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Biologists rally against attack on evolution

Govt says final decision on textbook changes will factor in expert opinions

An illustration of an archaeopteryx from a Korean science textbook An illustration of an archaeopteryx from a Korean science textbook
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • June 20, 2012
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Debate over the teaching of evolution in high school textbooks continued this week as science teachers struck back over demands by a private organization to amend or remove examples of evolutionary theory.

The controversy began last year when the Society for Textbook Revise petitioned the Ministry of Education over the use of the archaeopteryx as an example of an intermediary species in evolutionary theory.

The society followed up with a second petition in March this year calling current teaching on the evolution of the horse “a figment of the imagination.”

The Ministry of Education forwarded the petition to publishers, six of whom agreed to consider amending their textbooks. An article in the journal Nature on June 5 brought the issue to the wider attention of the academic community.

The Biological Research Information Center yesterday published the results of an online survey of more than 1,400 people who work in the field of biology.

Seventy-three percent agreed that the archaeopteryx, considered by some to be the oldest fossil bird, was indeed a proper example to help explain the theory of evolution and “should not be removed” from textbooks.

The survey further noted that 86 percent of respondents had serious misgivings about official methods for amending textbooks, saying experts were not consulted and casting doubt on the motivation behind the petitions filed by STR.

The society, largely comprising Protestant biology professors and science teachers, calls the theory of evolution an “error,” according to its website.

Lee Kwang-won, president of STR, has said “evolutionary theory is not science but … ideology. Therefore, textbooks should not [teach] it under the guise of science.”

The Paleontological Society of Korea yesterday issued a statement criticizing STR’s efforts, saying the group has misled people into thinking that academic debate over the archaeopteryx and its role in evolutionary theory constitutes official doubts about the theory itself.

Heon Jung-hwan, a professor at Kyung Hee University echoed such concerns.

“There is nothing problematic about viewing the archaeopteryx and the lineage of the horse as evidence for evolution,” he was quoted as saying in a report by the English language Hankoryeh newspaper.

“It is not logical for STR to present the debate within the evolutionary science community as though it were evidence against evolution.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education issued an explanation yesterday, stating that the removal of the archaeopteryx from textbooks was based only on “publishers’ opinions” collected by the ministry and submitted to STR.

Yoon Kyoung-sook, an official at the ministry, said the amendments had not been officially confirmed, but that ultimately “approval will be made by the Seoul superintendent of schools.”

Authorities will review collected opinions from academic groups and experts, Yoon said, and a decision will be made by the end of September – the deadline by which amendments to textbooks can be made.


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