Dr. Robert Lattimer explains why the ODOE analysis of public
comments about the science standards is skewed

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August 22, 2002

TO: Elizabeth Ross.

FROM: Robert Lattimer, Ph.D.

SUBJECT: Public Response to Science Standards.

I am a member of the Science Writing Team. I understand that you may not have seen the enclosed Summary of Responses to Science Standards. This was prepared by the Ohio Department of Education and distributed to the Writing Team at our June 24-26 meeting.

Unfortunately, the compilation in Section III is quite misleading, as I shall explain. It is claimed that 4120 respondents want an "evolution only" standard. However, this figure comes mostly from the results of an on-line "electronic petition" from Ohio Citizens for Science (OCS, www.ohioscience.org), a pro-evolution advocacy group. The OCS website listed 3722 petition signatures as of June 30, 2002. The petition consists of a single statement: "We, the undersigned, urge the Ohio Board of Education NOT to include ‘Intelligent Design Theory’ in the new science standards."

It is unfair and misleading to include the results of this petition in the "evolution only" category, for these reasons:

  1. It is illogical to conclude that all people signing the statement want "evolution only" standards. The statement merely says that the signers don’t want "intelligent design." There is a big difference between these two positions.
  2. Many of us advocate a "teach the controversy" approach to teaching biological origins. This calls for (a) presenting evidence for and against evolution, (b) adopting a definition of science that allows for consideration of all logical explanations for natural phenomena, and (c) permitting, but not requiring, teachers to discuss alternative theories (such as intelligent design). Since this approach does not mandate the inclusion of intelligent design, proponents for "teach the controversy" are not in principle opposed to the wording used in the OCS petition. Yet we certainly do not advocate an "evolution only" position on the science standards.
  3. An on-line petition sponsored by a pro-evolution advocacy group should not carry the same weight as thousands of individual responses to the Department. It takes very little effort to "sign" an on-line petition, and there is no way to validate the signatures. On the other hand, it takes considerably more effort to compose a letter or statement and send it to the Department.
  4. The OCS petition is inherently biased, since it doesn’t give the respondent the opportunity to make another choice – or even to record a dissenting comment. Also, the Department’s report does not contain results from any petition drive sponsored by advocates of "teach the controversy."
  5. Some of the petition signers will have submitted individual responses as well. Since no cross-check was made of petition signers vs. individual respondents, some people will have been counted twice.

Based on the above, if the 3722 signatures from the OCS petition are removed from the tally, this leaves only 398 "evolution only" responses (that is, 4120 minus 3722). The total number of people favoring alternatives is 5024 (that is, 182 plus 4842). Overall, then, only 7% of the individual respondents favor the "evolution only" stance taken by the current draft science standards. This is quite consistent with the Cleveland Plain Dealer poll (June 9, 2002), in which only 8% of Ohioans favored an "evolution only" standard.

I believe it is imperative for Gov. Taft to heed the overwhelming desire of Ohioans for a biological origins standard that presents evidence for and against evolution and permits the teaching of alternatives. The Governor should urge the State Board of Education to modify the draft standards to reflect the "teach the controversy" approach.