Thursday, October 27, 2005

NAS explains themselves
the new Kansas standards are improved, but as currently written, they overemphasize controversy in the theory of evolution and distort the definition of science. NAS and NSTA offered to work with the board to resolve these issues so the state standards could use text from the National Research Council's "National Science Education Standards" and NSTA's "Pathways to Science Standards."
The NAS kindly offered some friendly criticism (PDF). Text from the standards is in italics:

Evolution is accepted by many scientists but questioned by some. The Board has heard credible scientific testimony that indeed there are significant debates about the evidence for key aspects of chemical and biological evolutionary theory…

As was widely publicized, these hearings were boycotted by scientists and major scientific organizations (e.g., American Association for the Advancement of Science) because their participation would have made it appear that these non-scientific alternatives were on equal footing with the theory of evolution and that evolution needed to be defended. The “significant debates about the evidence” are not debates at all. All of the challenges to evolutionary theory that have been raised by proponents of intelligent design have been addressed numerous times (e.g., see

Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation that uses observations, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. …

Based on the edits that were included with the draft document that we received, this statement fundamentally changes the definition of science from a search for natural explanations of phenomena to one that completely omits this point and thereby suggests that explanations can be other than natural ones. Such approaches are not scientific. In addition, the revised text above omits a very important statement that was contained in the original language…. Rather than emphasizing that science develops increasing confidence in evidence that is continually verified and repeatable, the revised text suggests a much narrower role of scientific theory (“The core theories of science have been subjected to a wide variety of confirmations and have a high degree of reliability within the limits to which they have been tested.”).

practices intellectual honesty, demonstrates skepticism appropriately, displays open-mindedness to new ideas, and bases decisions on evidence. NSES p. 170

This is another statement from the NSES for which copyright permission is sought. Based on the text that precedes this statement in the standards (as identified above), it’s ironic that students will be expected to base decisions on evidence but the people who wish to revise these standards continue to cast the appearance of doubt on one of the most robust principles of modern science in ways that are completely unwarranted based on the evidence.

c. The sequence of the nucleotide bases within genes is not dictated by any known chemical or physical law.

This statement is misleading at several levels.

First, ALL molecules conform to known chemical and physical laws for bonding.

Second, since DNA is a double helix, the sequence of nucleotides on one chain of the helix predicts the sequence on the other chain (since adenine bonds with thymine, cytosine with guanine, or adenine with uracil in double-stranded RNA).

Third, the sequence of nucleotide on genes is influenced by natural selection, because certain sequences will increase the fitness of the cells and organisms in which they’re found while others will other sequences will be less fit.

Fourth, there is a very important difference in stating that the sequence of bases is not yet fully understood compared with the statement that lack of total understanding implies that there can be no natural explanation for what is observed.

I like it when smart people slap creationists around.

Until these and other errors in the standards are corrected, the Board will have to rewrite major portions of the standards from scratch, because the National Academies will have nothing to do with the Kansas Science Standards as written.