Texas Biology Professors Support Chris Comer

By | 2007/12/13

The following open letter from many biology professors in the state of Texas supports Chris Comer and criticizes the Texas Edcuation Agency’s action of forcing her resignation.

December 10, 2007

To Robert Scott, Commissioner of Education for Texas,

As biology faculty at Texas universities1, we are deeply concerned by the forced resignation of Chris Comer, the director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Ms. Comer’s ouster was linked to an email that she forwarded announcing a lecture by Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor and distinguished critic of the intelligent design movement. A few days after sending the email, Ms. Comer was told she would be terminated. The memorandum she received from her superiors claimed that evolution and intelligent design are a “subject on which the agency must remain neutral”.

It is inappropriate to expect the TEA’s director of science curriculum to “remain neutral” on this subject, any more than astronomy teachers should “remain neutral” about whether the Earth goes around the sun. In the world of science, evolution is equally well- supported and accepted as heliocentrism. Far from remaining neutral, it is the clear duty of the science staff at TEA and all other Texas educators to speak out unequivocally: evolution is a central pillar in any modern science education, while “intelligent design” is a religious idea that deserves no place in the science classroom at all.

A massive body of scientific evidence supports evolution. All working scientists agree that publication in top peer-reviewed journals is the scoreboard of modern science. A quick database search of scientific publications since 1975 shows 29,639 peer- reviewed scientific papers on evolution in twelve leading journals alone2. To put this in perspective, if you read 5 papers a day, every day, it would take you 16 years to read this body of original research. These tens of thousands of research papers on evolution provide overwhelming support for the common ancestry of living organisms and for the mechanisms of evolution including natural selection. In contrast, a search of the same database for “Intelligent Design” finds a mere 24 articles, every one of which is critical of intelligent design3. Given that evolution currently has a score of 29,639– while “intelligent design” has a score of exactly zero– it is absurd to expect the TEA’s director of science curriculum to “remain neutral” on this subject. In recognition of the overwhelming scientific support for evolution, evolution is taught without qualification– and intelligent design is omitted– at every secular and most sectarian universities in this country, including Baylor (Baptist), Notre Dame (Catholic), Texas Christian (Disciples of Christ) and Brigham Young (Mormon).

Evolution education is more than an academic question. Biotechnology is a key player in our economy, and biotech firms move to places with well trained biologists. Evolutionary biology has made fundamental contributions to drug synthesis, medical genetics, and our understanding of the origins and dynamics of diseases. Principles of evolution are at the basis of human genomics and personalized medicine and are applied daily by people working in medicine, agriculture, engineering, and pharmaceuticals. In contrast, anti-evolutionary ideas like intelligent design have yet to produce any medical or technological advances.

Even if the scientific evidence were not so one-sided, there remains the fact that intelligent design is a religious concept. In the 2004 court case Kitzmiller vs. Dover, Judge John E. Jones III (an appointee of President Bush) concluded that “not one defense expert was able to explain how the supernatural action suggested by ID [intelligent design] could be anything other than an inherently religious proposition” and that the school board was trying to present “students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory.” Teaching intelligent design in public school science classes clearly violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, as emphasized in the 1987 Supreme Court decision Edwards v. Aguillard. The Texas Education Agency has a constitutional duty to keep intelligent design out of public school science classes, and leave religious instruction of children to their parents.

In Kitzmiller v. Dover Judge Jones concluded that the school board exhibited “breathtaking inanity” when it tried to adopt “an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy.” The TEA appears to be flirting with an equally unsupportable policy. There can be no neutrality on an issue that is scientifically and legally clear-cut: evolution should be taught at the K-12 level in the same fashion that we teach it in universities, an accepted and rigorous science, not juxtaposed with a religious idea however politically popular. The agency should work to bolster evolution education in Texas rather than undermining it.

