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Scholarship and Science is No Longer Decided by Research and Peer-Review: It's Done by Political Committee
There are some people who believe the world is flat and others who believe the world is on a giant tortoise. (During a public lecture when one of the "tortoise believers" was asked by the scientist-speaker what the tortoise was on, the woman very confidently said "It's tortoises all the way down!") There are also people who deny the Jewish and Ethnic Holocaust of the 1940's. While these three ideas seem contrary and far-fetched to most rational 21st-century minds, the people who believe these notions are very fervent and positive their assertions are correct. Now superimpose some biblical stories relating ideas about the origin of the world and the universe in the place of the flat-world and the giant tortoise, and replace Holocaust Denial with ideas about America's Founding Fathers and The Civil War. In this case, origin myths from the Bible are believed by some people to be the basis for scientific reality and not residing only in religious-spiritual imagination. Yet others, often overlapping, want to believe but also propagate the Founding Fathers created a "Christian" nation by minimizing the secular-enlightenment views of many of the founders, such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and most importantly Thomas Jefferson, who distrusted the Bible. They have also sought to distort the facts about slavery before America's Civil War, stating the issue wasn't about slavery per se but only state's rights. These are the issues discussed in the documentary "The Revisionaries".
During the first decade of the 21st century, the Texas Board of Education reviewed textbook items for the coming years. While most school boards around the country either accept or reject a textbook already published, Texas wields textual power over these books because of their huge market. Textbook writers and publishers are pressured to include and exclude whatever the Texas Board of Education deems proper and improper, even if some items may be contrary to what the writers and publishers intend. Most of the people making the decisions on this board are not necessarily educators, scholars, and scientists in these fields, and yet some, not all, are using their political power to determine curriculum which meshes with their own views.
By the time of the hearings, the board was comprised of members of the religious-right who sought to impose their own ideas about science and history into High School textbooks. A window of opportunity had presented itself for the right-wing Creationists and Historical Revisionists because the Texas High School curriculum was under review. The documentary takes us inside the hearings of the school board and shows how the debates unfolded, revealing a sharply divided public about what material should be part of the books and what shouldn't. In other words, a political body was determining material, as if what is and what is not science and history could be voted on by a committee. Would you want a policeman deciding what is and what is not architecture in an architectural school, especially if you're going to be residing in buildings designed by people graduating from these schools?
Much of the documentary focuses on Don McLeroy, appointed the Texas State Board of Education Chairman by Governor Rick Perry. McLeroy is a self-proclaimed Evangelical and Young-Earth Creationist. While, to his credit, he concedes that Creation-science doesn't belong in science textbooks (at least that's what I gathered from the documentary) he largely rejects the findings of science in regards to Evolution. He also believes dinosaurs and human beings walked the earth at the same time, a notion which has received no proof in science. He also teaches children at evangelical schools. Then why in the world does he want to have a say in the public sphere?
His ideological rival is Ron Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at SMU in Dallas. Wetherington makes the case that unfortunately whether they believe or don't believe in evolution, the Creationists do not understand evolutionary theories, and yet they tout themselves as bona fide experts. One aspect, which I wish was discussed more thoroughly, is that the Darwinian Theory of Evolution is not the idea of common ancestry among species. That notion is regarded as a fact and was not proposed by Darwin alone. Darwin's Theory of Evolution, the mechanism by which species evolve into other species is "Natural Selection". And yet, over and over again, the Creationists say that the Theory of Evolution, meaning common ancestry, is "only" a theory, in the sense that it's just an unproven idea but we really don't know. Common Ancestry is not the theoretical part. "Natural Selection" is the theory, and a theory of this kind in science is a very painstakingly researched series of principles which are thought to well-describe phenomena in nature, in the same way "Newton's Theory of Gravity" is not about whether or not gravity exists, but how gravity operates, in this case how large objects attract smaller objects.
An engaging, sometimes confusing, and often enraging series of scenes in which people whose educational background is questionable in regards to disciplines about which they are making huge decisions about education. Should a dentist and a lawyer decide whether or not particular science and history material should or should not be included? Scientists and historians do have full-out drag-out debates on these ideas, and their findings are what should end up in the textbooks. Not a vote by people who are not really in these fields. Otherwise, it is not unforeseeable that a committee could vote to include in a textbook that holds the earth is flat and sitting on a giant tortoise.
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