Padian on improving evolution education


In a commentary published in the February 2008 issue of Geotimes, Kevin Padian argues that the way to improve evolution education is to start with the textbooks. Discussing his testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover, he writes, "In reviewing for the judge the creationist 'textbook' Of Pandas and People, I explained in some length -- and in conversational language -- the actual evidence for how birds evolved from dinosaurs, how whales evolved from land mammals, and how vertebrates came onto land, as well as the methods that we use to test our hypotheses. The judge and the reporters covering the trial were intrigued by this testimony and that of all of the expert witnesses. Most of what we know of the history of Earth and its life is not being taught to Americans -- despite their desire to learn it."

But, Padian continues, "They're not getting it in textbooks, not even the ones that focus on evolution and paleontology, as I found in a recent study." Diplaying a figure like those he used in the Kitzmiller trial (which are available on-line), he writes, "It shows the fossils themselves, so people can see the basis for our work. It shows the comparable parts of the skeletons color-coded, so the evolution of form is clear. It gives reconstructions of the animals in life. And it bases all this on an evolutionary tree that is derived from independent evidence. It illustrates what we practice: a highly integrative science that depends on the reconciliation of many independent lines of evidence." He concludes, "Let's fight the anti-evolutionists by putting the right evidence in front of the public and alleviating ignorance."

In addition to serving as president of NCSE's board of directors, Padian is Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California at Berkeley and also Curator of Paleontology at the University of California's Museum of Paleontology. He testified for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, where he was the only expert witness with any expertise in paleontology. In his decision (PDF), Judge John E. Jones III wrote, "Dr. Padian's demonstrative slides, prepared on the basis of peer-review[ed] scientific literature, illustrate how Pandas systematically distorts and misrepresents established, important evolutionary principles." He also noted that "Padian bluntly and effectively stated that in confusing students about science generally and evolution in particular, the disclaimer makes students 'stupid.'"