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Scientific Community Unites Against Kansas Board of Education Evolution Decision

On 10 August 1999, the Kansas State Board of Education (KSBE) voted 6 to 4 to remove the teaching of evolution from the state’s science education standards. In response, the American Institute of Biological Sciences released a statement reflecting its disappointment and disapproval of that decision. AIBS member societies the Association of Southeastern Biologists (ASB) and the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) have joined AIBS in releasing their own statements of concern about the decision (following cover).

These scientific organizations would like to remind Kansas of the sentiment spelled out by its own Vision Statement, which states that "students cannot achieve high levels of performance without ... a rich array of learning material" (taken from the Kansas Science Education Standards Fourth Working Draft, April 1999, as posted at http://www.ksbe.state.ks.us/topics.html).

"Virtually all credible scientists believe that it is morally reprehensible to intentionally withhold knowledge from our children," says SSE President-Elect Michael Lynch of the University of Oregon. "No well-educated person wants to raise their children in an atmosphere of censorship."

When questioned by several KSBE members about the purposeful omissions, the three-Board-member subcommittee who successfully proposed the amendments replied that their intent was to add "clarity and conciseness to the document." Other board members noted that, on the contrary, the changes made by the subcommittee were in fact themselves unclear, and in the "realm of real science" had no clear implications (see the KSBE meeting minutes online at http://www.ksbe.state.ks.us/commiss/bdmin/0899boardmin.html).

At best, the omissions de-emphasize the importance of a fundamental scientific concept. As former Evolution Editor and MacArthur award winner G. Vermeij explains, "Evolution—descent with modification—is one of the most fundamental ideas in science. It touches almost every other discipline of knowledge, including medicine, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and other social sciences."

Lynch adds, "The establishment of evolution as a universal process of living systems, and the repeated verification of this fact, is one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. To deny students access to this fact, and information on the discoveries leading to it, is the equivalent of denying the foundations of mathematics or modern chemistry."

At worst, the omissions ensure an uninformed, second-class society. "We are quite concerned about the possibility of other state boards of education allowing the same error committed in Kansas," says ASB President Patricia Parr. "The results would be disastrous for the future of this nation."

AIBS Executive Director Richard O'Grady agrees. "The scientific community decries any attempt to hobble legitimate scientific investigation and education. Just because a segment of the population doesn't tell its children about scientific discoveries and theories doesn't mean those discoveries and theories don't exist, aren't known to other people, and won't affect the children's lives—it simply ensures that the children will not be given the opportunity to learn about, evaluate, and agree or disagree with significant areas of human knowledge."

American Institute of Biological Sciences

August 30, 1999

To reflect its concern regarding the recent decision by the State of Kansas Board of Education to remove evolution from the state’s science curriculum, the AIBS Board of Directors issued the following statement:

The State of Kansas Board of Education has decided not to require the teaching of evolution in the state-approved science curriculum. This unfortunate decision means that many students will no longer be exposed to some of the most exciting and important advances in modern biology. The Board's decision will send many into adulthood burdened with a profound lack of knowledge about a subject that underlies all of biology and that links the life sciences with equally fundamental components of chemistry, physics, and geology.

All scientific explanations are provisional and subject to revision in the face of new data and theories. Biologists today are engaged in vigorous debates about the mechanisms by which evolution occurs and the historical pattern and sequence of events through which life's diversity has arisen over billions of years of history, but they spend no more time debating whether evolution occurs than physicists do debating whether quantum mechanics correctly predicts the behavior of individual electrons. Because biologists accept and use evolutionary explanations in their work, the Kansas Board of Education's decision serves only to prevent its students from acquiring a comprehensive understanding of modern biology.

The American Institute of Biological Sciences urges Boards of Education and local school boards in every state to ensure that their students receive an education in all major tenets of modern science, including evolutionary biology.

AIBS is planning to hold an interactive roundtable on the topic of evolution in Washington, DC, in the near future. Participation will be available on-site and via teleconference. Details will be available and distributed this fall; contact the AIBS Communications Office at 202/628-1500, ext. 253, or drobbins@aibs.org for more information.

Society for the Study of Evolution

Founded 1946

The Officers and Council of the Society for the Study of Evolution wish to express their grave concern at the act of the Kansas School Board in discouraging the teaching of evolution and cosmology in the Kansas public school system.

While we wholeheartedly support the view that science should be taught in a spirit of free enquiry, we regard it as a retrograde step to single out certain aspects of science for special treatment as unsuitable for the classroom, apparently because they are felt to conflict with the religious beliefs of some individuals.

The processes of observation and inference used to support our current understanding of the age of the universe and of biological evolution are the same as those used in all branches of science. The very ancient origin of the universe, and the evolution of present-day organisms from much simpler forms, are as firmly established as the atomic theory of matter. If we abandon the usual procedures of acceptance or rejection of scientific hypotheses in one area of science, then the whole of science is in jeopardy. Students who are denied access to education about evolution will lose the opportunity to become acquainted with one of the major advances in our understanding of nature, and will be placed at a serious disadvantage.

The Society for the Study of Evolution is an international organization, based in the United States, whose membership consists of over 3,000 biologists actively studying evolution at major universities and research institutions throughout the world. It has a commitment to improving education in evolution, as well as to fostering evolutionary research.

Association of Southeastern Biologists

To the State Boards of Education:

The Association of Southeastern Biologists strongly supports the statement of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) regarding the decision of the Kansas Board of Education to remove evolution from its science curriculum. We recognize evolution as fundamental to understanding all of biology and its singular importance in the scientific education of students and citizens. We agree that the Kansas decision will deprive students of basic knowledge concerning the mechanisms of life, the nature of diversity, and the history of life on earth. This knowledge is necessary for a science education and to further scientific research and the application of research to biological problems.

Furthermore, the Kansas decision demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry, including the importance placed on evidence acquired through testing and modification of existing scientific explanations.

The Association of Southeastern Biologists joins AIBS in urging that state and local boards of education develop a strong science curriculum that includes evolutionary biology and an understanding of scientific inquiry.

The Association of Southeastern Biologists was established in 1937 with membership composed of biologists from colleges, universities, government agencies, and private institutions throughout the Southeast. The Association of Southeastern Biologists, one of the largest regional biology associations in the country, is committed to the advancement of biology as a science by the promotion of science education, research, and the application of scientific knowledge to human problems.

Sincerely,

Patricia D. Parr, President
Association of Southeastern Biologists
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Post Office Box 2008
Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831-6038
http://www.asb.appstate.edu/

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