A newly energized effort to promote the teaching of evolution is underway across the United States, spurred by scientists who think the time is ripe to combat the creationist movement.
At its annual meeting last week, the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) became one of about a dozen organizations that have recently adopted policies to boost the teaching of evolution at all levels of education.
The drive follows the National Conference on the Teaching of Evolution, held at the University of California at Berkeley, where representatives of nearly 50 organizations met in October to plot a national consensus on promoting the teaching of evolution. Individual societies — ranging from large organizations like the American Institute of Biological Sciences to small groups like the Association of Systematics Collections — are being urged to encourage their members to become actively involved in teaching evolution.
Berkeley officials hope to receive $500,000 from the US National Science Foundation to set up a website showing ways to teach evolution. The three-year project will also study its own effectiveness.
“We want to create one-stop shopping for evolution teaching for instructors, from kindergarten through the university level,” said Judy Scotchmoor, coordinator of the evolution programme at Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology.
At the annual meeting of the SICB, whose 2,100 members are specialists in developmental biology, a discussion was held on how to ensure the widespread teaching of evolution.
Kevin Padian, a palaeontologist at Berkeley, told the meeting it was important that the chairs of university departments recognized the importance of allowing faculty to assist in grassroots efforts to further evolution teaching.
Professors should receive academic credit for engaging in the battle, said Padian, adding that “it is just as important as putting a paper in Nature, Science or the American Zoologist”.
Ronald Edwards, an evolutionary biologist at DePaul University in Chicago, suggested that professors should not be confrontational or arrogant with students who have been taught creationism in their churches or homes.
“College students are willing to take on new ideas, but they won't if there is a hint of antagonism,” said Edwards, who spoke of his experiences at Valdosta State University in Georgia, where many students believe in creationism.