from The Textbook Letter, May-June 1999

Reviewing a high-school book in biology

Biology: The Dynamics of Life
1998. 1,119 pages + appendices. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-02-825431-7.
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 936 Eastwind Drive, Westerville, Ohio 43081.
(Glencoe/McGraw-Hill is a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.)

The Return of the Menace

David L. Jameson

The 1995 version of Glencoe's Biology: The Dynamics of Life was a load of shallow, badly outdated material presented in a flashy format. The Glencoe writers repeatedly offered gee-whiz stuff instead of meaningful information, they seldom conveyed any understanding of anything, and they seldom tried to deal with contemporary biology. Moreover, they had little appreciation of biology as a coherent, integrative science. They repeatedly demonstrated this by contradicting themselves and by failing to recognize connections between related topics.

When I reviewed that 1995 book in The Textbook Letter, I said that it was a menace to science education. I observed that it might appeal to teachers who didn't know much about biology, but it wouldn't be acceptable to teachers who knew their subject.

[Editor's note: Two reviews of the 1995 version appeared in TTL, July-August 1996, with these headlines: "This Book Is a Menace" and "Turn It Off."]

Now the menace has returned. The 1998 version of The Dynamics of Life is a reincarnation of the 1995 version, with some minor, poorly done changes. Some old material has been recast in new words, some sentences have been restructured, and a few illustrations have been altered or replaced, but The Dynamics of Life is still shallow, gee-whizzy, incoherent and pervasively obsolete. It still won't be acceptable to teachers who know their subject, because it still fails to show an appreciation of contemporary biology or a comprehension of the processes of science.

Here is a case in point. On page 434, in chapter 18, a diagram of primate phylogeny has been replaced by a pie chart which represents "an evolutionary tree of life that shows three major groups: the eubacteria, the archaebacteria, and eukaryotes." But on pages 490 through 493, in chapter 20, we see that living things comprise six (not three) major groups, that these major groups are called kingdoms, that the Eubacteria and the Archaebacteria constitute two of the six kingdoms, and that there is no kingdom called "eukaryotes"! The contradictions are blatant, and Glencoe's writers make no effort to resolve them. The writers evidently decided that the pie chart would serve as a nice decoration for their 1998 book, even though they didn't understand it or grasp its significance.

Page 463 has a new cartoon, and the title of the section that begins on that page has been changed from "Human Origins" to "Human Ancestry" -- perhaps as a sop to creationists.

There are other changes, too, but they do not matter much. What matters is that the Glencoe writers still do not know what they are writing about, and they have not even tried to keep up with science news that has been readily available in the popular media. For example:

The Simpson criminal trial is another news item that seems to have escaped the Glencoe writers' attention. Read the boxed exercise on page 390. Here the student has to pretend that he is a juror in a criminal trial, and that the evidence includes diagrams of DNA fingerprints derived from five individuals. After directing the student to choose the individual whose DNA fingerprint most closely matches a fingerprint of DNA taken from the scene of the crime, the Glencoe writers ask, "Would you convict individual 3 of the crime?" -- as if jurors necessarily regard scientific evidence as conclusive. The Simpson criminal trial demonstrated, in a most memorable way, that this isn't so.

I have some other questions, too:

Why, in this day and age, does Glencoe's so-called biology book say nothing about birth control? Why does it ignore the HIV virus's devastation of many African populations and African economies? Why doesn't it tell about the magnificent developmental processes that are common to all animals? (Such processes have been beautifully elucidated by recent genetic studies. Have the Glencoe writers not heard of them?) And why, in this day and age, is a "biology" textbook's exposition of basic genetics limited to what was known in the 1920s?

The minor revisions seen in the 1998 version of The Dynamics of Life haven't come close to rectifying the 1995 versions's deficiencies, and I think that Glencoe should stop fooling around with this book. Glencoe should dump the whole thing and start over, using some writers who know something about the biology practiced by real, working scientists.

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.


Pointer return to top
Pointer go to Home Page
Pointer read the Index List, which shows all the textbooks, curriculum manuals,
     videos and other items that are considered on this Web site
Pointer contact William J. Bennetta by e-mail