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"Intelligent" debate. Scientists focused on the economic consequences of teaching intelligent design at a public meeting in Kansas yesterday.

Scientists Gear Up to Battle Intelligent Design

LAWRENCE, KANSAS--Scientists and educators in Kansas are taking a new economic tack in their ongoing battle with the state board of education over intelligent design (ID). They kicked off their new strategy yesterday at a meeting called to counter an upcoming push by ID supporters on the board.

Intelligent design, the idea that a higher intelligence played a role in creating life, has been a political hot potato in the Jayhawk state since 1999, when the Kansas State Board of Education revised the school's science standards to make room for ID. The topic was removed in 2002 after some of the conservatives on the board lost their seats in statewide elections. But ID supporters reclaimed a majority of the 10-member panel in November 2004, and this year board chair Steve Abrams is leading a three-member committee that will "investigate the merits" of evolution and intelligent design at two sets of 3-day hearings next month.

The scientific community has boycotted those hearings, viewing them as a "kangaroo court" trying to confer legitimacy on intelligence design. Instead, they flocked to a half-day event organized by a local investor, John Burch, that is part of an effort to build a broad coalition behind Darwin's teachings.

Yesterday's meeting focused on the economic consequences of downplaying evolution in school curriculums. "Most industries today want workers with analytical skills," says microbiologist Charles Decedue, executive director of the Higuchi Biosciences Center at the University of Kansas (KU), which is dedicated to the development and transfer of bioscience technologies. "ID does not foster analytical thinking because its arguments are faith-based." Leonard Krishtalka, an evolutionary biologist who directs the Biodiversity Institute at KU, predicts that ID instruction would also turn away potential investors.

Don Covington, a vice president of the Intelligent Design Network in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, is unimpressed with those arguments. "Corporate executives don't discuss Darwinism," says Covington, who was one of a half-dozen ID supporters in the audience. And he believes ID-instruction will be a magnet for many families. "When kids find out that they are going to learn the truth," he says, "they might be excited to come here." Burch hopes to hold other meetings with industry researchers soon.