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from The Textbook Letter, November-December 1998

Reviewing a high-school book in biology

Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology:
The Web of Life

1998. 1,016 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-201-86954-3.
Addison Wesley Longman, 2725 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, California 94025.

Don't Buy This Shallow, Obsolete Book

David L. Jameson

Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology: The Web of Life is a traditional, encyclopedic high-school text. It's full of traditional, obsolete material, arranged in nine units: "The Basis of Life" (which deals with chemistry and cells), "Genetics," "Change and Diversity" (which addresses evolution and classification), "Monerans, Protists, and Fungi" (which includes a misplaced chapter about viruses), "Plants," "Invertebrate Animals," "Vertebrate Animals," "Human Biology" and "Organisms and the Environment."

In most cases, a unit is about 100 pages long. The fourth and eighth units are somewhat shorter than that. Apart from the sequence of its units, The Web of Life has no organizing principle or theme.

The creators of this book have taken pains to ensure that the reader will not be overwhelmed. The vocabulary is appropriate for an average high-school student, new words are defined as soon as they are introduced, the writing is simple and banal, and the content of the text is shallow -- so shallow that the writers have given themselves few opportunities to make blatant errors. About one-third of the pages have no narrative at all. To rescue the student from boredom (or maybe to keep him from noticing that he isn't getting much substantive information about biology), there are many entertaining events. These take the form of pretty pictures, cool boxes and sidebars, stories about people, items about personal health, etc., etc., etc. The Web of Life looks just fine -- and it weighs only 5.3 pounds, so the student could even carry it home occasionally.

In judging any schoolbook, we must ask whether the writers have presented their material competently: If a student were to use this book, would he be able to assimilate the material that the writers have chosen to present?

For The Web of Life, the answer is yes. I suspect that a reasonably bright student could read a chapter of this book and then pass a test, even if he hadn't been present when his instructor covered that chapter in the classroom. (He could pass the same test if he had read the appropriate articles in an encyclopedia, but he probably would describe both experiences as "bohhh-ring.")

Now we must ask two more questions: Is the material in this book meaningful and current? Is it the kind of material that a high-school student should be learning in a biology course today? For The Web of Life, the answers are no and no.

In the front of the book, on pages xiv and xv, the writers say that The Web of Life teaches "Big Ideas," and they tell the student to "Build a framework of biology by learning and connecting these Big Ideas." This introduces a list of the "Big Ideas," each of which will reappear, in a box, in the body of the book. There are 92 such "Big Ideas," but some of them aren't so big. Does anyone actually imagine that the big ideas of biology include things like "Ferns have vascular systems and reproduce by means of spores" or "Annelids are wormlike animals with a segmented body" or "A healthy immune system requires a healthy lifestyle"?

To make matters worse, these writers have missed the biggest ideas of all. They don't recognize that science is a process -- a process characterized by intellectual discipline, by controversy, by the continual honing of thought, and by the reconsideration of accepted facts and theories. They don't show the student how a pet theory or hypothesis can be destroyed by a single observation.

Instead, the writers are committed to following old, obsolete approaches and to repeating old, obsolete information. Why do they still present genetics in the same way that was common several decades ago? Why do they continue to present Mendel's work as the very model of a modern scientific inquiry, even though -- as Fisher and Wright amply demonstrated in the 1920s -- Mendel's experiments were seriously flawed? (What really makes Mendel's work exciting and important is that his interpretations have persisted and have been abundantly confirmed, although his procedures were imperfect.) And why do these writers continue to present a long-outdated account of dominance and recessiveness? Why do they fail to interpret those phenomena at a molecular level, in terms of the presence or absence of gene products?

Evolution, as presented in The Web of Life, is a process in which natural selection continually fine-tunes adaptations, but the important and exciting changes occur only when there are large, rapid modifications of the environment. This is insufficient for explaining what we actually observe in nature.

The "Mechanisms of Evolution" (pages 242 and 243) are said to be divergence and convergence and coevolution, along with adaptive radiation to fill empty habitats. To me, those seem to be some of evolution's consequences, not its mechanisms. Evolution's mechanisms include natural selection, mutation, the subdividing of populations, and the flow of genes between populations, as well as random events that alter the frequencies of alleles. In The Web of Life, these are buried in a section on the Hardy-Weinberg principle. During the past 40 years, extensive studies of non-Darwinian mechanisms of evolution have yielded some exciting and wonderful results, but students will not read about them in The Web of Life.

