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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution and Climate Education Update for 2016/02/12

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear friends of NCSE,

NCSE is in the pages of Science with a description of a major national
survey of teachers on climate science education. A Mississippi
legislator is candid about the motivation of his antiscience
legislation. New science standards are rejected in Idaho, and their
treatment of evolution and climate change may be the reason.
Antiscience bills appear in Mississippi but disappear in South Dakota.
And a reminder about Darwin Day.


The first nationwide survey of climate change education in the United
States, conducted by researchers at NCSE and Pennsylvania State
University, was described in "Climate Change Education in U.S. Middle
and High Schools," published in the February 12, 2016, issue of the
journal Science.

Based on the responses of over fifteen hundred middle and high school
science teachers across the nation to a survey asking about their
knowledge of and teaching about climate science, the article reports
that there was good news and bad news: "whereas most U.S. science
teachers include climate science in their courses, their insufficient
grasp of the science may hinder effective teaching."

In a February 11, 2016, press release from NCSE, Eric Plutzer of Penn
State observed, "Few teachers were pressured to avoid teaching about
global warming and its causes." But the median teacher devoted only
one to two hours to the topic. Moreover, as NCSE's Josh Rosenau
commented, "At least one in three teachers bring climate change denial
into the classroom, claiming that many scientists believe climate
change is not caused by humans."

"Teachers didn't created the polarized culture war around climate
change," Rosenau added. "But they're the key to ending this battle."
The article concluded that "simply offering teachers more traditional
science education may not lead to better classroom practice. Education
efforts will need to draw on science communication research and
acknowledged resistance to accepting the science and addressing its
root causes."

Written by Eric Plutzer, Mark McCaffrey, A. Lee Hannah, Joshua
Rosenau, Minda Berbeco, and Ann H. Reid, the article is "Climate
Confusion Among U.S. Teachers," appearing in Science 351
(6274):665-666. Further articles explaining the survey and its results
are scheduled to appear in various venues.

For "Climate Confusion Among U.S. Teachers" (PDF), visit: 

For the press release, visit: 

And for NCSE's resources on climate science education, visit: 


The principal sponsor of Mississippi's House Bill 50 acknowledged that
the bill seeks to allow teachers to present creationism. Interviewed
by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger (February 10, 2016), Mark Formby
(R-District 108) explained, “If a teacher... believes the Earth was
created by a Supreme Being, [she should be able to say] that maybe
there are other theories than the big bang theory where there was
nothing, then nothing exploded and created something."

As NCSE previously reported, HB 50 specifically cites biological
evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human
cloning as topics that "may cause debate and disputation," claiming
that "Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how
they should present information when debate and disputation occur on
these subjects." HB 50 is the first antiscience bill in Mississippi
since 2010.

NCSE's Glenn Branch told the Clarion-Ledger that the federal courts
have consistently found that the teaching of creationism in the public
schools is unconstitutional. He also observed that HB 50 would, if
enacted, allow science teachers to make such claims as "that women or
blacks are inferior, or ... that the Earth was flat or the sun goes
around the Earth" to their students while prohibiting administrators
from interfering.

HB 50 was referred to the House Education Committee, chaired by John
L. Moore (R-District 60). Moore is listed as a cosponsor of the bill
but told the Clarion-Ledgerthat he had not read it carefully and that
it was unlikely to receive a hearing in committee: "We're very limited
on the amount of legislation we move forward," Moore said. "This has a
long way to go to make it through the process, if I even bring it up."

For the story in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, visit: 

For the text of Mississippi's House Bill 50 as introduced, visit: 

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


"Idaho lawmakers have rejected new K-12 science standards after
receiving criticism over how the [standards] -- which for the first
time include global warming and evolution components -- were
finalized," reported the Associated Press (February 9, 2016).

Although the Idaho state board of education approved the new standards
in August 2015, the approval was subject to legislative approval. On
February 2, 2016, the House Education Committee voted to reject the
standards, and on February 8, 2016, the Senate Education Committee
unanimously followed suit.

