society of London. Among his honors were the Jeantet Prize for
Medicine (1987), the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology
(1997), the Kyoto Prize for Basic Science (2000), and the Balzan Prize
for Developmental Biology (2002).

For the Biozentrum's obituary for Gehring, visit:
http://www.biozentrum.unibas.ch/news-events/news/news-details/article/obituary-for-walter-gehring-1939-2014/ 

For the University of Barcelona's interview with Gehring, visit:
http://www.ub.edu/web/ub/en/menu_eines/noticies/2010/entrevistes/Walter-Gehring.html 

END TO THE IMPASSE IN SIGHT?

A panel approved a proposed revision to the section on evolution in
South Carolina's new state science standards, according to The State
(July 29, 2014). If the revision is approved by the state board of
education and the Education Oversight Committee, it will end the
impasse over South Carolina's state science standards that began with
the EOC's refusal in December 2013 to accept a standard covering
evolution.

According to the panel's agenda, the proposed revision adds a new
standard and a related performance indicator as follows:

***

H.B.5D. Conceptual Understanding: Science is the systematic gathering
of information through both direct and indirect observation, and the
testing of this information by experimentation with the aim of
developing concepts and formulation of laws and theories. Scientific
conclusions are tested by experiment and observation, and evolution,
as with any aspect of science, is continually open to and subject to
experimental and observational testing.

Performance Indicator: Student who demonstrate this understanding can:
H.B.5D.1 Explain how scientists develop theories and laws by using
deductive and inductive reasoning in situations where direct
observation and testing are possible and also by inference through
experimental and observational testing of historical scientific
claims. Students should understand assumptions scientists make in
situations where direct evidence is limited and understand that all
theories may change as new scientific information is obtained.

***

The language of the revision largely derives from the National Science
Teachers Association's position statement on evolution.

Rob Dillon, president of South Carolinians for Science Education and a
professor of biology at the College of Charleston, told The State that
the language of the proposed revision is itself unobjectionable. But
he expressed concern about the potential effect of singling out
evolution for special treatment, saying, "I would hope that a science
teacher at the high-school level would see that language and
understand that it is general principles about the scientific method."

The panel, with members from the state board of education and the EOC,
was convened after the last clash between the two bodies. As NCSE
previously reported, in June 2014, the board rejected the EOC's
proposal -- backed by the Discovery Institute -- to revise the
standards to require students to "[c]onstruct scientific arguments
that seem to support and scientific arguments that seem to discredit
Darwinian natural selection."

For the article in The State, visit:
http://www.thestate.com/2014/07/29/3590110/update-to-teaching-evolution-clears.html 

For the panel's agenda (PDF), visit:
http://www.eoc.sc.gov/Meeting%20Minutes/Meeting%20Packets/2014/Special%20panel%20to%20review%20the%20high%20school%20biology%20standard%20HB5.pdf 

For the NSTA's position statement on evolution, visit:
http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/evolution.aspx 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in South Carolina, visit:
http://ncse.com/news/south-carolina 

WHAT'S NEW FROM THE SCIENCE LEAGUE OF AMERICA

Have you been visiting NCSE's blog, The Science League of America,
recently? If not, then you've missed:

* Steven Newton explaining NCSE's "two-model" Grand Canyon raft trip:
http://ncse.com/blog/2014/07/return-fellowship-two-models-0015760 

* Glenn Branch pondering H. L. Mencken's obituary for William Jennings Bryan:
http://ncse.com/blog/2014/07/stop-press-mencken-s-obituary-bryan-0015771 

* Mark McCaffrey reporting on European action on climate education:
http://ncse.com/blog/2014/07/climate-kic-start-0015772 

And much more besides!

For The Science League of America, visit:
http://ncse.com/blog 

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

--
Sincerely,

Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x303
fax: 510-601-7204
800-290-6006
branch@ncse.com 
http://ncse.com 

Check out NCSE's new blog, Science League of America:
http://ncse.com/blog 

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http://reports.ncse.com 

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