Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

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Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

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Official Texas Review: "Creation Science" Should Be Incorporated Into Every Biology Textbook

| Wed Sep. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Behind closed doors, textbook reviewers appointed by the Texas State Board of Education are pushing to inject creationism into teaching materials that will be adopted statewide in high schools this year, according to new documents obtained by watchdog groups. Records show that the textbook reviewers made ideological objections to material on evolution and climate change in science textbooks from at least seven publishers, including several of the nation's largest publishing houses. Failing to obtain a review panel's top rating can make it harder for publishers to sell their textbooks to school districts, and can even lead the state to reject the books altogether.

"I feel very firmly that 'creation science' based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption."

"Once again, culture warriors in the state board are putting Texas at risk of becoming a national laughingstock on science education," said Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that monitors religious extremists and "far-right issues." TFN and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) obtained the review panel documents in response to a state open-records request.

What's more, because Texas has one of the nation's largest public school systems, publishers tend to tailor their textbooks for that market and then sell the same texts to the rest of America.

Here are five striking examples of comments submitted to publishers by the state review panels urging them to water down scientific teachings.

  • One reviewer directly implored the textbook companies Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Scientific Minds to teach "creation science":

I understand the National Academy of Science's [sic] strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that "creation science" based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.

Text neglects to tell students that no transitional fossils have been discovered. The fossil record can be interpreted in other ways than evolutionary with equal justification. Text should ask students to analyze and compare alternative theories.

  • Another reviewer, Ray Bohlin, told the publisher Pearson/Prentice Hall that climate change isn't real because we "don't really know that the carbon Cycle [sic] has been altered." But even if it was, he continued:

In reality we don't know what climate change will do to species diversity…Question seems to imply that ecosystems will be disrupted which qwe [sic] simply don't know yet.

  • In the same review, Bohlin repeatedly promoted Signature in the Cell, a book written by Stephen Meyer—director of science and culture for the creationist Discovery Institute—without disclosing the fact that he is a fellow there:

There is no discussion of the origin of information bearing [sic] molecules which is absolutely essential in any origin of life scenario. Meyer's Signature in the Cell easily dismisses any RNA first [sic] scenario. The authors need to get caught up.

  • Reviewers examining the Pearson/Prentice Hall textbook also refer to "THE DISCREDITED PEPPERED MOTH SCENARIO" and "the replacement of discredited 'Peppered Moth' misrepresentations." (Starting during the industrial revolution, populations of peppered moths gradually changed color to match tree bark that had been darkened by soot from local industry—camouflage that made them less vulnerable to predators. After the plants closed and the pollution cleared up, the moths eventually returned to their lighter color. The moth example has been upheld as a classic case of evolution in action.)

Few of the textbook reviewers who were critical of the teaching of evolution and climate change possessed any scientific credentials, according to NCSE. Among those who did, several were active in anti-evolution organizations such as the Discovery Institute.

According to the groups, the Texas Education Agency has declined to release documents showing what changes, if any, the publishers have agreed to make in response to these reviews. A public hearing on the books will take place next week in Austin, followed by a final vote to approve or reject them in November.

Don't miss: "14 Wacky 'Facts' Kids Will Learn in Louisiana Voucher Schools"

Why a Small California City Could Be Wall Street's Worst Nightmare [Updated]

| Tue Sep. 10, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

The outcome of the foreclosure crisis—and the fate of many investors who bet on it—may hinge upon a city council vote tonight in a little-known working-class suburb (see update below). The Northern California town of Richmond (population: 105,000) will decide whether it wants to become first city in the country to use eminent domain to rid itself of underwater mortgages. The securities industry has threatened to make life miserable for Richmond and its residents if they move ahead with the plan.

In late July, Richmond sent letters to 32 banks and other mortgage holders, offering to buy 624 underwater mortgages at discounts to the homes' value. None of the offers were accepted. Richmond must now decide whether it will use eminent domain—a power more often used to build roads or shopping malls—to seize the homes, paying a court-determined fair market value.

Memo: Justice Department Won't Meddle With States That Legalize Marijuana

| Thu Aug. 29, 2013 5:08 PM EDT

Mary Jane made a new friend today: an old bearded hippie named Uncle Sam.

In a memo released this afternoon, the Department of Justice signaled that it will not meddle with state efforts to legalize and regulate the consumption and sale of pot. "Basically what it says is that the federal government is waving a white flag," says Dan Riffle, the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "Today's announcement is a major historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition."

The federal government typically hasn't prosecuted individual pot smokers, but the memo breaks new ground by applying a similarly permissive approach to marijuana dispensaries, which have often been the targets of federal raids. Under the new policy, the DOJ will leave recreational and medical pot dispensaries alone in states that it believes are regulating them adequately.

Prosecutors "should continue to review marijuana cases on a case-by-case basis," the memo says, "and weigh all available information and evidence, including, but not limited to, whether the operation is demonstrably in compliance with a strong and effective state regulatory system."

The DOJ signaled that it will allow Colorado and Washington to proceed with legalizing and regulating the sale and recreational consumption of marijuana so long as they can prevent:

  • Cannabis from being sold to minors
  • Pot revenue from going to criminal enterprises
  • Legally purchased marijuana from being diverted to states where it's illegal
  • State-authorized pot businesses from being used as legal cover for drug trafficking
  • Violence related to drug cultivation
  • Stoned driving
  • The cultivation of marijuana on public lands
  • Marijuana possession on federal property

"Those are all reasons we've cited for why we should tax and regulate marijuana," the MPP's Riffle points out.

But other pro-marijuana activists are concerned that the memo gives federal prosecutors too much leeway. In particular, it's not clear whether the feds will stop prosecuting pot dispensaries in California. Unlike Colorado and Washington, California provides little state-level oversight of its medical pot industry, relying instead on a patchwork of local laws.

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