Sincerely,

Dr. Daniel Bolnick, Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. David Hillis, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Sahotra Sarkar, Professor of Philosophy and Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Dick Richardson, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Hans Hofmann, Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin

Dr. Kirk Winemiller, Professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M
Dr. Eric Pianka, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Ken Whitney, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice U.
Dr. Michael Singer, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Claus Wilke, Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin

Dr. Darryl de Ruiter, Assistant Professor of Physical Anthropology, Texas A&M
Dr. Bill Murphy, Associate Professor of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, Texas A&M
Dr. Volker Rudolf, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice U.
Dr. Anja Schulze, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, Texas A&M
Dr. Sharon Gursky, Associate Professor of Physical Anthropology, Texas A&M

Dr. Thom DeWitt, Associate Professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M
Dr. Jennifer Rudgers, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice U.
Dr. David Queller, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice U.
Dr. Gil Rosenthal, Assistant Professor of Biology, Texas A&M
Dr. Fran Gelwick, Associate Professor of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M

Dr. Christopher Marshall, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, Texas A&M
Dr. Jose Panero, Associate Professor of Botany, UT Austin
Dr. Bradford Wilcox, Professor of Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M
Dr. Martin Terry, Assistant Professor of Biology, Sul Ross State U.
Dr. Caitlin Gabor, Associate Professor of Biology, Texas State U.

Dr. Yousif Shamoo, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Rice U.
Dr. Susan Schwinning, Assistant Professor of Biology, Texas State U.
Dr. Mathew Leibold, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Amy Dunham, Research Faculty of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice U.
Dr. Dean Hendrickson, Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin

Dr. Elizabeth Erhart, Assistant Professor of Physical Anthropology, Texas State U.
Dr. Kerrie Lewis, Assistant Professor of Physical Anthropology, Texas State U.
Dr. Claud Bramblett, Professor Emeritus of Physical Anthropology, UT Austin
Dr. Jim Woolley, Professor of Entomology, Texas A&M
Dr. Michelle Hamilton, Assistant Professor of Physical Anthropology, Texas State U.

Dr. Michael Huston, Professor of Biology, Texas State U.
Dr. Christine Hawkes, Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Richard Gomer, Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Rice U.
Dr. Andrew Aspbury, Senior Lecturer, Texas State U.
Dr. Molly Cummings, Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin

Dr. Daniel Wagner, Assistant Professor, Rice U.
Dr. Ronald Parry, Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Rice U.
Dr. Ira Greenbaum, Professor of Biology, Texas A&M
Dr. Robert Edwards, Professor of Biology, UT Pan American
Dr. David Crews, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin

Dr. Tom Juenger, Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Beryl Simpson, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Mike Ryan, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Randy Linder, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Ryan King, Assistant Professor of Biology, Baylor U.

Dr. Michael Stern, Professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Rice U.
Dr. Liza Shapiro, Professor of Physical Anthropology, UT Austin
Dr. Tony Frankino, Assistant Professor of Biology & Biochemistry, U. Houston
Dr. Ricardo Azevedo, Assistant Professor of Biology & Biochemistry, U. Houston
Dr. Richard Strauss, Professor of Biological Sciences, Texas Tech University

Dr. Steve Pennings, Associate Professor of Biology and Biochemistry, U. Houston
Dr. Diane Wiernasz, Associate Professor of Biology and Biochemistry, U. Houston
Dr. Blaine Cole, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry, U. Houston
Dr. Tom Waller, Regents Professor of Biology, U. North Texas
Dr. James Grover, Professor of Biology, UT Arlington

Dr. Owen Lind, Professor of Biology, Baylor U.
Dr. Lee Hughes. Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, U. North Texas
Dr. Brad Keele, Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences, Baylor U.
Dr. Rebecca Dickstein, Professor of Biological Sciences, U. North Texas
Dr. Pamela Padilla, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, U. North Texas

Dr. Robert Baldridge, Professor of Biology, Baylor U.
Dr. Mark McGinley, Associate Professor of Biological Scienes, Texas Tech U.
Dr. Joseph White, Associate Professor of Biology, Baylor U.
Dr. Darrel Vodopich, Assistant Professor of Biology, Baylor U.
Dr. David Cannatella, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin

Dr. Andy Ellington, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Terry Maxwell, Professor of Biology, Angelo State University
Dr. Basset Maguire, Professor Emeritus of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Jill Nugent, Instructor, Biological Sciences, U. North Texas.
Dr. Nathan Collie, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, Texas Tech U.

Dr. Deborah Carr, Research Associate, Department of Physiology, Texas Tech U.
Dr. Jim Carr, Professor of Biological Sciences, Texas Tech U.
Dr. Gad Perry, Assistant Professor of Natural Resource Management, Texas Tech U.
Dr. Frederick Gehlbach, Research Professor of Biology, Baylor U.
Dr. Bryan Brooks, Associate Professor of Biomedical Studies, Baylor U.

