from The Textbook Letter, March-April 2000

Reviewing a high-school book in biology

Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology:
The Web of Life

2000. 1,016 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-201-33440-2.
Pearson Education, 1 Lake Street, Upper Saddle River,New Jersey 07458. (Pearson Education
is a division of Pearson PLC, a British corporation headquartered in London.)

A Bungled Scam, a Worthless Book

William J. Bennetta

When Max G. Rodel reviewed the 2000 version of Holt, Rinehart and Winston's Holt Environmental Science [see note 1, below], he wrote:

The 2000 version is essentially a reprint of the 1996 version, with a new date displayed on the copyright page.

The copyright page is really the most noteworthy page in the 2000 version, for this reason: It shows the date "2000," with no indication that any earlier version of Holt Environmental Science has ever existed. Holt clearly wants us to believe that this is a brand-new book. It isn't.

Pearson Education has tried a similar trick with the 2000 version of Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology: The Web of Life. Although the 2000 version is merely a repackaging of the 1998 version, the 2000 version's copyright page shows only the date "2000," as if there were no earlier version. Clearly, the guy who devised the copyright page wanted to create the false impression that The Web of Life is a brand-new product -- but alas, he forgot to inform the guy who designed the book's cover: The cover carries the label "SECOND EDITION."

Poor, poor Pearson Education! This company's drones are evidently unable to execute even a simple copyright scam without bungling it.

Two reviews of the 1998 version of The Web of Life ran in TTL about a year and a half ago [note 2]. The first review was written by David L. Jameson, the second by me.

Jameson observed that The Web of Life was obsolete, confused and very shallow. The material that The Web of Life presented wasn't meaningful or current, Jameson said, and wasn't suitable for a course in modern biology. He noted that about one-third of the book's pages had no narrative text at all and that a lot of space was devoted to entertainment, and he derided the glitzy pages (headlined "Hit or Myth") which displayed jumbles of meaningless factoids: "These things," he commented, "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."

Jameson repeatedly called attention to the book's obsolescence, pointing out that the writers' treatment of genetics was out-of-date by decades, that their material about evolution was 40 years behind the times, and that their treatment of classification ignored "several decades' worth of research into the early diversification of life." He also cited cases in which the writers contradicted themselves, and he scorned their fluffy, uninformed "Issues in Biology" articles.

My own review of the 1998 book began with my assertion that The Web of Life was so blatantly and pervasively phony that it possessed historical significance. I expressed my hope that our major education libraries would keep copies of The Web of Life, and make them available to historians, because The Web of Life illustrated "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." The Web of Life was "a book by fakers and for fakers," I declared, and then I pointed out that the fakery began with the book's very name: The phrase the web of life was a phony, doctored "quotation" from a speech that was phony to begin with..

In the body of my review, I analyzed many other cases of fakery in The Web of Life -- fictitious "science," phony "history," ignorant guesses and meaningless bits of hearsay disguised as information, phony laboratory exercises and "activities" that had no connection with reality, and "book reviews" cooked up by scammers who obviously had not read the books that they allegedly were reviewing.

The 2000 version of The Web of Life is quite interchangeable with the 1998. In comparing the two versions, I've found only two changes in content: Niles Eldredge's name is now spelled correctly (page 237), and the caption under a picture of aquatic birds now tells that the birds are ducks, not "swans" (page 365). Those trivial alterations don't matter, and The Web of Life is, in every practical sense, the same worthless book that it was before -- a book whose very title is a fake and whose pages display fakery, ignorance and absurdity at every turn.

Readers who need more information about The Web of Life should consult the TTL reviews of the 1998 version.


  1. See "Holt Wants Us to Believe That This Is a New Book" in TTL, January-February 2000. [return to text]

  2. See "Don't Buy This Shallow, Obsolete Book" and "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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