Evolution, evolution, evolution! Those will be our watchwords for the next six months or so -- or until the Illinois State Board of Education revises its school science standards to include the word (say it with me now), "evolution."
As many of you already know, about 2 ½ years ago, the Board instituted new standards. At the time, then-superintendent Spagnolo didn’t want to include the word “evolution” for fear of getting on the wrong side of the religious right. The draft standards went out and comments poured in to say, "Add evolution!" So they did. And then the word disappeared again at the behest of Spagnolo. I should note that most of the concepts of evolution are present -- this isn't Kansas, after all -- but the word itself is missing. This means they use vague language to try to work around the missing word when there is a perfectly good, scientifically proper, word to use: evolution. To some people, this may seem like a little thing, but it is not. There is simply no reason to avoid using the proper term; no reason to cloud the issue.
Anyway, I, along with then-Vice Chairman Ron Larkin, spoke at the Board meeting at which the standards were presented. Alas, the Board chose to ignore our comments.
Fast-forward to today. The Board is reviewing the standards (they had said they would do so in three years). We have a new state superintendent -- one who hopefully is not afraid of the religious right. The Chicago Tribune finally realized that "evolution" could not be found in the standards (with a front-page article on October 24). Now is the time to get this issue taken care of.
To that end, last meeting REALL formed an Evolution in Education Committee. Also, I have been in contact with the National Center for Science Education, the media, and numerous contacts in the teaching and scientific realm throughout the state. We are working on a plan of action to bring this issue into the light and to help make our standards the best they can be.
If you are interested in helping us, please let me know. Call, mail, or e-mail, and I'll put you on the committee list. Also, if you have any friends or contacts who might be interested in helping out, either let me know about them or put them into contact with us. We need to show the Board that this is not some petty non-issue that will just go away if ignored.
Well, there's one thing that doesn't have anything to do with evolution -- this month's meeting. And it doesn't have anything to do with the millennium, either (which, after all, doesn't change for another year anyway).
On Tuesday, December 7, we will feature a presentation by Rense Lange called Paranormal Experiences Out of Virtually Nothing: The Role of Attentional Bias. Rense has talked to us before -- last time about poltergeist delusions in September 1998. This talk also deals somewhat with poltergeists and similar paranormal phenomena, but in a different way. Here he will address two mechanisms that have been found to be related to the occurrence of anomalous experiences and beliefs. He will discuss how attentional bias plays a role -- if you think something will happen, it's more likely that you will notice something that you otherwise would have missed, and assign its cause to that which you were expecting. In more humorous terms, people are predisposed to do dumb things when they don't understand what they're dealing with.
This doesn't only apply to poltergeists. Rense will address the further implications for a number of other issues, including Susan Blackmore's "meme" theory, certain aspects of clinical psychology, etc. Overall, his talk will outline a completely new perspective on the genesis of hauntings, delusions, and related processes.
Rense Lange has a Ph.D. in psychology and a Masters in computer science. He has written numerous papers for refereed journals in areas ranging from psychology, artificial intelligence, catastrophe modeling, and paranormal events.
I hope to see you there!