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FYI Number 4: January 14, 2004

Scientific Societies Defend Peer-Reviewed Science in K-12 Classrooms

Working with many of its Member Societies, the American Institute of Physics began last year to take a more active role in trying to ensure that the science taught in K-12 classrooms remains high-quality, peer-reviewed science and is not diluted by religious theories. AIP and its Member Societies monitored attempts to weaken the teaching of the theory of evolution, or to introduce into science classes theories that incorporate supernatural explanations for natural events and do not represent peer-reviewed science. Such proposals were attempted through legislation, alteration of classroom science standards, and textbook revisions, in Louisiana, New Mexico, Texas, Michigan, and other states. Also in the past year, the Council of AIP's student organization, the Society of Physics Students, issued a revised position statement on the teaching of science.

In the State of New Mexico, which was conducting a review of its classroom science standards, officials of AIP, the American Physical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the Optical Society of America, and AVS - the Science and Technology Society, urged the New Mexico Board of Education to adopt the revised science standards as developed by "qualified and respected New Mexico science teachers, scientists, and university professors." In their August 19 letter to board members, the society officials continued, "We urge you to continue supporting high science standards in New Mexico science curricula and not to be swayed by unreliable information. Your diligence will ensure that New Mexico students will be better equipped for higher education and the workplace."

Responding to a Texas State review of biology textbooks, officials of AIP, APS, AGU and OSA signed an October 15 letter to the relevant textbook publishers, which stated, in part, "We believe that religious doctrine – in any guise – does not belong in science classrooms..... Texas' textbook-buying practices heavily influence the nation's textbooks purchases. In the U.S., the only opportunity for most people to learn science in a formal setting occurs in grades K-12. We cannot accept or recommend textbooks that include religious tenets disguised as science."

The societies also coordinated a letter to the Texas State Board of Education, which was signed by over 550 local scientists and teachers, calling on the Board "to choose only textbooks that present accepted, peer-reviewed science and pedagogical expertise." Signatories to the letter included Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg and former Presidential Science Advisor Neal Lane.

In both the New Mexico and Texas cases, the standards and textbooks were approved as recommended by the appropriate bodies of experts, and not amended in ways that would weaken the evidence for evolution nor broadened to incorporate non-peer reviewed theories. Proposed legislation in several states did not make it through the legislative process. With its Member Societies, AIP will continue keep abreast of such situations as they arise in the future.

In October, the Council of the Society of Physics Students and the Sigma Pi Sigma honor society updated a previous position statement which addressed teaching about the structure and evolution of the universe. The revised statement follows:

2003 SPS Statement on Evolution and Science Education

"Recently, some political and educational groups have attempted to undermine the importance of teaching the concepts of biological and cosmological evolution, thereby rejecting the consensus of the scientific community. Ideas about the structure and evolution of the universe, including Earth and its life forms, are unifying concepts in science. The development of students' informed views about these concepts is essential to a knowledge of science. These concepts should therefore be included and emphasized as a part of science frameworks and curricula for all students. The Society of Physics Students (SPS) recognizes that decisions about science education standards are the purview of state and local authorities; however, the position of SPS is that such decisions should involve education experience and scientific expertise, and be based on the body of research in science, pedagogy, and cognitive development. SPS encourages science educators and scientists to participate in the development of science education standards by involving themselves in the decision-making processes of state and local school boards."

Three AIP Member Societies have position statements regarding the teaching of evolution. They can be found at the following web sites:

AGU Statement:

http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/evolution.html

AAS Council Resolution on Creationism:

http://www.aas.org/governance/council/resolutions.html#create

APS Statement on Creationism:

http://www.aps.org/statements/81.1.html

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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