History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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NCSE newsletter: evolution and climate education update: May 30, 2014

May 30th, 2014 · No Comments

Dear friends of NCSE,

The derailment of the Next Generation Science Standards in Wyoming
continues to provoke comment. Plus a squeaker of a victory in
Oklahoma, and sad news of the death of Gerald Edelman.


The decision of the Wyoming legislature to prevent the state from
adopting the Next Generation Science Standards because of concerns
about their presentation of climate change continues to attract
spirited criticism in editorial and opinion columns, both in Wyoming
and nationally.

In a column for the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (May 17, 2014), Marguerite
Herman systematically debunked the arguments of the Wyoming opponents
of the NGSS, which she described as “hyperbole and misdirection.” She
concluded, “Let’s all focus on the facts and resist the distractions
of political hyperbole and histrionics. Keep your eye on the rabbit of
good, evidence-based science standards for our students. Get your
critical thinking caps on.”

Writing in the Casper Star-Tribune (May 23, 2014), Audrey Cotherman —
a former Wyoming deputy state superintendent of schools —
sarcastically recommended, “we should applaud a Legislature that in
one tiny footnote can violate young people’s right to the best
knowledge available, the local control of school boards, the
separation of church and state, and the purpose of the founding
Fathers in creating mandatory, free, education. But I don’t.”

The New York Times (May 24, 2014) editorially described the decision
as “truly depressing,” explaining that although it was apparently
motivated by the idea that allowing students to learn about climate
change would threaten the energy industry, “it seemed also to be a
willful effort to leave a whole generation of children in the dark
about climate science. This is more than standard-issue political
posturing. It is madness.”

In the Boston Globe (May 28, 2014), Derrick Z. Jackson excoriated “the
spasm of ignorance that continues to prolong national inaction on
climate change,” adding, “The Wyoming legislature refused to approve
the national standards because it was afraid they would turn children
against the state’s coal and oil industry.” He concluded, “With each
state that denies science, the nation moves closer to the tipping
point where the cost is beyond control.”

In the meantime, according to the Casper Star-Tribune (May 27, 2014),
the state department of education is reconstituting the science
standards review committee; a spokesperson for the department
explained, “no portion or any documents that have any portion of the
NGSS are to be reviewed in the committee.”

For Marguerite Herman’s column in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, visit:

For Audrey Cotherman’s column in the Casper Star-Tribune, visit:

For the editorial in The New York Times, visit:

For Derrick Z. Jackson’s column in the Boston Globe, visit:

For the story in the Casper Star-Tribune, visit:

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in Wyoming, visit:


When the Oklahoma legislature adjourned on May 23, 2014, the attempt
to derail Oklahoma’s new state science standards was stymied.

As NCSE previously reported, the state board of education unanimously
voted to adopt the new standards on March 25, 2014. The new Oklahoma
Academic Standards for Science are the product of more than a year of
work by a committee of more than sixty members, the state department
of education’s director of science education Tiffany Neill toldthe
Oklahoman (March 26, 2014). The standards were widely regarded as a
vast improvement on their predecessors, which received a grade of F in
the Fordham Institute’s 2012 study of state science standards.

But when House Joint Resolution 1099 — a routine resolution approving
or disapproving proposed permanent rules of Oklahoma state agencies —
went to the House Administrative Rules and Government Insight
Committee, however, the new standards were attacked. The attacks
focused on the use of the Next Generation Science Standards as a
resource and on the presentation of climate science in early grade
levels, according to a May 13, 2014, post on the blog of the Oklahoma
Science Teachers Association. The committee amended HJR 1099 to reject
the state department of education’s rules implementing the new

On May 21, 2014, HJR 1099 as amended passed the Oklahoma House of
Representatives on a 55-31 vote. The bill proceeded to the Senate
Rules Committee, which showed no signs of wanting to consider it.
Undeterred, opponents of the standards took their fight to the Senate
floor, where, on May 23, 2014, Senator Anthony Sykes (R-District 24)
moved to amend the similar House Joint Resolution 1097 to include
disapproval of the rules implementing the new standards, saying,
“global warming is the main concern.” The amendment was accepted on a
25-14 vote, and the amended bill was then passed on a 32-9 vote.

HJR 1097, as amended by the Senate, then returned to the House, which,
however, failed to consider it before the legislature’s sine die

For the story in the Oklahoman, visit:

For the Fordham Institute’s evaluation of Oklahoma’s old science
standards (PDF), visit:

For the post at the blog of the Oklahoma Science Teachers Association, visit:

For information about Oklahoma’s House Joint Resolutions 1099 and 1097, visit:

And for NCSE’s previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit:


The eminent biologist Gerald Edelman died on May 17, 2014, at the age
of 84, according to The New York Times (May 22, 2014). In 1972,
Edelman and Rodney R. Porter shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or
Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the chemical structure of
antibodies.” In addition to immunology, Edelman was interested also in
neurobiology, founding the Neurosciences Institute, “a non-profit
scientific research organization dedicated to learning about the brain
for the benefit of mankind,” in 1981, and in consciousness, expounding
his ideas in such books as Neural Darwinism (Basic Books, 1987),
Bright Air, Brilliant Fire (Basic Books, 1993), and Wider than the Sky
(Yale University Press, 2004).

In his work on immunology and consciousness alike, Edelman stressed
the usefulness of Darwinian thinking. In Bright Air, Brilliant Fire,
for example, he wrote of the immune selective system, “Here is a
molecular recognition system that is noncognitive and highly specific,
the explanation of which is a marvelous example of population thinking
— the essence of Darwinism. Like evolution, it has a generator of
diversity …, a means of perpetuating changes by a kind of heredity
…, and a means of differentially amplifying selection effects.”
Similarly, he wrote that his theory of neuronal group selection “has
definite parallels to Darwinian notions … In evolution, differences
among various organisms’ adaptations to the environment lead to
differences among reproductive processes, which lead in turn to
changes in the frequencies of genes in the population. In neuronal
group selection, differences in connectivity, synaptic structure, and
the morphology of neurons in the primary repertoire, after
confrontation with different correlated patterns of signals from the
environment, lead to differences in the probabilities of their
responses as groups. This reflects changes in the patterns of their
synaptic strengths. There is differential reproduction in one case,
differential amplification in the other.”

Edelman was born in Queens, New York, on July 1, 1929. He received his
B.S. from Ursinus College in 1950 and his M.D. from the Medical School
of the University of Pennsylvania in 1954. After stints at the
Massachusetts General Hospital and in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, he
enrolled at the Rockefeller Institute, from which he received his
Ph.D. in 1960. He remained as a professor at Rockefeller University
until 1992, when he joined the Department of Neurobiology at the
Scripps Research Institute. Besides the Nobel Prize, his honors
included at least sixteen honorary degrees, membership in the National
Academy of Sciences, and the Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry
given by the American Chemical Society in 1965.

For the obituary in The New York Times, visit:


Have you been visiting NCSE’s blog, The Science League of America,
recently? If not, then you’ve missed:

* Steven Newton taking on Pat Sajak and Ann Coulter on climate change:

* Glenn Branch reviewing evolution in state political party platforms:

* Stephanie Keep, RNCSE’s new editor, making her blogging debut:

And much more besides!

For The Science League of America, visit:

Thanks for reading. And don’t forget to visit NCSE’s website —
http://ncse.com — where you can always find the latest news on
evolution and climate education and threats to them.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x303
fax: 510-601-7204

Check out NCSE’s new blog, Science League of America:

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