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Thirteen dumbbells

Editor's Introduction -- Glencoe's Biology: An Everyday Experience is dated in 1992, but it is a leftover from the 1970s. It is oblivious to contemporary biology, it is loaded with religious myths, old wives' tales and other claptrap, and it even equates "scientific method" with a fake "experiment" that obviously cannot work. Despite all this, Glencoe has managed to dig up thirteen "reviewers" who evidently think that Biology: An Everyday Experience is just fine. The names and affiliations of these thirteen dumbbells appear at the end of our review.
from The Textbook Letter, September-October 1994

Reviewing a high-school book in biology

Biology: An Everyday Experience
1992. 744 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-675-02620-2.
Glencoe Division of Macmillan/McGraw-Hill School Publishing
Company, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081. (This
company is a division of McGraw-Hill, Inc.)

This "Biology" Book Is a Horror from the 1970s

William J. Bennetta

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.

Many persons have heard that trenchant phrase, but few of them know that it originated as the title of an article directed to science educators. The article was written by the renowned geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, and it ran in the March 1973 issue of The American Biology Teacher. In his text, Dobzhansky expanded his aphorism thus:

Seen in the light of evolution, biology is, perhaps, intellectually the most satisfying and inspiring science. Without that light it becomes a pile of sundry facts -- some of them interesting or curious but making no meaningful picture as a whole.

When Dobzhansky wrote his article, the practice of teaching biology as a pile of sundry facts was much in fashion, and most high-school biology texts reflected this. A typical book was a mess of nature stuff (some of it true, some false) leavened with religious myths, health tips, old wives' tales and anthropocentric fantasies, and it made no sense at all. It lacked any theme or any rational organization, and it relegated evolution -- the great, unifying principle of modern biology -- to a single late chapter. In the rest of the book, organisms had no ancestries, no shared histories, no histories at all. This, by itself, ensured that the book could not provide any meaningful picture of the living world.

To see what those horrors of the 1970s were like, you need only look at Glencoe's Biology: An Everyday Experience. This book shows 1992 as its copyright date, and it has some gewgaws that evidently are meant to make it look recent, but those pretensions do not avail. The book is clearly a leftover from an earlier decade: It is a mess of nature stuff (including lots of fake "facts") leavened with religious myths, health tips, old wives' tales and anthropocentric fantasies, and it makes no sense at all.

The teacher's edition opens with several pages of advertising, including Glencoe's claim that "All concepts [in this book] are presented with the most up-to-date information available." That claim is not merely false but laughable. If there is any significant link between Glencoe's product and today's biology, I haven't found it.

I've waded through a chapter that purports to introduce biology and "scientific method," but I've found only that the Glencoe writers equate scientific method with experimentation, and that the "experiment" which they describe is phony and obviously cannot work. I'll tell more about this later.

I've examined the weird chapter titled "Classification," but I've found only that Glencoe's writers don't understand classification and have failed to explain the relation between classification and evolution. In fact, they have failed to explain the relation between anything and evolution, and they evidently have no idea that all of modern biology is set in an evolutionary context. Evolution appears only in chapter 29. In the rest of the book, evolution is ignored.

I've looked through the unit that pretends to survey the living world, and I've found it to be full of superstition and religious tripe, including the categorization of animals as "simple" or "complex." [See "Follow the Bouncing Squid" on page 11 of this issue.] Glencoe is still peddling old, fake "facts" in an effort to preserve an old, fake hierarchy of organisms, so the writers say (for example) that all amphibians reproduce by laying eggs in water, and that "Only a few eggs are fertilized." Such nonsense should not be inflicted on any student, anywhere.

I've looked at the unit on "Body Systems -- Controlling Life," and I've found it to be anthropocentric drivel. It deals almost entirely with humans, and it evidently has been contrived to teach students that humans are the only animals that merit any real attention. This grotesque message (which is conveyed in other units too) is directly antagonistic to any understanding of biology per se or of important political issues involving species besides our own.

I've looked at the remainder of the book, and I've found misinformation, obscurity and bad presentation. Various illustrations are erroneous or meaningless, the text is generally ragged, and even the glossary shows errors proceeding from the writers' failure to recognize parts of speech. To make things worse, the writers sometimes invent bogus, pseudoscientific terms. For example, they call mollusks the "Soft-bodied Animals," as if that were the name of a taxonomic category recognized by biologists. I guess this is intended to make the book look simple -- Glencoe claims (in the teacher's edition) that "this text . . . aids students who need an introduction to major biological concepts in an easy-to-read form." I doubt, however, that soft-bodied animal is any easier to read than mollusk is, and I think that students who need material "in an easy-to-read form" are the students who will be least able to contend with the muddy, incoherent content of Biology: An Everyday Experience.

I regard this book as an anachronism and a fake, and I am perplexed to see that one of its opening pages shows a list of thirteen "reviewers" -- all of whom, apparently, have said that the book looks just fine to them. I've been wondering about these people ever since I reached page 16 and saw the phony experiment that Glencoe's writers use to exemplify "scientific method." It allegedly has to do with learning whether light affects reproduction in guppies, but the writers don't know anything about those animals. For at least three biological reasons, which should be apprehended by any knowledgeable and conscientious reviewer, the experiment is unworkable and absurd. But wait -- there is a fourth reason as well, and it is the most obvious of the lot: The illustration depicting Glencoe's experiment shows two glass aquariums in which two groups of guppies are supposedly being subjected to different light regimes, but the aquariums are standing next to each other, and light can pass freely between them! So much for all that silly talk about a "variable" and a "control"!

Is it possible that thirteen "reviewers" have looked at that so-called experiment but have not seen that it is ignorant humbug? If so, I must wonder what those "reviewers" do when they review. Here are the thirteen, as listed in the book: John A. Beach, Fairless High School, Navarre, Ohio. Tony Beasley, Davidson County School Board, Nashville, Tennessee. Brenda Carrillo, McCollum High School, San Antonio, Texas. Renee M. Carroll, Taylor County High School, Perry, Florida. Dixie Duncan, Williams Township School, Whiteville, North Carolina. Margorae Freimuth, Argenta-Oreanna High School, Argenta, Illinois. Raymond P. Gipson, Blue Ridge High School, Morgan Hill, California. Karen S. Hewitt, Coldspring High School, Coldspring, Texas. Marilyn B. Jacobs, Huffman Eastgate High School, Huffman, Texas. Rex J. Kartchner, St. David High School, St. David, Arizona. Barbara B. Kruse, Alamosa High School, Alamosa, Colorado. Lynn M. Smith, Waterville High School, Waterville, Maine. Ouida E. Thomas, B.F. Terry High School, Rosenberg, Texas.


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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