This is the fourth article in my evolving series of pieces prompted by the Kansas Regents’ new policy that eviscerates academic freedom and tenure. In my third installment I explained that the Regents’ action, while cowardly, unconstitutional, and self-destructive, was not taken on their initiative but in response to extortion by Kansas legislative leaders.
I showed that those leaders were reprising strategies they had used in their long-standing wars on Kansas education, science, and modernity. The third column profiled Kansas’ President of the Senate, Susan Wagle, and her campaign that began in 2003 because she was enraged that KU taught about sex in a class on sexuality. Wagle’s trademark strategy is to extort universities to fire professors whose view she dislikes by threatening to cut state funding. Wagle summed herself up nicely in this passage:
“‘I understand academic freedom, but this is taxpayer-funded academic freedom,’ she says. ‘In this case, the rights of the taxpayer outweigh this professor’s right to be offensive.’”
Her own words show that she has no clue what academic freedom is and every intention of eliminating it. She saw an opportunity to do so when KU Journalism Professor Guth “tweeted” a criticism of the NRA, one of the Koch Brothers’ close allies. She demanded that KU fire Guth and her allies explicitly threatened to cut KU funding if Guth was not fired. I quoted the Regents’ understanding of the deadly purpose of those threats and their decision to destroy academic freedom and tenure in order to save it from the Kansas legislature.
This installment profiles Dr. Steve Abrams (DVM), the Kansas legislative leader who began his assault on education, science and modernity even before Wagle began her crusade. Abrams has been enraged for decades that Kansas schools and universities teach science in their science classes. Wagle and Abrams lead the legislative effort in Kansas to bowdlerize education.
Abrams: The Kochs’ Dr. Kevorkian of Science
If you are inclined to dismiss veterinarians as not “real” doctors you may wish to look at how hard it is to get into a Vet program and consider how important Vets are to Kansas. It would be a grave mistake to underestimate Abrams. The way to become a Kansas legislative leader is to (1) be a Republican, (2) demonstrate absolute fealty to the Kochs, (3) always keep in front of the stampede by Kansas Republican officials to the right, and (4) display the most callous ruthlessness. Wagle and Abrams may have never read Machiavelli, but they learned decades ago that it was far better for a Prince of their Party to be feared than loved.
Abrams has long been involved in Kansas Republican politics. He has been a Republican candidate for Governor and the leader of the Kansas Republican Party. He finished second to Wagle in the race to be elected the President of the Kansas Senate. He chairs the Senate Education Committee. He first became famous as a Kansas School Board member where he launched his long war on science in 1998.
Abrams’ Initial Ambush of Science
Abrams is infamous for making a mockery of Kansas through his endless attacks on evolution, but it is essential to understand that these attacks represent only one front in his long campaign against science, education, government, and modernity. Beginning in 1998, Abrams literally sought to redefine “science” in Kansas to mean the “study” of phenomena using the supernatural to “explain” those phenomena. Unsurprisingly, he and his allies’ fundamentalist Christian beliefs about the supernatural were declared to be the “science” that would be taught to elementary and secondary school students in Kansas. It brought to mind the musical 1776 in which, by a 2-1 vote of the state delegation to the Second Continental Congress, King George III is declared to not be a tyrant (but only “in Pennsylvania”). When Abrams has his way, science is declared not to be science and religion is declared to be science, but only in Kansas.
Abrams launched his assault on science covertly. Scientists and educators in Kansas were working on science curriculum. Abrams and a group of School Board members met secretly with a creationist group and created their own pseudo-science curriculum. There is a truly awful NPR piece in May 29, 2006 that reported that “[Abrams] says he has no trouble reconciling science with his faith. There’s much about the theory of evolution that he accepts.”
The statements I have just quoted are false. NPR never explained the actual science involved or the fact that Abrams rejects much of modern science (far broader than evolution). To explain why NPR’s characterization of Abrams’ views is false I need to explain more about Abrams’ views, science, and the scientific method. Abrams does not believe in huge swathes of modern science and the reason he does not is that so many scientific findings are contrary to his religious beliefs. Abrams “reconcile[es] science with his faith” in the same manner that Procrustes reconciled his guests with his beds. Abrams tortures and redefines “science” until it is consistent with his individual religious faith.
“Young earth creationists”
To understand Abrams’ religious views and how he perverts science to fit those views we must enter the rabbit hole of “young earth creationists” (YEC). Young earth creationists are, overwhelmingly, fundamentalist Christians who believe that the universe was created a bit over 6,000 years ago based on the faith that the bible is literally true and inerrant. Everything in physics, cosmology, chemistry, geology, biology, and paleontology to the contrary is conclusively declared to be false.
“A veterinarian and farmer, Steve Abrams makes no secret of his Christian faith or his belief that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago.
‘I am a young Earth creationist,’ Abrams said as country music played in the background. ‘That is different from science. Good science has the tenets, I believe, of what is observable, measurable, testable, repeatable and falsifiable.’
‘I don’t believe Genesis is observable, measurable, testable, repeatable and falsifiable,’ he added. ‘You take it on faith.’”
It follows that Abrams must reject vast areas of modern science, though the breezy manner of his rejection and the resultant bowdlerization of science cause one to marvel. Abrams explained his views to the New York Times in 1999.