At neither committee meeting was the content of the standards
addressed in detail. Rather, the committees objected to the lack of
opportunity for public comment on the new standards. The chair of the
House Education Committee was quoted as saying, "I feel we can do a
better job than what we've done in terms of getting feedback from our

But as the Associated Press's story hinted, there is reason to think
that hostility toward the inclusion of evolution and climate change in
the standards played a role in the committees' decisions to reject the
new standards, despite their inattention to the contents of the
standards during their meetings.

Before the House Education Committee meeting, a draft motion to revise
the standards' treatment of global warming, the age of the earth, the
origin of the solar system, the Big Bang, and evolution, describing
those topics as "questionable science," was in circulation. The motion
was not, however, introduced.

After the House Education Committee meeting, Idaho Education News
(February 2, 2016) reported that Lance Clow (R-District 24a) said, of
a standard that referred to human activities as "significantly"
altering the biosphere, that it was "troublesome to some people":
"Compared to what?" he asked.

After the Senate Education Committee meeting, Tim Corder of the state
department of education told Idaho Education News (February 8, 2016)
that references in the standards to the age of the earth, the origin
of the universe, and climate change "may have been what motivated a
lot of people to take issue with them."

What's next for science education in Idaho? According to Idaho
Education News, "The new standards are dead for 2016. ... so that
means the old standards stay on the books until at least the 2017
legislative session."

For the story from the Associated Press (via Local News 8), visit: 

For the stories from Idaho Education News, visit: 

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


House Bill 50, introduced in the Mississippi House of Representatives
and referred to the House Education Committee on February 8, 2016,
would, if enacted, allow science teachers with idiosyncratic opinions
to teach anything they pleased -- and prohibit responsible educational
authorities from intervening.

The bill specifically cites biological evolution, the chemical origins
of life, global warming, and human cloning as topics that "may cause
debate and disputation," claiming that "Some teachers may be unsure of
the expectations concerning how they should present information when
debate and disputation occur on these subjects."

HB 50 is the first antiscience bill in Mississippi since 2010.
Previous such bills were unsuccessful, but in 2006, a bill initially
unrelated to science education was amended to include a similar
provision allowing teachers to discuss "the origin of life" however
they please and subsequently enacted as Mississippi Code section
37-11-63 (2013).

The principal sponsor of HB 50 is Mark Formby (R-District 108); its
cosponsors are Lester Carpenter (R-District 1), Beckie Currie
(R-District 92), and John L. Moore (R-District 60). Formby and Currie
are members of the House Education Committee, to which the bill was
referred, and Moore serves as its chair.

For the text of Mississippi's House Bill 50 as introduced, visit: 

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


South Dakota's Senate Bill 83 is out of commission, following a
February 4, 2016, hearing in the Senate Education Committee. The
committee voted 4-3 to defer further consideration of the bill to the
forty-first legislative day, and since the legislative session in
South Dakota is thirty-eight days long in 2016, the bill is
effectively dead.

If enacted, SB 83 would have allowed teachers to present "the
strengths and weaknesses of scientific information" presented in
courses aligned with the state education standards. No areas of
"scientific information" were specifically identified as abounding in
weaknesses, but the otherwise similar Senate Bill 114 from 2015
identified "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global
warming, [and] human cloning" as scientifically controversial.
According to SDPB Radio (February 4, 2016), proponents of SB 83 cited
climate change as a scientific issue that was presented in a biased

Testifying against the bill was Wade Pogany, the executive director of
the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, who told the committee,
in the words of KELO AM radio (February 4, 2016), that "state and
federal courts have ruled that teachers can't abandon the curriculum
for their own beliefs."

For the text of South Dakota's Senate Bill 83 as introduced, visit: 

For the SDPB and KELO AM stories, visit: 

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


It's time to dust off your Darwin costume again: today is Darwin Day
2016! 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 12-14, 2016, 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, 363
congregations in forty-eight states (and eleven 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, The Science League of America,
recently? If not, then you've missed:

* Minda Berbeco discussing the challenges of teaching about the Big Bang: 

And much more besides!

For The Science League of America, 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

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