The treatment of classification in The Web of Life is jumbled, and it stresses the old, hierarchical, five-kingdom system. This ignores several decades' worth of research into the early diversification of life, and it also ignores what we have learned about exchanges of nucleic acids among the ancient organisms that gave rise to today's Archaea, Eubacteria and Eukaryota. There is a vague, half-hearted acknowledgment of cladistics -- but the writers never use the word cladistics, and they fail to show that cladistics has revolutionized our approach to classification. (Throughout the book, there are strange, quasi-cladistic phylogenetic diagrams in which various groups of organisms pass evolutionary "milestones." Each such "milestone" is the acquisition of a new character, such as radial symmetry, a coelom, a segmented body, or jointed appendages. That term "milestone" is inappropriate and misleading, because it implies that new characters appear regularly, at fixed intervals. If the writers didn't want to use the scientific term for a new character, synaptomorph, they should simply have used the phrase "new character.")

The "Classification of Organisms" section in the book's appendix is atrocious. It is out-of-date by at least twenty years.

Each unit in The Web of Life starts with a spread titled "Hit or Myth," which is a mess of meaningless factoids. These things belong on idiot-grade television shows. Their appearance in The Web of Life tells us much about how the writers of this book regard high-school students and teachers.

A dozen "Issues in Biology" sections -- with titles like "Science and society," "The Human Genome Project," "Ethical questions" and "Mass extinctions" -- are scattered here and there. They are consistent with the rest of the book: They present "issues" in the most general, unexciting terms, without discussing the complexities involved.

They promote confusion, too. In the "Ethical questions" section, for example, the writers say a little about genetic screening, and then they declare:

At this time many questions remain unanswered. Perhaps you will be one of the scientists who helps [sic] resolve these difficult ethical issues.

This teaches the student that "ethical issues" have correct scientific answers, to be discovered through scientific inquiries. But on the same page, in a "Lab Zone" box, the writers say:

The ethical questions raised by biotechnology have no "right" or "wrong" answers but are decided by society as a whole.

This second statement contradicts the first one, and most students will see immediately that the second statement is equivalent to saying: "Something is right if most people (or most voters) say so."

In the same "Lab Zone" box, the writers suggest that we can resolve any ethical question by merely taking a poll. They then direct the student to collect opinions about "three safety or ethical issues" from fifteen persons -- any fifteen "who will complete your survey." (The political scientist with whom I've been living for the past 50 years would point out that these writers have ignored everything that we know about how a poll must be designed and executed if it is to yield any meaningful results.)

A deeper objection to the "Lab Zone" exercise is that its premise is simplistic and wrong-headed to begin with. Ask a professional bioethicist, a religious philosopher or a constitutional lawyer whether the establishment of ethical standards is only a matter of conducting a plebiscite and declaring that whatever the voters like is good or "right."

Not all the "Lab Zone" exercises in The Web of Life are as bad as the one that I just cited. Overall, the "Lab Zone" activities constitute a mixed bag. "Dissecting a Chicken Wing" (on page 714) is a winner -- frozen chicken wings are cheap and are available in bulk, and each student will get a chance to dissect real tissue and to make meaningful observations. "Making a Model of Genetic Material" (page 157) is a loser: Pretending that a gene consists of many parallel strands of DNA, like the many filaments within a piece of yarn, is just plain wrong!

The Web of Life is loaded with trendy "bioSURF" notes that direct the student to specific sites on the Internet. It turns out that these "bioSURF" sites have been constructed by the book's publisher. They consist chiefly of links to pages sponsored by other organizations, and the linked pages are not always valuable: Often, items found on the Internet are biased, are lacking in scientific validity and support, or are too vague to be useful. Indeed, some are aimed at controlling and manipulating readers, rather than informing them.

If the publisher of a science text wants to recommend Internet resources, the recommendations must be limited to sites that are sponsored by scholarly organizations and that will be available, year after year, throughout the service-life of the book. The publisher should supply these recommendations to the teacher only, not to students. The teacher then can monitor the content and quality of the recommended sites, from time to time, and can direct students to the sites that are most appropriate to the course that the teacher is giving.

