Institutionalizing creationism

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by Michael Baltzley on Science 10 Jun 2016, Vol. 352, Issue 6291, pp. 1285-1286 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf7386


Biology faculty who teach evolution at U.S. colleges and universities often worry about the efforts of creationists to include the teaching of “intelligent design” in publicly funded high school biology courses. Now we also have cause to worry about students at publicly funded colleges and universities earning science credits for learning creationism.
The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) is developing an Interstate Passport Initiative, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education, which would streamline the learning outcomes for courses across institutions to facilitate the transfer of credits(1). Unfortunately, with the Passport Initiative, WICHE proposes making the creationist “teach the controversy” strategy as a standard part of college biology courses. In their document “Faculty handbook: Constructing your institution’s Passport block,” WICHE suggests that to demonstrate scientific literacy, students should “watch the Ken Hamm [sic]–Bill Nye evolution-creation debate and evaluate the scientific evidence and arguments used by the participants”(2).
This suggestion validates creationism as science by stating explicitly that both participants have scientific evidence. Middle school, high school, and college instructors who support creationism can point to the WICHE Passport Initiative as evidence that there is a scientific debate that includes creationism. The Answers in Genesis website has already promoted the debate as a way to get creationism into science classrooms(3).
If the goal of the curriculum is to help students use scientific evidence to debunk myths, the suggested class activity should be rephrased to read, “Watch the Ken Ham–Bill Nye evolution-creation debate and evaluate the arguments used by the participants.” However, even with better wording, by including the debate in a science class, WICHE is promoting the use of the Ham-Nye debate as an example of a scientific controversy. There are hundreds of genuine biological debates, both current and historical, that good educators can make interesting. WICHE should choose real examples of scientific debates and avoid advocating for creationism in science classrooms.
A student who takes general education courses at a WICHE Passport institution will soon be able to transfer the credits to any other Passport institution. The receiving institution cannot reject individual courses from approved institutions. Currently, WICHE lists 24 public institutions representing more than 150 campuses in seven U.S. states as participants in developing the Passport Initiative. WICHE plans to expand the Passport Initiative to six more states. As the Initiative grows, more and more public postsecondary institutions will be awarding science credits for courses that include creationism. To prevent the insertion of religion into science classrooms, scientists must speak out against the Passport Initiative until WICHE removes creationism from their suggested curriculum.


(1) Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, The Interstate Passport.
(2) Interstate Passport, “Faculty handbook: Constructing your institution’s Passport block” (2016); p. 43 (pdf).
(3) Answers in Genesis, “Public schools and the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate” (2014).

Digest: HIV articles on Science

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F1

Converging on an HIV Vaccine

  1. Bette Korber

  • S. Gnanakaran
  • Three decades after the discovery of AIDS we still do not have a vaccine against the causative agent, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Multidrug therapy can extend life and health for those with HIV, but only holds the virus at bay, making treatment a lifetime proposition. Access to treatment or other promising infection prevention measures such as topical microbicides (1) are an economic and social challenge. A vaccine would be a simple and direct strategy for prevention. On pages 1593 and 1633 of this issue, Wu et al. and Scheid et al. detail the trajectory of an immune response to natural HIV infection that may provide a path to a vaccine.

    Focused Evolution of HIV-1 Neutralizing Antibodies Revealed by Structures and Deep Sequencing

    1. Xueling Wu

    et al.

    Antibody VRC01 is a human immunoglobulin that neutralizes about 90% of HIV-1 isolates. To understand how such broadly neutralizing antibodies develop, we used x-ray crystallography and 454 pyrosequencing to characterize additional VRC01-like antibodies from HIV-1–infected individuals. Crystal structures revealed a convergent mode of binding for diverse antibodies to the same CD4-binding-site epitope. A functional genomics analysis of expressed heavy and light chains revealed common pathways of antibody-heavy chain maturation, confined to the IGHV1-2*02 lineage, involving dozens of somatic changes, and capable of pairing with different light chains. Broadly neutralizing HIV-1 immunity associated with VRC01-like antibodies thus involves the evolution of antibodies to a highly affinity-matured state required to recognize an invariant viral structure, with lineages defined from thousands of sequences providing a genetic roadmap of their development.

    F3

    Sequence and Structural Convergence of Broad and Potent HIV Antibodies That Mimic CD4 Binding

    1. Johannes F. Scheid

    et al.

    Passive transfer of broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies can prevent infection, which suggests that vaccines that elicit such antibodies would be protective. Thus far, however, few broadly neutralizing HIV antibodies that occur naturally have been characterized. To determine whether these antibodies are part of a larger group of related molecules, we cloned 576 new HIV antibodies from four unrelated individuals. All four individuals produced expanded clones of potent broadly neutralizing CD4-binding-site antibodies that mimic binding to CD4. Despite extensive hypermutation, the new antibodies shared a consensus sequence of 68 immunoglobulin H (IgH) chain amino acids and arise independently from two related IgH genes. Comparison of the crystal structure of one of the antibodies to the broadly neutralizing antibody VRC01 revealed conservation of the contacts to the HIV spike.

    See to the next digest!