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Evolution Scores in Kansas Primary

2 August 2006 (All day)
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Two years after being checkmated by proponents of intelligent design (ID), supporters of evolution are set to win back control of the Kansas state board of education. Their victory paves the way for the revoking of the state's science standards, which are widely seen as being favorable to the teaching of ID.

In Republican and Democratic primaries conducted on Tuesday, pro-evolution candidates won party nominations for three of the five board seats that are up for re-election in November. Three of the board's other five seats are held by moderates. The results of the primary races mean that regardless of the individual winners in the November election, the board's composition will flip from its existing 6-4 conservative tilt to at least a 6-4 majority controlled by moderates.

"This is a great day for Kansas," Sally Cauble, a moderate who won the Republican primary in western Kansas, told Science. The former elementary school teacher from Liberal, Kansas, had a tough race against incumbent Connie Morris, who has repeatedly mocked evolution as "a nice bedtime story." Cauble, who ended up winning by a margin of 54% to 46%, says she wants to vote out the pro-ID standards that were adopted last year in favor of standards issued earlier by a panel of scientists and teachers appointed by the board (ScienceNOW, 9 November 2005). Those standards, rejected by the current board, emphasize the teaching of evolution.

Jack Krebs of Kansas Citizens for Science says the victory is a significant milestone in efforts by scientists and educators nationwide to keep intelligent design out of the science classroom. "The ID movement has put a lot of effort and money into trying to convince the public that the Kansas science standards are OK," he says. "It's good to see that the voters of Kansas aren't going to buy that."

But nobody believes that the controversy will die when the new board takes over. Kansas has seen a see-saw battle over evolution since 1999, when conservatives introduced creationism into the standards. Those standards were thrown out when moderates took control of the board in 2002. Two years later, the conservatives struck back and immediately resumed their efforts to revise the standards.

"It's unfortunate that we'll now be forced to again teach evolution as the only possible explanation for the origin of life, even though it's a lame explanation with very little scientific support," says certified public accountant John Bacon, one of the two pro-ID candidates who won the primaries on Tuesday. But he promises that the issue won't be going away.

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