Equally important is the fact that many students don't have convenient access to the Internet, either at school or at home. The writers of The Web of Life have not taken this into account. Telling students to go to the Internet if they want up-to-date information is not a substitute for furnishing up-to-date information in the textbook that they are using. It is a disservice to the students, and it is one of the many reasons why I cannot recommend The Web of Life.

Beavis and Butt-Head Do Biology

William J. Bennetta

For many schoolbook companies, fraud is a routine activity, thievery is a daily practice, and the swindling of school districts is a normal way of doing business. Generally, therefore, the advent of another fake schoolbook doesn't seem to be a remarkable occurrence. Once in a while, however, a book appears which is so blatantly and pervasively phony that it achieves historical significance and merits special attention.

Addison Wesley Longman's book Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology: The Web of Life is such a product, and I hope that our major education libraries will buy and preserve copies of it. I hope that The Web of Life will be available indefinitely to historians because it illustrates, in exceptionally clear and compelling ways, various aspects of the corruption that has spread through American public education during the closing years of the 20th century. It thus deserves a place in our archives, I assert, alongside Glencoe Health, Glencoe's Biology: Living Systems, Prentice Hall's World Cultures: A Global Mosaic, McDougal Littell's America's Past and Promise, West's United States History: In the Course of Human Events, Silver Burdett Ginn's World Cultures, and other particularly flagrant fakes.

The Web of Life is not a biology book or a science book, by any stretch of the imagination. I think that it can best be regarded as a kind of valentine -- a gaudy, 5-pound valentine that AWL has composed for all the state officials who run crooked textbook-adoption proceedings, and for all the local textbook-evaluation committees who approve books without reading them. The Web of Life is a book by fakers and for fakers, and the fakery begins with the book's very name.

"The Web of Life"! That catchy subtitle looks as if it may actually mean something -- and we soon learn where it allegedly originated, because AWL's writers have put this epigraph on their book's title page: " 'We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.' -- CHIEF SEATTLE"

Yes, folks, he has returned again -- old Chief Seattle, the silver-tongued spokesman for the Eco-Freak Brigade of the Noble Savages. Readers who keep track of phony-Injun lore will recall that the Chief is famously associated with a splurge of mawkish rhetoric titled "Chief Seattle's Speech," though there is no evidence to suggest that he uttered any of it. In short, the speech is bogus. Fanciers of phony-Injun stuff will also know that the so-called speech doesn't contain the sentences that the AWL writers have used for their epigraph. The writers have taken two lines from the bogus speech and have doctored them to make them politically correct. In short, the writers have concocted a fake "quotation" from a speech that was phony to begin with, and their epigraph is fakery squared. [See "Fakery Squared" on pages 6 and 7 of this issue.]

After that, things just get worse. As we trudge through the sales-promotion junk at the front of the book, we find a two-page list titled "Big Ideas." This gimmick seems to suggest that The Web of Life reflects the national effort, begun a decade ago, to refine high-school biology and to produce a curriculum built around the major themes in biological thought. (The name "big ideas" was applied to such themes in the 1990 version of the State of California's Science Framework.) But the AWL writers clearly don't know what the major themes of biological thought may be. Their list comprises no fewer than 92 items, and it is ridiculous. According to AWL, the "Big Ideas" of biology include such claims as "Sponges and cnidarians provide food and protection for a large number of organisms," "The health of the nervous system can be affected by injury, disease and substance abuse" and "Protists can be classified into three groups -- protozoans, algae and molds." (Yes indeed! The Web of Life not only recycles the obsolete notion of a Kingdom Protista but also bills it as one of biology's "Big Ideas"!)

Hearsay and Plagiarism

The body of The Web of Life has some 940 pages, a notable paucity of content, and a spectacular load of gimmicks. The AWL writers have even invented gimmicks of a kind that I never have encountered before -- silly "reviews" of books, videos and films. I'll say more about them later.

