There have been several recent court cases in which Intelligent Design (ID) advocates (or their thinly veiled minions) have tried to challenge the way science, specifically evolution, are taught in schools. Thus far the rulings have gone in favor of evolution advocates, including the recent one by Judge John E. Jones, III in Dover PA, which was widely viewed as a sound beat-down of ID as a science. The school board that voted in favor of the initial change to the science policy got blown up by the voters and 8 of 9 pro-ID members were sent packing. Overall, it warms my heart.
However, as much as it is nice to see these small pockets of idiocy stomped out as they pop up like some bizarre irrationalist whack-a-mole game, there is one state that has the power to change what science students read on a national scale. Good thing it's a reasonable... oh wait, it's Texas. Fuck.
Yup, Texas has the influence to change what is in the science text books in your children's and students' hands, no matter what state you live in. How is that possible, you ask? Well, simple economics. In case you've never seen a map, Texas is kinda big. A corollary to having a big state is having a big school system and if you're following along, you can see where this is going. The Texas State Board of Education is the defacto "kingmaker" of science text books by virtue of their buying power. Publishers run themselves ragged trying to please the TSBE so that they can ship freighters of their texts to Texas. Therefore, any change in the TSBE policy force the hand of publishers, whereby they change wording in text books used nation-wide. All it takes is a couple of asshats in the right positions (in Texas, no less) to alter how evolution is presented to students. Consider the following from today's Science:
'In March, the Texas school board approved new science standards that omit the "strengths and weaknesses" line (Science, 3 April, p. 25). But many scientists view the new version as more insidious than the previous one. Among other things, it requires that students have the chance to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell." The language is seen as an opening for ID proponents to argue that such "irreducible complexity" points to an external organizing force.'
'Don McLeroy had wanted the standards to require textbooks and other materials to offer an even more skeptical view of evolution. But McLeroy, whom the state legislature declined to reappoint as chair last month although he remains on the board, says he's satisfied that requiring "more scientific evolutionary discussions" will serve students well. "The explanations offered [in the texts] will be so weak that students who are skeptical of evolution will see the weakness for themselves," he says.'
Do I want this guy picking the language in any text book. Heeeeeells no! But this is what's happening. The authors of the texts being considered or already used by the TSBE say that they will appease the TSBE by beefing up their explanation of eukaryotic evolution in order to provide more detailed evidence for the "scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell", but this is not how things have gone in the past. On previous occasions, the authors/publishers have taken the easy way out and altered only a few lines of text, which served to soften the language on evolution. If they do chose this opportunity to increase the section on evolution, then the TSBE has inadvertently done science a favor. I, however, remain unconvinced this will happen.