Texas State Board of Education Hearings

Here is a press release from the creationists:

AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) has scheduled a hearing of scientific experts, including three scientists who are recommending that students should learn about scientific evidence that challenges Darwin’s theory of evolution.

On Wednesday, January 21st, six experts selected by the SBOE to review a proposed update of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science will give testimony to the board. Three of the scientists will recommend that the board retain long-standing language in the TEKS calling on students to examine the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories in order to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills. The other experts are on record supporting repeal of the language.

“We’re very pleased that in this Darwin bicentennial year Texas has invited scientists on both sides of the evolution debate to testify about the scientific status of Darwin’s theory,” said Dr. John West, associate director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

According to one of the experts, Dr. Stephen C. Meyer, examining the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories is a core part of the scientific process, and abandoning such critical analysis merely to satisfy ideological demands of Darwinists harms students by giving them a false view of scientific inquiry.

“Science education that does not encourage students to evaluate competing scientific arguments is not teaching students about the way science actually operates,” emphasized Dr. Meyer in his written report. Meyer, a Cambridge-trained philosopher of science, directs the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute.

Meyer will be joined in recommending the preservation of the “strengths and weaknesses” language in the TEKS by Baylor University chemistry professor Dr. Charles Garner and University of Wisconsin-Superior biology professor Ralph W. Seelke, whose laboratory research investigates the ability of natural selection to produce new functions in bacteria.

Previously, these scientists have advised the SBOE that good science education should encourage students to learn the scientific facts and engage in more critical thinking than they would under the currently proposed TEKS.

SOURCE Discovery Institute


Meanwhile, this showed up in my mail. It’s not just the biologists under attack, alas:

From: Christina Castillo Comer
Date: January 12, 2009 1:24:44 PM CST

Subject: Call to Action

Dear fellow science educators,

It is time for a call to action. As you know, the new Earth and Space Science course standards (and all other science course standards) will be up for approval before the State Board of Education during January 21-23.

It is very likely that some of the SBOE members–the seven who are Young Earth Creationists–will attempt to make changes to the ESS standards in ways that will damage the scientific integrity and accuracy of the course. In particular, these SBOE members will try to negatively modify or delete the standards that require students to understand the following scientific topics they consider controversial:

  • age of the Earth and universe,
  • the Big Bang model of cosmology,
  • radiometric dating,
  • evolution of fossil life,
  • fossil lineages and transitional fossils,
  • origin of life by abiotic chemical processes,
  • ancient mass extinction events, and
  • global warming and climate change.

We need you and all your friends and family members to write letters to the individual SBOE members and ask them to adopt the new ESS standards without change!

That’s the simple message of your letter: to accept the proposed ESS standards without editing or modification. We strongly suspect an effort will be made to do exactly that by members of the SBOE.

A group of ten individual Earth scientists that included high school teachers, ES teacher trainers, college professors, and industry geoscientists worked together for a year during several intense meetings to create these standards. Their very careful effort and hard work should not be injured by the actions of nonscientists who have ideological and political agendas. Under the Texas Constitution, the SBOE members are politically-elected officials who actually have the power to write whatever science standards they wish, and several have expressed their intention to modify certain standards to align with their religious and ideological agendas.

In addition to writing your individual letters (the same letter to each member is OK) asking that the ESS standards–indeed, all the science standards–not be modified in unscientific ways against the intentions of the scientists and science teachers who wrote them. Please write to colleagues on email lists in which you participate and ask them to do the same. We need a tremendous outpouring of support to counter the probable equal outpouring of support from critics of science among the citizens of Texas. Feel free to use this message.

I attach a PDF copy of the new ESS standards with this message. It is part
of a larger document containing all of the proposed and recommended high
school science standards that can be found on the Texas Education Agency
website at
http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/teks/Sci_TEKS_9-12_Clean_010509.pdf .

The addresses of the individual SBOE members can be found at
http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/members.html . You can also email them
individually using a group email address, sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us,
although I think formal letters would be better received and more likely
read by them.

The letters need to be written and sent in the next few days. If you have never written a letter before, now is the time to do so. You should include in your letter:

Please adopt the ESS standards as written without modifications or
unscientific changes that weaken the standards.” You can add the other reasons as you wish: our state’s economy depends on a scientific understanding of the Earth, citizens need to understand Earth science as well as physical and life science, the Earth sciences affect our lives in so many ways, etc.

We need our ESS course to have an accurate and reliable scientific content,
not damaged by eliminating or weakening important topics that some people
object to for non-scientific reasons.

Chris Castillo Comer

Of course, the trouble is the impedance mismatch between the law and the science.

