Letters to the Editor

In My Backyard

Having reviewed my article, "In My Backyard: Creationism in California" (Spring, 2005), I would like to make some clarifications.

The Cobb County, Georgia, evolution disclaimer referenced in the first sentence initially was introduced in March, 2002; the November, 2004 date referenced was when a challenge to the policy by parents was tried in federal court.

Further investigation suggests that the books Refuting Evolution and Life: How Did It Get Here? were submitted to the Roseville school board by other residents, not by Larry Caldwell, and were not considered after submission. (Note also that the surname of the author of Refuting Evolution is Sarfati, not Safarti.) Members of the board of education did not formally recommend the antievolutionist materials, though they supported their use. Of the two incumbents not re-elected, one, who supported Caldwell's position, did not seek re-election; the other never identified himself as a creationist, although members of the community perceived him to support the antievolutionist efforts.

Finally, the person described by a scientist as having a "gross misunderstanding of the nature of science" in his analysis of the Holt textbook was not Caldwell.

Eugenie C. Scott
National Center for Science Education
Oakland, CA

The National Center for Science Fiction?

Eugenie Scott's article, "In My Backyard Creationism in California," is much more science fiction than fact.

As a well-educated and well-informed attorney and advocate for science education improvement in America, I take exception to Scott's unflattering caricature of me.

As Scott concedes, my proposed Quality Science Education Policy is strictly a proposal to include some of the scientific weaknesses of Darwin's theory of evolution in biology classes. It is a legitimate science education proposal that was endorsed by a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a constitutional law professor, among others.

The only materials I submitted for adoption and use in classrooms in our district were a video entitled Icons of Evolution Curriculum Modules, and written materials authored by Cornelius G. Hunter, who holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of Illinois. The Icons Modules video consists of a discussion of five scientific weaknesses of Darwinian evolution by well-credentialed scientists, including, ironically, Eugenie Scott herself defending Darwin's theory. Dr. Hunter's written materials are contained in a Power Point presentation Dr. Hunter made to our science teachers. His Power Point presentation consists of Dr. Hunter's critique of the District's biology textbook's discussion of evolution and suggested written materials to be used in conjunction with the textbook.

The science statements made in the Icons Modules video and Dr. Hunter's slide show presentation are supported by meticulous citations to peer-reviewed articles in mainstream science journals, and Dr. Hunter's Power Point presentation and the Icons Modules video have been endorsed by a number of university professors and other scientists.

The Icons Modules video and Dr. Hunter's Power Point presentation contain absolutely no discussion of intelligent design, creation science, the Bible, religious beliefs, young-earth creationism, or creationism.

Contrary to false statements and implications in Scott's article, I never asked the district to ban or limit the teaching of evolution in biology classes, or to present the Bible or the Genesis account of creation in biology classes, or to teach creation science, or young-earth creation, or intelligent design theory in biology classes, and our district's board of trustees never considered implementing any such policy for its biology classes. Contrary to Scott's claim, our board also never "declared that . . . [any] creationist materials would be 'recommended' but not required."

Scott also falsely claims that I purportedly "offered a stack of supplemental books and videotapes that . . . [included] a young-earth creationist book, Refuting Evolution by Jonathan Safarti; and the Jehovah's Witness book Life: How Did It Get Here? By Evolution or Creation? Thanks to its free distribution, this book is probably the most widely-circulated creation science book in the country."

The truth: I had never even heard of these two books until I read Scott's article. I never proposed these books, or any other "young-earth creationist," "creation science," "creationist," or ID books or materials for use in the classroom.

As I said in the beginning, Eugenie Scott's article contains much more science fiction than fact about me and my QSE Policy, and about what really happened in the evolution debate in the Roseville Joint Union High School District.

The public policy debate over how we should teach evolution in America is too important to be based on such science fiction. At stake is whether our students will receive a quality science education, in which they learn the truth about evolution, or a science indoctrination, in which the truth is hidden from them.

So why do Eugenie Scott and her National Center for Science Education feel the need to resort to such science fiction in order to prevail in this debate? Are the arguments in favor of their position really that weak?

Larry Caldwell
J.D. Founder and President
Quality Science Education for All
Roseville, CA

Up a Gum Tree

Your Winter 2005 issue contained a letter from Mary McAllister titled "Good Gum Trees," in which she attempted to expand upon observations by Gordy Slack ("Habitats") in the previous issue regarding some virtues of Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globules) and other exotic plants. Her letter was very selective regarding impacts of exotic species. Although not stated, the letter implies that there should be no restrictions on importation of species into this country. This libertarian philosophy has great appeal, but is exceedingly dangerous as applied to the biological world.