Dr. Ernest Lundelius, Professor Emeritus of Vertebrate Paleontology, UT Austin
Dr. Denne? Reed, Assistant Professor of Physical Anthropology, UT Austin
Dr. Larry Gilbert, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Garland Upchurch, Associate Professor of Biology, Texas State U.
Dr. Rasika Harshey, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin

Dr. Makkuni Jayaram, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin
Dr. Richard Aldrich, Professor of Neurobiology, UT Austin
Dr. Jackie Dudley, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin
Dr. Harold Zakon, Professor of Neurobiology, UT Austin
Dr. John Sisson, Associate Professor of Molecular Cell & Developmental Biology, UT
Austin

Dr. Chris Nice, Associate Professor of Biology, Texas State U.
Dr. Andrew Gore, Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, UT Austin
Dr. Alan Lloyd, Associate Professor of Molecular Cell & Developmental Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Edward Marcotte, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UT Austin
Dr. Arturo De Lozanne, Associate Professor of Molecular Cell & Developmental Biology, UT Austin

Dr. Tanya Paull, Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin
Dr. Jeff Gross, Assistant Professor of Molecular Cell & Developmental Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Tigga Kingston, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, Texas Tech U.
Dr. Robert Krug, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin
Dr. Kenneth Kohnson, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UT Austin

Dr. Jon Robertus, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry, UT Austin
Dr. JoAnn Hunter Johnson, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Cellular and Molecular Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Paul. Szaniszlo, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin
Dr. Arlen Johnson, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin
Dr. Nigel Atkinson, Associate Professor of Neurobiology, UT Austin

Dr. Vichy Iyer, Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin
Dr. Dave Stein, Associate Professor of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Clarence Chan, Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin
Dr. Lauren Meyers, Associate Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Marvine Whiteley, Assistant Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin

Dr. Julie Westerlund, Associate Professor of Biology, Texas State U.
Dr. Cornelia Winguth, Faculty Research Associate in Earth and Environmental Science, UT Arlington
Dr. John Wickham, Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, UT Arlington
Dr. Arne Winguth, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Science, UT Arlington
Dr. Mikhail Matz, Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin

Dr. Arjang Hassibi, Assistant Professor, Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology UT Austin
Dr. Rebecca Zufall, Assistant Professor of Biology and Biochemistry, U. Houston
Dr. Mark Kirkpatrick, Professor of Integrative Biology, UT Austin
Dr. Malcom Brown, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, UT Austin
Dr. Michael Dini, Associate Professor of Biology, Texas Tech U.

Dr. Klaus Kalthoff, Professor of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology, UT Austin

1
The opinions expressed in this letter are not necessarily those of our Universities, but rather our own professional opinions as Ph.D. biologists.

2
Counting all articles in the following journals devoted exclusively to evolutionary topics: Evolution, Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Molecular Biology and Evolution, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Systematic Biology, Evolutionary Ecology Research, Evolutionary Ecology, American Naturalist, and counting articles in Nature, Science, Proceedings of the Royal Society, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that have ‘Evolution’ in the title or abstract. By restricting the search to these few journals and the short time-span (since 1975), we are likely to vastly underestimate the number of research papers on evolution, which is probably several times higher than what we found here.

3
A search for “Intelligent Design” in the same journals listed above finds one article, which is critical of intelligent design. Opening the search to all indexed scientific journals (to be generous to ID), one finds 410 articles in all, most of which are irrelevant to biology, focusing on engineering or computer science. Restricting the search to “Biology and Intelligent Design” yields 24 papers, all critical of intelligent design.

One of my instructors, Kirk O. Winemiller, signed off on that, and I am acquainted with several more (Chris Marshall, Sahotra Sarkar, Andy Ellington are a few I recognized on first skim). My thanks to all of you who are standing up for good science education in Texas.

One thought on “Texas Biology Professors Support Chris Comer

  1. Stephen

    It is indeed sad how politics can trump the basic values of a civilized society.

    Sad events indeed for Ms. Comer as well as the children in Texas schools. No child left behind? I wonder if Texas Universities will be soon required to offer advanced degrees in “Intelligent Design” – a PhD should take all of a few weeks to review the peer reviewed literature that is available…

    Good luck with the fight for sanity!

    Stephen88

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