Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Meanwhile, Back in Texas...

A bit back (April of 2008), the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board rejected the case of the ICR to award masters of science degrees—effectively the board wouldn't accredit them. The problem was, of course, that the entire scientific establishment recognizes that the "science" that come forth from the ICR does not stand up to even cursory scrutiny and the board knows this. The guidelines of the board can be found here. The opening paragraph reads:
Section 61.304 of the Texas Education Code prohibits a private postsecondary educational institution from granting or awarding degrees in the state of Texas unless the institution is issued a Certificate of Authority (COA) to grant such a degree by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (“Coordinating Board”).
A COA is an interim step for an institution seeking approval to offer degrees in Texas. A COA awarded by the Coordinating Board is a temporary authorization, valid for up to two years, that is predicated on the institution receiving formal accreditation from a Coordinating Board-recognized accrediting agency. An institution may seek limited, periodic renewal of their Certificate of Authority. However renewal is subject to the institution making demonstrable progress toward accreditation.
The document, itself, contains a timeline of events related to the ICR petition. Raymond Paredes wrote, in his ruling that:
My recommendation to the Board is based on two considerations, the first of which is that ICR failed to demonstrate that the proposed program meets acceptable standards of science and science education. As indicated in a faculty job announcement, ICR requires that applicants “be committed to young earth creation science and the Bible;” in its current general catalog, ICR states that its mission “is to study, teach and communicate the works of God’s creation.” Also in the catalog appears this statement: “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the Creation Week described in Genesis…and confirmed in Exodus….The creation record is factual, historical and perspicuous; thus all theories of origin and development that involve evolution in any form are false.” ICR’s catalog also states “The phenomenon of biological life did not develop by natural processes from inanimate systems but was specially and supernaturally created by the creator.” This statement runs counter to the conventions of science which hold that claims of supernatural intervention are not testable and, therefore, outside the realm of science.
Why is this coming back now? Because a state representative from Tyler, Texas, Leo Berman is proposing legislation to exempt the ICR from the Coordinating Board's rules. The story, in the Longview News-Journal, notes:
Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said his proposed legislation is intended to allow the Bible-oriented group to proceed without the coordinating board's blessing.

"Why are people who call themselves scientists afraid to hear two sides of a debate?" Berman asked Friday.

His proposal would exempt private, nonprofit educational institutions that do not accept state funding and state-administered federal funding from coordinating board rules.
It is distressing that a representative would attempt to circumvent a scientific body to push through a piece of legislation catering to the needs of a group who's work has been soundly criticized in the scientific community. The ICR, the DI and various state senators and representatives seem to not see the problem in politicizing science.

The subsidiary problem, of course, is state representatives meddling in areas of science in which they are manifestly unqualified to do so. When Rep. Berman states "Personally, I don't believe in evolution. I don't believe I came from a salamander that came out of a pond," he betrays a sharp ignorance of the very area in which he is attempting to legislate. He has been told that the ICR has good science and since they share his theological leanings, he supports them. He does not know that the "debate" has been conjured up by the ICR and like groups in an effort to "teach the controversy." This, despite the fact that there is no debate, no controversy. We might as well be debating whether or not the earth is flat. As I have said in the past, when politicians get involved in science education, the outcome is never good.

If the ICR does get exempted from the board's rules, what is to keep other organizations that are even less credible from doing the same? The article concludes:
Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, said the measure promotes a right-wing religious agenda.

"It would make Texas a magnet for unscrupulous private 'educational' companies that will want to offer students the opportunity to pay for bogus advanced degrees," Schafersman wrote on his group's Web site. "If H.B. 2800 became law, it would be a gold mine to every fly-by-night, degree-granting outfit in the country."


  1. The subsidiary problem, of course, is state representatives meddling in areas of science in which they are manifestly unqualified to do so.

    True story.

    As a grad student I assisted at an economics convention for congressional chiefs of staff. We ran a bunch of them through an experimental market, where they were buying and selling imaginary goods, a lot like a stock market. Then a professor shows them the results of the experiment and talks a little bit about markets and how they work.

    That evening there's a dinner, and I sit with some of the chiefs of staff and colleagues from the university. Talk turns to the experiment, and a woman at the table says, "You know, I've regulated markets before, but this is the first time I've actually participated in one."

    I wanted to cry.

  2. It makes me want to cry. I remember when the State Board of Education in Kansas wanted to remove evolution from state testing. 70% of them could not properly identify the tenets of evolutionary theory. I don't mind people not knowing things as long as they don't attempt to regulate the teaching of these things.