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Kansas kangaroo court keeps evolving

Discontented with the scientifically accurate treatment of evolution in the draft revision of the state science standards, the antievolutionist majority on the Kansas Board of Education is continuing to try to concoct a justification for overruling the consensus of the writing committee. On February 9, 2005, the board voted to establish a subcommittee "to conduct hearings to investigate the merits of the two opposing views" -- i.e., "intelligent design" and evolution -- despite protests from moderate members of the board like Carol Rupe, who remarked that the new process was reminiscent of reality television shows such as American Idol. (See "Shenanigans in Kansas.") The proposed format of the hearings is in flux. Originally, a marathon session of courtroom-style hearings, with ten proponents of evolution and ten of "intelligent design" testifying over ten days, was considered. Then a proposal to solicit written testimony was entertained. But now the courtroom-style hearings are back, with six days of testimony tentatively scheduled to be heard in Topeka in May. The "teach the controversy" theme for the hearings is taken from the so-called Santorum language, drafted by "intelligent design" proponent Phillip Johnson and stripped from the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.

Across Kansas, scientists, educators, and editorialists across Kansas were skeptical both about the utility of and the motives behind such hearings. Referring to the board's establishing the subcommittee, the Wichita Eagle asked, "Why did they do that, when the board already has a committee of respected science professionals that recommended evolution remain in the state's science standards?" and answered, "The board members are trolling for criticisms of evolution." Later, the Eagle described the hearings as "a show trial" and a "farce" staged in a "circus atmosphere," commenting, "What the tiny Intelligent Design Network and its supporters are trying to do is an end-run around the proper arena for their claims -- peer-reviewed papers in established scientific journals and other mainstream science forums" and recommending that scientists boycott the hearings. That, too, was the recommendation of Kansas Citizens for Science, which in a statement called on "the entire science and science education community of Kansas to refuse to participate in this fiasco," explaining, "The science community should not put itself in the position of participating in a rigged hearing where three avowed creationists will appear to sit in judgment and find science lacking. Don't give the board of education the veneer of respectability when they do their dirty deed."