February 21, 2004


To: The Ohio Board of Education and Department of Education


From: Thomas A. Baillieul, Geologist


Subject: Review of cited references in Lesson Plan “Critical Analysis of Evolution” - Grade 10


At the February Board of Education meeting a question was raised concerning the sufficiency of references in the Critical Analysis of Evolution lesson if the citation to Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution was removed. A Fellow of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute asserted that there were more than sufficient citations in the lesson plan for students and teachers to call upon to support “both” sides of the listed topics - even if Icons was deleted. During questioning by Board member Robin Hovis, I recommended that an evaluation be carried out comparing the cited references to the assertions contained in the lesson plan. The attached table comprises such an analysis.


For each of the citations in the Critical Analysis lesson plan under the five"Aspects" I classified the references according to type (e.g., popular book, text book, primary scientific article, popular science magazine). Then, I determined whether the reference supports either the current scientific view, or the purported challenges. A comment field is provided to note the age of the reference, whether, or how completely, it addresses the stated topic, and the quality of the reference for use in an average 10th grade classroom.


As it turns out, once Wells’ Icons of Evolution is removed from the list, the only support for the "challenges" to current evolutionary explanations is Michael Denton's Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (and it is cited only for the Homology topic). Even the larger list of background references does little to add to any of the discussions. It should also be noted that in his more recent publications, Denton contradicts much of his earlier writings. In actuality, the “challenges” to aspects of evolutionary theory exist only in the body of the lesson plan, and are not derived from the world of practicing biologists. Thus the lesson plan fails to meet the intent of the standard which is to demonstrate how scientists critically examine aspects of evolutionary theory.


Many of the cited references are not readily available to teachers or students. For example, Principles of Numerical Taxonomy by Sokal and Sneath is over 40 years old and out-of-print. Being a college-level text on the advanced statistical treatment of taxonomic data, it is also far beyond the level of 10th Grade Biology. Also, having been written in 1963, it contains essentially no information on the burgeoning field of genetic homology. Several of the references are incorrectly or incompletely cited, making a search for the original article more difficult. This indicates also that the author of the lesson plan never actually read the articles in question, but simply copied the citations (with their encumbent errors) from another source. I used my AAAS membership to access the on-line archives of Science, and EBSCOHost through the Columbus Library System (as recommended in the lesson) to find other journal articles. In spite of these resources, I still needed to call upon university colleagues to find copies of the older Natural History and Biological Journal of the Linnean Society articles. If I had difficulty in locating references with a reasonably diligent search, then it is unfair to think that a 10th Grade Biology teacher in rural Ohio will have better success.


Up to this point the Board has been provided with details on the numerous factual errors throughout the lesson plan; a listing of incorrect definitions; documentation of the poor pedagogical practice represented, and demonstrations that the purported “challenges” to evolutionary theory are drawn from Intelligent Design and creationist sources and not the world of science (the latter constitutes direct violation of the Board’s own directives and rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court). Even the National Academy of Science has condemned the lesson plan. A high quality alternative to this lesson was submitted to the Department in January, leaving the question “why is this problematic lesson still being considered???”


HOW SCIENTISTS CRITICALLY EXAMINE THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION - CITED REFERENCES

 

 

Lesson Aspect

Cited References

Type of Reference*

Supports Challenge?

Comment

1. Homology

8. Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975.

H

No

Darwin’s landmark work, while of historical interest, has no bearing on current research on homology. It is also puzzling why the writer did not reference Darwin’s 6th and final edition rather than the first (can be obtained for free at http://gutenberg.net/browse/BIBREC/BR2009.HTM).

9. Denton, Michael. Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Bethesda: Adler and Adler, 1986.

B

Yes

Denton, a micro-biologist, includes homology in his anti-evolution tract. Denton simply denies that organisms which share many anatomical, embryological, and molecular similarities most likely have a common ancestry. Instead, proposes that many of the similarities are the result of convergent evolution. He cites embryological dissimilarities, particularly between the mammalian and reptilian blastula, ignoring all of the similarities that do exist and that are displayed in just about every biology textbook. His work is not taken seriously by practicing biologists. A critique of Denton’s book is found at: http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/denton.html.

15. Fitch, W., and E. Margoliash, "Construction of Phylogenetic Trees." Science 155 (1967): 281.

P1

No

This reference:

a) is old; thousands of more recent studies on the molecular aspects of genetic homology could be chosen; and

b) contains subject matter far beyond the reach of 10th graders; it is totally inappropriate.

