Alerts

Science Education (Texas members): Preserve the place of evolution in textbooks

The Ecological Society of America encourages its Texas members to contact their school district’s representative on the State Board of Education regarding several recently passed amendments to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science. The amendments, which weaken the language used to discuss evolution in textbooks, open the door for creationist ideas by suggesting a scientifically inaccurate level of uncertainty about evolutionary principles. Of particular significance to ecologists are amendments introduced to the TEKS biology section by Board Secretary Terri Leo and Chairman Don McLeroy.

 An important board meeting will begin on March 25, so interested individuals should be sure to contact their board members before this date.

When contacting board members, the following talking points may be useful:

McLeroy’s amendment adds a requirement to: “Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.

Why this is scientifically problematic:

  • It contradicts the preceding standard (7A), which states that the fossil record provides “evidence of common ancestry”
  • “Sufficiency or insufficiency” is similar to the “strengths and weaknesses” language recently removed from the standards, and is objectionable for the same reasons: it provides an opening for creationist board members to pressure textbook publishers to include creationist-inspired “weaknesses” of evolution, as occurred in 2003.
  • Explaining “sudden appearance” would require a great deal more detail than is provided or feasible in high school biology courses. Without this background, students could misinterpret “sudden appearance” as evidence of instantaneous creation.
  • In his handout, McLeroy used terms such as “stasis” and “sudden appearance” to promote creationism, suggesting that his proposal to include them in the biology standards was similarly motivated.

View the handout at: http://www.anevolvingcreation.net/collapse/mcleroy_handout.pdf

Leo’s amendments involve inserting the phrase “analyze and evaluate” in place of verbs such as “identify,” “recognize,” and “describe” in existing standards.

Example: Current standard 7B: “Recognize that natural selection produces changes in populations, not individuals.”

Amended standard 7B: “Analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces changes in populations, not individuals.”

Why this is scientifically problematic:

  • “Analyze and evaluate” changes the meaning of important statements, at times introducing ambiguity where it is not appropriate. For example, “natural selection produces changes in populations, not individuals” is empirical fact and needn’t be subjected to analysis or evaluation.
  • The changes single out evolution for special treatment. They were not proposed for any other subjects in the science TEKS, and therefore directly contravene an Attorney General’s opinion that the Board of Education “not single out … a single theory of one scientific field.”

 For additional information, please see: http://ncseweb.org/news/2009/01/victory-over-weaknesses-texas-004236

 How to contact school board members:

To look up your district’s board member by address, visit http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/ and select “State Board of Education.”

Members can be contacted via electronic or standard mail:

Email: Send an email to sboesupport@tea.state.tx.us. Please note that since all board members share the same address, you will need to specify your member in the subject line. ESA is tracking support for science on this issue and would appreciate receiving a copy of your email at piper@esa.org

Standard mail: Postal addresses and numbers for phone and fax are listed at: http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/sboe/members.html

On January 26th, Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) introduced the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act (H.R. 669), a bill designed to better control the introduction and establishment of nonnative species in the United States.


Invasive Species: Opportunity to support the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention-Act (HR 669)

On January 26th, Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) introduced the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act (H.R. 669), a bill designed to better control the introduction and establishment of nonnative species in the United States.

Addressing invasive species is among ESA’s central policy priorities—interested members are encouraged to contact their Representative to request co-sponsorship H.R. 669.

A few highlights:

  • The bill would establish a new risk assessment process in which the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would evaluate the risk posed by nonnative species before allowing them into the country.
  • FWS would, with public input, develop a “green list” of species allowed to be imported. Parties who imported species not on this list would be subject to penalties under the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981, although special permits would be issued on a case-by-case basis for species being used for scientific or educational purposes. Import fees and penalties would go towards covering the costs of the risk assessment process.
  • Under current regulations, nonnative species may be imported so long as they are not considered “injurious” under the Lacey Act—that is, unless they have already caused demonstrable harm. H.R. 669 therefore represents a key shift from reactive to proactive policy, allowing FWS to stop nonnative species invasions in many cases before they begin.
  • H.R. 669 was drafted in extensive consultation with the scientific community, including members of ESA.

To view the complete bill, please visit http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c111:H.R.669.IH:

When contacting congressional offices, members may wish to mention the following:

  • Scientists and economists estimate that nonnative species invasions cost the United States more than $123 billion every year. As globalization increases, this figure is expected to rise.
  • Nonnative species have been introduced to ecosystems across all 50 states and U.S. territories, and have in many cases harmed not only local habitats and economies, but also native species and human health. Invasive species may proliferate quickly, spreading disease, damaging property, or leeching resources.
  • Detecting nonnative species invasions early on greatly increases the likelihood of eradication.

Contact information for Representatives is available at:

https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

Remember to include your home address in your email so your Representative knows that you are a constituent. Piper Corp (Piper@esa.org) and Nadine Lymn (Nadine@esa.org) of ESA’s Public Affairs Office are happy to assist interested ESA members as needed.


Science Funding: Weigh in on science funding in the economic stimulus package

This week, House appropriators marked up the proposed $825 billion economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009.  Now is a critical juncture for individual scientists to contact their congressional representative and Senators and express their views on the funding proposed for science in the economic stimulus bill. It is significant that science figures so prominently in the proposed bill and Members of Congress need to know that the scientific community is aware and appreciative of their efforts.

As proposed, the bill would provide billions of dollars for science, including $3 billion to the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The proposed funding for NSF would expand opportunities in fundamental science and engineering to meet environmental challenges and to improve global competitiveness as well as to build major research facilities and improve instruction in science, math, and engineering.  The bill also proposes $600 million—primarily for climate research—for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, $600 million for satellites and sensors for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $200 million to repair and modernize the U.S. Geological Survey, $550 million to the U.S. Forest Service for restoration efforts on non-federal forest ecosystems, to conduct urban tree inventories, and respond to insect and disease threats.  The bill also proposes $79 billion for state fiscal relief to prevent cutbacks in key services including local school districts, and public colleges and universities. 

The bill is slated for a vote by the full House next week.  The Senate has not yet taken up the bill and will likely propose different figures, in some cases possibly lower than those proposed by the House.  House Speaker Pelosi has been key in advancing the science portions of this bill and many professional organizations including the Ecological Society of America will be sending letters of thanks. 

 To identify your congressional representative and send them an email, type in your 9 –digit zip code on this link of the House website: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml  or contact ESA’s Public Affairs Office for assistance by emailing Nadine Lymn (Nadine@esa.org).