“But advocates of the creationist view say alarm over their theories is overblown. Steve Abrams, a member of the Kansas board and a veterinarian in Arkansas City who was among the leaders of the push to make the changes, said there were legitimate scientific doubts about whether the universe was more than several thousand years old.
Beyond the expunging of evolution, the board also took out references to the hundreds of millions of years of Earth’s geologic ages and modified sections on using the slow decay of radioactive elements to measure the ages of fossils and other rocks.
Among the most striking changes was the removal of passages in the original standards dealing with the Big Bang.”
I love the first quoted sentence. Abrams assures us that we should not be “alarm[ed]” that Kansas is expunging a vast array of scientific fields’ findings because all those findings that clash with his individual religious faith lack scientific validity. I would think that if he were correct that enormous ranges of our sciences were producing farcical results we should be extraordinarily alarmed.
Even the NYT article, however, contained this sentence by the reporter that should serve as a reminder of how very far we need to come in science education even for those sympathetic to science. “Of course, for all its success in accounting for observations, the Big Bang is indeed just a theory, although it is one with few scientific dissenters.”
“Just a theory” – sigh – which is merely “success[ful] in accounting for observations.” Note that the theory was not only successful in accounting for a large range of data available when the theory was developed. The theory has continued to account for diverse forms of new data that only became available after the theory was developed. The theory has shown tremendous predictive strength. If you cannot appreciate how extraordinary an achievement that is you have no appreciation of science or the scientific method.
And no, I am not naïve about the weaknesses of science and the scientific method in actual application. I teach economics, where most neoclassical and all theoclassical economists regularly make a mockery of the scientific method. I will expand on this point in the context of noting the Koch-heads’ economic dogmas.
The Kansas science code, before Abrams bowdlerized it in 1999, defined what a scientific “theory” was.
“The science committee defines theory as ‘a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world …’ Evolution and the Big Bang are taught as theories, for they are well-substantiated and widely accepted explanations. Interestingly enough, the Board deleted the words ‘well-substantiated’ from this definition, opening the door for guesses and hypothesis to have equal status with well[-]established science.”
Kansas, with Abrams’ fervent support, adopted Laffer’s curve as its economic policy with the promise that by ending income taxes and raising sales taxes disproportionately on poorer Kansans they would achieve a neo-classical Nirvanna. Laffer’s curve was not based on facts (“observations”). His curve is not “just a theory” because it does not rise to the level of a theory. His curve has consistently failed to predict accurately the facts. But when it comes to science and theories that prove successful in explaining a large number of known phenomena and have proven successful in predicting data that were not available when the theory was developed, Abrams suddenly is appalled at the use of “theory” and conflates it with “faith.” He begins, again, by introducing a pseudo-distinction reflecting his pseudo-scientific claims about evolution.
“I believe it is an error to teach that macroevolution is a ‘fact.’ … There is no doubt it takes faith to believe the God of the Bible. That is exactly what He tells us. I would suggest it takes more faith to believe macroevolution. If both take faith to believe, where do you put your faith?”
YEC assumes that God created all species essentially simultaneously (on days 3-6). Fully modern humans (in evolutionary terms) were snacks for T-Rex. No new species have ever arisen or can arise. Only God, not evolution, can produce new species. Evolution, as taught by modern science, is false. “Macroevolution” is a term creationists invented, without any scientific basis, to claim that no new species can ever arise. They invented, again without any scientific basis, the term “microevolution” to purport to explain that a dog could evolve longer hair, but wolves could never evolve into dogs. Here is an example of the anti-science that the Creationist group inserted through Abrams into the science standards. The sentence, after the “but,” is fiction.
“The Board inserted this sentence from Tom Willis’s CSAMA document: ‘Natural selection can maintain or deplete genetic variation but does not add new information to the existing genetic code.’”
Abrams understood that he could not have Kansas’ science standards teach that the Judeo/Christian/Muslim God created the universe a bit over 6,000 years ago. The courts would have declared it unconstitutional and Kansas would have become such an international joke that it would have destroyed its universities and caused so much opposition from Kansas parents who wanted their kids to go to med school that the “young earth creationists” who dominated the Kansas School Board would be swept from office. Abrams sought to limit these risks by several tactics. His primary drafting tactic was to eliminate from being taught and tested in Kansas any aspect of science inconsistent with YEC – and then to add things to the science guide that were in no way inconsistent with science but decree that they should be presented by teachers as casting doubt on science.
“The Kansas decision is significant because the new curriculum, which is a guideline, deletes not only most references to biological evolution, but also references to the big bang theory, which holds that the universe was born from a vast explosion, contradicting creationists’ biblical interpretation. The new curriculum also includes at least one case study that creationists use to debunk evolution.”
Creationists did not, of course, use a “case study” “to debunk evolution” because they do not have such “case studies.” The article went on to explain that Abrams’ standards called for teaching students that volcanoes cast doubt on any purported scientific criticism of YEC.
“The new Kansas science standards include Mount St. Helen’s and Mount Etna as examples that ‘suggest alternative explanations to scientific hypotheses or theories.’”
Volcanoes are one of many geologic processes that add to (rather than “debunk”) scientists’ understanding of the great age of the earth, except in Kansas when Abrams holds sway.
