As we have reported, the State Board of Education voted last month to adopt all of the high school biology textbooks up for adoption in Texas. The adoption of one of those textbooks, from Pearson Education, was made contingent on a final examination of factual errors made by Ide Trotter, a creationist who had served on that textbook’s official review panel. (Pearson’s textbook is a market leader.) We now hear that the expert panel assigned to review the Pearson textbook appears pretty solid — all respected scholars and supporters of evolutionary science.
The three panelists include Ron Wetherington, an evolutionary anthropologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; Arturo De Lozanne, an associate professor in molecular, cell and developmental biology at the University of Texas at Austin; and Vincent Cassone, chairman of the Biology Department at the University of Kentucky (and former department chair at Texas A&M).
Wetherington, who served as an official reviewer of several non-Pearson textbooks, has already analyzed and rejected Trotter’s complaints about the Pearson material. We published Wetherington’s analysis in September. De Lozanne testified during a public hearing in favor of adopting the textbooks and has called on the state board not to water down instruction on evolution.
Cassone has also been a strong public defender of evolutionary science. When Kentucky legislators in 2012 expressed concern about the presence of evolution in state science standards (one lawmakers even called for teaching creationism in science classes), Cassone had this to say:
“The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research. … There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein’s theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised.”
Cassone also has plenty of experience dealing with proponents of “intelligent design”/creationism. Here’s a recording of a debate between him and prominent “intelligent design” advocate Michael Behe in 2005 (with Ide Trotter moderating!):
Strangely enough, board Chairwoman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, appointed Cassone. Cargill is a creationist who has insisted that biology textbooks should teach “another side” to evolution. Her reasons for appointing Cassone are not clear, but we applaud her decision to choose a true expert in the field.
Under rules adopted by the state board last month, the review of Trotter’s alleged errors in Pearson’s textbook should be completed within the next week or two. Decisions about whether Trotter’s objections are based on valid science will be determined by a majority vote of the three science experts.
Josh Rosenau at the National Center for Science Education has more on the appointment of this expert panel here. From Josh:
“These are all real experts, and as I told The [New York] Times’s Motoko Rich, it’ll take about 5 minutes for them to dismiss the claims leveled against Pearson’s Biology.”
This is good news, indeed.
We should also note that Trotter is a finance consultant and chemical engineer by training. Another scientist, James A. Shapiro, a microbiologist at the University of Chicago, last week took Trotter (though not directly by name) to task for using one of his (Shapiro’s) books to make a misleading argument against evolution. It’s quite the take down. Check it out here. Money quote:
“The school textbook board members who misquoted my work are not just against evolution. They are against freedom of speech in scientific research, honesty in public decision-making, and suitable modern education for the students of Texas. That sounds counter to the ideals of liberty, democracy and opportunity on which this nation was founded.”