Stanley Weinberg, NCSE Founder, Dies

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Stanley Weinberg, NCSE Founder, Dies
Author(s): 
Eugenie C. Scott
Volume: 
21
Issue: 
3–4
Year: 
2001
Date: 
May–August
Page(s): 
11–13
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Stanley L Weinberg, a founder of NCSE, died in Ottumwa, Iowa, on March 28, 2001. He was 89 years old. He had not been active in NCSE affairs for several years, having suffered from a stroke. Stan is survived by his wife Irene and his two daughters, Ellen and Susan Weinberg.

Stan was born in New York City on August 21, 1911. He received a bachelor's degree in biology from City College of New York in 1933 (cum laude) and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He had graduate training at Columbia, New York University, and the Marine Biological Laboratory, and received a masters degree from Northeast Missouri State University in 1971. He was a high school science teacher in New York from 1935 to 1957, interrupted by World War II, during which he was a captain in the Army Air Corps. After publishing a high school biology textbook, Biology: An Inquiry Into the Nature of Life (Allyn and Bacon), Stan retired to Irene's home town of Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1967.

Among his many awards are the Iowa Academy of Science Distinguished Service Award (1982), election to honorary membership of the National Association of Biology Teachers (1985), the Iowa Intellectual Media Association Intellectual Freedom Award (1987), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award, which he shared in 1987 with Francisco Ayala and Norman Newall. He also received an award from the Friends of Education of the Ottumwa Education Association for his "lifelong commitment to the educational community and defense of legitimate scientific inquiry." He was a fellow of the Iowa Academy of Science and of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science.

Stan's concern with the creation and evolution controversy went back to the early 1970s, when the high school biology textbook he had authored was submitted for adoption in Texas. Because of its strong presentation of evolution, the book was denounced by creationists. His textbook was adopted, but the experience made Stan acutely aware of the importance of the political side of the creation and evolution controversy. continued

During the late 1970s, the "creation science" movement appeared as a national force in science education. In May 1979, the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) published a resolution encouraging school districts and state legislatures to promote "balanced presentation of evolution and scientific creationism" (Impact 1979; 71: 1). Although the ICR stated that "this is a suggested resolution, to be adopted by boards of education, not legislation proposed for enactment as law" (emphasis in original), South Carolinian Paul Ellwanger developed sample legislation to enact the ICR's resolution. Clones of the Ellwanger bill soon began appearing in states all over the country; by March 1981, 15 states had introduced "equal time" bills.

Stan and many other teachers and scientists were concerned about this legislation and began planning how to oppose it. Stan's genius was recognizing the quintessential grassroots nature of both the legislative action and the anti-evolution movement itself. There was, in fact, no national push to promote this legislation — the Ellwanger model legislation circulated privately to individuals and organizations with which Ellwanger was familiar, and grassroots interest took over from there. But anti-evolution sentiment in the American public is easily tapped, and ordinary citizens in at least 26 states approached their legislators to introduce Ellwanger's or Ellwanger-like legislation: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia.

Stan had been a former president of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), an organization that understandably took the anti-evolution movement very seriously: biology teachers are on the front line in the creationist wars! NABT had been a plaintiff in a 1975 lawsuit in Tennessee regarding the inclusion of creationism in textbooks, and had worked for many years to educate its members about the problems of the teaching of evolution. In 1978, The American Biology Teacher published an article by Stan entitled "Two views on the textbook watchers", in which Stan proposed that teachers and scientists engage in public education about evolution and the nature of science, and also in political action.

Stan's dream was to organize a grassroots network of scientists and teachers who would respond to local creationist initiatives. Many scientists and teachers already independently were engaged in combating state legislative efforts. In a 1980 Bioscience article, Moyer suggested that this network paralleled the Committees of Correspon- dence in the Revolutionary War, colony-wide groups of patriots who shared information (corresponded) about the British and what strategies worked best against them. The citizen network envisioned by Weinberg thus took on the name Committees of Correspondence (CCs).

In July 1980, Stan and Jack A Gerlovich, an Iowa state science consultant, published a letter describing the Iowa CC in Science. Shortly afterwards, several individuals who had independently developed similar grassroots organizations contacted Stan, and the CC network was on its way. A pivotal symposium on "Creationism and Evolution" was held at Rockefeller University in December 1980, organized by the New York Academy of Sciences and a New York teachers' group, the Committee for Scientific Freedom. Speakers included Niles Eldredge, Isaac Asimov, and Stephen Jay Gould. The New York CC was organized, with Eldredge as its first president.

In January 1981, Stan began circulating a newsletter to activists around the country — the "Memorandum to Liaisons for Committees of Correspondence". He wrote, "There is no prescribed form of organization for a Committee of Correspondence. Each CC is fully independent and autonomous. The most usual form will probably be a single CC in each state, with a single liaison." In the early 1970s, the Genetics Society of America and the American Society of Naturalists had solicited names of members willing to support evolution education. This list was made available to Stan and he in turn provided it to state liaisons to help to build the network. NABT also provided names of teachers who were willing to work on the issue.

Stan also promoted the network by asking officers of a number of scientific organizations to inform their members about the existence of the network. These included the Society for the Study of Evolution, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, the American Association of Biological Sciences, and many others. Many of these scientific organizations responded with small donations — but by and large, Stan supported the CC network in the early years out of his own pocket. The amount of time he devoted to this issue was monumental.

The network of teachers and scientists grew quickly. By March 1981, there were CCs in 17 states; by April, 22; by May, 24; by August, 35; by December, 42. The first national meeting of CC representatives was held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, DC, on January 3, 1982. (I was there representing the Kentucky organization.) During that meeting, we celebrated the US Supreme Court decision striking down the McLean v Arkansas "equal time for creation science" legislation, but we also realized that the struggle was not over. At that meeting, a committee was formed to investigate setting up a national organization to coordinate the CCs.

This organization came to be called the National Center for Science Education, and it was incorporated in 1983. Stan went to work to raise funds for NCSE, and by the summer of 1986, he had secured $250 000 in start-up funds from Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Esther E and Joseph Klingenstein Fund, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, the Deer Creek Foundation, and an anonymous foundation. The NCSE Board of Directors instituted a nationwide search for an executive director and hired me in November 1986 to open the national office. In January 1987, the national NCSE office began carrying on Stan Weinberg's dream of coordinating grassroots opposition to creation science and defending evolution education.

The CC network was highly active during the early- to mid- 1980s. Many local issues were resolved, unfortunately resulting in local activist groups' dissolving. By the end of the 1980s, the original CC network had largely faded away, but NCSE continues to carry on Stan's original idea of combating the grassroots nature of creationism with grassroots opposition. Over the years we have seen the formation of ad hoc groups that assemble to combat a particular problem and then dissolve — sometimes only to re-form a few years later, unfortunately! NCSE is a permanent storehouse of information and advice to the activists in the trenches, monitoring the problems of evolution education and creationism. Although the CC network did not work out as Stan had originally planned, his dream of a union of scientists and teachers working together to defend the integrity of science continues. All of us in this effort owe Stan a great deal for his foresight in understanding better than anyone what the real issues were.

He will be missed, especially by those of us at NCSE.

References

Moyer W. The problem that won't go away. Bioscience 1980 Mar 30; 20 (3): 147.

Weinberg SL. Two views on the textbook watchers. American Biology Teacher 1978 Dec; 40 (9) 541-5, 560.