The same article explains that Abrams claimed there were no factual findings related to the evolution of species sufficiently reliable to justify teaching them to Kansas students, but he sought to mandate that they teach the contrary. This would have meant that students be tested in a manner where the religious answer that scientists overwhelmingly believe to be false would be defined as the correct answer and the scientific answer would have been graded as false (in Kansas). The old joke in California is that Berkeley, California has its own foreign policy, but under Abrams Kansas had its own anti-scientific “science.”
“Abrams also tried to insert these words: ‘The design and complexity of the design of the cosmos requires an intelligent designer.’ But after protest from scientists, that sentence was stricken.”
“Intelligent design” is more pseudo-science jargon. It is supposedly agnostic about who the “intelligent designer” (singular) is, but the folks who created the jargon are biblical creationists who sought to rebrand themselves as engaged in “scientific creationism” without subjecting themselves to the scientific method. They have not published any scientific “proof” that “the design and complexity of the design of the cosmos requires an intelligent designer.” Abrams gave himself away when he tried to insert this sentence – and ended up with a claim that he realized was so obviously unsupportable that it jeopardized his ability to obtain the support of a majority of the School Board for his Creationist “science” standards and provided a gift to anyone challenging his standards in court. He made the wise tactical retreat of removing the sentence while retaining the Creationist bowdlerization of Kansas’ science standards.
Abrams’ initial victory over science and education: the “one-two punch”
As the Baptist Press explained in a 2001 article:
“In August 1999, an anti-evolution majority board created a national firestorm of controversy when they voted 6-4 to eliminate references to the theory of evolution on state assessment tests. At the time, Kansas Republican Gov. Bill Graves described the board’s action as ‘a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that didn’t exist.’”
Abrams win was even bigger than the celebratory column in the religious press reported.
“The Kansas Board of Education voted Wednesday to delete virtually all references to evolution, natural selection and the origins of the universe from the state’s science curriculum. The decision represents the most far-reaching success thus far for the Religious Right and its attempt to ban Darwinism from public school classrooms in the US.
Under the new guidelines for K-12 students, individual science teachers will not be barred from teaching evolution, but it will no longer be included in state tests, and therefore can be dropped from the curriculum of local school boards. Presented by the state board as a victory for local school “choice,” the move is expected to encourage Christian conservatives to push for a complete ban on the teaching of evolution in local school districts and to force teachers to question the validity of evolution and teach creationism.”
Abrams intended a one-two punch in which the State would eliminate any official requirement to teach evolution and a broad range of other sciences and the de facto requirement to teach these subjects imposed by the state tests. With these requirements removed the local school boards in Kansas’ ultra conservative districts (a large majority of Kansas school districts) could direct that such subjects not be taught to their children. The one-two punch would have taken Kansas education so sharply backward that would have been more anti-scientific than at any time in Kansas’ history.
Abrams’ opponents’ strategy in 1999
Abrams’ opponents tried to compromise with him to avoid the full bowdlerization of science in Kansas and invoked the fact that the Catholic Church supported evolution. The result of the first strategy (compromise) was predictable. Bullies accept your surrender and push forward. What was less predictable was that the self-described Christians were not telling the truth even about the source of their bowdlerized science standards. The response to the fact that the Pope had backed evolution was that the Pope is not really the Pope (in Kansas).
“The leader of the anti-evolution wing of the board is Steve Abrams, a Baptist lay leader and veterinarian who has been active on the religious-right wing of state GOP politics. He stresses fact-based science, but there is no denying his belief in young-earth creationism. ‘In the scientific field, we should be studying science: facts that can be documented, observed and measured,’ Abrams told the news media. ‘Evolution is not good science, and, as such, we don’t believe it should be presented.’
In all, the science writing committee had nine meetings from mid-1998 to June 1999, with the first public comments solicited in December and January for version 2 of the standards. Kansas teachers’ groups, which were already supportive, tended to write in with accolades, while conservatives were the ones showing up at the otherwise poorly attended public comment sessions. By this time, however, it became clear that the committee’s intent was basically to follow the NAS model. Revised versions 3 and 4 did just that. ‘We were not going to remove the theory of evolution from the document,’ said John Staver, co-chairman of the writing committee and professor of science education at Kansas State University.
Abrams led a threesome on the board that Staver viewed as the only probable negative votes to the writing committee’s version 4. Then, at a May board meeting, Abrams suddenly announced that an ad hoc ‘subcommittee’ had produced an alternative set of standards called Trial 4a, which had the fingerprints of young-earth creationism all over it.
The rift became openly political. The education commission sent a mediator to urge peace, but public hearings in May and June became vociferous showdowns between science educators and religious parents. Nearly every science and education organization in the state sent petitions to the board and letters to newspaper editors.
With the board vote still uncertain, the science committee offered a compromise fifth draft, which deleted all reference to the age of life on the earth and substituted ‘patterns of cumulative change’ for ‘evolution’ as a unifying concept of science. Responding to widespread ridicule of his creationist Trial 4a draft, Abrams also went back to the drawing board by taking the committee’s fifth draft and excising the offending content, such as macro-evolution and the Big Bang. ‘What we did was delete language,’ board member Hill explained; yet the final product contained evidence of its creationist path by recommending study projects on recent dinosaurs and abrupt geological events. “
The response to Abrams’ 1999 science (unintentional) parody was scathing.
“The Fordham Foundation, a respected conservative educational research institution, recently gave the Kansas Science Standards the worst rating of any state in the country: an F with a score of only 9 out of 100 points.