Indeed, one of her guiding lights, David Theodoropoulos (aka J.L. Hudson, importer and seller of exotic seeds) advocates the scattering of exotic seeds over the landscape, as that will increase biodiversity rather than decrease it, as conservation biologists warn. What nonsense. Has she ever looked into any of the horrors created by uncontrolled organisms playing havoc with some of our ecosystems, such as the zebra mussel of the Great Lakes? That mussel alone is costing us billions of dollars and counting.

Yellow star thistle has invaded more than 18 million acres in California alone-almost a fifth of the land-and is causing great pain to ranchers, farmers, resource managers, and state and national parks and recreation areas. Federal, state, and local agencies are having to dig deep into not-so-deep pockets to address consequences of uncontrolled organisms, and hundreds, if not thousands, of grassroots restoration groups work heroically to stem the loss of their natural heritage, not just here but around the world.

In South Africa, warring on invasive plants is a life-and-death matter, as the invaders are drying up all their streams, including those supplying drinking water.

Finally, there is an important distinction between a Tasmanian blue gum growing in a park lawn and one in a wildland. I personally have been urging the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department to plant more of them in areas where they can't get out of control, while advocating their control or removal from the city's scarce and precious wildlands. It is a great tree, and contemplation of a giant 100-year-old is one of the greatest of life's pleasures.

Jake Sigg
California Native Plant Society
San Francisco, CA

I am writing in response to a letter from Mary McAllister. While much of her argument bears careful consideration, her final conclusion hangs on a very slender thread.

ry writes in defense of the eucalyptus. Her first omission is to fail to note that the "eucalyptus" is not a species, but a family of trees and bushes comparable in some ways to "deciduous" or "conifer," and that any generality ascribed to the entire family is likely to have serious error.

That said, Mary is correct that a) the species of eucalyptus common in northern California do offer significant benefits; b) nature will reach a balance, albeit an evolving equilibrium as conditions both endogenous and exogenous continue to change; and c) arbitrarily removing any one species from this mix may cause significant disruption to the remainder. Mary references work done at the University of California, Davis that provides convincing support for this argument.

Where Mary crosses the scientific line is her unqualified contention that a "positive contribution(s is) made by introduced plants to greater biodiversity." That contention hangs by a very slender thread, one unable to support the weight of her argument.

In eucalyptus groves near South Lake Merced, the undergrowth is a single species-in this case Cape ivy-another invasive weed that has taken over much of the area around the lake.

Photos are of course anecdotal. The reason for the monocultures may have nothing to do with the character of eucalyptus. However, the evidence is fairly convincing that eucalyptus groves do present some special problems. These questions deserve, and are receiving, careful and scientific scrutiny. I refer your readers to a recently published book by Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (Viking Press, 2004), for a description of the dire consequences that may result from our failure to do so.

John Plummer
Friends of Lake Merced
San Francisco, CA

In the Backyard No More

It was wonderful to read, in the Winter issue of California Wild, about two creatures that at one time lived in our backyard of our San Francisco home. Years ago our backyard had many California slender salamanders and potato bugs. They are no longer around. Gone.

If I had known that they would one day be featured in a science magazine, I would have treated them with more respect. Enjoy your magazine. Keep up the good work.

Anne and Stan Cordes
San Francisco, CA

The High Ground

I read Gordy Slack's article "Nature in a Bottle," in the Spring 2005 issue with great interest, nodding my head in agreement most of the way. I believe that any kind of monoculture represents a serious danger to our environment, and I am saddened every time I see another hillside stripped for either grape vines or McMansions.

However, when Mr. Slack referred to environmentalist Chris Malin, who lives "...high on Atlas Ridge..." I stopped nodding and gaped in horror. What makes Ms. Malin think that she has any sort of moral authority to speak against vineyards planted high on remote hills and ridges when she herself lives high on a remote ridge? How many acres of land were stripped and how many native trees were cut down for her house and yard? How much of the ground water comes out of her well so that she can wash her dishes or water her yard?

I consider myself an environmentalist, and I cringed when I read this article.

Cathy Laird
Cotati, CA

Tsunami Bills

For those whe received an email message from Senator Barbara Boxer entitled "We Need A Better Tsunami Warning System," here is my reply:

Who are "We?" A tsunami warning system is not a role for government. It is a business opportunity. If government stays out of the marketplace, tsunami warning will be a subscription-based business for which coastal residents and business owners, and private beach and harbor owners would be happy to pay. It is not something residents of the interior should be required to pay. From college tuitions to medical costs, whenever government gets involved it only increases costs.

Bill Holmes
Lancaster, CA