|The Pandas scam|
|Editor's Introduction -- As a part of their campaign to undermine science education in the public schools, fundamentalists frequently promote a book titled Of Pandas and People. The fundamentalists try to induce state agencies and local school districts to adopt Pandas as a "supplemental text" for use in biology courses, and they insist that Pandas must be placed in school libraries and must be catalogued as a science book. In reality, however, Pandas is a religious tract. It is a slick repackaging of various doctrines that originated in "creation-science" -- the religious pseudoscience by which fundamentalists pretend to show that the Holy Bible is a literal account of history and that there is no evolutionary connection between humans and other organisms. The Textbook Letter has carried three articles about Pandas, beginning with a report that gave some information about the book's origins. Here are all three articles.|
from The Textbook Letter, March-April 1990
Fundamentalists Launch Bogus "Supplemental Text"
William J. BennettaIt is customary nowadays for schoolbook companies to attribute their products to people whose professional titles suggest expertise. A typical middle-school or high-school textbook in science, for example, lists at least a dozen such people on its first few pages, billing them as authors, consultants, advisors, reviewers or whatever.
In the usual case, that is eyewash. More often than not, the book has been fashioned by the publisher's own staff and by contractors that specialize in writing schoolbook chapters. The nominal authors and the other alleged contributors (who may be professors of science or professors of education or classroom teachers) have had no significant role in the making of the book, and they may not even know that the book exists. The publisher has procured the use of their names and titles and affiliations to create an air of legitimacy.
How strange, then, to look at a book titled Of Pandas and People, which is being promoted to biology teachers as a "supplemental high school text." True to custom, the opening pages show two authors, an "academic editor," eight "editors and contributors," and thirty-five "critical reviewers." But the list looks odd: None of those people is identified; they are just naked names, with none of the impressive titles that publishers prize.
Behind the Front
The oddest thing of all is the book's content, for this "supplemental high school text" is a book of "creation-science," the mystical pseudoscience by which fundamentalists claim to show that the Holy Bible is an infallible account of history, that the universe was created supernaturally and essentially in its present form, and that humans do not share any ancestry or evolutionary history with other organisms.
The Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), which sponsored the writing of Pandas, is an organization that promotes creationism. Creationism is the fundamentalist movement that seeks, by political means, to abolish the natural sciences and to impose "creation-science" and other biblical doctrines onto the population at large. Pandas is a new vehicle for carrying such doctrines into public-school science classrooms.
The teaching of "creation-science" in public schools was precluded in June 1987, when the Supreme Court decided Edwards v. Aguillard. At issue was a state law that authorized "creation-science" instruction in the schools of Louisiana. The Court -- in affirming an appeals-court judgment that had found "creation-science" to be a body of antiscientific religious beliefs -- characterized "creation-science" as "a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution in its entirety." Teaching it in public schools would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which forbids any law that would establish an official religion.
Cleaning Up Their Act
All the material that the book presents has appeared in earlier screeds issued by creationists, but the FTE's writers have subjected that material to a rigorous cleaning. It no longer refers explicitly to biblical passages or miracles. It disguises the biblical God as a nameless "intelligent agent" whose only evident function is to make organisms in a non-evolutionary way. And it is not called "creation-science" anymore. As far as I can see, however, it is the same old stuff -- a melange of false statements, misleading analogies, double-talk and various other devices of the pseudoscientist.
Pandas will not be taken seriously by any teacher who has a professional knowledge of science, because such a teacher will easily recognize its sophisms and its purpose. Even so, it merits the attention of everyone who is concerned about the creationists' continuing attack on science education. I say that for two reasons:
First, many teachers who must give science courses have not had any scientific training. Pandas will seem credible to some of those teachers, because it is very slick. Its pages show design features that are used in legitimate schoolbooks; it has a lot of sciencey illustrations, such as diagrams, tables and pictures of fossils: and it uses a lot of arcane words.
Second, Pandas seems to reflect a new strategy by which creationists are seeking to evade the Constitution. Instead of trying to force "creation-science" into schools through legislation, they evidently want to ease it in by supplying bogus publications to educators. The FTE's project -- the creation of a complete, bogus schoolbook -- appears to be an especially ambitious application of that strategy. I have no doubt that we shall see others.
A Specious Advertisement
Haughton placed an advertisement for Pandas in the November 1989 issue of The Science Teacher, the monthly of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). The ad said that Pandas had been "prepared with academic integrity" and had been "Authored by mainstream, published science educators" -- which brings me back to the naked names listed on the book's opening pages.
Neither the authors nor the "academic editor" of Pandas can be found in the current edition of American Men & Women of Science. One author, Dean H. Kenyon, is a veteran promoter of "creation-science" who wrote an affidavit supporting the Louisiana law that the Supreme Court voided in 1987.