The Fordham report explained how a ‘committee of highly qualified’ people selected by the Board itself had produced a set of standards which “would have attained one of the highest ratings among the state standards reviewed.”
But, the Report states, ‘The State Board of Education gutted the document, removing almost every reference to the theoretical backbones of the sciences having historical content – astronomy, geology, and biology – and replacing some of the material with nonsense of a pseudoscientific bent.’
Later, the Board voted to have their standards sent out for an external review. Two months later, they reneged on this vote. As Lawrence’s Board member John Bacon remarked, ‘Why pay money to have somebody else criticize us.’
How Did This Happen – The Influence of ‘Creation Scientists’
Several state Board members cooperated with a group of creation scientists, led by Tom Willis, president of the Creation Science Association of Mid-America (CSAMA), who believe in the literal Genesis story. In June, CSAMA sent Board member Steve Abrams an “alternative version” of the science standards which supported their belief that the universe and all life was created during a six-day period no more than 10,000 years ago.
In late July, a self-appointed Board committee of Abrams, Scott Hill and Harold Voth used the Willis document to ‘revise’ the standards. They deleted all the objectionable evolutionary, geological and cosmological material from the standards that failed to support the Genesis story.
The Board committee also inserted over 240 sentences that they took verbatim from the Willis document – the ‘nonsense of a pseudoscientific bent’ mentioned by the Fordham report.
However, the Board did not acknowledge their use of the Willis document. The Board minutes for August stated that Board member Bill Wagnon ‘stated that the subcommittee should acknowledge the sources for its materials. Mr. Hill stated the subcommittee had not taken any language, verbatim, so as to require an acknowledgement.’
Mr. Hill’s statement is false. Documented evidence of the creationist source for the science standards additions can be found at www.sunflower.com/~jkrebs.
The Board also changed the definition of science from ‘seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us’ to seeking logical explanations, in order to accommodate God and ‘intelligent design’ as a possible cause in science. [The Board also eliminated the clause defining “science” as limited to “
And last, the Board deleted references to global warming and to issues regarding resource depletion, clearly revealing that their motivations went beyond merely the evolution issue.”
Koch-head ideology and self-interest trumps science
The deletions of teaching about global climate change and sustainability were pure Koch deletions (the Kochs are global leaders in climate change denial and animus for sustainability) made without even the fig leaf of protecting religious freedom.
Criticism, we don’t need no stinkin’ criticism
One of the Kansas constants is School Board Member Bacon’s uncanny ability to engage in unintentional self-parody. “Why pay money to have somebody else criticize us?” I don’t know, maybe because the reviewers could improve students’ science education. The reader may recall that Abrams and other creationists’ claim was that scientists were refusing to listen to and present in class criticisms of scientific “dogma.”
The Pope isn’t the Pope in Kansas
“Staver argued that most religions accept evolution; he noted that the Roman Catholic Church did, and he even quoted the Pope. The Kansas Catholic Conference disagreed, however. [S]tate Catholic education officer Mary Kay Culp said, ‘A major concern here is teaching evolution as a fact protected from any valid scientific criticism.’ She complained that the NAS standards seemed to put ‘science as a way of knowing’ above religion, which it associated with superstition and myth.”
Kansas Catholic conservatives regularly rail against any Catholic liberal who fails to agree with the Pope, but they know the Pope is errant when he disagrees with their dogmas. The Pope is only the Pope for fundamentalist Kansas Catholics when the Pope espouses their views. In Kansas, the Catholic “education officer” is apoplectic that Kansas students would be taught that “science” was a superior “way of knowing” about physics, medicine, and biology than was “religion.” Culp “associate[s]” “religion” “with superstition and myth” whenever she considers other religions’ creation myths. She has to, because religious creation myths are wildly contradictory of each other. They also either are untestable by science or have been falsified by science where they interpreted as making some specific claim about the natural world such as the claim that the universe was created a bit over 6,000 years ago.
Most Christians, Jews, and Muslims, of course, do not interpret the Bible, Torah, and Quran as claiming that the universe was created a bit over 6,000 years ago. Abrams does interpret the Bible in that fashion, but he adds the interpretation that evolution cannot create new species (a claim that the Bible does not explicitly make). It is this latter interpretation that lead creationists to invent the pseudo-science of “macro-evolution.” When journalist write that Abrams deleted “macro-evolution” they are actually indicating that Abrams deleted evolution and substituted not simply Intelligent Design, but also the claim that the Christian God created all the species of life that ever existed during the same burst of creation over the course of four days. There is no “scientific” basis for claiming that all the species of life that would ever exist were created at the same time. Even pure creationists could believe that God created new species hundreds of thousands of years apart. Only biblical creationists who take Genesis literally cannot hold that belief because of their religious tenets, not any logical (much less scientific) imperative. The opponents of science had to invent the faux concept of “macro-evolution” because they had to create a “big tent” of those opposed to the “big bang” that could accommodate YECers like Abrams. They invented the concept of “macro-evolution” so they could reject its existence. That passes for logic among those leading the war on science and education in Kansas.
Abrams’ first triumph was short-lived and turned “Kansas” into a punch line
Abrams’ first victory proved too large. It made Kansas into an international joke. By 2001, most Kansans had become enraged at Abrams’ war on science and elected a strong new majority to the Kansas School Board dedicated to teaching science in Kansas science classes. The new School Board majority promptly junked Abrams’ junk science.