When content does appear in The Web of Life, it seems to consist chiefly of two kinds of material. First, there is a lot of stuff that seems to be hearsay -- the writers evidently are trying to repeat things that they have overheard somewhere (at a bus stop, perhaps, or in a bar). Second, there is material that has been plagiarized from other schoolbooks, most notably from a lame specimen called Addison-Wesley Biology.

Here are some examples of the hearsay stuff:

Virgil Gets a Word-Processor

The plagiarism in The Web of Life is blatant, frequent, and frequently pathetic. Here are some examples:

Fake Labs

Some of the Web of Life writers' most impressive feats of plagiarism are reflected in their collection of "Lab Zone" items: 38 full-page "Investigate It!" diversions, along with sets of lesser items labeled "Do It!" or "Discover It!" or "Think About It!" They all are dressed up to look like laboratory exercises or "activities."

Many of the "Investigate It!" items are modified versions of things that appeared in Addison-Wesley Biology, and they are as bad now as they were before. In a typical case, a simple demonstration has been disguised to suggest that the student is investigating a "Hypothesis" -- but the "Hypothesis" is empty drivel and isn't a hypothesis at all, or the "Hypothesis" isn't tested by the prescribed procedure.

One of my favorites in this category is "Recycling Paper," in which the student has to "Propose a hypothesis about how paper is recycled." Why? If one wants to know how paper is recycled, one consults an encyclopedia of technology or one talks with an engineer at a paper-recycling plant. Asking an uninformed student to contrive a meaningless "hypothesis," instead of asking the student to gather legitimate information about the process in question, is just idiotic. (The rest of "Recycling Paper" involves a silly operation in which the student makes glop from water and newsprint. The student never learns how paper is recycled in the real world.)

Some other "Investigate It!" items are exercises in circular reasoning. In "Comparing Reptiles and Amphibians," the student must "Hypothesize which structures could be used for distinguishing between lizards and frogs." But to carry out the "investigative" procedure that follows, the student must already be able to distinguish a frog from a lizard by looking at them. The exercise is circular and meaningless. And of course, the title is bogus. Looking at one frog and one lizard is by no means equivalent to a definitive comparison of reptiles with amphibians. Recall that typical lizards have traits (such as tails and scales) which are absent from typical frogs but are present in some other amphibians.

Fakery prevails in many of the smaller activities, too. Take a look at "Calculating the Pumping Capacity of a Natural Sponge," on page 505. That title is impressive but it's phony, because the writers begin by telling the answer! They declare that the pumping capacity of a "typical natural sponge" is 23 liters a day -- and so much for that. Then the writers say: "How long would it take for this sponge to empty all the water in an aquarium holding 38 L of water?" Let me propose some better questions: 1. Imagine a sponge dwelling in an aquarium. Explain why the sponge can't pump water out of the aquarium. 2. If the sponge could pump water out of the aquarium, what would happen to the pumping rate as the water level in the aquarium declined? 3. Explain why the sponge could never empty all the water from the aquarium.

Now consider "Is Whale Blubber an Effective Insulator?" (page 658). I first saw this one in Glencoe's Biology: The Dynamics of Life, where it was titled "Is blubber a good insulator?" (See my review in TTL for July-August 1996.) Like Glencoe's version, AWL's version doesn't have anything to do with comparing the efficacy of insulators. It doesn't suggest what standard might be used for judging whether a given insulator is or isn't "Effective." And most importantly, it doesn't involve blubber in any way.

One more example: Please look at "How Quickly Do Populations Decrease?" (on page 248). Here too, the title is bogus. This activity is really an effort to make the student believe that he can "calculate how long it takes for a population to decline to the size that it will be affected by genetic drift" [note 9]. The so-called calculation is based upon the notion that any population, of anything, is immune to genetic drift if the population comprises 200 individuals, but drift will suddenly take effect if the number of individuals declines to 100. That is nonsense, and the AWL fakers don't even pretend to tell where they got the numbers 200 and 100. The idea that students may be subjected to such numerological woo-woo gives me the willies.

Gimmicks Galore

On page 547 a passage about arthropods bears the headline "From trilobites to insect bites." Isn't that neat? It rhymes! The Web of Life contains scores of cutesy headlines like that one -- headlines which have been contrived as rhymes or cheesy puns, even if this has required the projection of misinformation. "From trilobites to insect bites" is a case in point, for it implies that insects have evolved from trilobites. That is wrong. The trilobites went nowhere, in evolutionary terms. They contributed no descendants to today's living world, and they surely weren't the ancestors of insects.

