A small group of scientists has prevented another "Kansas" from happening in Arkansas. In 1999, anti-evolutionists quietly proposed that all references to "evolution" be removed from the Arkansas science education standards, and that "theories" be substituted for "theory" in the standards’ phrase "scientific theory of the development of living things". The clear intent of these "small" changes was to remove evolution from the state standards and to encourage the teaching of creationism as an alternative to evolution. If unopposed, these changes would probably have been inserted into the state science standards.
An interdisciplinary evolution discussion group at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville learned of these proposed changes through statewide contacts with other groups interested in evolution education. To oppose the proposed changes, the group drew up a petition that supported the Department of Education's efforts to strengthen science education while protesting that the substitution of "theories" for "theory" would undermine this goal.
Ninety-one of the 95 faculty members of the natural and physical science departments signed the petition, including all 42 members of the Departments of Anthropology and Biological Sciences. The petition campaign was purposely carried out without newspaper coverage or other publicity, because it appeared that a strong petition could by itself have defeated the anti-evolution efforts and that publicity and political activity might have been counterproductive.
The petition’s effect was decisive. The Department of Education removed the proposed changes from the science standards. In fact, the petition’s demonstration of strong support for good science encouraged the state to propose new, pro-evolution changes in the state standards. Some of these changes deal with scientific methodology. For example, an explanation of "theory" was added:
[The term] scientific theory is not used, as people often use the word theory, to mean a hunch or a guess. A scientific theory is held with a high degree of confidence and is supported by enough evidence to make its abandonment unlikely. As new evidence is found, a theory may be modified but only with compelling evidence, verification and peer review.
Other changes deal explicitly with evolution. For example, the revised text reads:
[Students will] understand that all living things contain similar genetic material that evolves because of gene mutation, natural selection, and change in environments. Species change through time, and new life forms evolve.
The lesson here is that each state needs at least one organized pro-evolution group that maintains good lines of communication with departments of education, boards of education, and state and local legislators. [Ed: NCSE maintains links to several pro-evolution organizations in most states. These include science-teaching organizations, scientific research societies, civil-liberties groups, religious organizations, and more. Just call, write, or e-mail NCSE, or check out our web site www.ncseweb.org. ]