Reviewing a high-school book in biology
1996. 952 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-201-86439-8.
The Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.,
2725 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, California 94025.
This Lame "Second Edition"
Shows Few Changes
William J. Bennetta
Please don't be misled. Although the 1996 version of
Addison-Wesley Biology has the label "Second Edition" on its cover and on
its spine, it is essentially a reprint of the 1994 version.
Addison-Wesley Biology is still a lame and unacceptable book, and
its content is still dominated by fakery.
Its pages are still misnumbered, too, and I think that this
merits some comment. In the United States a well established
convention dictates that any book's main text should begin on a
right-hand page, which should be odd-numbered. That
prescription, though, is quite incompatible with a notion that
has captivated many of the people who design schoolbooks -- the
notion that every major part of a book must begin with a glitzy
spread. Hence we see more and more schoolbooks in which even the
numbering of the pages is bogus. In some of these books, the
first unit starts on a spread consisting of pages "2" and "3" --
and there is no page 1 at all. In other books, such as
Addison-Wesley Biology, the opening unit starts on a spread comprising an
unnumbered left-hand page and a right-hand page "1" that actually
is page 2. Schoolbook-designers presumably think that these
stunts will dazzle the rubes and bumpkins.
When I reviewed the 1994 version of Addison-Wesley Biology, I
began by describing one of its displays of buffoonery: The
Addison-Wesley writers had tried to concoct a "Critical
Thinking" exercise involving the slogan "Ontogeny recapitulates
phylogeny," but they had got the slogan backwards! In the 1996
book, the slogan has been corrected, but the exercise is
otherwise unchanged -- "There is a saying, 'Ontogeny
recapitulates phylogeny.' Look up each of the words in the
dictionary. Restate the saying in your own words. Explain how
this saying relates to evolution."
I can do better than that. I suggest this alternative:
The old slogan "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" summarized an
idea put forth in 1866 by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel.
Haeckel claimed that he had discovered an important "law" of
biology, but he was wrong -- and his "law" fell as scientists
learned more about genetics. Go to a library and read about the
rise and fall of Haeckel's "law." Then try to learn why the
writers of junky schoolbooks are still using the "law" in bogus
Another item that I cited in my review of the 1994 book was a
loopy article called "Native American Agriculture," which was a
heap of false or misleading claims about Amerindians. (See
"Chief Thunderbottom, the Panderer's Friend" in TTL,
November-December 1994, page 6.) The 1996 book has, instead, a piece
called "The Columbian Exchange." The new article is less
bizarre, in terms of content -- but like the old article, it is
out of place and pointless. It seems merely to be another
attempt to exploit the recent fad which calls for larding
textbooks with irrelevant stories about Indians.
Some of the most egregious passages that appeared in the 1994
book are still in place, either unchanged or with alterations
that have achieved nothing. For example:
On the other hand, I have found some small changes that qualify
as genuine improvements. For example: Even though the writers
still can't explain how an ice-minus bacterium "helps some plants
resist frost damage" (page 196), they no longer are asserting
that the bacterium keeps the plants warm. And though they
haven't yet learned what doves or pigeons are (page 606), they at
least have stopped saying that "Doves and pigeons are two closely
- Page 5: The definition of species is still confused and
- Chapter 2, "Methods and Tools of Biology," is still perverse
and is still focused on laboratory experimentation, not even
hinting at how diverse the modes of scientific inquiry are -- and
although the section on "The Nature of Science" shows a minor
change, it's just as dumb as it was before. In the 1994 book,
as I noted in my review, the writers said that a hypothesis was
just any "possible explanation for an event or set of
observations," and they evidently didn't know that a hypothesis
must be testable by recourse to evidence. I suspect that they
saw my review, for they now have added one sentence to say that
"a scientific hypothesis can always be tested by examining the
evidence" -- but there is nothing to explain what "tested" means
or what "evidence" may be. These are crucial matters, since
young students often harbor the false idea that mere assertions
or stories (especially stories that have been told widely and
that "everybody knows" to be true) constitute evidence. Any
introduction to the nature of science must include an exposition
of what qualifies and what doesn't qualify as evidence, yet there
is no such exposition in this book.
- Page 190: The writers are still trying to convince students
that there is some special particular connection between
outbreeding projects and the escape of captive organisms into the
wild. That is rubbish.
- Page 200 retains a phony, sensationalistic passage about
eugenics. The passage is obviously based on political
propaganda, and even the definition of eugenics is bogus.
- Page 223 still has a fake story about the experiments of
Redi -- a story which some schoolbook-company hack invented years
ago, and which other hacks have been copying ever since. (Maybe
you have seen it: It's the one in which, allegedly, no maggots
appeared when meat was protected from flies by a mesh. But
Redi's own report tells that maggots did indeed appear -- on the
mesh. Here was a signal finding: Although meat couldn't
generate maggots unless the meat was exposed to flies, flies
could generate maggots without having any access to meat.) I
see, however, that Addison-Wesley's writers have lent a new
twist to the fake story by giving Redi's first name as
"Francisco" instead of Francesco.
- Page 241: Yes, it's still here -- the same load of religious
double-talk that appeared in the 1994 version. See
"Addison-Wesley's Achievement" in TTL, January-February 1997, page 12.
- Pages 243 and 244: The book continues to present a hearsay
account of Lamarck, including the notion that Lamarck's ideas
about evolution were somehow "disproven" by August Weismann's
surgery on mice. The account is bogus. Please see "The
Imaginary Lamarck: A Look at Bogus 'History' in Schoolbooks" in
TTL, September-October 1994.
- Page 249 still presents an article called "Punctuated
Equilibrium: The Great Debate." The subject of the debate,
evidently, is how to spell Niles Eldredge's name. By misspelling
Eldredge three times, Addison-Wesley's debaters convincingly make
their point -- They haven't seen Eldredge's publications, and
their "Punctuated Equilibrium" article is guesswork.
- Pages 277 and 278: The 1996 book, like the 1994, asserts that
Carl von Linné called himself Carolus Linnaeus because his work
with biological nomenclature had made him enthusiastic about
coining Latinate names. That is baloney. See "Fonius Balonius"
in TTL, September-October 1997, page 12. (The 1996 book recycles
another of the writers' "historical" fictions, too. Page 223
still displays an illustration of an old, torn page bearing a
message that purportedly was written by the Roman poet Virgil --
- The obsolete phylogenetic diagram on pages 286 and 287 hasn't
been changed. It still contradicts the diagram on page 555.
The 1996 book, like its precursor, has 48 full-page "Laboratory
Activities" -- and despite some changes here and there, these
still constitute a repetitive exercise in fakery. A typical
"Activity" is just a simple demonstration that has been disguised
to suggest that the student is investigating a "Hypothesis." In
each of 35 cases, by my count, the disguise fails miserably: The
"Hypothesis" is empty drivel and isn't a hypothesis at all, or
the "Hypothesis" isn't tested by the prescribed procedure. As I
said in my review of the 1994 book, the "Activities" in
Addison-Wesley Biology seem goofy at best, and often pernicious. No
student should be subjected to them.
I conclude by noting the modifications to which Addison-Wesley's
writers and editors apparently accorded most of their attention
during the preparation of this "Second Edition." In the
page-margins, all of the items marked "Model The Concept" have gained
an additional label: "Activity." And some page-margins have new
little items marked "BioJournal," which describe things that
students can do to waste time. The label "BioJournal" has been
printed in two colors. All the rubes, presumably, will swoon
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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