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from The Textbook Letter, May-June 1996

Reviewing a middle-school book in life science

Merrill Life Science
1995. 745 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-827027-4.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(This company is a part of McGraw-Hill, Inc.)

The Puffins Don't Help;
the Book Is Still Trash

William J. Bennetta

The 1993 version of Glencoe's Merrill Life Science was the subject of two reviews -- one written by Ellen C. Weaver, the other by me -- that appeared in these pages more than three years ago. (See "This Ignorant, Shoddy Book Deserves Only to Be Junked" and "A Glitzy, Mindless Book That Glorifies Ignorance" in TTL, January-February 1993.)

The 1995 version is, for all practical purposes, the 1993 version with a new cover. The cover of the 1993 version had a picture of a lynx. The cover of the 1995 version has a picture of two puffins.

When I reviewed the 1993 book, I said that it was flashy trash and that its only evident function, as far as I could see, was to persuade fools to part with their money. I founded those judgments on a number of observations, all of which apply to the 1995 version too:

Does the 1995 book show any changes at all, other than its new cover? Yes, but to little avail. Most of the changes involve the decorative gewgaws in the page-margins. For example, new margin-notes headlined "Connect to . . ." and "In Your Journal" have been added, while most of the old "Did You Know?" and "EcoTip" notes have been removed. These trivial, cosmetic manipulations have done nothing to make the book any better.

The 1995 book's main text and most of its sidebars are virtually the same as they were before. More to the point: In checking some 30 passages that Ellen C. Weaver or I cited as erroneous, incomprehensible or absurd when we reviewed the 1993 version, I've found that most of them are unchanged. Where changes are perceptible, they are always small and typically stupid. Only two, in my judgment, qualify as corrections. The rest are worthless, because old displays of ignorance and confusion and evasion have simply been replaced by new displays of ignorance and confusion and evasion. (For example: Where the 1993 book made the absurd claim that all the energy "in the universe" resides in chemical bonds, the 1995 book says that all the energy "in matter" resides in chemical bonds. Wrong again! The section on "Types of Reproduction" has been altered, but to no effect: The writers still muddle mitosis and regeneration with asexual reproduction. And though there are some new phrases in the chapter on "Cold-Blooded Vertebrates," the chapter is still a travesty. See the analysis in TTL, November-December 1993.)

Science educators should continue to do their best to protect their students from Merrill Life Science.


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 frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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