Public Release:  AAAS honors defenders of evolution with Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award

American Association for the Advancement of Science

SAN FRANCISCO -- Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, and nine science teachers who have been on the front lines of the battle to prevent introduction of "intelligent design" into science classrooms as an alternative to evolution, are recipients of the 2006 AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.

Scott has been tireless in her efforts to offer assistance and information to those trying to stop local and statewide efforts to undermine science education. She has led workshops, conferences and seminars for teachers and others to explain the well-established scientific basis for evolutionary theory and why "intelligent design" fails to meet science criteria.

The award is shared by eight Pennsylvania teachers who fought efforts by the Dover Area District School Board to require the reading of an anti-evolution statement in ninth grade biology classes. The teachers, who were science teachers at Dover High School during the controversy, are Brian Bahn, Vickie Davis, Robert Eshbach, Bertha Spahr, Robert Linker, Jennifer Miller, Leslie Prall and David Taylor.

The award also is shared by R. Wesley McCoy, head of the science department at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia. McCoy took on a public role in opposing a decision by the Cobb County School Board to require stickers on biology textbooks that read, in part: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things."

The AAAS selection memorandum notes that "each of these individuals has confronted efforts to undermine sound scientific thinking and has defended the integrity of science both locally and nationally."

Scott has directed the National Center for Science Education, in Oakland, Calif., since 1986. It was established to defeat the efforts of creationists and, more recently, the attempts by advocates of "intelligent design" to have religious ideas of creation inserted into science classrooms under the guise of an alternate theory of natural phenomena. Scott, an anthropologist by training, has argued forcefully that evolution is a strong and balanced explanation of how species change over time, and has no necessary conflict with religion. Proponents of "intelligent design" argue that the complexity revealed by modern biology could only have occurred through the intervention of an intelligent agent.

Scott said proponents of intelligent design promote some of the same flawed arguments as previous critics of evolution, including the notion that evolution is a "theory in crisis." In fact, researchers say, the theory is based on more than a century of solid science, and forms the bedrock of modern biology and geology. Far from being on shaky footing, biological evolution -- the inference of common ancestry of living things -- is no longer in dispute among scientists, though there remains debate over mechanisms of change and about the specific pattern the tree of life has taken.

The battle over evolution has been fought in school districts nationwide, notably in Dover, Pa. and Cobb County, Ga. The selection panel voted to honor science teachers who have borne the brunt of the fight.

The science teachers in Dover refused to read the school board's statement on evolution to their students. In a letter to the school superintendent, they stated that "Intelligent design is not science. Intelligent design is not biology." A federal judge eventually barred the Pennsylvania public school district from teaching "intelligent design" in biology class, saying the concept is creationism in disguise.

In Georgia, Wesley McCoy spoke out against the school board's decision to require an anti-evolution sticker on biology textbooks. He testified at public hearings, including in federal court where a legal challenge to the sticker was mounted. He wrote letters to the editors and opinion pieces for local newspapers so the public would understand the issues at stake. He supported the adoption of strong science education standards for the state of Georgia and participated in the formation of the Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education, which he serves as vice-chair. McCoy also sought to forge bonds with the religious community regarding the evolution issue. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Presbyterian Association on Science, Technology and the Christian Faith and served on the editorial advisory committee for The Evolution Dialogues: Science, Christianity, and the Quest for Understanding, an adult education book published by the AAAS.

The Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award is presented annually by AAAS to honor individual scientists and engineers or organizations for exemplary actions that help foster scientific freedom and responsibility. The award recognizes outstanding efforts to protect the public's health, safety or welfare; to focus public attention on potential impacts of science and technology; to establish new precedents in carrying out social responsibilities; or to defend the professional freedom of scientists and engineers.

The award was established in 1980 and is approved by the AAAS Board of Directors. The recipients will share a $5,000 prize. The award will be presented on 17 Feb. at the 2007 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. (See http://www.aaas.org/meetings.) For more information on other AAAS awards, go to http://www.aaas.org/aboutaaas/awards.

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