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This item appeared in The Textbook Letter for January-February 2000.
It accompanied a review of Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science,
a middle-school textbook sold by Pearson Education.

Sink, Sank, Sunk

Howard P. Lyon and William J. Bennetta

In the 1999 version of Pearson Education's Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science, the section titled "Volume and Density" includes this photograph:

Beaker

The same photograph appears in Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Matter and Energy -- another 1999 book that Pearson Education is currently peddling to middle schools -- in a section titled "Density and Buoyancy."

In each of these Pearson books, the photograph is accompanied by labels that purport to identify the four liquids and the four solid materials in the beaker, and purport to tell the densities of all eight substances. Here are the labels displayed in Exploring Physical Science. The labels for the liquids appear to the left of the beaker, the labels for the solids appear to the right of the beaker, and each label comprises two lines of type:

Table 1

Now we quote the corresponding labels seen in Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Matter and Energy. In the Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley book, each label is a single line of type:

Table 2

The many contradictions between the two sets of labels are obvious: "Corn oil" becomes "Ethyl alcohol," "Water" becomes "Cooking oil," and so forth, and the densities don't agree. There is no reason to believe that any label in either book is right.


Howard P. Lyon, educated in music and in physics, is a professional violinist. Since 1994 he has analyzed various "science" textbooks published by Prentice Hall, and he has catalogued much of the erroneous material and pseudoscientific misinformation that those books contain. He also has investigated some of the claims that Prentice Hall has used in promoting the books to unwary educators. He lives and works in Erie, Pennsylvania.

William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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