A University of Texas scientist is expressing serious concerns about the qualifications of fellow reviewers examining new biology textbooks proposed for public high schools in the Lone Star State. A letter he sent to State Board of Education members this week also highlights concerns that SBOE Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, might have inappropriately tried to influence reviewers in Austin last month. His full letter is at the end of this post.
We reported on Monday that anti-evolution activists nominated by SBOE members to serve as official reviewers are pressuring publishers to weaken instruction on evolution in their new biology textbooks. Texas Education Agency staff appointed reviewers from the list of SBOE nominations and individuals who nominated themselves. State board members will use their reviews to help them decide whether to adopt the textbooks for use in Texas schools. The board has scheduled a public hearing on the textbooks for Tuesday (Sept. 17) and a final vote on adoption in November.
Late Wednesday, an SBOE member forwarded to the Texas Freedom Network a letter from Jimmy Gollihar, a doctoral student and scientist working at UT-Austin. Gollihar nominated himself as a reviewer.
Gollihar’s letter describes a “review process that is either broken or corrupt.” He explains, for example, that many reviewers on the biology panels were clearly unqualified to evaluate the textbooks:
“The net result of having a huge raft of non-scientists on the panels was that rather than checking for factual errors in the texts I was put into the position of having to painstakingly educate other panel members on past and current literature. Somewhat unsurprisingly, a reviewer from another table, who is also a well-known creationist without any training in biology, was quite proud that he was the one reviewing the sections on evolution for his table … with no scientific counterpoint to be had. As a result, even beyond the obviously ideologically-derived comments on the materials many of the comments found littered throughout those reviews make no sense whatsoever from a scientific viewpoint and are absolutely not germane to the content prescribed in the [Texas curriculum standards].”
He also expresses frustration over his name appearing on a document in which another reviewer insists that “creation science based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption”:
“At no time did I ever sign anything resembling such nonsense. In fact, the author of that comment and I never worked on anything together. I do not know how this inaccurate statement and my name have been paired, but because I am a professional in good standing I strongly ask you to please remove my name from anything that does not have my direct signature when providing materials to the public. To do otherwise is to potentially sully my reputation.”
Gollihar calls on SBOE members to ensure that reviewers actually have the appropriate qualifications to review a textbook:
“Future panel members should be experts in their respective fields, preferably practicing scientists up to date on the modern information that students need. . . . We should absolutely not see network, mechanical or chemical engineers, dieticians or others making decisions or pressuring publishers to change books on biology. Let biologists do biology. We’re actually pretty good at it.”
Gollihar’s letter also suggests that SBOE Chairwoman Cargill, who has called for biology textbooks to teach “another side to the theory of evolution,” might not have been entirely forthcoming with her fellow board members last month. At a board meeting on August 1, Cargill assured her colleagues that she hadn’t inappropriately interfered in the work of the biology textbook review panels.
At that meeting, board member Marisa Perez, D-San Antonio, had expressed concerns over a TFN Insider post revealing that Cargill had spent considerable time working with those panels, which were meeting in Austin at the time. Perez asked whether the participation of board members would compromise the integrity of the review process.
Cargill, sounding a little peeved, expressed surprise that anyone would suggest she was trying to influence the work of the reviewers:
“My goal in going was to go to every table, literally, and thank the panel members for being there. Plus I’m a science teacher, so I love listening to all the science talk. So regardless of what was interpreted by people who were there, or weren’t there, that was my goal.”
But Gollihar’s letter suggests that reviewers “were taken aback” by what they saw as Cargill’s attempt to influence the panels’ examination of the textbooks:
“I and other members of my group grew increasingly concerned with both the actions and presence of Chairwoman Barbara Cargill during the review of course materials for high school biology. We appreciated her kind words about our service to the state, but we were taken aback by the sheer amount of time spent with other panel members, especially those who might reasonably be regarded as creationists. From our vantage, Ms. Cargill was clearly trying to steer the independent review process by providing specific guidance and direction to the two other teams. She appeared to be pointing to specific locations within certain texts and encouraging the members of the panel to recommend changes to the publishers. It is our understanding that the review process should be absent of any undue influence from SBOE members.
As an example, we were uneasy about having seen Ms. Cargill opening books for review in the corridor outside of the review area. When I and other panel members approached her, she indicated that she “had to do it the old-fashioned way,” by reading the hard copy of the book. This was puzzling, given that we assumed that we were the experts being asked to review the book, not her. Moreover, any demurs about providing general guidance were sort of obviated by this detailed examination of the materials to hand.”
It would seem that Cargill spent far more time with reviewers than would be necessary to express her gratitude for their service and engage in some small talk. So we once again call on the chairwoman to reveal what she told reviewers and to explain the extent of her participation in their work.
You can read all of Gollihar’s letter below.