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Antievolutionism in a marine science textbook

A sidebar in a marine science textbook recommended for approval in Florida is "packed with good ol' fashioned creationist language," Florida Citizens for Science charges. The text in question, Life on an Ocean Planet (Current Publishing, 2011), was recently recommended for state approval by the state's instructional materials adoption committee on a 7-2 vote, according to the education blog of the St. Petersburg Times (September 22, 2010). But as FCFS's president Joe Wolf wrote to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith, the sidebar on "Questions about the Origin and Development of Life" is "simultaneously actively misinforming, at odds with state standards, and ultimately irrelevant to marine science." Smith has the final say in the textbook adoption process, and Wolf recommended that the sidebar "should be removed entirely, as there is so little information that is either correct or useful to make it worth retaining."

The sidebar makes a variety of historical and scientific errors. For example, it claims that in the Origin of Species "Darwin proposed that life arose from nonliving matter"; it equates microevolution with genetic drift; and it contends that selective breeding demonstrates genetic drift. Moreover, although the sidebar acknowledges that "the vast majority of biologists (probably more than 95%)" accept evolution, it also airs, without attempting to debunk, a variety of creationist claims (which are attributed to unnamed "skeptics"). Among these claims: that the fossil record "does not contain the many transitional species one would expect," that "evolution doesn't adequately explain how a complex structure ... could come to exist through infrequent random mutations," that transitional features could not be favored by natural selection, and that "the hypotheses that ... chemicals can lead to abiogenesis are highly debatable."

The St. Petersburg Times's education blog cited a Florida Department of Education spokesperson as stating that the committee's vote to recommend Life on an Ocean Planet for approval included the provision that the publisher remove two specific pages — presumably the problematic sidebar. But FCFS isn't so sure about what was recommended, reporting, "Information we have about the committee vote indicates that they voted to approve the textbook overall, and then a second vote was called for to remove the sidebar. That second vote failed but a compromise was reached to 'fix' the sidebar." FCFS added, "Further muddying of the waters comes from there being two versions of the textbook: an electronic one on CD and a print one. It's unclear whether the votes pertain to both versions or just one since it looks like the committee only reviewed the electronic one."The sidebar (click for full-sized version)The sidebar (click for full-sized version)