39. Sokal, R., and P. Sneath. Principles of Numerical Taxonomy. San Francisco: Freeman, 1963.

T

No

This text book is 41 years old and thus does not present the great wealth of genetic information that has been uncovered in biological research since that time. Not only is it out of date, but it presents a statistical treatment of data that is far beyond the knowledge level of 10th Graders. It is totally inappropriate.

2. Fossil Record

8. Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975.

H

No

Darwin’s landmark work, while of historical interest, has no bearing on current research on the fossil record. Indeed nearly all of the fossil record has been compiled since Darwin’s time. It is also puzzling why the writer did not reference Darwin’s 6th and final edition rather than the first (can be obtained for free at http://gutenberg.net/browse/BIBREC/BR2009.HTM).

10. Doolittle, W. Ford “Uprooting the Tree of Life,” Scientific American (2000): 90-95.

P2

No

While this is a very readable paper on genetic phylogeny, it doesn’t get into the fossil record at all. The Board has directed that it be removed from the list of references.

11. Erwin, Douglas. “Macroevolution is More Than Repeated Rounds of Microevolution,” Evolution & Development 2 (2000): 78-84.

P1

No

The paper talks about the need for a refocusing of research into the causes of macroevolutionary change. It says little about the nature, extent, or completeness of the fossil record. The paper’s content is far beyond the reach of 10th graders and is totally inappropriate.

29. National Academy of Science. Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. Washington: National Academy Press, 1998.

T

No

This is a basic teaching guide on the whole subject of biological evolution. There is little specific content on the nature, extent, or completeness of the fossil record; and what there is does not support the “challenge.”

3. Antibiotic Resistance

None

N/A

N/A

There are no references offered for this lesson. The writer refers teachers and students to an expanded set of citations in the “General Tips” section; however, none of these citations address the subject of antibiotic resistance.

4. Peppered Moth

5. Cherfas, J. "Exploring the Myth of the Melanic Moth." New Scientist. (1986): 25.

P2

No

This paper is incorrectly cited, indicating that the writer did not consult the original text. It is an 18-year old reference and is not readily available to teachers or students (EbscoHost only lists this journal from 2003).

26. Mikkola, K. "On the Selective Forces Acting in the Industrial Melanism of Biston oligia Moths." Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 21 (1984): 409-421.

P1

No

This paper is incorrectly cited, indicating that the writer did not consult the original text. Oliga not a species but a separate genus of moths. The correct title is: “On the selective forces acting in the industrial melanism of Biston and Oligia moths (Lepidoptera: Geometridae and Noctuidae).” It is a 20-year old reference and is not readily available to teachers or students (EbscoHost only lists this journal from 2003).

44. Wells, Jonathan. Icons of Evolution. Washington: Regency Publishing, 2000.

B

Yes

Wells’ book is a collection of long-discredited creationist arguments against evolution. His discussion of peppered moths misrepresents the primary literature on the subject (for a critique of Wells’ treatment of Peppered Moths, go to: http://www.ncseweb.org/icons/pdfs.html). The Board has directed that this citation be removed from the list of references; however, the erroneous lesson content drawn from Icons remains.

5. Endosymbiosis

24. Margoulis, L., and D. Sagan. "Bacterial Bedfellows." Natural History 96 (1987): 26-33.

P2

No

The age of this journal article may make it difficult for teachers/students to access (EBSCOHost only lists New Scientist back to 1990). The book, What is Life (1995) by Margulis and Sagan is still in print and probably more easily obtained.

25. Martin W., and M. Muller. "The Hydrogen Hypothesis for the First Eukaryote." Nature 392 (1998): 37-41.

P1

No

The content of this paper is far beyond the level of 10th Grade science students. It is an inappropriate reference.

31. Pennisi, E. “Direct descendants from an RNA world.” Science 280 (1998): 673.

P2

No

This news article does not bear on the question of endosymbiosis.

 

*P1 = Peer-reviewed scientific journal (Primary source)

 P2 = Popular Science magazine (e.g., Scientific American, National Geographic, Discoverer); limited or no peer review

 H = Historical writing; not part of the current scientific literature

 T = Standard textbook; usually with some level of technical content review

 B = Popular book (contents not subject to peer review)

 W(E) = Web pages offered by educational institutes and organizations, or government agencies

 W(I) = Web pages offered by ID or creationist sites