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from The Textbook Letter, November-December 1999

Reviewing a middle-school book in life science

Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights:
Exploring Living Things

1999. 654 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-201-33281-7.
Pearson Education, 1 Lake Street, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458. (Pearson Education
is a part of Pearson PLC, a British corporation headquartered in London.)

The Title Is New, the Book Is a Lot of Old Trash

William J. Bennetta

In the mid-1990s, the Addison-Wesley Publishing Company -- which was a subsidiary of the British corporation Pearson PLC -- undertook to attack science education by introducing some schoolbooks that mocked science, conflated science with superstition, and endorsed magic. Hence, for example, Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Matter and Energy endorsed Oriental geomancy (a species of magic whose practitioners claim that Earth is pervaded by mystical emanations which affect human fortunes), and Addison- Wesley Environmental Science promoted numerology (a body of nonsense based on the notion that occult wisdom can be divined from numerical coincidences). The writers of Addison-Wesley Environmental Science used numerology and a fake diagram to conflate an Amerindian superstition with scientific findings made by geologists [see note 1, below].

Addison-Wesley's strongest attack was mounted in Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things, a middle-school text that the company introduced in 1994. The writers of Addison- Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things renounced science, renounced scientific findings about organisms, endorsed the antiquated superstition called vitalism, and endorsed acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of magical, vitalistic quackery that originated in the Far East. It has been very heavily promoted, since the mid-1970s, by quacks and "health-care" swindlers in the United States and other Western countries [note 2].

Otherwise, Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things was a conventional life-science book. It "covered" a huge array of topics by reducing them to meaningless mush, it dispensed old, plagiarized falsehoods and wild guesses as information, it repeatedly glorified ignorance by urging students to declare opinions without knowing anything, and it repeatedly contradicted itself. When Ellen C. Weaver reviewed Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things for The Textbook Letter, she described some of its inconsistencies and its self-contradictions, and she inferred that no one at Addison-Wesley had read the entire book before it was printed [note 3].

The second version of Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things was dated in 1996, though by 1996 the Addison-Wesley Publishing Company had disappeared: Pearson PLC had melded Addison-Wesley with another Pearson outfit, Longman Publishers, to form a single company called Addison Wesley Longman. The 1996 Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things bore the label "NEW EDITION" on its cover and its spine, but it was merely the 1994 version with a few trivial alterations and new decorations. Like its predecessor, it was full of fake "information," and it continued the promotion of vitalism, the peddling of magical Oriental quackery, and the glorification of ignorance [note 4].

The third version of Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things is the book that we now have before us -- Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things, published by Addison Wesley Longman and dated in 1999. The words "Scott Foresman" in the book's new title are the vestiges of an imprint that previously belonged to HarperCollins Educational Publishers. Addison Wesley Longman bought HarperCollins Educational Publishers in 1996. Since then, Pearson PLC has fused Addison Wesley Longman with several other schoolbook operations to form Pearson Education, [note 5] and Pearson Education is the company that now peddles Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things.

Even though it has a different title and is dated in 1999, Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things shows the same content and structure and pagination that I saw in the 1996 Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things. There are 623 pages in the body of the book, followed by a "Data Bank," a glossary and an index.

I have examined a random sample of 63 pages in the body of the 1999 book, have compared them with the same-numbered pages in the 1996, and have made these principal observations:

The Same Old Trash

The writers of the 1999 book have busied themselves with a great deal of diddling and nugatory word-switching, but they have consistently failed to correct huge errors, self-contradictions, misconceptions and wild falsehoods that appeared in the 1996 version. In all important respects, the 1999 version is quite interchangeable with its predecessor -- and like its predecessor, it is replete with trash that was produced years ago by ignorant fakers and desperate plagiarists. Once again, for example, we see a splurge of fake "information" about diffusion, with the same bogus illustrations that we saw before. Once again we see a fake account of Francesco Redi's flies-and-meat experiments, complete with a misspelling of Francesco. Once again we read the categorical claim that a fish breathes by swimming ("As a fish swims, water passes over its gills"); then we read that breathing is linked to swimming in "some" fishes, not all; then we see that the "greatest number of fish species" can breathe without swimming because they have a (wholly imaginary) "special flap of tissue in the gill chamber" -- and we grasp that the writers have no idea of how fishes breathe. Once again we read a silly fantasy about Darwin's visit to the Galápagos Islands. Once again we read clumsy lies, such as this one: "People with Down syndrome can often live normal lives." Once again we see dopey "ACTIVITY" boxes and incomprehensible "LINK" boxes. (My favorite "LINK" box, on page 471, is a load of pretentious fogtalk about steroids. Nothing in Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things has equipped students to deal with "the chemical structures" of steroids, or to guess at how different steroids may be "related," or even to guess at what "related" may mean.) Once again we see magic-mongering and the peddling of woo-woo about "the body's balance of vital energy." Once again we see the glorification of ignorance, as students are urged to bray opinions about matters -- even matters of constitutional law -- that they cannot hope to understand. And once again we read a supremely dumb chapter in which the biology of birds is reduced to utter nonsense. Let me tell you a little more about this:

In Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things, as in both the 1994 and the 1996 versions of Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things, birds are dispatched in chapter 18, "Birds and Mammals." The entire chapter is an absurdity, because the practice of lumping birds with mammals has no basis in today's science -- it is a leftover from centuries past. Many of the parcels of "information" that appear within the chapter are absurdities too. The section titled "Physics of Flight," for example, has no connection with physical reality. [See "On Wings of Ignorance" on page 2 of this issue.] The section titled "Migration" is junk produced by writers who evidently copied their material out of Mr. Robin Redbreast's Vacation and who guessed that migration was unique to birds. And in the section about classification, birds are assigned to phony categories, such as "Water Birds" and "Flightless Birds," that are quite unknown to science and that don't make sense. (Is a penguin a water bird or a flightless bird?) In the text that describes the category "Water Birds," we learn that water birds may have long legs or webbed feet, but not both. The text is accompanied by a picture in which a flamingo displays its "long legs for wading." The writers don't know that a flamingo also has webbed feet. On the same page, the writers say that woodpeckers and swifts exemplify the category "Insect-Eating Perching Birds." If the writers had bothered to study birds at all, they would know that neither woodpeckers nor swifts are perching birds.

The handling of mammals in the "Birds and Mammals" chapter is as bad as the treatment of birds, and sometimes worse. For example: In the section titled "Diversity of Mammals," the writers pretend to cover the diversity and distribution of marsupials in one paragraph of inane mentionings:

Other mammals [besides the monotremes] with unusual reproduction are called marsupials (mar SOO pee uhlz). Marsupials are mammals with pouches in which the young complete their development. You have probably heard of two marsupials, the koala and the kangaroo. They both live in Australia. Another marsupial, the opossum, is common throughout North America. About 80 species of marsupials live in South America, including the rat opossum.

In a recent issue of TTL, I wrote that Pearson Education is showing the suckers no mercy [note 6]. That judgment was based on my examination of two other schoolbooks that Pearson currently is selling -- Prentice Hall Exploring Physical Science and Motion, Forces, and Energy (one of the books in the Prentice Hall Science Explorer series). Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things serves as another case in point.

I have no way of knowing who conjured Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things, but I see that the book's title page displays a list of five "Authors" -- the same five who allegedly were the "Authors" of both the 1994 and the 1996 versions of Addison-Wesley Science Insights: Exploring Living Things. Here's the list -- Michael DiSpezio, M.A., Science Consultant, North Falmouth, Massachusetts. Marilyn Linner-Luebe, M.S., Former Science Teacher, Fulton High School, Fulton, Illinois. Marylin Lisowski, Ph.D., Professor of Education, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois [note 7]. Bobbie Sparks, M.A., K-12 Science Consultant, Harris County Department of Education, Houston, Texas. Gerald Skoog, Ed.D., Professor and Chairperson, Curriculum and Instruction, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas.

Notes

  1. See "Addison-Wesley Attacks Again" in TTL, November-December 1995, page 12. [return to text]

  2. See TTL for May-June 1995. [return to text]

  3. TTL for September-October 1995. [return to text]

  4. See the review "Ugly Once, Ugly Again" in TTL for January-February 1996. [return to text]

  5. See "Pearson's New Schoolbook Enterprise" in TTL, November-December 1998, page 11. [return to text]

  6. TTL, September-October 1999, page 12. [return to text]

  7. Lisowski is also one of the nominal authors of Pearson's high-school text Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology: The Web of Life. See the review "Beavis and Butt-Head Do Biology" in TTL, November-December 1998. [return to 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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