The gimmicks keep coming: gee-whiz factoids, phony labs, cutesy headlines -- and, to top things off, fake "reviews." I must tell you about these, for they seem to represent a real innovation in gimmickry. I haven't seen anything like them before.

Please think back to your own days as a high-school student, when you and your classmates were required to write book reports. Do you recall that, from time to time, one or another of your friends pretended to write about some book after he had merely glanced through it for a few minutes? Well, I infer that some people are still doing such things -- in the service of Addison Wesley Longman. AWL refers to the resulting literary creations as "reviews" and has dumped nine of them into The Web of Life. Some deal with books, others with videos or films. All nine allegedly have been written by students.

On page 392, for example, AWL offers us a so-called review by "Nora Cannick." Here's Nora's trenchant analysis, in full:

The Hot Zone, written by Richard Preston, is a work of serious nonfiction. It tells the horrifying tale of people infected with two sister viruses, Ebola and Marburg, and of the doctors who treat them. The deadliest [sic] of the two viruses is Ebola. Ebola attacks every organ and tissue in the human body except skeletal muscle and bone. I enjoyed reading this book and finding out about two dangerous viruses that I didn't know much about.

And here's an AWL-style review that is ascribed to "Stacie Simmons":

The Double Helix, by Nobel Prize Winner James D. Watson, tells the story of scientists and their determination to discover the structure of DNA. The book describes a scientific team working together to decipher a mystery (with a little help from x-rayed molecules). Each scientist had his or her own job to do; each had a unique way of helping out. The unity of these scientists, and their often humorous relationships with each other, make this book a page-turner for students of all interests and backgrounds.
(Tell me, Stacie: Did you write that by yourself -- or did you have help from Nora Cannick?)

The rest of the "reviews" in The Web of Life are grade-F fakes like the two that I've quoted. What a spectacle! The writers and editors of this "biology" book found time for such shabby gimmicks, but they could not bother to learn (or to tell) about how an iron lung functioned, or what August Weismann did, or how sharks breathe, or what cougars are, or how biology is involved in the case of Kennewick Man.

Meet the Authors

If Addison Wesley Longman had any sense of humor, the alleged authors listed on the title page of The Web of Life would be Beavis and Butt-Head, the two feckless heroes of a popular cartoon show that runs on MTV.

Instead, AWL says that the authors of The Web of Life are Eric Strauss (identified as biology teacher at Boston College) and Marylin Lisowski (identified as a professor of science education at Eastern Illinois University). These two are real persons. I have made telephone calls to Boston College and to Eastern Illinois University, and I have learned that Strauss and Lisowski really exist. I don't know whether either of them had anything to do with the production of The Web of Life.

Eric Strauss's name is new to me, but I've seen Marylin Lisowski's name on other phony schoolbooks. For example, Lisowski was one of the five "authors" listed on the title page of Science Insights: Exploring Matter and Energy, a middle-school horror issued by Addison-Wesley. Exploring Matter and Energy was the work of writers who imagined that a newborn human is 0 cm long, that Earth rotates while its atmosphere stands still, that Earth is permeated by magical forces which can affect human fortunes, and that the ancient Greeks and Arabs spoke English [note 10].

Lisowski was also one of the "authors" shown on Addison-Wesley's Science Insights: Exploring Living Things. The writers of that book flatly rejected science while they glorified ignorance and superstition. They repeatedly urged students to decide "issues" without trying to learn the relevant facts, they endorsed the old superstition known as vitalism, and they plugged acupuncture -- a form of Oriental quackery -- by telling students that a human body has a magical, undetectable "balance of vital energy" [note 11].

This brings me to the last aspect of The Web of Life that I shall examine in this review: The AWL fakers have tried to promote the same brand of quackery. Their attempt appears on page 825:

Endorphins, the natural painkillers

How does acupuncture work? The needles, which are inserted into the skin at specific points, may stimulate nerves that send messages to the brain to release endorphins. Endorphins lessen the feeling of pain and, by acting on special receptors in brain neurons, give a sense of well-being. Although scientists do not know for certain how or if acupuncture works, many people do feel relief after treatments.