Abrams’ response was to double-down on teaching creationism via “intelligent design.”
“Abrams countered the newly approved standards by proposing a set of alternatives produced by Intelligent Design Network, Inc. His recommendation was defeated by a 7-3 vote.”
Abrams launched the second wave of his assault on Kansas education in 2005
By 2005, Abrams was the official and actual head of the Kansas School Board and a new slate of creationist colleagues gave him a majority. He promptly launched his second campaign against science and education. He continued his disingenuous claims to separate science and faith.
“Abrams insists he is against bringing religion into the science classroom.
He says he supports empirical science, which he defines as that which is ‘observable, testable, measurable, repeatable and falsifiable. When engaging within these tenets, pre-existing biases of faith are eliminated,’ he said.”
But when he is speaking to what he considers the faithful Abrams has a more candid message.
“When the chairman of the Kansas State Board of Education told the crowd here that it was impossible to believe in the Bible and evolution – it has to be one, not the other – only one family got up and left.
‘It would be very funny if it weren’t so serious,’ Tim Emert, a local lawyer, former state Senate majority leader and former State Board of Education chairman, said after he walked out.
During a question-and-answer period to a mostly receptive audience of church-going social conservatives fed up with evolution, Abrams said one couldn’t believe in the Bible and evolution. You must believe one or the other.
‘At some point in time, if you compare evolution and the Bible, you have to decide which one you believe,’ Abrams said. ‘That’s the bottom line.’”
Note that Abrams’ pitch to the faithful was in 2005, long after he knew that his critics were arguing that his personal faith trumped science when it came to Kansas School Board standards.
Abrams never gave up the dream of bowdlerizing science and education in Kansas. He was moved to great frustration by being criticized for doing God’s work in bowdlerizing Kansas’ science standards in 1999 only to have them ridiculed nationally and promptly overturned by a new School Board. In 2005, in conjunction with his second putsch against teaching science in Kansas science classes, Abrams’ frustration rose to the level that he wrote an op ed (in the form of a letter) about how deeply he had been wronged.
Kansas’ creationists should not write op eds about science. As this series of columns will explain, their articles have exposed them to even greater ridicule by unintentionally revealing how ultra-extreme their hostility to science, scientists, and modernity is. Abrams’ op ed prompted Steve Case, chair of the Kansas Science Curriculum Standards Committee, to blast his ongoing efforts and to explain how deceitful his efforts had been in 1998-1999.
“Honestly, during this process it has been difficult to remain respectful when being denigrated as a scientist and portrayed as a poor teacher. I have been looked in the eye and lied to on several occasions during this process.
A good example comes from the second paragraph of Dr.Abrams letter in which he says, ‘At no time have I stated or implied that I wanted to insert creation science or intelligent design into the science curriculum standards.’
Dr. Abrams must think that we have forgotten Trial Draft 4A of the science standards that he introduced in 1999. At the time he told us that he was the author of this trial draft of the standards. It was only through a bit of detective work that we found that this was not true. The draft had been written by a young earth creationist group from Cleveland, Missouri.
These were the creationist standards that were adopted by the board in1999. Dr.Abrams was, at the very least, a driving force in the insertion of creation science into our state standards at that time.”
Abrams’ May 2005 op ed invited his critics to: “Investigate my claims when I state I do not want to insert creationism or intelligent design, but instead want to rely on empirical science.”
I have just shown above that Abrams explicitly sought to insert the foundational tenet of “creation science or intelligent design into the science curriculum standards” and failed to do so precisely because Case helped organize scientists to deride that tenet as lacking even a fig leaf of scientific respectability.
Case also zeroed in on Abrams’ claim that the scientific community’s refusal to participate in the kangaroo court he arranged to put science on trial proved that science must be so unscientific and unreliable that it could not stand up to examination.
“Dr Abrams ends his letter with a quote from Thomas Cooper; ‘only fraud and falsehood dread examination. Truth invites it.’ I would suggest that he be careful what he wishes for.”
Case’s suggestion proved prophetic. Examination of the changes Abrams insisted on making to bowdlerize the science standards in 1999, changes he claimed he drafted, not the creationists, established why “fraud and falsehood dread examination.” Case’s response did not dissuade Abrams from continuing to dig deeper as found himself dragging Kansas education in an ever deeper hole. Abrams’ response to finding himself descending into a hole of his own creation(ism) is to grab the controls of a massive power shovel and dig a hole of epic proportions. The (figurative) power shovel he wielded was his notebook computer. Abrams answered his critics’ prayers by writing another op ed.
Abrams’ Staggering Lack of Self-Awareness about his Hypocrisy
Abrams’ November 14, 2005 op ed reveals that Abrams is devoid of self-awareness. These two paragraphs were consecutive. He wrote them seconds apart, but is blind to his staggering level of hypocrisy. The context is that he is complaining that many local school districts are appalled by his assaults on the Kansas science standards. (The reader may recall that Abrams’ had long claimed to be the patron saint of local school district control of education.)
“But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, because Superintendents and local boards of education in some districts continue to promulgate pornography as ‘literature’, even though many parents have petitioned the local boards to remove the porn. Obviously that is a different issue than the Science Standards, but it still points out the lack of commitment on the part of administration in some districts to allow parents to control the education for their own children.
