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Encouraging news from Texas

When the Texas 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, there was a loose end. As NCSE previously reported, the board quarreled about whether to heed a review panel's criticisms of Kenneth R. Miller and Joseph Levine's popular biology textbook, published by Pearson, but decided to adopt it, contingent on the outcome of a further review by a panel of three outside experts. The names of the experts have now been divulged, and, as NCSE's Joshua Rosenau commented at the Science League of America blog (December 11, 2013), "it’ll take about 5 minutes for them to dismiss the claims leveled against Pearson’s Biology."

The reviewers are Ronald Wetherington, a professor of anthropology at Southern Methodist University and a recipient of NCSE's Friend of Darwin award; Arturo De Lozanne, a professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at the University of Texas, Austin; and Vincent Cassone, a professor of biology at the University of Kentucky (and formerly at Texas A&M University). All three have a history of defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools; Wetherington in fact already debunked the panel's criticism of Miller and Levine's textbook. According to the Texas Freedom Network (December 11, 2013), “Decisions about whether [the panel's] objections are based on valid science will be determined by a majority vote of the three science experts.”

The reviewers were appointed by three members of the board. Sue Melton-Malone selected Ronald Wetherington, Martha Dominguez selected Arturo De Lozanne, and Barbara Cargill, who chairs the board, selected Vincent Cassone. Since Cargill was involved in previous efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Texas, it was a surprise that she selected a reviewer who, as NCSE's Rosenau notes, is on the record as asserting, "The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research." But as the Texas Freedom Network commented, "Her reasons for appointing Cassone are not clear, but we applaud her decision to choose a true expert in the field." The reviewers are expected to complete their work by the end of the year.