Wed, Feb 14, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Creationists angry over Kansas Board of Education vote


A debate over how evolution is taught in Kansas has also become a debate over what students should hear in science class about the Nazis, forced sterilization and an infamous study of syphilis in black men.

A brief passage in the state's public school guidelines for teaching science mentioning ethical abuses by scientists became an issue on Monday, as the State Board of Education prepared to vote on new guidelines.

While rewriting anti-evolution guidelines adopted in 2005, the board targeted for deletion a passage about the history of ethical standards in science, citing the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

John West, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports creationism, called the deletion "a travesty" and wrote an angry letter to board members.

"The board's plan to whitewash the history of science is shameful," he wrote.

But the passage drew criticism from scientists who said that only abuses perceived as linked to evolution were mentioned.

"That was never in the science standards until the `intelligent designers' inserted it," said Steve Case, associate director of the Center for Science Education at the University of Kansas.

"Introducing that was just a way to get at their attack: `Scientific knowledge is bad,'" he said.

Some backers of "intelligent design," which says an intelligent cause is the best way of explaining the universe, link evolution to eugenics movements in Europe and the US in the 19th and 20th centuries, saying it was used to promote forced sterilization of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

They also argue the Nazis used it to justify their abuses.

The passage targeted for deletion said science "can sometimes be abused by scientists and policy makers, leading to significant negative consequences."

As examples, it lists eugenics and the Tuskegee study.

The syphilis study was carried out by the US Public Health Service in Alabama over 40 years, starting in 1932.

About one-third of the poor, black men involved had syphilis; they were told they were being treated but researchers were actually using the men to study the disease without treating them.

West said students would get a false picture of science if their lessons present its history as a series of triumphs.

In his letter, he told the board students need to learn about such abuses to learn how science can be done ethically.

But Case said West and other intelligent design supporters confuse a philosophy -- social Darwinism -- with a way of explaining how the world works. Discussions about eugenics and the Tuskegee study are best left to history courses, he said.

"We're teaching science and science process," he said.

"Historians have their own research techniques and their own interpretations of history," he said.

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