I have repeatedly stated this is not about Biblical creation or Intelligent Design… this is about what constitutes good science standards for the students of the state of Kansas. I would encourage those who believe we are promoting a back door to creation or Intelligent Design to actually do your homework… READ and investigate the Science Curriculum Standards (www.ksde.org) and base your comments on them and not on the misinformation critics have been plastering the print and clogging the airways with… unless of course, your only defense really is baseless character assassination.”
I’ll come back to what Abrams’ unique views on what he considers to be “pornography,” but it is remarkable to complain about “baseless character assassination” when scientists criticize you on the merits of your anti-scientific imposition of your personal religious dogmas only one paragraph after you ignore the criticisms of local school administrators in Kansas about the merits of your proposed science standards and instead smear them as merchants of porn. I am taking the most generous interpretation available to these two paragraphs – self-blindness rather than a cynical, knowing exercise in hypocrisy employing a vicious smear of hundreds of local educators. Readers may draw a less charitable interpretation.
Substantively, Abrams seeks to conflate “what constitutes good science standards” with “allow[ing] parents to control the education for their own children.” The ideal he favors is home schooling in which Christian fundamentalist parents can teach their children that God created the universe and all species that have ever existed and will ever exist over the course of days three through six. Everything to the contrary in dozens of fields of science can be safely ignored because Kansas students will never be tested on any scientific finding inconsistent with YEC. If you do not believe in YEC then there is no way that leaving it to parents to decide what constitutes permissible science can achieve “good science standards.” This is another aspect of how preposterous the NPR program was that reported without any critical questioning that “[Abrams] says he has no trouble reconciling science with his faith.”
“When correctly viewed, everything is lewd” (Tom Lehrer: “Smut”)
Before one smears every local Kansas school system that supports teaching science in their science classes as “porn” merchants one might think that Abrams would develop some supporting facts. Abrams’ smear was not an off-the-cuff verbal response to an unexpected question. He wrote his November 2005 op ed complaining about his opponents purportedly engaging in “character assassination” against him. In March 2006, Abrams was still launching his smears about school districts pushing porn on Kansas kids.
As a reality check given Kansas politics; under what theory were local Kansas education officials pushing their students to read porn? Were they trying to be vilified and thrown out of office? Did they hate their students and seek to corrupt them into becoming “libertine men and scarlet women” like that den of iniquity in nearby Iowa? Had pool tables made an appearance in Kansas? (If none of this makes sense to you I prescribe that you tap Meredith Willson’s genius and watch Robert Preston generate a “moral panic” through the classic “Ya got trouble” song that displays the con man at his best in The Music Man.) Fortunately, John W. Bacon, Abrams’ close ally on the School Board, who worked with Abrams to try to generate a moral panic among Kansas parents about porn, exposed the bizarre mindset needed to produce their reckless smears.
“A dispute in the Blue Valley school district over assigned texts spurred Abrams and others to allege that some schools assign pornographic literature.
Conservative board member Bacon said he’d read some of the texts on the Blue Valley reading list. The list includes “Beloved” by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and “Black Boy” by Richard Wright.
‘I’m thinking, ‘Who in their right mind would want to force this on a child?’’ Bacon said. ‘To me, it screams sexual harassment. … I think it’s important that we at least try to see if we can get some more information.’”
I explained in the first piece that Wagle claimed that Professor Dailey engaged in “sexual harassment” by teaching his class on human sexuality. Kansas conservatives exhibit an astonishingly broad definition of the term “sexual harassment” and “pornography” whenever the purported perpetrator is one of their opponents. What Bacon’s response “screams” to most people is that he desperately needs to learn more about other people and cultures.
Bacon helped exemplify the anti-scientific core of the Abrams’ assault on science because he was always too clueless to put up any pseudo-scientific cover for his arguments. He was best known for his 1999 cry of pain:
‘I can’t understand what they’re squealing about,’ Bacon said of scientists who oppose the board’s action. Millions or billions of years ago, Bacon said, ‘I wasn’t here, and neither were they. Based on that, whatever explanation they may arrive at is a theory and it should be taught that way.’
Those objections closely mirror criticisms leveled at evolution by its opponents. Alabama biology textbooks, for example, must carry a warning that reads in part: ‘No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered as theory, not fact.’”
Yes, Abrams and Bacon set Kansas in a race to the bottom with Alabama. But there is no equilibrium possible in such a race because it always possible to dig the hole deeper and embrace ever more anti-scientific definitions, concepts, and twisted logic. To put the matter gently, there are no witnesses we can interview as to a vast number of important matters. To state two obvious examples, while NTSB interviews witnesses, the typical NTSB study of a fatal plane crash draws its critical data from non-witnesses. Forensic laboratories used in criminal investigations can provide sufficient evidence about the facts for a trier of fact to conclude that the prosecution has established the facts “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The claim that “theory” is unrelated to our ability to determine “facts” and indicates unreliability demonstrates such a total failure to understand science and the scientific method that it makes meaningful debate with anyone that uses phrases like Bacon or the Alabama warning impossible unless they are willing to participate in a remedial science class. To state the obvious, physics is all “theory.” It is also the key to determining and predicting facts. Absent disabling measurement error, scientists routinely send projectiles to other planets and the moon with extraordinary accuracy. Their ability to do so – repeatedly – demonstrates that they are engaged in science and that their theories produce reliable “facts.”
