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News Release October 19, 2000
GSA Release No. 00-25
Contact: Christa Stratton

(303) 357-1093


Setting an historic precedent, representatives from over 45 scientific, educational, and media organizations gathered at the University of California at Berkeley this month to develop strategy for improving public understanding that evolution is good science. The first National Conference on the Teaching of Evolution (NCTE), held October 6-8, 2000, was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the University of California Museum of Paleontology, and the Geological Society of America.

Conference participants represented such organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Institutes of Health, and National Science Teachers Association. They focused on developing recommendations that individuals and organizations can employ to support good science education, emphasizing evolution as a unifying theme across all scientific disciplines.

"The teaching of evolution is of vital importance to this country," emphasized Dr. Cathleen May, Chief Science Officer of the Geological Society of America. "Evolutionary science is economically and socially relevant. Modern research in agriculture, medicine and human health, and global environmental change depend on understanding evolutionary concepts."

Elaborating on this point, Dr. Irene Eckstrand of the National Institutes of Health, noted that, "Modern medical research relies on an understanding of evolution. Whether we're talking about the Human Genome Project, resistance of microbes to antibiotics, or the causes of cancer, evolution is fundamental."

Dr. May emphasized that policy-makers at all levels — local school boards, state legislatures, appointed officials, and members of Congress — need to understand how teaching evolution benefits their constituents and society as a whole. According to Sam Donovan, representing the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium, "The U.S. scientific community must participate in the global scientific community, which practices under the paradigm of evolution."

On the subject of public education, participants expressed concern for students who are not learning evolutionary science. "Students who miss education about evolution are missing fundamental preparation for all future scientific understanding," said Dr. David Lindberg, Director of the UC Museum of Paleontology and host of the conference. "Evolution is a unifying theory shared by all life and earth sciences."

Concerned scientists and educators also discussed the challenges faced by those who teach evolution. They include well-publicized politics at state and local levels such as those made famous most recently in Kansas. Less obvious but equally challenging problems include teachers who are not well prepared to teach evolutionary science and the lack of a centralized source of support materials for teaching evolution.

"The scientific community wants to support educators who teach evolution. This conference is evidence of that willingness and support," emphasized Judy Scotchmoor, representing the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and also the lead organizer of the conference.

Participants also made clear that they want to lend their expertise to the media. Science writers and producers led discussions on how scientists can help them to help the general public understand the principles of evolution and its importance in their daily lives.

Conference organizers indicated that NCTE was an unusual phenomenon in the world of science. "Gathering high-level physicists, biologists, and geologists, plus classroom teachers and curriculum developers, and focusing their attention on a single topic was exciting and extremely productive," noted Dr. Dale Springer of the Paleontological Society. "For such a group to build a sense of community, achieve a unified voice, and determine a united course of action is rare. But then, evolution is good science, and for this group, that was and is the bottom line."

For more information and interviews, contact members of the NCTE Steering Committee:

  • Judy Scotchmoor, University of California Museum of Paleontology. 510.642.4877
  • Dale Springer, Dept. of Geography and Geoscience, Bloomsburg University. 570.389.4747
  • Sam Donovan, Dept. of Biology, Beloit College, 608. 363. 2012
  • David Lindberg, University of California Museum of Paleontology. 510.642.3926
  • Cathleen May, The Geological Society of America. 303.447.2020 ext. 195
  • Irene Eckstrand, National Institutes of Health. 301.594.0943


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