CNN accused of slanting report on selection of science textbooks

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When the Discovery Institute’s Raymond Bohlin testified before the Texas State Board of Education regarding the subject of evolution in textbook selection July 9, he simply wanted to emphasize the importance of including evolution’s weaknesses in textbooks. But CNN reported that his testimony and others were further examples of Christian conservatives pushing their pro-creation agenda.

“The focus of their testimony to the board was science, not religion, but you would never guess that fact from watching CNN’s fictionalized report,” John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, declared in a news release from the national public policy and research organization based in Seattle.

West said CNN ignored what was actually said at the hearing and instead depicted the textbook controversy as a battle between extremist Bible-thumpers and the defenders of evolution, according to the Discovery Institute release.

“This is Jayson Blair-style reporting,” West added, noting that CNN failed to show on camera even one person who actually advocated “the Bible takes precedence over science,” as the news organization asserted they did. None of those who testified talked about the Bible or advocated the inclusion of creationism in textbooks, he said.

The hearing was the first of two scheduled by the Texas board as it decides which texts the state will adopt this year for courses in biology, family and career studies, and English as a Second Language, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported July 10. Because Texas is the second-largest textbook buyer in the nation, the state tends to set the standard nationwide.

Nearly 40 teachers, scientists and representatives of special interest groups spoke during the hearing.

Francis Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University, presented the board with a letter from 22 faculty members at Texas universities who urged board members to be certain the biology textbooks they adopt cover both the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory, the Discovery Institute release said.

Bohlin, a Discovery Institute fellow who holds a doctorate in molecular and cell biology, a master’s in population genetics and a bachelor’s in zoology, discussed some scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory not covered in most textbooks and presented the board with a statement from 100 scientists challenging the neo-Darwinian claim that natural selection acting on random mutations is sufficient for explaining the complexity of life, the release said.

Textbooks should, Bohlin said, enable students to use scientific evidence to analyze and think critically about scientific theories as the state requires.

“I do not believe that the current textbooks up for adoption accomplish this goal in regard to the theory of evolution,” he said. “We simply want to teach what controversy does exist.”

According to a transcript of the CNN report, CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera said, “Today Texas educators are debating which biology books will be used in the future, and that ignites the debate of evolution versus creationism, or intelligent design as some now call it.”

The Discovery Institute said CNN incorrectly asserted that the intelligent design theory, which is a scientific theory, is the same thing as creationism. Intelligent design is the hypothesis that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.

CNN also incorrectly asserted that supporters of intelligent design are trying to get the Texas board to insert the theory into textbooks, the Discovery Institute said.

“Every theory has its weaknesses, has its problems, and evolution seems to be the one theory in the textbooks that just isn’t treated that way,” Bohlin said at the hearing. “We’re just not told where its weaknesses and problems are.”

The remainder of the CNN segment consisted of an interview between CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Brian Leiter, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Texas. The two opened up questions about whether the democratic process is necessary in choosing textbooks, which they said should reflect the opinions of experts instead of the general populace.

“Even if we wanted to have a democratic process, it’s very clear that what we have right now is a farce,” Leiter claimed. “The state board of education meets two or three times a year in the state of 18 million people. Most people have no idea who their representatives on the state board of education are. The only people who turn out for these hearings are the organized special interest groups, who are bent on political censorship in getting these books to reflect their political point of view.”

Cooper then cited several examples of what he called censorship, such as a change made last year in a sixth-grade social studies book. The text initially read, “Glaciers formed the Great Lakes millions of years ago.” It was edited to read, “Glaciers formed the Great Lakes in the distant past.”

Leiter said he believed “millions of years” was changed to “distant past” because “it conflicts with biblical timelines, even though the evidence that the glaciers formed millions of years ago is undisputed by scientists.”

A second public hearing regarding the biology textbooks and the inclusion of evolution’s weaknesses is scheduled for Sept. 10. The books are scheduled to be adopted in November.

The Discovery Institute said it wants to ask people to call the following numbers to complain about the inaccuracy of CNN’s report and urge the news organization to get it right in the future: CNN News Desk — (404) 827-1511, Live From the Headlines (the show on which the report aired) — (404) 878-1946.