Texas School Board

The Texas State Board of Education is looking a bit saner after Republican primaries yesterday.

Thomas Ratliff upset State Board of Education member Don McLeroy in a Republican primary nail-biter… Appointed board chairman in 2007, McLeroy has been the poster-child for the board’s conservative bloc with his affable tone but strident ideology. … His defeat is substantial blow to the conservatives.

on the other hand

Dallas Republican Geraldine Miller, a member of the board’s moderate faction, lost to teacher George Clayton in that primary, the Associated Press announced around 12:30 p.m. There is no Democrat contending for this seat, either.
Miller has been a fixture on the board since 1984 and the surge by Clayton was not expected.

Although Clayton reassuring;y says “As an educator, I see the question of curriculum and textbook content as a simple task; both should be agenda free,” this late unexpected surge does not bode well, as it smacks of the creationist M.O. And he is also quoted as saying “”It’s seems to me you can’t be taught the one [evolution] without the other [creationism],” Clayton said. “It’s an impossibility to talk about evolution without mentioning creationism.”

The Texas Observer has much more.

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Texas Board of Education Meeting on Slashdot

The final vote on the State Board of Education curriculum standard is tomorrow.

The story is not just on Slashdot but also the WSJ.

I have half a mind to go watch the ceremony seeing as I’m in town. Maybe get me a fedora and a little card that says press. But it’s just a ceremony. Why burn a day’s vacation time just to be exasperated bu a new group when my main hobby involves so much exasperation already. I figure the vote is the vote and the ceremony will just waste a day.

Catch up here, and come back tomorrow evening for the news.

Update 3/25/09 5 PM CDT: Texas Freedom Network is liveblogging as I type.

Update 3/25/09 8 PM: I misunderstood. Final testimony is today. The vote is tomorrow- Thursday the 26th. Sorry for the inadvertent suspense.

Live tweeting from Texas Education Board

Following StatesmanEDU on Twitter.

Also, Texas Freedom Network is liveblogging.

11:44 – A creationist testifier:

“Why are we supporting such a theory (evolution) that has no evidence supporting it?”

Also liveblogging the event is TFK (Joshua Rosenau).

Update: Today’s Statesman story

Update 1/22: Here’s the other side, an outfit called the Free Market Foundation.

If the Shafersman quote (which I’ve cringed at before, repeated by the FMF at the above link) wasn’t messed up by the Statesman reporter, he’s not a very competent ally. People who don’t understand science defending science can be an embarrassment and a liability.

Also, here’s some bland TV coverage (may expire; let me know if you find a stale link.)

More: The NYTimes has a good summary of the story.

And today’s Statesman story, despite a couple of glitches (\u2026 is actually Python’s rendition for the ellipsis (“…”) character; hooray for the Statesman running buggy Python) unscrambles a fairly convoluted day pretty well:

The State Board of Education on Thursday rejected efforts to continue to require Texas children to study the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories including evolution. But a narrower challenge to evolutionary theory was approved.

However, the board later approved, 9-6, a motion by board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-College Station, to require students to evaluate the “sufficiency or insufficiency” of scientific theories about common ancestry of different species. The prevalent scientific theory explaining the diversity of species is evolution; creationism is the belief that the universe was created by a higher power.

Details from TFN:

4:23 – McLeroy wants to amend the section on biology dealing with evolution, calling into question common descent through evolution. This is a very bad amendment. Good heavens. McLeroy is a dentist, and he’s trying to argue against the heart of evolution right here. He has absolutely no qualifications here.

4:32 – We’re reeling here. McLeroy has launched a broadside against a core concept of evolution — common descent. This is like an army losing a battle (”strengths and weaknesses”) and then launching a nuclear strike.

4:45 – Good God. It passed. Board members surely don’t understand what they’ve done here. Certainly not all of them. Strengths and weaknesses is out, but McLeroy has succeeded in using the standards to raise doubts about a core concept of biology.

4:48 – The board has voted 9-6 to give preliminary approval to the standards. UPDATE: In the confusion at the end, we missed the final vote count. But the board did give preliminary approval to the standards draft.

5:04 – Time for deep breaths. One: The failure of creationists to reinsert “strengths and weaknesses” into the standards is a huge victory for sound science education. We need to fight to keep it out in tomorrow’s formal vote and again in the final March votes on the standards.

Second: Board members — none of whom are research scientists, much less biologists — appeared confused when they were asked to consider amendments with changes to specific passages of the standards. That’s why it’s foolish to let dentists and insurance salesmen play-pretend that they’re scientists. The result is that the standards draft includes language that is more tentative. Not good, but not necessarily disastrous overall.

Third, and this is more of a problem, McLeroy has succeeded in inserting language that has students waste time evaluating evidence on a concept that is established science — in fact, it’s a core concept in the study of evolution, common descent. What we saw is what happens when a dentist pretends that he knows more about science than scientists.

This is all mighty confusing. The press coverage struggling to establish who the players are and what is at stake in this or that amendment. It’s a difficult task. (It’s a quadruple negative. The science advisory group proposed to 1) strike the pre-existing text calling for the curriculum to investigate  2) “weaknesses” in evolutionary theory; the creationists proposed to 3) amend the recommendation so as to reinstate the language and 4) the majority defeated the amendment to that effect. Then the creationists came up with another way to get creationism into the curriculum which the exhausted moderates let slide, apparently out of inattention or something.

In the end, both TFN and the Statesman are calling it a victory for evolution, but a defeat for “common descent” is a neat trick that seems to achieve the fundies’ purpose in a completely different way. I don’t really like the sneering at the end of the TFN timeline but the declaration of partial victory is nonsense. They are hosed, and the schoolchildren of half the country may be hosed along with them.
FMF is a day behind. Playing close to the vest, perhaps? I call it a stealth victory for fundamentalist  superstition, myself.
The latest article on tfk has interesting points and comments.
tfk: 

how do they propose that anyone analyze and evaluate how natural selection doesn’t apply to individuals but to populations? That’s simply true, and doesn’t require any analysis or evaluation.

Tony Whitson:

it seems to me that McLeroy’s amendment on common descent is so silly that the Board won’t have any problem getting rid of that in March.

Cheryl Shepherd-Adams:

So why would they vote with McLeroy and against the experts on matters of science content?

John Pieret:

I’m sure there is an element of face-saving in the reaction of the Disco Boyz, especially after they’ve spent so much time promoting the “strengths and weakness” ploy, but I’m not at all sure these amendments are small potatos.

Update 1/24: More resources in Millard fillmore’s Bathtub (indeed). The Houston Chronicle’s coverage is here.

Update 1/25: Dave Mann at the Texas Observer sees it pretty much the way I do.