All the self-contradictions are obvious. The opening sentence says that acupuncture works. The last sentence announces that "scientists" don't know "for certain" whether acupuncture works. Then the last sentence creates additional confusion with the statement that people "feel relief after treatments," which any ordinary reader will take to be another statement that acupuncture works.

In reality, there is no evidence that acupuncture produces any physiological effect on pain or on anything else. There is no evidence that acupuncture -- if it affects a person at all -- does anything more than to act as a placebo. Sure, people have reported relief of pain after they got acupuncture treatments, but this is meaningless. People also have reported relief of pain, during scientific studies, when they underwent sham acupuncture. They were led to believe, falsely, that they were receiving acupuncture, and they then experienced a placebo effect.

Though the AWL writers have generated confusion by inserting a disclaimer (i.e., the statement that scientists don't know "for certain" whether acupuncture works), we can see that the purpose of their write-up is to boost acu-quackery. We also see that their material has been derived, directly or indirectly, from some quackish promotional literature -- not from scientific reports. The signs are unmistakable and conclusive. First, the write-up furthers the false but palatable notion that acupuncture needles merely penetrate the skin [note 12]. Second, the write-up makes no reference to placebo effects. And third, the write-up reproduces some familiar, misleading stuff about endorphins.

Acu-quacks have been publicizing that endorphin stuff for years. Hoping to impart a "scientific" aura to their enterprise, they use half-truths and distortions to create the impression that there is a specific, unique link between acupuncture and the release of endorphins. That impression is false. To learn more about this matter, please read my review of the 1993 version of Glencoe Health, another schoolbook that has promoted acu-quackery. The review ran in TTL for March-April 1995.

The Web of Life has been adopted by the Texas State Board of Education as a high-school biology book. This is not surprising, given that the Texas Board has a history of running ludicrous adoptions and of inflicting trashy books on Texas students. Someday, maybe, the citizens of Texas will put an end to such antics and will demand that the Board conduct legitimate textbook-adoption proceedings. Someday, maybe, Texans will insist that their high-school students must have legitimate biology books -- books that can withstand scrutiny and evaluation by knowledgeable persons. But for now, it appears, Texas students are supposed to settle for falsity and fraud and the fake wisdom of Chief Seattle.

Notes

  1. The shoulders-of-giants metaphor wasn't originated by Newton. It was coined by an ancient Roman writer, Didacus Stella. It apparently gained some popularity in 17th-century England after Robert Burton, in a book titled The Anatomy of Melancholy, quoted Didacus Stella thus: "Pigmei Gigantum humeris impositi plusquam ipsi Gigantes vident" -- "Pigmies placed upon the shoulders of giants see more than the giants themselves." To learn more about this history, see Robert K. Merton's book On the Shoulders of Giants, issued in 1965 by The Free Press (New York City). [return to text]

  2. The organism was the bacterium Escherichia coli. The research was led by David Goeddel, of Genentech, Inc. (South San Francisco, California). Goeddel and his colleagues cloned the gene for human growth hormone (hGH) in 1979, transferred the gene to a strain of E. coli, and eventually learned how to use the altered E. coli in a practical fermentation process that yielded hGH in commercial quantities. Genentech introduced this hGH into medical commerce in 1985. [return to text]

  3. In North America -- from Canada down to Panama -- there are fifteen recognized subspecies of Felis concolor. The Florida form is known to science as Felis concolor coryi, the Texas form as Felis concolor stanleyana. [return to text]

  4. The case revolved around a novel recombinant bacterium fashioned in 1972 by Ananda Chakrabarty, a microbiologist who then was working for the General Electric Company (Schenectady, New York). When Chakrabarty applied for a patent on his bacterium, the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) demurred. The PTO said that its only statutory power to issue patents on organisms lay in the Plant Patent Act, and that plants, therefore, were the only organisms that could be patented. The PTO further asserted that ordinary patent law did not apply to living things. Chakrabarty then sued the PTO in the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, and he prevailed. The PTO then took the case to the Supreme Court, where Chakrabarty won again. In June 1980 the Supreme Court ruled that ordinary patent law applied to anything that was novel, useful and man-made -- regardless of whether it was alive or not, and regardless of whether it had been created through genetic engineering or in some other way. The patent which Chakrabarty had sought was issued in March 1981. [return to text]

