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from The Textbook Letter, July-August 1998

Reviewing a high-school book in biology

Fearon's Biology
1994. 342 pages. ISBN: 0-8224-6890-5. Globe Fearon Educational Publisher,
1 Lake Street, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458. (Globe Fearon is a division
of Simon & Schuster, which is a part of the entertainment company Viacom Inc.)

The Tiny Green Specks
and the Two-Time Loser

William J. Bennetta

Fearon's Biology is a sorry, slapdash collection of hearsay, guesses and mystical drivel, all rendered in baby-talk and accompanied by illustrations that are crude and often absurd. This book is patently unfit for use in a high school or anywhere else, and anyone who is familiar with science will quickly discard Fearon's Biology as a fraud.

Even so, I have devoted a substantial amount of time to this book, for I undertook to find and interview the person who wrote it. Here is my report.

On page 4 of Fearon's Biology, I learned that the first life on Earth consisted of "tiny green specks." That's right -- the book said that the first living material was green!

On page 6, I found out what "theories" are. They are ideas which "have not been proven with experiments."

On pages 16 and 17, I learned that all organisms have some important things in common. For example, all organisms "can move on their own" and all organisms "give birth to offspring."

On page 27, at the opening of a chapter titled "The Biology Lab," I learned that there was a famous book about a young biologist named Frankenstein: "Frankenstein pieced together the parts of dead bodies. Finally, he brought a creature to life. But Frankenstein's creation was an eight-foot monster. Eventually the monster destroyed the biologist." Ah, yes -- science in action!

On page 29, I learned about theories again. I found out that a theory is "Anything that cannot be measured," and I got a taste of what this meant:

Take, for example, the question, "How many stars are there in the Milky Way?" Scientists can make smart guesses. But they do not have a way to make an exact count. Some time in the future, however, a scientist may come up with a way to make an exact measurement. Then the scientist will be able to prove the theory with experiments.

It was hard for me to continue reading, since my thoughts kept drifting -- toward Texas. I knew that, in November 1997, the State Board of Education in Texas had adopted Fearon's Biology as a high-school biology book. Now I found myself wondering whether I should contact Texas's attorney general and bring this matter to his attention. On its face, the adoption of Fearon's Biology was potent evidence of corruption, and I thought that the AG might want to investigate.

But instead of telephoning the AG, I forced myself to finish examining the book. I learned that "Salamanders, as amphibians, must lay their eggs in water." I discovered that "the nose controls the sense of smell." I read a little passage about Lamarck -- a passage so silly that it might have originated as hearsay from a clown. I struggled with subliterate locutions, such as the revelation that "Many [mammals] teach their young how to hunt, clean, and protect themselves." And I slogged my way through daffy, mystical rubbish as I read that we primates are "the most highly developed group of mammals" and "Humans are the most highly developed primates."

The workbook that came with Fearon's Biology offered more of the same relentlessly dumb material. It even had an item about the "tiny green specks," and it gave assurance that "Human beings are the most evolved animals on Earth."

I laid the book and the workbook aside, and I tried to begin writing my review, but my thoughts drifted again. Who, I wondered, had written that Globe Fearon trash? Did anyone really imagine that theory means "Anything that cannot be measured"? Maybe not. Maybe the book was a part of hoax aimed at exposing the stupidity and corruption that are so common in textbook-adoption proceedings.

I retrieved the book and looked at the title page. It said that the author of Fearon's Biology was "Lucy Jane Bledsoe," but it did not identify that person, in any way, or suggest where she might be found. I turned to the copyright page, but Bledsoe wasn't identified there either. In fact, the copyright page didn't show her name at all. It did, though, list and describe two other persons who allegedly had taken part in the production of Fearon's Biology. These were Stephen C. Larsen (who was said to be a speech pathologist) and Jack Coakley (identified as a high-school teacher).

A Circuitous Search

Did Lucy Jane Bledsoe really exist? If so, who was she? And why had Globe Fearon failed to identify her? Was Fearon's Biology really her creation? If so, where had she got that "tiny green specks" twaddle? This time I couldn't resist grabbing my telephone.

I started my search for Bledsoe -- on 7 August -- by calling Globe Fearon's headquarters. Two persons there informed me that the editorial employee who was most likely to know about Fearon's Biology was Stephanie Cahill. When I reached Cahill by telephone, on 10 August, I identified myself, told Cahill that I was working on a review of Fearon's Biology, told her that I wanted to talk with Lucy Jane Bledsoe about the book's content, and asked her to furnish me with Bledsoe's phone number or e-mail address. Cahill said that she would call me back.

I heard nothing more from Cahill, and she did not reply to messages that I left for her later in that week. But on 21 August, I got a call from Kate Fisher, who represented the Corporate Communications Department of Globe Fearon's parent company, Simon & Schuster. Fisher asked me what I wanted, so I gave her the same information that I had given to Cahill, and I again asked for Bledsoe's phone number or e-mail address.

Fisher refused my request. If I had questions for Bledsoe, this functionary said, I would have to send them through a Corporate Communications intermediary, because "no direct contact" between me and Bledsoe would be allowed.

Fisher's pretense was amusing but not effective. If she truly thought that she could cow me, and that I wouldn't pursue "direct contact" without her permission, she was wrong. I decided to try to find Bledsoe by using the Internet.

This turned out to be much easier than I'd thought it would be. Within a few minutes, I learned not only that Bledsoe lives in Berkeley, California, but also that she enjoys some genuine fame.

Lucy Jane Bledsoe is an accomplished professional writer, and much of her recent work has revolved around lesbians and lesbianism. Her published books include The Big Bike Race and Tracks in the Snow and Working Parts, the last of which took one of the American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Book Awards for 1997. Bledsoe's stories have appeared in several anthologies (e.g., Afterglow: More Stories of Lesbian Desire and Queer View Mirror: Lesbian and Gay Short Fiction), and she herself has edited the collections Heat Wave: Women in Love and Lust and Gay Travels: A Literary Companion.

Earlier in her career, Bledsoe generated several books that purportedly dealt with science. One of these was Fearon's Biology, the first version of which was issued in 1989. I have seen only the current version, dated in 1994 -- the version that has been adopted in Texas.

I contacted Bledsoe, on 31 August, to ask about some of the items in the 1994 version, but I didn't learn much. Although she acknowledged that she had written the book in question, most of her other statements were evasive and silly. When I asked where she had got her impressions about the meaning of theory, her only answer was that "everything" in Fearon's Biology had previously appeared in at least two other "sources." When I asked her where she had learned about Lamarck, she gave the same answer. In fact, she gave that same answer to almost every question that I posed. She evidently wanted me to believe that if something has been written down twice, it has to be correct and reliable information -- or she at least wanted me to believe that this is what she believed. As I listened to her, the phrase two-time loser crossed my mind several times, but I was not convinced that Bledsoe was as dumb as she evidently wanted to seem.

In only two cases did Bledsoe depart from her two-time-loser routine. When I inquired about her claim that we humans are the "most evolved animals," she informed me that "Most scientists consider human beings to be the most complicated organism on Earth." But then, when I asked her to identify some of those scientists and to explain the technique for judging how "complicated" each organism is, she did not have anything to tell. She did, however, have an answer to my query about the tiny green specks: "I don't think I wrote that," she said.

Well, somebody wrote it -- along with all the rest of the junk in Fearon's Biology. And now, apparently, that junk is being fed to hapless students in Texas, while money from the Texas treasury flows northward to the coffers of Globe Fearon. Perhaps I should call the AG after all.


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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