Series to focus on science standards

Hume Feldman gets hot under the collar when he thinks about the Kansas State Board of Education’s changes to the definition of science in the public school science standards.

“Redefining science?” the Kansas University professor said. “Who are you? Where do you come from? The arrogance is just unbelievable.”

With the backing of a slew of KU departments, Feldman, associate professor of physics and astronomy, has organized a series of lectures calling in several scientists to explore the ramifications of the state board’s actions.

“My main concern here is the redefinition of science,” Feldman said. “I think people don’t really understand what it means. They just kind of put it somewhere in the science standards and nobody really pays attention to it much.”

A conservative majority of the state board late last year adopted science standards, proposed by intelligent design supporters, that enable criticism of evolution.

Feldman has invited four scientists who will speak in separate events in April and May.

Lawrence Krauss, physics professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, will talk about what he views as the assault on science and how educators and policy makers can react. Krauss is the author of “The Physics of Star Trek,” which explores how the laws of physics apply to the television show.

The second speaker will be Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor who served as a witness in the Dover, Pa., intelligent design trial. Forrest is a faculty member at Southeastern Louisiana University.

She will be followed by William Schopf, a University of California-Los Angeles paleobiologist and author of “Cradle of Life: The Discovery of Earth’s Earliest Fossils.”

The final speaker will be KU’s chemistry department chairman, Joseph Heppert, who also serves as director of the Center for Science Education.

The series, set for the Dole Institute of Politics, is sponsored by KU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Provost’s Office, Kansas Geological Survey and the KU departments of chemistry, geology, ecology and evolutionary biology, molecular biosciences, philosophy, political science, religious studies, anthropology, psychology and economics.

“I wanted to make sure that everybody supports this,” Feldman said. “It was very easy. All I had to do was send a couple of e-mails.”

Feldman called the changes to the standards dangerous.

“If we are going to introduce all kinds of bizarre notions into the science curriculum and say that’s legitimate science, we’re just going to dilute what science is,” he said. “I think that’s very dangerous.”

John Calvert, director of the Intelligent Design Network and a lawyer, said the changes were meant to remove existing religious implications in the standards. He said the old definition said science can only be explained by material causes – a definition which favored atheism, agnosticism, secular humanism and other beliefs. But he said the new standards don’t favor any religion.

“Yes, they are religiously motivated,” he said. “They’re motivated to get a religious problem out of the standards and replace that problem with scientific objectivity.”

Calvert said such actions are the antithesis of arrogance.

“I’m not asking that a religious bias be inserted in the science standards,” he said. “I’m asking for objectivity.”

Robert Goldstein, chairman of KU’s geology department, said the lectures are a way to combat the bad reputation the state is getting.

“We’re hurt by the outside perception of the deliberations,” he said. “There is this strange phenomenon that is occurring where non-scientists are trying to define what science is.”

Goldstein said he and others made a conscious decision not to attend the hearings over the standards in Topeka last year, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t watching or taking a stand.

“We’re on stage,” he said. “Just on a different stage.”