You can make a case that “Science education that does not encourage students to evaluate competing scientific arguments is not teaching students about the way science actually operates,” emphasized Dr. Meyer in his written report. Of course, it’s well known that useful science education does not operate the way science operates. And science does not operate the way law operates, either. There’s no process besides abandonment for identifying discredited theories. There’s no official Board of Hooey that says “c’mon, give me a break, phlogiston?”

So in the eyes of the law, it is hard to distinguish between things that experts actually think about and centuries-old campfire ghost stories originally intended to keep children from wandering out of their tents.

And of course, the fundamentalists are interested in law and politics. It is interesting that while they don’t actually accept science, they think they do. There’s no expression of contempt for science, just some sort of implication that it is rife with anti-Christian conspiracies. Strange.

As always, see also the Texas Freedom Network.


Sunspots vs Global Temperature

Note: Googling for a graph of global temperature over time? See here.

More fish in a barrel, and indeed fish that have already been shot up quite thoroughly, but I’ve been running into Svensmarxists of late.

According to something called the “Daily Tech”, which is the sort of news site that credits Anthony Watts with being a “meteorologist” (he was a TV weatherman for some time; I don’t know if he has an undergrad degree),

many climatologists now believe solar magnetic activity – which determines the number of sunspots — is an influencing factor for climate on earth

which, as we used to say in calculus class, is true for sufficiently small values of “many”. And apparently the number of sunspots is extraordinarily small of late:

NOAA reversed their previous decision on a tiny speck seen Aug 21, which gives their version of the August data a half-point. Other observation centers such as Mount Wilson Observatory are still reporting a spotless month. So depending on which center you believe, August was a record for either a full century, or only 50 years.

Now, what do those “many” climatologists have to say about sunspots? Apparently (I have trouble keeping this straight) they correlate positively with global mean temperature because…

According to Watts, the effect of sunspots on TSI (total solar irradiance) is negligible, but the reduction in the solar magnetosphere affects cloud formation here on Earth, which in turn modulates climate.

This theory was originally proposed by physicist Henrik Svensmark, who has published a number of scientific papers on the subject. Last year Svensmark’s “SKY” experiment claimed to have proven that galactic cosmic rays — which the sun’s magnetic field partially shields the Earth from — increase the formation of molecular clusters that promote cloud growth.

Now, as an actual meteorology Ph.D. (although it’s a well-known met school it also gave a doctorate to Pat Michaels, so make of this credential what you will), I seem to recall that high clouds warm the surface because of something called the “greenhouse effect”, but as far as I know these people think that is all mumbo-jumbo. So do the high clouds correlate with high temps or low on the Svensmark theory? Wikipedia says that according to Svensmark:

Fewer cosmic rays meant fewer clouds–and a warmer world.

(ref: Svensmark, Henrik, “The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change”, Totem Books, 2007 (ISBN 1-840-46815-7)

[Update: Dano helpfully points out in the comments that we have already performed the experiment, and it does look like the main effect of contrails, which are high clouds, is greenhouselike; removing them caused a detectably larger diurnal temperature cycle and detectably decreased temperature.]

Oh well. Have it your way. So according to this, since sunspots cannot be lower than they are now, we should be seeing the coldest summer of the century, right? (Less solar magnetism, more cosmic rays, more clouds, cooler temperatures goes the “argument”, I gather.) Well, August data is not in, but July is not looking good for Svensmark.

And while the current year to date is a bit below the trend line (largely owing to a La Nina event), it remains more on the warm side than on the cool. So what on earth could cause these people to confidently assert that sunspots dominate CO2?

Rasmus Benestad has a new article on the Encyclopedia of Earth website examining these claims in a cool, professional style. He finds them wanting, though those not used to reading the primary literature will not immediately grasp how severely wanting. The article is nicely summarized by this image, which compares solar activity (red, pale blue, grey), CO2( green), and observed global temperature (dark blue) over the past 6 solar cycles.

Anyone claiming that sunspots dominate CO2 in the contemporary record has got a whole lot of ‘splainin’ to do. Of course, with enough knobs on your theory you can explain anything. It is interesting to note how quick the skeptics, er, denialists, er, cosmoclimatologists are to reduce the dimension of the problem (to a global temperature trace). Which is why I prefer to call the problem “global climate change” and not “global warming”. If you reduce everything to a scalar it’s a lot easier to come up with theories. (All of which leads to my point about the best theory being the one with the fewest knobs; more on that to follow in a later post.)

Even so, as you can see, there’s not just a little bit of weaseling needed to actually make a case out of the sunspots as the “culprit” in the global warming that is not happening and is good for you.