[Taxacom] evolutionary biology missing

John Grehan jgrehan at sciencebuff.org
Fri Aug 25 09:00:53 CDT 2006

I found the following article in NY Times to be of concern.


John Grehan


Evolution Major Vanishes From Approved Federal List 


Published: August 24, 2006

Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of
study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college

The omission is inadvertent, said Katherine McLane, a spokeswoman for
the Department of Education, which administers the grants. "There is no
explanation for it being left off the list," Ms. McLane said. "It has
always been an eligible major." 

Another spokeswoman, Samara Yudof, said evolutionary biology would be
restored to the list, but as of last night it was still missing. 

If a major is not on the list, students in that major cannot get grants
unless they declare another major, said Barmak Nassirian, associate
executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars
and Admissions Officers. Mr. Nassirian said students seeking the grants
went first to their college registrar, who determined whether they were
full-time students majoring in an eligible field.

"If a field is missing, that student would not even get into the
process," he said. 

That the omission occurred at all is worrying scientists concerned about
threats to the teaching of evolution. 

One of them, Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve
University, said he learned about it from someone at the Department of
Education, who got in touch with him after his essay
on the necessity of teaching evolution appeared in The New York Times on
Aug. 15. Dr. Krauss would not name his source, who he said was concerned
about being publicly identified as having drawn attention to the matter.

An article about the issue was posted Tuesday on the Web site of The
Chronicle of Higher Education.

Dr. Krauss said the omission would be "of great concern" if evolutionary
biology had been singled out for removal, or if the change had been made
without consulting with experts on biology. The grants are awarded under
the National Smart Grant program, established this year by Congress.
(Smart stands for Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent.) 

The program provides $4,000 grants to third- or fourth-year, low-income
students majoring in physical, life or computer sciences; mathematics;
technology; engineering; or foreign languages deemed "critical" to
national security.

The list of eligible majors (which is online at
<http://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/attachments/GEN0606A.pdf> ) is drawn from
the Education Department's "Classification of Instructional Programs,"
or CIP (pronounced "sip"), a voluminous and detailed classification of
courses of study, arranged in a numbered system of sections and

Part 26, biological and biomedical sciences, has a number of sections,
each of which has one or more subsections. Subsection 13 is ecology,
evolution, systematics and population biology. This subsection itself
has 10 sub-subsections. One of them is 26.1303 - evolutionary biology,
"the scientific study of the genetic, developmental, functional, and
morphological patterns and processes, and theoretical principles; and
the emergence and mutation of organisms over time."

Though references to evolution appear in listings of other fields of
biological study, the evolutionary biology sub-subsection is missing
from a list of "fields of study" on the National Smart Grant list -
there is an empty space between line 26.1302 (marine biology and
biological oceanography) and line 26.1304 (aquatic biology/limnology). 

Students cannot simply list something else on an application form, said
Mr. Nassirian of the registrars' association. "Your declared major maps
to a CIP code," he said. 

Mr. Nassirian said people at the Education Department had described the
omission as "a clerical mistake." But it is "odd," he said, because
applying the subject codes "is a fairly mechanical task. It is not
supposed to be the subject of any kind of deliberation."

"I am not at all certain that the omission of this particular major is
unintentional," he added. "But I have to take them at their word." 

Scientists who knew about the omission also said they found the clerical
explanation unconvincing, given the furor over challenges by the
religious right to the teaching of evolution in public schools. "It's
just awfully coincidental," said Steven W. Rissing, an evolutionary
biologist at Ohio State University
o_state_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org> . 

Jeremy Gunn, who directs the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
at the American Civil Liberties Union
rican_civil_liberties_union/index.html?inline=nyt-org> , said that if
the change was not immediately reversed "we will certainly pursue this."

Dr. Rissing said removing evolutionary biology from the list of
acceptable majors would discourage students who needed the grants from
pursuing the field, at a time when studies of how genes act and evolve
are producing valuable insights into human health.

"This is not just some kind of nicety," he said. "We are doing a
terrible disservice to our students if this is yet another example of
making sure science doesn't offend anyone."

Dr. Krauss of Case Western said he did not know what practical issues
would arise from the omission of evolutionary biology from the list,
given that students would still be eligible for grants if they declared
a major in something else - biology, say.

"I am sure an enterprising student or program director could find a way
to put themselves in another slot," he said. "But why should they have
to do that?"

Mr. Nassirian said he was not so sure. "Candidly, I don't think most
administrators know enough about this program" to help students overcome
the apparent objection to evolutionary biology, he said. Undergraduates
would be even less knowledgeable about the issue, he added. 

Dr. Krauss said: "Removing that one major is not going to make the
nation stupid, but if this really was removed, specifically removed,
then I see it as part of a pattern to put ideology over knowledge. And,
especially in the Department of Education, that should be abhorred."



Dr. John R. Grehan

Director of Science and Collections

Buffalo Museum of Science1020 Humboldt Parkway

Buffalo, NY 14211-1193

email: jgrehan at sciencebuff.org

Phone: (716) 896-5200 ext 372




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