AAAS on Monday declined an invitation from the Kansas Board of Education to appear at a May hearing on teaching evolution in public schools after concluding that the event is likely to sow confusion rather than understanding among the public.
In a letter to George Griffith, science consultant to the Kansas State Department of Education, association CEO Alan I. Leshner sided with the leaders of the Kansas science community who have described the hearings as an effort by faith-based proponents of "intelligent design" theory to attack and undermine science.
"After much consideration," Leshner wrote, "AAAS respectfully declines to participate in this hearing out of concern that rather than contribute to science education, it will most likely serve to confuse the public about the nature of the scientific enterprise."
AAAS is the world's largest general science organization and the publisher of the journal Science; Leshner also serves as the journal's executive publisher.
Leaders of the Kansas science community have called for a boycott of the hearing, and thus far, representatives of state and national science groups have refused to testify.
Most mainstream religions and religious leaders agree with the mainstream of science that evolution is a fact, backed by extensive evidence; Leshner, in his letter, emphasized that science is not inherently opposed to religion. "Facts and faith both have the power to improve people's lives, and they can and do co-exist," Leshner wrote. "But they should not be pitted against one another in science classrooms."
Kansas has been a focal point of efforts to restrict the teaching of evolution in public schools. Proponents of intelligent design theory hold that the physical universe is so elaborate and complicated that its creation required a sophisticated architect, and they are working to impose that theory in science classrooms.
Critics, including virtually all of the science community, say that the theory lacks any basis in hard evidence and is therefore a matter of faith. Evidence and proven facts are central to the scientific method, they say, and for that reason, faith has no place in a science classroom.
Last June, the Board of Education established the Kansas Science Curriculum Writing Committee-with a membership including scientists and educators-to revise science education standards. The committee earlier this year approved proposed standards that include the teaching of evolution but make no provision for intelligent design.
In January, conservatives won control of the Board of Education, and they have been backing a minority group within the Curriculum Writing Committee that is seen as sympathetic to the intelligent design movement. Though the minority group's report and recommendations have been rejected in a scientific peer-review process [see http://www.ksde.org/outcomes/sciencestdreview.html], critics say the Board of Education is continuing to back the group.
The conservative-dominated board last month called for six days of hearings, from 5-7 May and from 12-14 May. The committee's minority bloc presented a list of 23 anti-evolution witnesses for the hearing, including a handful of scientists closely associated with the intelligent design movement.
The format and agenda of the hearing before the board's education subcommittee "suggests that the theory of evolution may be debated," wrote Leshner. "It implies that scientific conclusions are based on expert opinion rather than on data."
But, he added: "The concept of evolution is well-supported by extensive evidence and accepted by virtually every scientist. Moreover, we see no purpose in debating interpretations of Genesis and 'intelligent design' which are a matter of faith, not facts."
A group called Kansas Citizens for Science has called for the boycott, objecting to a "rigged hearing" in which anti-evolution Board of Education members "will appear to sit in judgment and find science lacking."