You probably missed it – thanks to the buried 148 words that appeared in the Aug. 31 Orlando Sentinel – but Florida just hired a fundie nutbar to be its K-12 education chancellor. (Surprise!)

Cheri Yecke comes to us from Minnesota, where, as the Sentinel notes, the state senate canned her in 2004 because she was, well, a fundie nutbar. Yes, Virginia, there are still places in this great country of ours where people like a little less church with their state.

But what the Sentinel didn't tell you could fill a book – or at least an in-depth, 1,006-word article in the St. Petersburg Times.

While running Minnesota's education system, Yecke tried to purge social studies classes of ideas she said promoted a "hate America" agenda, which to the teachers (who vociferously protested) meant ignoring anything that didn't reinforce the notion that the United States can do no wrong. Some call that "patriotism"; others prefer the word "propaganda."

In 2003, when Minnesota was reviewing its science curricula, critics say Yecke misrepresented the No Child Left Behind Act to imply that it sanctioned the teaching of "alternate theories" to evolution, like, you know, creation. And when a state committee posted its pro-evolution position for public review, the Times reports, Yecke's office altered the language to say evolution was only one of many credible theories, like, you know, creation. Yecke denied all this to the Times, saying her critics were confused and that her office didn't alter the language, it just posted the wrong draft. Yecke says she's a creationist, but swears it will have no impact on her work.

Oh, and guess what. Florida's science curricula are going to be up for review next year.

After being dumped up North, Yecke took up a job writing about porn and judicial filibusters for a conservative Minnesota think tank while planning a now-abandoned run for Congress on a platform of banning same-sex marriage. She is closely allied with Gov. Jeb Bush's education policies, since she likes high-stakes testing and "school choice" and dislikes teachers' unions.

And here's a telling little anecdote: When we called the City Pages – a weekly newspaper in Minneapolis much like your beloved Weekly – to find a photo of Yecke, the first thing senior editor Beth Hawkins said to us was: "Do you have school-age children?"

Yikes. This should be fun.

Word has it our favorite ex-congressman (so long as he keeps that "ex" in front of his name) is back on the prowl. That's right, kids: Bill McCollum, the local goober who, after campaigning on a term-limits platform, spent 20 years in Congress kowtowing to the religious right and the banking industry that funded his campaigns, is making a comeback.

McCollum's illustrious career ended in 2000, when he ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. Not one to get off the public teat without a fight, McCollum ran again for the Senate in 2004, but failed to get the Republican nomination.

Now it looks like he's gearing up for another statewide run, presumably for the attorney general spot that Charlie Crist is vacating to run for governor. He's making the rounds, including a recent guest speaking appearance at a meeting of the Libertarian Party of Orange County. Note to Bill: The Libertarians believe government should stay out of the womb and the bedroom, so don't expect too much support from them.

The Orlando Performing Arts Center took a step forward Sept. 1 when its nonprofit board named its developer partner, Hines International of Houston. It was a perfunctory meeting but it did yield two rich moments. Right after the vote, board member William F. Merck of the University of Central Florida stated for the record that UCF was not pleased with the choice, having championed KUD International. Since UCF and its money are key to OPAC, no wonder there was a quick assurance that UCF's concerns would be addressed.

Rich moment No. 2 came when Ron Pecora of Pecora & Blexrud, OPAC's PR firm, rambled on about how newspapers "don't usually give information that is really helpful," before thanking the Orlando Sentinel for its support of the OPAC website and Sentinel theater critic Elizabeth Maupin – who's been doubling as a news writer on OPAC matters – for her article about performing arts centers.

Ashley Allen, the Sentinel's vice president of corporate communications, told us the Sentinel doesn't really host the OPAC website, but that its marketing and interactive division did build it.


This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Lindy Shepherd and Bob Whitby.


Q: I'm troubled by the way science has had to defend itself against creationist nonsense. Does this upswing in stupidity portend the coming of another Dark Ages?

click to enlarge ian-headjpg
Ian: Just because someone doesn't believe a fact doesn't make it any less a fact. Evolution has been around since the first replicators formed from simple amino acids billions of years ago, and all of the rantings and ravings of diploma-mill quasi-intellectuals like Kent Hovind or Harold Slusher don't change that. We see evolution daily at all levels of life, from the mutation of viruses to the rise of germs that are resistant to antibiotics to the speciation of animals in different environments to human society and its infinitely vacillating social and economic systems, and indeed, in the realm of ideas (see also Richard Dawkins' work on semantic replicators, or "memes"). In fact, one might consider science itself an expression of evolution – it continually generates new ideas from old stock, refines or eliminates theories that no longer work and increases in complexity over time. And it's in this propensity for ideological refinement that we discover the fatal flaw that the creationists suffer from: They want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If any part of current evolutionary theory is wrong, they claim, it must all be discarded. But that's not science; science tries to refine the theory to take all new evidence into account, and only discards the theory if it's superseded by a more successful one.

The current creationist fad can't do us any real harm. Creationists are, for all intents and purposes, obsolete; they may get a few new converts every now and then, particularly when the future seems to be coming at us so scary fast, but their model is flawed, their reasoning is faith-based and not fact-based, and thus the idea will not be able to displace a more successful model.

Evolutionists have volumes of scrutinized evidence from dozens of disciplines, applications that allow us to make useful predictions and generations of refinements that add up to a coherent model of the way life has developed. Creationists have mythologies invented thousands of years ago by illiterate farmers and the logical fallacy of an argument from incredulity. They're too stupid to be a serious threat, no matter what gobbledygook they teach to the unfortunate children of Kansas.




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