Letter to Secretary of Education Regarding Evolutionary Biology

August 25, 2006
The Honorable Margaret Spellings
Secretary
Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Madam Secretary,

On August 16th, following a piece I wrote the day before in the New York Times1, I received information directing me to the web pages of the Department of Education associated with the new “National Smart Grant” program, in which it was clear that “evolutionary biology” (CIP code 26.1303) was explicitly excluded from majors which are eligible for these grants. On the following day I wrote a comment to the appropriate office, as listed in the Federal Register, which described a comment period (ending later that day) on the new regulations. In my letter I expressed my concern about both the exclusion of evolutionary biology, a centerpiece of modern biology, and also about the process of consultation on allowed majors, which I thought should take place with professional organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences.

Following my letter I discussed my concerns with several members of the media, which resulted in stories in the Chronicle of Higher Education2, the New York Times3, and New Scientist Magazine4.

Since that time, various statements have been released from the Department of Education, indicating that this was an inadvertent “clerical consolidation”, or that the document on the Department web pages was in fact a draft document, even though it was not listed as such. It has also been stated in a press release by David Dunn in your office yesterday that as soon as this omission came to your attention steps were taken to correct it.

I am however concerned that as of today the document that appears on the Department web page guidelines still contains this omission. Moreover, to date no clear explanation of how such an explicit and glaring omission, which after all involves an obvious blank line on the list of allowed majors, occurred. In particular, was there an original list in which this major appeared, and from which it was removed? Who might have been involved in the removal?

I understand Representative Henry Waxman has written to your office asking for further details to explain this issue, and I would like to echo this request, and further, to ask you to launch your own investigation.

This omission might otherwise not be worth noting, but as you know, there are well-funded efforts in this country that have been inappropriately attempting to attack the teaching of evolutionary biology on what appears to be religious grounds. This area of science is one of the bedrocks of modern biology, and forms the basis of many advances in a wide variety of areas, including genetics and medicine, as well as our very understanding of the nature of life on earth. It is vitally important for the health of our educational system, and indeed for the economic health of our nation that we provide the best possible education to our young people so that they may compete in the technological world that is the 21st century.

I am sure you agree with this sentiment, and for this reason it is very important not to convey the impression, false as it may be, that your administration might be attempting to censor the science that young people at universities can be supported to study. I urge you to get to the bottom of this issue so that it can be resolved in a clear and clean fashion, with no lingering doubts, and so that we may move forward and work together to improve science education in the United States.

Thank you for your attention to this letter.

Sincerely,

Lawrence M. Krauss

cc. Rep. Henry Waxman

1 How to Make Sure Children Are Scientifically Illiterate, The New York Times, (Aug 15, 2006)

2 Educators Question Absence of Evolution From List of Majors Eligible for New Grants, Chronicle of Higher Education (Aug. 22, 2006)

3 Evolution Major Vanishes From Approved Federal List, The New York Times (Aug 24, 2006)

4 U.S. Department of Education ‘Overlooks’ Evolution, NewScientist.com (Aug 24, 2006)

 

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