Monday, March 07, 2005

The plans emerge

Board of Education to hold six days of hearings over evolution:
The three board members tentatively set their hearings for May 5-7 and 12-14, with the exact times and place to be determined. During the hearings, only scientists will testify, according to the subcommittee. The scientists will include experts on evolution and proponents of other ideas about the origins of life.

The board members also picked a theme, from a 2001 congressional report on the federal No Child Left Behind education reform law - saying science should be open to alternative theories when there are controversies.

“We're trying to get to the bottom of a great controversy,” Abrams said.

Last year, the Board of Education appointed a 26-member panel of educators to propose changes in the existing science standards.

However, in January, conservatives questioned whether the panel had adequately considered views from advocates of creationism or intelligent design. A minority on the panel also sought to ensure that students are exposed to more criticism of evolution. Conservatives then called for public hearings.

The board's subcommittee on science standards had considered taking only written arguments. But Morris said she favored oral arguments, allowing more questions and giving creationism equal time with evolution. She said students should be exposed to all views and should reach conclusions about the origins of life based on what they are taught at home.

“I know in my heart what my religious beliefs are,” Morris said.

That last line is likely to cost the state thousands, if not millions, in court costs. Are they trying to write the best science standards, or are they trying to insert religion into every aspect of our lives?

This whole thing will be a disaster. Or let Harry McDonald, president of KCFS, explain it:

Harry McDonald, president of Kansas Citizens for Science and a retired Olathe high school science teacher, described the hearings as a “farce” and “fiasco.” His organization doesn't want scientists to participate.

As for the board, McDonald said, “They are looking for a stage to pretend they are judging science.”

Abrams said the outcome of the hearings wasn't predetermined.
It is a farce, it is a fiasco, and the outcome is predetermined. TfK has said as much in the past, and I stand by it. It's a shame the reporter doesn't explain why KCFS doesn't want scientists to get involved. Scientists shouldn't get involved because they won't change anything. They will give up some of their legitimacy as scientists, and transfer that legitimacy to the predetermined result already rejected by the science standards committee.

That doesn't mean that scientists should avoid the questions. Just don't sit as witnesses in a kangaroo court.

I asked Dr. Steve Abrams the following questions several weeks back:

Unfortunately I could not attend the BoE meeting last night. There are several questions I have about the subcommittee hearings that press accounts have not clarified.

What is the objective of the hearings? Will the questioning be intended to tear down particular theories or to show their positive value as science?

My concern, and many people I know share this concern, is that evolutionary biology will be attacked, and that every unanswered question will be presented as a flaw. Your comments and those of the other two subcommittee members in the Journal World and the Kansas City Star did not address that concern.

While there are unanswered questions in any science, that is not a flaw. Science proceeds by asking questions, and seeking answers for them. Scientists don't always get the answer right away, and that's why physics didn't stop with Newton, nor biology with Darwin.

If the format of the hearings will be negative and critical, will the same level of proof be demanded of intelligent design as of evolution?

Given that the three members of the subcommittee have all declared their opposition to evolution, I think it's important for the legitimacy of the process that these hearings be fair and open.

Kansans are fairminded, and will not tolerate a smear job wrapped up in a kangaroo court. I'm sure you share my concerns, and I'd like to know what measures you will take to protect the integrity of your Board and your subcommittee, especially given the accusations of KOMA violations by all three members of the subcommittee

Thank you.

Dr. Abrams replied (on Feb. 24):

I also want the hearings on scientific knowledge to be credible. To that end, the committee is working with Dr. Case and Dr. Harris to delineate a process that will accomplish that goal. That process is not yet determined. It is still a work in process.

This is his answer? Now, it' true that the questions and the process were unresolved, but I wanted his assurances, as a gentleman, that he would not smear evolutionary biology. He refused to address that, and he did not answer my response:

Not to be a nuisance, but I'd like YOUR opinion on how the process will work.

I am a blogger with a sizable readership. If I could offer them specific assurances, I think there would be less wariness about this process.

While the process is still being resolved, what criteria will you be using, as the Chair, to assess proposals? You and your colleagues will be judge and jury, your views are meaningful regardless of choices Drs. Case and Harris make.

The answers are clear from his actions, but it would be nice if he'd put his cards on the table. If this is like a trial, get an indictment against whatever, get a plaintiff's and defense counsel, and have at it.

But this is crap.