This article appeared in the
in The Textbook Letter, March-April 1997.
In some cases, it has been possible to believe that the writers were just ignorant and were parroting pseudoscientific hokum taken from a television show or a supermarket tabloid. In other cases, however, it seemed clear that the writers were dealing in deliberate deceit. Do you recall how the writers of Addison-Wesley's Exploring Living Things endorsed acupuncture but refused to define or describe it? They refused to tell what they were writing about. Do you recall how the writers of Holt Health used the same dodge in plugging acupuncture, garlic magic, and ginseng quackery? Do you remember how the writers of Glencoe Health promoted homeopathy? They hid the fact that homeopathy is a form of water magic, they refused to tell what homeopaths do, and they tried to dignify "homeopathic medicines" by equating them with vaccines!
These latter cases, and others like them, evidently represent deliberate attacks on rationality -- calculated efforts to foster superstition, to discourage analytical thinking, and to breed credulity in students and teachers alike. I don't know of any reason to expect that schoolbook-writers will abandon such efforts, but I do have some good news. The Quackwatch site on the World Wide Web -- http://www.quackwatch.com -- now provides a wealth of information which will help educators to identify quackery, to detect attempts at promoting quackery in schoolbooks, and to answer students' questions about the claims made by quacks of many sorts.
The Quackwatch site is operated by Stephen Barrett, a retired physician who has studied quackery for years, has investigated and reported on many health-care scams, and has served as a director of the National Council Against Health Fraud. The centerpiece of his site is a series of pages, gathered under the heading "Questionable Products and Services," that deal with specific enterprises and rip-offs -- e.g., acupuncture, algae pills, aromatherapy, "Chinese medicine," chiropractic, "holistic dentistry," "ergogenic aids," iridology, and chemical-sensitivity swindles (to name only a few). The page titled "Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake" is a special treat.
Other parts of Quackwatch are devoted to consumer-protection information and analyses of misleading advertisements, and there is even a section that gives warnings about "Nonrecommended Sources of Advice." (A note in this section says that Barrett is preparing a page about the notorious Rodale Press. Rodale's publications include Prevention, a magazine that promotes quacky "discoveries" and health fads.)
Visitors to the Quackwatch site can submit questions, and receive Barrett's answers, by e-mail. This makes Quackwatch all the more valuable to science teachers, health teachers, and all the other educators who have to protect students from the quack attack.
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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