Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Textbook Trouble in Florida

In the first of three articles on the subject, the Orlando Sentinel reported on some trouble that a science textbook publisher has found itself in. In the September 30 paper, Leslie Postal wrote:

The publishers of a marine-science textbook that critics say contains pro-creationism material has agreed to remove two offending pages from editions sold to Florida schools, state officials said.

An advisory group, made up mostly of educators, that reviewed the book on CD-ROM last week recommended that "Life on an Ocean Planet" be approved only if the pages were cut, a participant said.

The Florida Department of Education said the publisher has agreed. Current Publishing, in California, did not respond to a request for comment.

The second article, which ran later the same day, also by Postal, had a bit more information about the controversy:

The book, Life on an Ocean Planet, was one of 22 reviewed by a group (made up mostly of educators) asked to recommend high school life sciences materials. The two participants I spoke with said the book stood out because of those two pages, which seemed intent on misinforming students or rehashing discredited ideas.

Both said that book was in stark contract to the others they reviewed –most for various high school biology courses . The other textss [sic], they said, were top-notch and dealt with evolution head on, as required under Florida’s new science standards. The Florida Department of Education said last week that the book’s publisher had agreed to remove the pages that raised red flags, but I never heard back from Current Publishing to confirm that.

In the third article, which ran October 4,the textbook company, Current Publishing, defended their position. Postal writes:

The criticized “sidebar” passages in a marine science textbook proposed for Florida high schools were meant to be a “critical thinking exercise for students” and not a way to undermine the teaching of evolution, said a vice president with Current Publishing, the text’s publisher.

The textbook Life on an Ocean Planet was developed for Florida’s marine science courses in 2005 and revised recently to meet the state’s new science standards, said Dean Allen, the company’s vice president and general manager.

The book doesn’t attempt to mislead or undermine the teaching of evolution, he insisted.
The odd thing about all three stories in the Sentinel is that no part of the sidebar information is either extracted or referenced. Those reading the story have no idea what was in the sidebar that was offensive. For that we have to go to the NCSE, which replicates the sidebars. They write:
The sidebar makes a variety of historical and scientific errors. For example, it claims that in the Origin of Species "Darwin proposed that life arose from nonliving matter"; it equates microevolution with genetic drift; and it contends that selective breeding demonstrates genetic drift. Moreover, although the sidebar acknowledges that "the vast majority of biologists (probably more than 95%)" accept evolution, it also airs, without attempting to debunk, a variety of creationist claims (which are attributed to unnamed "skeptics"). Among these claims: that the fossil record "does not contain the many transitional species one would expect," that "evolution doesn't adequately explain how a complex structure ... could come to exist through infrequent random mutations," that transitional features could not be favored by natural selection, and that "the hypotheses that ... chemicals can lead to abiogenesis are highly debatable."

It is difficult to believe that some of the committee that wrote the textbook did not put these passages in on purpose in the hopes that they would not be noticed. The bullet points in the sidebar are ID "talking points" and are straight out of the "academic freedom" playbook championed so heavily by the Discovery Institute. It would also be naive to think that this is not the only place they will show up. The bad thing here is that the writers of the textbook should have known better. The good thing is that the misinformation was caught.

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