As for the "critical reviewers" listed in Pandas: Some of them, as far as I can tell, have not been conspicuously linked to "creation-science" heretofore; on the other hand, the list includes such luminaries as Norman L. Geisler. Geisler is a creationist minister from the Dallas Theological Seminary. He gained brief fame in 1981, when he testified in favor of a "creation-science" law that had been adopted in Arkansas. Under cross-examination he admitted that he not only liked "creation-science" but also believed that unidentified flying objects were "a satanic manifestation in the world for purposes of deception."
After I saw the ad for Pandas in the NSTA's monthly, I spoke with the NSTA's assistant executive director, Marily DeWall, and I summarized what I knew about the book's content an history. She replied that no more advertising for Pandas would be accepted by the NSTA's publications. This was a proper decision, consistent with the NSTA's concern for the integrity of public education.
That Fake "Biology" Book Again
William J. BennettaHaughton Publishing Company (Dallas) continues to market a fake "biology" book, depicting it as a supplementary text for use in high-school classes. The book, Of Pandas and People, was promoted in an advertisement that Haughton placed in the April issue of Curriculum Product News.
Educators should know that Pandas is not a science book but a religious tract. It is a repackaging of "creation-science," the religious doctrine by which fundamentalists pretend to show that the Bible is a literal account of history and that there is no evolutionary connection between humans and other organisms. The writing of Pandas was sponsored by a fundamentalist group in Texas. [See TTL, March-April 1990.]
Like Haughton's earlier efforts to promote Pandas, the advertisement in Curriculum Product News was severely misleading. It did not disclose what Pandas is, it falsely suggested that the book has scientific validity, and it encouraged the belief that using Pandas in public schools would be legal. In truth, "creation-science" (also known as "scientific creationism") was barred from public schools in 1987 by the Supreme Court, which affirmed that "creation-science" is a body of antiscientific religious beliefs.
William J. BennettaIt seems to be time for another warning about Of Pandas and People, a book that the Haughton Publishing Company (in Dallas) issued in 1989 as a "supplemental biology text." Haughton is now peddling "a new, even more helpful edition" of Pandas, alleging that the new edition has "greater definition and accuracy of detail."
Pandas is a fake. It is not a biology book but a religious tract. It was developed by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (a fundamentalist outfit in Richardson, Texas), and it is just a repackaging of "creation-science" -- the religious doctrine by which fundamentalists pretend to show that the Holy Bible is a literal account of history, that the Bible's creation myths provide a "scientific" explanation for the origin of living things, and that there is no evolutionary connection between humans and other organisms. As we have noted in earlier warnings about Pandas, the Supreme Court of the United States has declared that the teaching of "creation-science" in public schools is unconstitutional.
The new version of Pandas, dated in 1993, differs little from the 1989 version. I see some trivial alterations here and there, but I find major changes only on the acknowledgments page and in the "Biochemical Similarities" chapter that starts on page 135. The acknowledgments page of the 1989 version listed a lot of people but didn't identify any of them; in the 1993 version, we learn the affiliations of some of the "critical reviewers," though Haughton still refuses to identify any of the people who are shown as "editors and contributors." The "Biochemical Similarities" chapter has been extensively revised, though its essential features are unchanged: The writers continue to deal in untestable, supernatural fancies instead of biology, continue to use false and misleading analogies, and continue to show that they have not studied the science that they pretend to criticize. Here and throughout the book, they demonstrate that their grasp of evolutionary biology is close to nil.
I have seen the same fatuity and ignorance in scores of publications issued by devotees of "creation-science," and I am moved to make a suggestion. If these folks are unwilling or unable to learn about evolution, maybe they should turn to a different subject. Instead of continuing their silly attacks on evolutionary biology, and instead of trying to induce public schools to put biblical creation myths into science curricula, maybe they should start campaigning to have the schools teach biblical genetics.
The central doctrine of biblical genetics is that the colors and patterns shown by animals are determined by what the animals' parents happen to see while they are mating. This notion is set forth in chapter 30 of the Book of Genesis, in a tale about the patriarch Jacob. First, Jacob makes a deal by which he will get, as his wages, all the brown sheep and all the spotted or speckled goats that may be born into flocks owned by Laban. Then he undertakes to ensure that Laban's strongest animals will produce an abundance of brown, spotted or speckled offspring:
And Jacob took him rods of green poplar, and of the hazel and chestnut tree; and pilled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods.
In promoting biblical genetics as a substitute for scientific genetics, fundamentalists could note that biblical genetics offers big advantages. First, it is cozy: Even if it doesn't agree with what we see in nature, it agrees with a sort of ignorant intuition. Next, biblical genetics is simple: It involves no mathematics, and it require us to master only three unfamiliar terms -- pilled, strakes and ringstraked. Best of all, it is easy to apply. Individuals schooled in biblical genetics would not have to analyze pedigrees, conduct tedious selective-breeding projects, search for the mechanisms of inherited diseases, or learn delicate genetic-engineering techniques. They would just have to set up some properly pilled rods.
To persons who imagine that they can learn about nature by rejecting evidence and reason in favor of ancient tribal tales, biblical genetics will certainly look like great stuff. I commend it to the fundamentalists' attention.
William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.