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Letter to Kansas Board of Education Protesting Deletion of History of Science Language

Text of the letter sent to the Kansas State Board of Education today by Discovery Institute:

February 12, 2007
Kansas State Board of Education
Kansas State Department of Education
120 SE 10th Avenue
Topeka, KS 66612-1182

Dear Members of the Board:

It has come to my attention that one of the changes to the Kansas Science Curriculum Standards that the Board is intending to vote on would delete the following language from Standard 7 (Grades 8-12), Benchmark 3:

Science has led to significant improvements in physical health and economic growth; however, modern science can sometimes be abused by scientists and policymakers, leading to significant negative consequences for society and violations of human dignity (e.g., the eugenics movement in America and Germany; the Tuskegee syphilis experiments; and scientific justifications of eugenics and racism). (SOURCE: Kansas Science Curriculum Standards, Standard 7: History and Nature of Science, Grades 8-12, Benchmark 3, Additional Specificity, 1a)

If the proposed change is adopted, the only language remaining in 1a would be the following statement: “Modern science has been a successful enterprise that contributes to dramatic improvements in the human condition.”

The effect of this change would be to transform the study of the history of science from a serious intellectual endeavor into one-sided propaganda. Rather than an honest discussion of both the benefits and the challenges posed by modern science, students would learn only about the past successes of science.

Yet it is just as important for students to understand the abuses of science throughout history as it is for them to understand its successes.

Indeed, it is only by studying these past abuses that students—our scientists of the future—can learn about the critical importance of science operating within ethical standards. As has often been said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)

The examples cited in the existing science standards are ones every educated person should know about.

The Tuskegee experiment, which took place from the 1930s to the early 1970s, left nearly 400 African-American men untreated during the late stages of syphilis in order to collect medical data from their autopsies. Conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service, the experiment is one of the most infamous examples of the abuse of human research subjects, and President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology for the experiment in 1997. It would be indefensible for the Board to remove this issue from coverage in the state standards.

The eugenics movement, meanwhile, was an attempt to breed human beings by applying the principles of Darwinian biology, and for several decades it was championed as good science by America’s leading evolutionary biologists and scientific organizations. As a result more than 60,000 Americans were sterilized against their will. This year marks the centennial of the world’s first eugenical sterilization law, passed by the Indiana legislature in March 1907. Kansas passed its own sterilization law in 1913. Again, every educated person should know about the eugenics movement and its impact on American social policy during the past century.

I sincerely hope you will reconsider this proposed change.


John G. West, Ph.D.
Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs
Center for Science and Culture, Discovery Institute