tw curricublog

weblog on matters of curriculum, maintained by Tony Whitson

Let’s get Congressman Castle on the case

August 24, 2006 by Tony Whitson · 4 Comments · blog, Evolution, Law & Policy

missing Evolutionary Biology major

On a long list of undergraduate majors that qualify low-income students for SMART grants, a white gap has taken the place of Evolutionary Biology on the list. If Evolutionary Biology is not included, that means students majoring in that field would not be eligible for funding under the program.

The deletion of this undergraduate college major was reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education and in the New York Times. Both articles report U.S. Department of Education personnel describing the omission as a clerical error.

How plausible is that? Maybe the 18-minute gap in Richard Nixon’s White House tape really was just a clerical or a mechanical screw-up; but what are the chances that this single omission out of all the biological sub-disciplines was truly just a random error?

It does seem plausible to me that this might have happened without authorization from high-ranking policymakers in the Department. In the current environment, I can imagine some Department functionary thinking to themselves: “Since there’s no money here for kids majoring in Creation Science or in Intelligent Design, federal money should not be supporting Evolutionism, either. It’s only fair to give them equal treatment, one way or the other. Since I’m the one preparing this document, I can do something about that myself.”

If that’s not plausible, then it seems to me that a decision by someone with authority in the Department is more likely than the “clerical error” explanation. Either way, this is alarming, and calls for an investigation to get at the bottom of how this happened.

The alarming thing is not the lack of funding for legitimate programs of study. That will be corrected when the major gets put back on the list, and the limitation could have been worked around in any case by declaring the student’s major differently.

What is alarming is the prospect of individual(s) within the Department of Education who feel that it is their prerogative to put their own politically, ideologically, or religiously motivated preferences into effect as the Department’s operative policy, at whatever cost to the education of America’s students, and without authorization from the Congress.

Fortunately, the one Member of Congress who is in the best position to do something about this, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Education Reform of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is the Hon. Congressman Mike Castle (R-Del.), who is the sole representative in the House for the state which boasts the highest per capita number of Ph.D.’s in the United States; and I expect, as the home of DuPont and several biotech companies, has the highest per capita number of science and (specifically) bio-science Ph.D.’s. Congressman Castle should understand this as a concern, and the seriousness of this concern. Moreover, as a Republican at-large representative of a “blue” state (who deservedly takes credit for advancing progressive stem-cell legislation), he is relatively free from political pressure to join ranks with the “Republican War on Congress.”

So, let’s all get to work and contact Congressman Castle, encouraging him to get to the bottom of this matter, and to make sure that the Department takes whatever corrective actions may be necessary to make sure that there will be no more efforts to sabotage education from within the Department.

4 Comments so far ↓

  • tw curricublog » Blog Archive » Where’s a good “explanatory filter” when we need one?

    [...] jbruno concludes by asking “Don’t they [at the Department of Education] have enough to worry about?” That’s really the point of my earlier post: to provoke Congressional interest so they really have to worry about these kinds of shenanigans! [...]

  • tw curricublog » Blog Archive » Waxman letter on SMART Grants for Evolutionary Biology majors

    [...] Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Cal) has written to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings demanding explanation and corrective action for the omission of Evolutionary Biology from a list of college majors eligible for need-based financial assistance, as discussed on this blog here and here and here, and on The Panda’s Thumb here and here. [...]

  • D. Mitchell

    Maybe some one read the quote attributed to Nobel-laureate physicist Robert Laughlin of Stanford the the Darwinian theory has become an all-purpose obstacle to thought rather than an enabler of scientific advance.

  • tonywhitson

    D. Mitchell Says:
    “Maybe some one read the quote attributed to Nobel-laureate physicist Robert Laughlin of Stanford the the Darwinian theory has become an all-purpose obstacle to thought rather than an enabler of scientific advance.”

    If I understand the logic of Mitchell’s comment, it is a defense of the Ed. Department employee’s attempt to stop need-based financial aid from going to students majoring in Evolutionary Biology, because that employee “maybe read a quote” attributed to a physicist concerning his overall impression of the effect that “Darwinian theory” has, on balance, on scientific progress.

    No need to implement the program established by Congress, or the policies devoloped by the Department itself for implementation of that policy. It’s OK for individual employees, apparently, to substitute their own decisions, based on “quotes” that serve their purposes, to overturn the law and replace it with their own preferred regime.

    Gee, is that OK for ANY AND ALL public employees, or only those with whom D. Mitchell agrees, I wonder.

    The work for which Laughlin was awarded the Nobel prize in physics is described at http://www.llnl.gov/str/Laughlin.html . As a physicist, it’s not clear whether Laughlin knows any more about biology than does D. Mitchell–so maybe DoE department employees should just implement Mitchell’s wishes directly: why depend upon convenient “quotes” from any other non-biologists.

    To quote one reviewer:
    “When Laughlin does talk about the physics, it is fascinating. But he has the unfortunate habit of talking about everything but the physics.”
    http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/susan/bib/nf/l/rbrtblgh.htm#10952 .

    Laughlin’s quote on “Darwinian Theory” was pumped into the Discovery Institute’s torrent of polemics in an article by George Gilder, which can be read at http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=3631 .

    If Laughlin’s quote originates within the context of an argument that makes it meaningful, then the quote itself might have some meaning. As used by Gilder and by Mitchell, however, it is just a piece of mortar in their polemical barrage — or, at the very best — an invocation of the brute authority of a non-biologist pronouncing on biology.

    In any case, it’s amazing that anybody could think that having read this quote would justify a bureaucrat’s attempt to override an Act of Congress. I don’t know how anyone could justify this violation of the Rule of Law — unless they think it’s OK for some public officials to act on their own in carrying out what they see as the dictates of a Higher Law. The Rule of Law itslef requires that anybody willing to act on that basis is thereby disqualified from public employment under any lawful government.

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