"I write to alert you to efforts by the National Academies
to confront the increasing challenges to the teaching of evolution
in public schools; your help may be needed in your state soon....
I write to you now because of a growing threat to the teaching of
science through the inclusion of non-scientifically based alternatives'
in science courses throughout the country. A recent article in the
Washington Post pointed out that there are challenges to the teaching
of evolution in 40 states or local school districts around the country
today (for more details, visit the website of the National Center
for Science Education, http://ncseweb.org)."
"Recent tactics to cast doubt on the veracity or robustness
of the theory of evolution have included placing disclaimer stickers
in the front of high school biology textbooks (Cobb County, GA and
Alabama; proposal before the Missouri House of Representatives), mandating
or recommending the inclusion of Intelligent Design in high school
biology courses (e.g., Dover, PA; Cecil County, MD, respectively);
development of statewide lesson plans that encourage students to examine
weaknesses' in the theory of evolution (Ohio), and plans to
revisit parts of state science standards that focus on evolution (Kansas
State Board of Education). If these challenges have not yet reached
where you live or work, they are likely to do so in time.
"A federal judge recently ruled the Cobb County stickers
to be unconstitutional and has ordered them removed from all textbooks;
an appeal is pending. The courts will soon hear a lawsuit brought
by the ACLU on behalf of parents in Dover County, PA about whether
ID also is tantamount to promoting religion (for additional information
about the various forms of scientific creationism' and ID, see
However, these challenges continue unabated across our nation, and
the New York Times and Education Week report that even where the controversy
is not overt, teachers are quietly being urged to avoid teaching about
evolution -- or have decided not to do so because it engenders so
much rancor from a subgroup of students, parents, and members of the
school board or local community. As a result, one of the foundations
of modern science is being neglected or banished outright from science
classrooms in many parts of the United States.
"If your discipline is not the life sciences, you may
be wondering why I have chosen to write to all members of the National
Academy of Sciences. Although the controversy focuses primarily on
biology, some who challenge the teaching of evolution in our nation's
schools have also focused their sights on the earth and physical sciences.
For example, when the Kansas Board of Education first removed portions
of biological evolution from their science standards in 1998, they
also eliminated statements mandating that Kansas students learn about
the Big Bang, that there is overwhelming evidence that the earth is
much older than 10,000 years, and the theory of plate tectonics. All
of these items were returned to the Kansas standards following extensive
pressure from many organizations.... But, as noted earlier, the Kansas
Board of Education plans to re-examine their science standards because
the 2004 election has again resulted in a majority who favor the inclusion
of alternatives to evolution' in the state's science curriculum.
"The National Academies have been involved for many
years in helping scientific colleagues, teachers, and concerned citizens
in individual states and school districts respond. While these challenges
have national implications for science and science education, they
are typically viewed as local issues.... As a result, when asked to
assist, I have contacted NAS members who live in the state where a
specific challenge is presented, enlisting their assistance through
the writing of op-ed pieces, speaking at school board meetings and
related activities. The NAS also has published three reports, two
of which are specifically directed to science teachers to help them
understand both evolutionary theory and the social controversies that
surround its teaching. Descriptions of these reports and our efforts
to confront challenges to the teaching of evolution are summarized
in a recent article published in Cell Biology Education (see http://cellbioed.org/articles/vol3no2/article.cfm?articleID=98).
"We stand ready to help others in addressing the increasingly
strident attempts to limit the teaching of evolution or to introduce
non-scientific alternatives' into science courses and curricula.
If this controversy arrives at your doorstep, I hope that you will
both alert us to the specific issues in your state or school district
and be willing to use your position and prestige as a member of the
NAS in helping us to work locally.
"I have asked Dr. Jay Labov, Senior Advisor for Education
and Communications in the NRC and a former professor of biology, to
oversee the Academies' efforts in this realm. Please address all of
your comments, ideas, and requests for assistance directly to him
(firstname.lastname@example.org; Telephone: 202-334-1458)."
In related news, several reports have indicated that the White House
Office of Science and Technology Policy Director, John Marburger, has
also recently spoken out in support of evolution and commented that
Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory.
The American Institute of Physics continues to monitor this issue as
it arises in various school districts around the country, and in some
instances has, in conjunction with a number of its Member Societies,
written letters to school boards and other state and local officials,
encouraged individual scientists to testify at hearings, issued news
alerts, and taken other grassroots initiatives to help defend the teaching
of sound, peer-reviewed science in public school science classes.