  5. What the writers are pretending to describe is the case of Kennewick Man, a skeleton that was found in the shallows of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington, in July 1996. The skeleton was examined by three physical anthropologists, soon after it was discovered, and one of the skeleton's metacarpals was subjected to radiocarbon dating. The anthropologists saw that Kennewick Man was Caucasoid, and the radiocarbon analysis showed that he was between 9,300 and 9,600 years old. Kennewick Man thus became part of a growing body of evidence which suggests that the first humans to enter the New World may not have been north-Asian Mongoloids who walked across Beringia. They may have been Caucasoids from Europe or southern Asia. None of this is palatable to the Umatilla Indians, who have led an effort to stop further scientific studies of Kennewick Man. The Indians have claimed ownership of the skeleton, citing a federal law which prescribes that Indian remains found on federal lands must be "repatriated" to the appropriate Indian tribe. There is no connection, however, between Kennewick Man and the Umatillas, and no evident reason to think that Kennewick Man was an Indian at all. The Umatillas say that they want to acquire the skeleton so that they can bury it properly, but their major objective is to suppress any scientific work whose results would gainsay Indian creation myths or other Indian folklore. At this writing, the case remains unresolved. (Early reports about the Umatillas' actions include "Tribe Stops Study of Bones That Challenges Its History [sic]," by Timothy Egan, in The New York Times for 30 September 1996, and "Indian Tribes' Creationists Thwart Archaeologists," by George Johnson, in The New York Times for 22 October 1996. For a broader account of the case, see Douglas Preston's "The Lost Man" in The New Yorker for 16 June 1997.) [return to text]

  6. See, for example: "Heat Conservation in Tuna Fish Muscle," by Francis G. Carey and John M. Teal, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for November 1966, or "Fishes with Warm Bodies," by Francis G. Carey, in Scientific American for February 1973. [return to text]

  7. The material about fishes in The Web of Life spans eleven pages and is full of vague claims, misleading pseudoinformation, and flights of inanity. It's one of the worst displays of fake fish stuff that I have seen in a high-school book. [return to text]

  8. A review of the 1994 version of Addison-Wesley Biology appeared in TTL for November-December 1994, and a review of the 1996 version ran in TTL for May-June 1998. See also "Addison-Wesley's Achievement" in TTL for January-February 1997 (page 12) and "Fonius Balonius" in TTL for September-October 1997 (page 12). [return to text]

  9. Ignore the syntax. Trying to sort out the errors of grammar and syntax in The Web of Life might be amusing, but I don't have space for it here. [return to text]

  10. Please see "Phony 'Science' and Nonsensical Numbers in a Brainless Book" in TTL for November-December 1995; "Unilingual Education" in TTL for May-June 1996 (page 11); "Now Addison-Wesley's Shame Is Doubled" in TTL for September-October 1996; and "Addison-Wesley Tries Again to Dignify Oriental Magic" in TTL for May-June 1997. [return to text]

  11. See "Addison-Wesley Extends the Quack Attack" in TTL for May-June 1995; "A Trite, Poisonous Book That Glorifies Ignorance" in TTL for September-October 1995; and "Ugly Once, Ugly Again" in TTL for January-February 1996. [return to text]

  12. Let me quote here from the essay "Acupuncture: Nonsense with Needles," by Arthur Taub: "Acupuncture needles are not only inserted into the skin. Needles, up to one foot in length (!), may be inserted deep into the body; serious harm may result when they penetrate vital structures. In one case of back pain and burning around the mouth and vagina, needles [were pushed into the patient's] chest. The lung was penetrated and collapsed, filling the chest cavity with almost a pint of blood. The patient required two weeks of hospitalization which was complicated by pneumonia." (Taub's essay appears as a chapter in The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America, issued in 1993 by Prometheus Books.) [return to text]


David L. Jameson is a senior research fellow of the Osher Laboratory of Molecular Systematics at the California Academy of Sciences. He has written books about evolutionary genetics and the genetics of speciation, and he is a coauthor of a college-level general-biology text.

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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