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Theory of evolution

Evolution study no longer approved under federal education grants

Thursday, August 24, 2006 by: NewsTarget
Tags: theory of evolution, religious right, education grants

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(NewsTarget) There is a big hole in the National Smart Grant list where evolutionary biology used to be. While spokespersons for the Department of Education say that it was a clerical error, some members of the scientific community fear that pressure from religious groups may have been the real cause for the omission of low-income educational grants for study on the subject.

Department of Education spokesperson Katherine McLane insists the field of study was not left off the list on purpose, and Samara Yudof, another spokesperson for the department, said the listing would be restored. As of press time, there is still an empty space in the Education Department’s “Classification of Instructional Programs” (available here) subcategory of Ecology, Evolution, Systematics and Population Biology, where evolutionary biology would normally be.

If the major is missing from the list, students cannot obtain a grant for that major, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Nassirian said it was “odd” that the omission would be down to a clerical error because assigning the subject codes to the majors “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.”

Some members of the scientific community are not so willing to give the benefit of the doubt because of recent disputes raised by the religious right, who stand opposed to the teaching of evolution in public schools. Ohio State University evolutionary biologist Steven W. Rissing noted it was "awfully coincidental.”

Rissing said the exclusion of evolutionary biology could discourage low-income students from pursuing the field at this critical time, when new insights into human health are being uncovered by studies of gene evolution.

“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. Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University, acknowledged that students would still be eligible for grants in other, similar majors -- biology for example -- but asked, "Why should they have to do that?”

“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," he said. "And, especially in the Department of Education, that should be abhorred.”

Jeremy Gunn, director of the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the group would "certainly pursue this" if the change were not reversed immediately.


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