Remarks to the Kentucky Board of Education, July 23

My name is Robert Bevins. I received my PhD in Toxicology from the University of Kentucky and am President of Kentuckians for Science Education. I am a scientist and educator, and feel that the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards will be a foundation for improving the quality of science education in Kentucky.

I want to discuss a few subjects, and while I could talk for an hour on any one of these topics, brevity is the soul of wit, and we have a five minute time limit.

But first, I want to respond to a few comments made by previous speakers. Much of the opposition was based around a a desire to return religion to the classroom. This is plainly unconstitutional. Beyond this, many religious people are fine with evolution, and avoiding teaching a topic is the privileging one religion over another.

Fascism and socialism were mentioned. Within Stalinist Russia, the study of Darwin based evolution was outlawed. Their advocates were jailed. Nazi Germany also outlawed the study of Darwin. Opposition to science is an attack on liberty, not its defense.

In the same way that theory and consensus are misunderstood, so are standards and curriculum. Standards are the floor, not the ceiling. They are not detailed and filled with vocabulary words. Curricula include republic, liberty, etc. Standards are the wrong place to look for this detail. Finally, quote mining scientist, removing the context to make it appear that they are saying something negative about evolution is a plainly dishonest tactic.

First is the issue of consensus. Within science, a consensus is formed when meaningful debate has ceased. This does not mean that there are no contrarians.

There are people in every field that claim that the dominant line of thinking is false, but for every Galileo, there are thousands with ideas that simply don’t impress other scientists. Meaningful debate has ceased on the reality of evolution and on climate change.
Perhaps, if students could become proficient enough in science to discuss real controversy, they could debate the importance of genetic drift compared to natural selection, or they could discuss the capacity of the ocean to sequester carbon dioxide.

Second, is climate science a mature field? Is the science reliable enough that we should be teaching it to Kentucky’s students?

In the 1860s John Tyndal determined that CO2, despite being a trace gas, was responsible for some of the atmosphere’s ability of retain heat. By the 1890s, Svante Arrhenius had begun calculating how changes in CO2 could affect global climate. In the 1950s, scientists found that as fossil fuel use increased over time, the amount of carbon 12 and 13 compared to carbon 14 has increased. Since fossil fuels lack carbon 14, this was humanity’s fingerprint on the atmosphere.

In 1956 Gilbert Plass published a Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climate Change. Climate science is more than 150 years old.
By the 1960s, climate change models had been developed and have been refined and corrected for previous errors and criticisms. Have solar irradiance, cosmic rays, sunspots, volcanos, cloud formation or CFCs gone unnoticed over those 150 years? Certainly not. They have all been examined and either factored into current models, or have been dismissed as insignificant.

So called skeptics claim that there has been no global warming in the last ten years. This is not quite true, but truth isn’t their goal. While atmospheric temperatures have not risen sharply in the last decade, they have certainly not decreased. The excess heat has been absorbed by the oceans, whose temperatures have increased significantly. The global temperature is still rising. You just have to know where to stick the thermometer. We will almost certainly spike and reach a new plateau based on established patterns, with a strong el nino a likely trigger.

Third, are there examples of evolution? Absolutely, and the following is one of the most striking examples. The diverse body types of manatees, elephants, and the rabbit-like hyrax arise from one ancestral group. The fossil record links them, they share certain anatomical similarities, their embryologic development follows similar paths, and their DNA is more similar to each other than to any other mammals. This, more than anything, shows that not only can one species evolve into another that is a bit different from the previous one, if this happens multiple times, dramatic differences arise.

Including evolution and climate change at the level of state standards protects teachers from being bullied into teaching creationism or bad science. By ensuring that students will get information on these topics, without being watered down with unsupported claims, it is fair to students as well. Nobody will enforce belief, but students will need to understand material well enough to answer questions. After all, evidence is not left or right, religious or secular. It merely is. When examined without bias, it leads to conclusions that we may not like, but we must accept them and adapt.

If all this seems familiar, it should be. In 1922, Kentucky narrowly avoided having a “Monkey law” which would have outlawed the teaching of evolution, thanks to cooperation between both scientists, educators and religious people that were comfortable with science. This isn’t a new debate.

America has the technical capacity to overcome the scientific hurdles we face, and Kentuckians have the potential to be strong contributors, both on the scientific and industrial fronts.

I ask that the Board of Education and the Interim Joint Committee on Education approve of the Next Generation Science Standards so that we may reach that potential.

Thank you. These comments will be available at K Y S C I E D dot wordpress dot com.
Thank you,

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About Robert Bevins

I am a toxicologist/cell biologist, and am preparing a downloadable study guide for biology students, and in the past have taught at Georgetown College as both part time and full time faculty. The views expressed here are my own.
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