The Austin American-Statesman on leaving science textbooks alone. (Sept. 16, 2013):
Once again, evolution is before the State Board of Education, which holds a public hearing this week on proposed new science textbooks. Religious and social conservatives have challenged the textbooks’ presentation of evolution and are demanding publishers give alternative views equal ink.
This ongoing debate about evolution — a false one, scientifically — coincides with growing demands that Texas students need to be better educated in the sciences, technology and mathematics to remain competitive globally. To fear one’s inner monkey is to undermine that worthy educational goal.
Seven science textbooks await the 15-member State Board of Education’s consideration. Board members are expected to choose the winners in November. We encourage them to leave the science in the textbooks undiluted by things unscientific.
There are more than 5 million public school students in Texas. Because Texas school districts buy more textbooks than most other states, publishers have followed Texas standards in the past rather than publish multiple versions of the same textbook. Thus Texas’ education standards and the textbooks written to support them have become, by default, the standards in other states.
But Texas’ influence over public school textbooks outside the state is waning as traditional textbooks disappear from classrooms and technology makes them more flexible. The State Board of Education’s influence on Texas public school districts also has waned a bit.
The board has not always been a model of learned enlightenment. This was particularly true when it revisited the state’s science curriculum in 2009 and social studies curriculum in 2010.
Those debates made Texas education the butt of national jokes and prompted lawmakers to pass a law in 2011 giving school districts the authority to choose their own textbooks and classroom materials independent of the board’s selections. The catch is districts are required to follow the state’s curriculum, and because the board selects textbooks based on the curriculum, few districts probably will bother to select their own.
Social conservatives no longer firmly control the board, but their influence remains strong enough. They were able to place their allies on citizen review committees assigned to review the proposed new science textbooks. Some of these citizen reviewers are making familiar challenges about the way the textbooks teach evolution.
Republican Barbara Cargill of The Woodlands, who chairs the State Board of Education, told lawmakers during a hearing this year on the CSCOPE curriculum tool that the board’s intent when it revised the science standards “was to teach all sides of scientific explanation. I couldn’t find anything (on the CSCOPE website) that might be seen as another side to the theory of evolution. Every link, every lesson, everything, was taught as: ‘This is how the origin of life happened. This is what the fossil record proves.’ And all that’s fine. But that is only one side.”
It also happens to be the scientific side.
The most common criticism of evolution is that it is “just a theory.” This criticism does not highlight a perceived weakness of evolution but instead reveals a critic’s misunderstanding — or willful ignorance, perhaps. A scientific theory is not a hunch or conjecture but, as the American Association for the Advancement of Science explains on its website, www.aaas.org, “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not ‘guesses’ but reliable accounts of the real world.”
One such reliable account is germ theory, which explains that microorganisms cause many diseases. Or atomic theory, which describes the existence of matter. Or Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which helps explain how objects with mass attract one another. We don’t anticipate any textbook challenges to these theories.
Like gravity, science accepts evolution as a fact — species change over time. After more than 150 years, Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection still describes evolution fairly well.
Critics of the proposed textbooks also attack the way climate change is taught, denying that human activity has influenced global warming or that climate change threatens a significant percentage of the world’s species.
“Observations that cannot be verified or replicated cannot count as evidence in scientific inquiry,” a biology textbook published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt says. “Some phenomena, such as supernatural phenomena, may never be testable or scientific.”
Simple enough. But not when the debate is about things that have nothing to do with science.
• • •
The (Freeport, Ill.) Journal-Standard on prostate cancer (Sept. 16)
This simple test can save your life
Men are thickheaded, stubborn and unreasonable, to say the least, when you suggest a visit to the doctor’s office.
They believe they can “shake it off,” or they’ll be all better if they “rub some dirt on it” — pick your favorite macho sentiment. That kind of attitude can be deadly when it comes to a man’s health.
Perhaps it’s because of masculine attitudes that Prostate Cancer Awareness Month passes as barely a blip on the public radar while Breast Cancer Awareness Month has almost everyone in the pink.
The numbers are all too similar. There will be 238,590 new cases of prostate cancer in the United States this year, according to estimates compiled by the American Cancer Society, and 29,730 will die. Those are all men.
Prostate cancer strikes black men at higher rates than it does white men, and black men are twice as likely to die of the disease.
There will be 232,340 new cases of breast cancer among women and 2,240 cases among men — yes, breast cancer strikes men, too — and 39,620 women and 410 men will die.
A further similarity between the cancers is that early detection is key. The five-year survival rate for prostate cancer is 100 percent unless the disease has spread to other areas of the body. For breast cancer, it’s 98 percent. The odds that you’ll live longer have increased as new medications and procedures become available.
Besides getting much more attention, breast cancer research receives twice the money that prostate cancer research does. In fiscal 2009, breast cancer research received $872 million from the federal government; prostate cancer got $390 million.
But more research spending won’t do any good if men don’t go to the doctor. Men are 24 percent less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, but we don’t expect to see professional athletes sporting extra blue attire during games. Perhaps the NFL can mix some public service announcements in with the beer commercials to get the guys’ attention. If that doesn’t work, ladies, tell the man you love to go to the doctor.
He’ll be around a lot longer if he does.