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News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, March 15, 2001

New Book Aims to Bring Science Home to Kansas

LAWRENCE--The August 1999 Kansas State Board of Education's decision to de-emphasize evolution in public school standards, and the controversy that followed, highlighted the need to improve basic science literacy in Kansas. A new book from the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas, aims to help do that.

A Kansan's Guide to Science was written by KU scientists Paulyn Cartwright, Roger Kaesler, Bruce Lieberman, and Adrian Melott. Their goal, as stated in the book's preface, is to "reach all Kansas citizens who wish to learn more about the nature of science, geologic time, evolution, and the origin of the universe from a Kansas perspective."

"We wanted to create an easily understandable guide from Kansas scientists to Kansas citizens," said Cartwright, KU biology instructor. One problem in communicating science is that scientists often use language that is too technical. Cartwright said the authors worked hard to overcome language barriers, translating jargon into everyday language.

Cartwright noted that the book's real strength is that "we're talking to Kansas citizens using Kansas examples." For example, the book describes some early reptiles that lived in Kansas from about 320 to 290 million years ago, one of which is a transitional link between reptiles and mammals. These reptiles are known from fossils in rocks that preserve what was once an ancient lagoon near Garnett, Kansas.

By connecting scientific ideas to the world around us, Cartwright said, the book makes scientific concepts more concrete. "You can get a feel for geologic time just by looking at the 300 million-year-old rocks exposed along the state's highways."

The book is organized around a series of frequently asked questions "These questions about evolution and science kept coming up during the debate about the board's decision," Cartwright said.

One question the book addresses is whether evolution is a fact or a theory. This question illustrates the language barrier between scientists and the public, Cartwright said. "In everyday language, a theory is a hunch or a guess, but for scientists, a theory is defined as a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed."

The book also covers questions about the nature of science, the history of the earth, the history of life, and the origin of the universe. It contains numerous color drawings and photographs, many depicting fossils of animals that lived in Kansas millions of years ago. Also included is a glossary of terms used in discussing geologic time, evolution, and the history of life on earth. A list of suggested readings and educational resources is a handy reference for learning more about evolution, the nature of science, the relationship between science and religion, and creationism. A number of online educational resources are also listed.

Because of the book's straightforward language and approach, Cartwright said she "hoped it would be used as a supplementary text in secondary schools."

Copies of the book are available from the Kansas Geological Survey at 1930 Constant Avenue in Lawrence (785-864-3965). The cost is $7.50, plus $3.00 postage and handling. Kansas residents should add 6.9% sales tax to the entire cost of the order. Copies are also available from the Survey's Wichita office (316-943-2343).

A short extract from this publication is available.
Story by Liz Brosius, (785) 864-2063
For more information, contact Paulyn Cartwright, (785-864-4432)

Kansas Geological Survey, Publications and Public Affairs