More subtly, physics’ successes demonstrate that it there is a supernatural power it has not chosen to mess with physics in a manner we have been able to observe. The speed of light does not differ on any religion’s Sabbath-equivalent and on religious feast days “force” does not periodically equal mass divided by acceleration rather than mass times acceleration. This does not, of course, prove that there is no supernatural power. The supernatural power could have created the universe such that it functioned according to the maligned “theories” that scientists have developed in many fields including physics, chemistry, and biology (including evolution).
The Kansas School Board under Abrams pushed for abstinence-only education
The NPR story cited above also reported on the Abrams’ school board’s efforts to impose abstinence-only education. Abrams regularly lauded local school board control, except when smearing the local school boards who opposed his policies and purveyors of porn, but the Koch-heads were eager to prevent Kansas students from learning about contraceptives.
“On this day, they’re discussing an idea proposed by Kathy Martin, the board’s newest conservative member. It would require school districts to make abstinence until marriage part of their health curriculum or risk losing accreditation. Kansas schools already teach abstinence in sex ed classes, but Martin says they also tell students about contraception. And that, she feels, sends a mixed message.
Ultimately, Martin’s proposal is watered down and the board decides to make the mandate a recommendation. But it’s a rare setback for conservatives in Kansas. In March, the board adopted an opt-in policy for sex education. Meaning that schools would be instructed to offer sex ed to students whose parents returned a consent form.
Last fall, the board hired a new superintendent of schools, the former head of a conservative think tank, who’s lost no time promoting vouchers in charter schools. And, of course, the big one, when the board last year approved science standards that singled out evolution for criticism and which encouraged students and teachers to consider alternate ideas about how life developed on earth.”
Abrams and his allies put a Koch-head in charge of Kansas school policy
Bob Corkins, the new school superintendent, of course, had no experience or expertise in education. His “think tank’s” Koch-inspired missions was slashing taxes, e.g., to gut financial support for public education.
“Abrams said he was ‘sick and tired of all this second guessing’ about finalists chosen by the board for the education commissioner post. He said he had received a lot of negative comments because one of the five finalists, Bob Corkins, a Lawrence resident who is head of a conservative think tank, has no background in teaching nor [sic] education administration.”
“[Abrams and his faction] filled the state’s top education administrative seat with Bob Corkins – a conservative activist with no educational background who lobbied against increased school funding.”
Being a Koch-head is the requisite for leadership among Kansas Republicans. Experience and expertise are not essential in the post-reality-based community. It is so wearying for Koch-heads to have to put up with criticisms from the reality-based community of fellow Koch-heads’ lack of the skills necessary to advance public education. The mission is to cripple public education.
The Koch-heads lack a sense of humor, but are big on abusing power and the Constitution
“State Board of Education member Connie Morris took exception Wednesday to a picture of a made-up creature that satirizes the state’s new science standards hanging on a Stucky Middle School teacher’s door.
The creature, called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, is the creation of Bobby Henderson of Corvallis, Ore. It looks like a clump of spaghetti with two eyes sticking out of the top and two meatballs flanking the eyes.
Henderson created the entity and an accompanying mythology on the origin of mankind to make fun of Kansas’ recent debate over … intelligent design.
Gamble, who voted against the new standards and was also on the tour, said that Morris asked principal Kenneth Jantz to have the picture taken down.”
Board chairman Steve Abrams, who voted for the new standards, didn’t see the picture but said he thinks that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is silly.
“Personally, I think it’s juvenile,” he said.
Yes, when we become adults we put away childish beliefs and know that the universe was created a bit over 6,000 years ago, that all the species that ever existed were created on days three through six, that we survived because we were so much faster and tougher than T-Rex, and that it is a terrible sin worthy of the most severe punishment for a married couple to have sex while the wife is menstruating, or that God is (repeatedly) genocidal. Of course, adults in Kansas know that it is a grave sin to eat pork or any shellfish and religiously avoid eating trayf. Everyone who isn’t juvenile knows these obvious rules, but only advanced biblical scholars like Abrams are likely to be aware of the following rules.
“Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee.”
The first two prohibitions make a great deal of sense because they could lead to the evolution of new species which would falsify Abrams’ claims that evolution cannot lead to new species. Of course, if the first two rules had been followed Kansas’ agricultural productivity would be vastly lower but I’m sure that ranchers and farmers would view that result as a small price to pay in return for achieving the purity of species of cattle and grain that is essential to God’s plan for Kansas. The rule against wearing fabric blends is the critical one that needs to be communicated to Kansas’ Christian faithful for only Kansas’ Orthodox Jews do not commit this grave sin against God’s plan.
When we cease being juvenile and follow the tenets Abrams urges us to adopt we can get down to some really serious mass killings and torture. Gays, even adults who have consensual sex in the privacy of their homes, must be killed. Anyone who engages in adultery must be killed. A slave woman who is raped by her master shall not be killed because she is not free – she (not the rapist) shall be “scourged.” Slavery, of course, is permissible. Everyone who is not “juvenile” knows that anyone who ever cursed his or her father must be put to death, so “creative destruction” should reduce Kansas’ population to about a dozen people.
