A debate over how evolution is taught in Kansas also has become a debate over what students should hear in science classes about the Nazis, forced sterilization and an infamous study of syphilis in black men.
A brief passage about history in science standards for the state's public schools became an issue Monday, as the State Board of Education prepared to vote on a new set of guidelines.
Seeking to rewrite anti-evolution standards adopted in 2005, the board targeted for deletion a passage about historic abuses of science, citing the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
John West, a senior fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports creationism and did not want the standards rewritten, called the deletion "a travesty" and wrote an angry letter to board members. Among other things, he noted, the deletion would occur during Black History Month, which is February.
"The board's plan to whitewash the history of science is shameful," he wrote.
But the passage had drawn criticism from scientists who note that only abuses perceived as linked to evolution were mentioned.
"That was never in the science standards until the 'intelligent designers' inserted it," said Steve Case, associate director of the Center for Science Education at the University of Kansas. "Introducing that was just a way to get at their attack, 'Scientific knowledge is bad."'
Some backers of "intelligent design," which says an intelligent cause is the best way of explaining some features of the universe, link evolution to eugenics movements in Europe and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, saying it was used to promote forced sterilization of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled. They also argue the Nazis used it to justify their abuses.
The passage targeted for deletion said modern science "can sometimes be abused by scientists and policy makers, leading to significant negative consequences." As examples, it lists eugenics and the Tuskegee study.
The syphilis study was carried out by the U.S. Public Health Service in Alabama over 40 years, starting in 1932. About one-third of the poor, black men involved had syphilis; they were told they were being treated but weren't, so researchers could study the disease, the AP reports.
West said students will get a false picture of science if their lessons present its history as a series of triumphs. In his letter, he told the board students need to learn about such abuses to learn how science can be done ethically, the AP reports.
But Case said West and other intelligent design supporters confuse a philosophy - social Darwinism - with a way of explaining how the world works. Discussions about eugenics and the Tuskegee study are best left to history courses, he said.
"We're teaching science and science process," he said. "Historians have their own research techniques and their own interpretations of history."
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