This article was published in the "Editor's File" in
The Textbook Letter, November-December 1999.


William J. Bennetta

Well, look who's here: It's Madame Curie, all painted up in glorious, phony colors.

This picture -- a colorized fake, made from a black-and-white photo that was taken about 100 years ago -- appears in Chemical Building Blocks, one of the fifteen books in the Prentice Hall Science Explorer series published by the Prentice Hall division of Pearson Education. Pearson Education sells the Science Explorer series for use in middle schools.

Why has Prentice Hall printed this gewgaw, instead of using a faithful reproduction of the original photo? Apparently because the Science Explorer books have been developed for sale to teachers who like colorful pictures and who don't care about much else. This isn't surprising: Prentice Hall routinely preys on the dumbest educators in the land, and Prentice Hall's illustrators need not fear that such customers will care about history or about the integrity of historical records. Indeed, the illustrators need not fear that such customers will even recognize that the picture in Chemical Building Blocks is a fake.

Why is the painted lady all alone? She has to be all alone so that the picture will reinforce the fake "history" that Prentice Hall delivers in the adjacent caption. The caption is a gross distortion of history and an obvious attempt to pander to radical-feminist cranks. It has been contrived to project the false impression that Madame Curie discovered polonium and radium all by herself.

Here's the truth: The identification of the radioactive elements radium and polonium arose from research conducted by three scientists who worked in France and whose achievements are inseparable -- Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852-1908), Pierre Curie (1859-1906) and Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934). The Curies were husband and wife.

Becquerel discovered natural radioactivity, and in two reports that he presented to the French Academy of Science in 1896, he described the radioactivity exhibited by certain salts of uranium. Then the two Curies, working together and elaborating on Becquerel's findings, identified radium and polonium in 1898.

Becquerel and both Curies were honored for these discoveries when they shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903. The Nobel Foundation cited Becquerel for "the extraordinary services that he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity" and the Curies for "the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel."

So much for the fiction that Marie Curie was a lone genius who found new elements single-handedly.

Prentice Hall isn't the only schoolbook company that panders to rad-fem types by dispensing fake material about Madame Curie. Please look at the illustration below, which reproduces a part of page 290 in the first book of Holt, Rinehart and Winston's tawdry SciencePlus series. Holt displays a picture of Madame Curie standing alone, and the adjacent blurb says: "In 1903, Marie Curie and her husband received the Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of radioactivity. Marie Curie became the first person to win two Nobel Prizes when she received a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1911 for discovering radium and polonium."

Holt's entire item is an exercise in deceit, and the blurb is an outrage. Holt refuses to acknowledge Becquerel, falsely ascribes Becquerel's discovery of radioactivity to "Marie Curie and her husband," and dismisses "her husband" without even telling his name. Then Holt misrepresents the Nobel Prize that Marie Curie received in 1911, falsely accords the credit for "discovering radium and polonium" to Marie Curie alone, and refuses to consider why "her husband" didn't share in the 1911 prize. (He had died in 1906. Nobel Prizes are awarded only to living individuals.)

Though Holt has reduced Pierre Curie to a nameless nobody, he was in fact a first-rate scientist and a renowned member of the faculty of the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Paris. He performed seminal investigations into the electrical and magnetic properties of crystals, and he enjoyed an international reputation even before he turned his attention to radioactivity and joined Marie Curie in carrying out research, which she had initiated, into the physics and chemistry of radioactive materials. Pierre Curie's work on magnetism is commemorated today in the terms Curie's law and Curie point. (Curie's law states a relationship between magnetism and temperature. The Curie point is the temperature at which a ferromagnetic material loses its ferromagnetism and becomes paramagnetic.)

Holt has concealed all of that, of course. But to appreciate how far Holt has gone in its effort to trick teachers and students, you have to know about the origin of Holt's picture that shows Marie Curie as a lone wonder-woman. A Holt illustrator made that picture by mutilating a famous photograph, taken in 1896, which shows the two Curies in their laboratory at Paris. Snip, snip, snip -- Holt's illustrator made Pierre Curie vanish. History and truth vanished too, so that the sex fantasies of cranks and quota-queens could be affirmed. Here is what the 1896 photograph showed before Holt's snip-snip artist got his hands on it:


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.

The photograph of the two Curies in their laboratory was supplied to The Textbook League by
the Emilio Segrè Visual Archives of the American Institute of Physics (College Park, Maryland).


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