Hello and welcome to my new blog, time for me to share my thoughts and interesting tidbits concerning science, society, and things I consider fun right here on this page.  Thanks for checking out the new space and hopefully I’ll have enough time to get at least one post out a day.  Onto the topic…

Last week I was humbled once again by my home state as the Texas Board of Education attempted to clarify what exactly the state should consider part of the science curriculum.  Most of you reading this have the sufficient background information about this issue so I’ll just toss out the basics.  Science standards were up for a vote last week and the chair of the board, Don McElroy D.D.S. was at the helm to lead the proceedings.  McElroy believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and that evolution cannot explain the wonderful diversity of life.  This is about all you need to know about him, oh yes, he also had 6 other creationist buddies on the board helping him.  Anyway, on we trudge…

The day before the final vote was concluded McElroy began his attack on evolution’s ability to describe the complexity of the cell.  Specifically the amendment read “Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell.”  This is the irreducibly complex red herring that has been debunked by many experts in the field.  My issue doesn’t necessarily stem from this amendment directly (although I do take exception to both the falsehood of the statement as well as the relevance for high schoolers to tackle this type of issue) but rather how Don McElroy supported his case. (quotes from a transcript I made of the audio recordings)

McElroy began by using an appeal to authority: 

“To make a protein requires hundreds of other proteins working in an amazing complex apparatus.  They call it, machines.  I’m just gonna read, this is gonna be my supporting document will be from Dr. Bruce Alberts.  At the time he wrote this he was the President of the National Academy of Sciences.  The title of the article, this is Feb 6, 1998.”

Anyone familiar with Dr. Alberts work, as well as his work on science education and the science OF education, knows that this man is no creationist and is a prominent player in pushing the science standards of the US in the right direction.  Dr. Alberts is a heavyweight in this field and during his time as NAS Pres. developed the first National Science Education standards and now serves on the Carnegie Commission (which he has told me is going postal on creationist agendas in high school curriculums).  Anyway, I’ll leave you to toil on the greatness that is Dr. Alberts while I move on with McElroy’s illusion, delusion, and confusion.

McElroy reads a full paragraph from Dr. Alberts’ publication concerning the assemblies of major protein complexes to perform tasks within the cell. A beautiful summation of the work comes right from the paragraph McElroy read, “Indeed, the entire cell can be viewed as a factory that contains an elaborate network of interlocking assembly lines, each of which is composed of a set of large protein machines.”  Now the problem comes when McElroy tries to interpret the paper to disastrous results.  McElroy says:

“All this standard does is have the students evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection, which is the main mechanism of the unguided, natural processes, to account for that amazing complexity.  I think it’s a standard that is, makes it honest with our children, that they should evaluate the sufficiency of evolution to explain that.”

Ok, I think it’s fair to say that getting bogged down in the technicals of a paper is a reasonable occurrence, even to trained scientists, but this goes beyond confusion.  McElroy is a smart guy and is intentionally distorting the purpose of Dr. Alberts’ research to further his agenda on the board.  There is no way you will convince me that McElroy could mistake the meaning of the paragraph he read, this was a deliberate skewing of the paper’s conclusion.  Unfortunately I can’t be so sure the other board member’s were that aware of what was going on as the amendment passed by an overwhelming vote (being in cahoots and being stupid are sometimes hard to separate).

I managed to reach Dr. Bruce Alberts for comments about his work being used by the creationist agenda during the hearing and here are some selections from his response.

“This is nonsense. I have been misused in this way before by creationists.”

“Tye, the quote from me is accurate, but it has nothing to do with the insufficiency of natural selection to explain the evolution of present day organisms. And the collagen argument that was made next is likewise invalid.  The whole point is that the components of  today’s protein machines or bone (and everything else) originated in more primitive cells, where they had less elaborate functions and made possible different types of reactions — which were of course useful and therefore selected for by natural processes.  As is also true for the fossil record, scientists have enough pieces of the puzzle to be confident that molecular evolution occurred in this way, but of course there will always be gaps in our knowledge due to the fact that the records left by ancient organisms on the earth (whether as fossils or in the molecules of living organisms today) will always be very incomplete.

There is no way that a student, with their very limited knowledge of cell processes and cell chemistry, could be expected to be able to “Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of natural selection to explain the complexity of the cell.”  This would be equivalent to asking students to read a text book on world history, and then expecting them to “Analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of historians to explain the French Revolution”. ”

“Many of us in the US are planning for a major new push this year.  A tie to the future economic productivity of all students will be key, which requires that we wake up the powerful US CEOs. There will be a major push this June from the Carnegie Commission on Math and Science Education.”

Pretty strong words from a pretty credible source if you ask me.  I plan on staying in contact with Dr. Alberts concerning this “major push” on science standards and hoping to keep all of you guys informed along the way on how we can help motivate and and shape the way these battles are conducted in the future.

Sorry this post dragged on so long, I promise most will be shorter but I just had to add as much content from Dr. Alberts as I could.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post…