Score that as E 26.1303 or How to Prevent the Study of Evolutionary Biology

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The New York Times reports that “Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.”

The Department of Education has claimed the omission is an error. You be the judge. The list is apparently a standard list that normally includes evolutionary biology, “the scientific study of the genetic, developmental, functional, and morphological patterns and processes, and theoretical principles; and the emergence and mutation of organisms over time” as 26.1303.

As Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, noted students must use the code system to declare their majors and the claimed omission error “is ‘odd,’ … because applying the subject codes ‘is a fairly mechanical task. It is not supposed to be the subject of any kind of deliberation.’”

Furthermore as the article notes when one looks at the list there is a clear gap between 26.1302 and 26.1304. You can see the list here. Go to page 7 of the pdf to see the gap in question.

With the number removed, students in the National Smart (Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent) Grant program would not be able to receive the $4,000 grants available through the program if they declared evolutionary biology as their major. That means that while the country may want to develop the talent of “third- or fourth-year, low-income students majoring in physical, life or computer sciences; mathematics; technology; engineering; or foreign languages deemed “critical” to national security” evolutionary biology may not be up to snuff.

My guess is we will never know whether the omission was a lame attempt to sneak one by the public or whether someone thought it was a funny thing to remove but failed to revert to the correct version for publication. Still as one person quoted in the article put it: “Removing that one major is not going to make the nation stupid, but if this really was removed, specifically removed, then I see it as part of a pattern to put ideology over knowledge. And, especially in the Department of Education, that should be abhorred.”

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3 Responses

  1. Bruce Boyden says:

    I hesitate to be a spoilsport, but isn’t evolutionary biology still covered under “26.1399 Ecology, Evolution, Systematics and Population Biology, Other”?

  2. Mario Bourgoin says:

    To Bruce Boyden,

    Not according to the NYT article: “Students cannot simply list something else on an application form, said Mr. Nassirian of the registrars’ association. `Your declared major maps to a CIP code,’ he said.”

  3. Bruce Boyden says:

    In order to evaluate the real-world impact, it sounds like we need to know how it’s determined what majors map to “Ecology, Evolution, Systematics and Population Biology, Other”. (Surely there aren’t any majors offered out there with exactly that name.)

    Of course, none of this changes the “snubbing” effect of deleting a major with “evolution” in the name.