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Victory in Texas

The integrity of science education triumphed in Texas when the state board of education gave its final approval to all of the proposed textbooks for high school biology and environmental science courses at its November 22, 2013, meeting. NCSE's Joshua Rosenau, who testified before the board on November 20, 2013, commented, "These textbooks were recommended by the top scientists and teachers in Texas. By adopting them, the board is helping to lay the foundation for the sort of science education that Texas's students need in order to succeed in the twenty-first century." But the triumph was slightly tainted by two attacks, launched late in the board's November 21, 2013, meeting, against one biology textbook and one environmental science textbook. 

The biology textbook, by Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine, was previously criticized by creationists on a state review panel for twenty supposed errors in its treatment of evolution. In response, the publisher denied that the passages contained errors and declined to make the suggested changes to the textbook. At the November 21, 2013, meeting, the board quarreled about whether to heed the panel's criticisms of the textbook (which Ron Wetherington already thoroughly debunked). Eventually the board voted to adopt it contingent on the outcome of a further review by a panel of three outside experts. The vice chair of the board Thomas Ratliff was not happy with the idea, quoted by the Associated Press (November 22, 2013) as saying, "I believe this process is being hijacked, this book is being held hostage to make political changes," and adding that the book is already used in "over half of the classrooms in the United States."

The environmental science textbook, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, was attacked by Becky Berger, a geologist and Republican political aspirant testifying at the November 21, 2013, meeting. According to a report from the Texas Freedom Network, "Berger claimed that the textbook is filled with factual errors on topics like pollution potentially caused by hydraulic fracturing ('fracking') and the problem of carbon emissions (which the vast majority of scientists say is the primary cause of climate change)," although the state review panel identified no such errors. Although there were calls for the textbook to be rejected, the board finally voted to adopt it when the publisher agreed to revise outdated material identified by the state geologist; TFN reports, "Scientists who reviewed the publisher’s (tentative) proposed revisions were satisfied that none of the provisional changes compromised the integrity of the science in the textbook."

"Despite the last-minute controversies manufactured by creationists and climate change deniers," Rosenau remarked, "it's clear that this is a victory for science education in Texas." He credited the victory to the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Citizens for Science, NCSE members and allies in Texas, and the various scientific, scholarly, and education societies that urged the board to adopt the textbooks. Rosenau added that special credit was due to the publishers who refused to compromise their integrity of their textbooks to satisfy unscientifically warranted demands. "What happens in Texas doesn't stay in Texas," he observed. "Bad textbooks in Texas mean bad textbooks across the country. So this is really a victory for science education in the whole United States."