Each of these ultra-pure survivors will have served as a full-time executioner and torturer for the first five years of our purifying period of mass executions and scourging. Our executioners will need to be cross trained for the Bible requires some of the Kansas contaminants to be burned to death and others to be stoned. KU, the darkest of the “spiritually dark” regions of Kansas, will obviously be depopulated. (I will explain in a later piece the origins of this infamous term that a lead Koch-head chaplain close to Governor Brownback used to denounce large numbers of Kansans as under the influence of demons.) Rather than seek to reinvent the wheel on which we break sinners we can take a page from General Augusto Pinochet and turn KU’s football stadium into a torture and death camp.
When we reinstate slavery we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we can resurrect Kansas’ infamous 1857 Lecompton Constitution that produced by that era’s embarrassment – a Kansas legislature dominated by slave owners. The Lecompton Constitution was dedicated to protecting the “rights” of slaveholders and denying rights to free blacks, women, and slaves. The legislature created it in response to the Topeka Constitution, which did the opposite. President Buchanan eagerly endorsed the Lecompton Constitution but Kansas voters decisively rejected it and endorsed the Topeka Constitution.
Any Jew, Christian, or Muslim who has studied what his religion’s sacred texts can do what I have just done and quote the “horror verses” we all know are present. It is far easier to mock our religions than the Flying Spaghetti monster because there are so many disturbing verses in our sacred texts. Humans tend to view other religion’s tenets as “juvenile” (or worse).
Abrams favors a “right” to discriminate against gays
Given that Abrams believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and that the text literally calls for killing gays it follows that engaging in the vastly lesser restraint of discriminating against gays should be an absolute right.
Abrams’ disdain for learning about international issues
[Abrams] wants to de-emphasize the study of international concerns so teachers can focus squarely on the study of U.S. and Kansas history.
For an official who says his goal is to maximize decision-making by local school boards, Abrams is prolific at finding issues in which he does the opposite. In a world in which knowledge of other nations is increasingly important for the future of Kansas Abrams pushes to make Kansans ever more insular.
We don’t need no stinkin’ mathematics
Abrams’ followers make Abrams look like a moderate.
“I’ve never met anyone who uses Algebra II in their daily life.” – Kansas State Board of Education member Ken Willard of Hutchinson, questioning graduation requirements.
We can infer from Willard’s statement that he has never met an engineer, doctor, accountant, economist, pilot, CFO, CEO, or banker – or is clueless as to what any of these people do.
The Koch-heads’ assault on “common core” and national science standards
If you are not plugged into the nether world occupied by the microwave spectrum of movement conservatives you are likely to be unaware of one of the direst threats to America and our children – the “common core” English-language and mathematics standards and the “Next Generation science standards” (NGSS) analog for science standards. Various Koch front-groups and their usual allies are leading a campaign to generate a “moral panic” that terrifies parents about these educational efforts.
There are real criticisms of the way “common core” is being implemented in particular states. I just learned of New York’s implementation and it is appalling. The Koch-heads sometimes mention these problems, but virtually all their emphasis, and all of their passion, is on myths they have generated about common core. Common Core proponents state that it has two central concepts. First, Americans should share a “common core” of educational competence in three broad fields – English language, mathematics, and science. (Science is being approached through NGSS rather than “common core”). Second, students must go beyond rote repetition of answers and develop their “critical thinking” skills.
Procedurally, common core was developed by the States, not the federal government. Kansas, under ultra-conservative state leaders, was one of the most active developers of the common core.
Business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. military are strong proponents of common core. The great outlier is Koch Industries, which desperately needs workers with vastly improved skills in the three key fields, but realizes that critical thinking poses an existential threat to its stranglehold on Kansas and its broader political influence as the leader of the “microwave right” (beyond infra-red). The Kochs and the Chamber have been the closest of allies in Kansas, so this is a major potential development.
Abrams and Wagle, of course, have sided with the Kochs and demonized common core in the Kansas Senate. This led to a revealing exchange.
“At one point, Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat, asked the chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Steve Abrams, to identify any specific standards in the Common Core that he objected to.
‘There are other things besides just the standards themselves,’ Abrams said. ‘What I’m trying to be responsive to, as I suspect everyone in this room wants to be responsive to constituents.’”
The bill that Abrams and Wagle voted for would have stalled the common core, but it would have killed the science standards. The idea of critical thinking in the use of English and mathematics is threatening to the Kochs but critical thinking in science is intolerable to the Kochs and to the Creationist Christians so their goal is to destroy the science standards.
Representative John Bradford (R-Lansing) is a member of the House Education Committee. He is one of Abrams and Wagle’s legislative allies. Bradford explained the anti-meritocratic concept underlying opposition in Kansas to the common core.
“We need to get homeschoolers and parochial schools involved in this effort,” Bradford said. “When the SAT and ACT [college entrance exams] have been changed to comply with Common Core, it will put these groups at a severe disadvantage nationwide.”
Home-schoolers, of course, could be made competitive by improving the quality of their education. The idea that other students’ education should be hobbled so that they do not outrace the homeschoolers would be considered preposterous in most places, but not the Kansas legislature.
While the measure to block/kill the common core/NGSS passed the Kansas Senate with a two-to-one majority it failed in the House in 2013. Abrams and Wagle’s allies are promising to try again in 2014 and Brownback is refusing to disclose his position on the common core.
There is no aspect of Kansas education too small or too large that it escapes the efforts of the Kansas poltergeists’ attacks if it even hints of representing dread modernity. Wagle and Abrams live to bowdlerize science, education, and literature in Kansas.
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