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from The Textbook Letter, May-June 2000

Reviewing a high-school book in environmental science

Global Science: Energy, Resources, Environment
2000. 714 pages. ISBN: 0-7872-4610-7. Kendall/Hunt Publishing
Company, 4050 Westmark Drive, Dubuque, Iowa 52002.

Some Changes for the Better,
Some Distressing Degradation

Max G. Rodel

Most of the environmental-science books that I have analyzed for The Textbook Letter have been introductory college textbooks. Kendall/Hunt's Global Science, however, is explicitly a high-school book, and high-school students constitute its intended audience.

When I first reviewed Global Science, in its 1991 version, I found it to be obsolete, unfocused, and unacceptable as a schoolbook.

When I reviewed the 1996 version, I saw many improvements, including significant updating of text and illustrations, and I recommended the 1996 book for use in high-school classrooms.

Kendall/Hunt has now generated another version of Global Science, dated in 2000, and I have compared this new version with the one dated in 1996. My reactions are mixed. Though I approve of some of the revisions that Kendall/Hunt has carried out, I am much disappointed to see that Global Science has been extensively dumbed down.

Changes in Structure

Although a lot of the text that appeared in the 1996 book has been reused in the 2000 version, without alteration, Kendall/Hunt has now redesigned Global Science from cover to cover, with new page layouts, new typography, new graphic devices, and (in many instances) upgraded illustrations. As a result, the 2000 version looks like a brand-new product.

The content of the 2000 version, taken as a whole, is much like the content of the 1996 -- Global Science still revolves around no-nonsense presentations of science and technology, with emphasis on energy technologies, on the management of resources, and on some practical applications of what we know about environmental relationships. At the same time, however, the 2000 version shows some significant changes in structure:

Dihydrogen Monoxide!

One of the delights of the 2000 version appears in the new opening chapter, "The Nature of Science." On pages 8 through 10, in a section titled "The Habit of Skepticism," we find a long passage based on the DHMO hoax. That hoax, as some of my readers will recall, involved sensational claims about the fearsome hazards associated with dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) -- a substance which is widely used as an industrial solvent, and which appears as an ingredient in many food products, even though it can induce physiological derangements, can produce severe burns (especially when it is in its gaseous form), is found in tumors excised from terminal cancer patients, and is known to cause the deaths of thousands of people every year.

A page of horrifying warnings about DHMO was posted on the Internet several years ago, but DHMO didn't gain national notoriety until 1997, when a 9th-grade student in Idaho Falls, Idaho, invoked it in a science-fair project. The student, Nathan Zohner, worked up a scary handout about DHMO -- complete with the news that DHMO "is the major component in acid rain." Then he distributed copies of the handout to fifty other students, and he asked the students to return their copies to him with written proposals for dealing with DHMO. Forty-three of the fifty wrote that DHMO should be banned because of its lethality. Six students declined to make suggestions because they thought Zohner's handout was strongly biased against DHMO and was unreliable. Only one student recognized that DHMO was water.

[Editor's note: The account of Zohner's project that appears in Global Science is serviceable but is marred by omissions and inaccuracies. The account given in this review reflects information that we got from Zohner during e-mail correspondence and a telephone interview.]

A story about Zohner's project was distributed to news media throughout the United States by a wire service, and Zohner's results were widely cited as evidence that the public can be gulled and manipulated easily by purveyors of inflammatory, pseudoscientific propaganda.

The writers of Global Science make some good pedagogic use of this affair. First they tell a little about Zohner and his interest in DHMO. Then they present (on page 9) a modified version of Zohner's handout, and they pose two questions to the reader:

1. Think about the scientific information provided in Nathan Zohner's fact sheet. Do you think
that action should be taken to ban the release of DHMO into the environment? Why?

2. Should the banning of DHMO be done at the local, state, federal, or international level? How
should such a ban be enforced?

Only after the reader has dealt with those questions does he find out (on page 10) that dihydrogen monoxide is H2O. The point of the lesson is that it is wise to be skeptical. This is a very good lesson to teach in the first chapter of any high-school science book.

Three Major Failings

Now I must tell about the things that I don't like in the 2000 version of Global Science.

Poorly Designed Pages       As I noted earlier, Kendall/Hunt has redesigned Global Science from cover to cover. The bad news is that the results of this effort leave much to be desired. In the earlier versions of Global Science, the page layouts were spacious and reader-friendly -- but in the 2000 version, many of the pages are cluttered and cramped, and the text is often hard to follow.

The principal reason for this is easy to see: The 2000 version contains a lot of fashionable "Activity" items, but Kendall/Hunt's designers haven't figured out how to present them. As I was reading along, I felt that the "Activity" items were needlessly intrusive and that they broke the flow of the main text in exasperating ways -- indeed, I sometimes found that it was hard to recognize where an activity ended and the main text resumed. All in all, the new layouts annoyed me and impeded my reading. I hope that Kendall/Hunt's designers, when they work on the next version of Global Science, will find ways to make the "Activity" items less intrusive and will separate them from the main text more effectively.

Dumbing Down       I report with regret that the end-of-chapter review questions seen in earlier versions of Global Science are gone. The 1996 version had a big set of questions (at least 25 of them, and sometimes more than 50) at the end of each chapter, but end-of-chapter questions have been entirely eliminated from the 2000 version. In certain cases, a question that formerly appeared at the end of a chapter has been recycled into a short "Questions" section in the body of the chapter -- but most of the questions have simply been dropped, and Global Science has thus been dumbed down in a very obvious way.

In the 1996 book, there were more than 500 questions for the student to answer. There are only 57 in the 2000 version, and six chapters -- "Mineral Resources," "Growth and Population," "Energy Alternatives," "Strategies for Using Energy," "Water: Quantity and Quality" and "Options for the Future" -- have no "Questions" sections at all. (In the 1996 book, the total number of questions presented in those six chapters was 198.) I have no idea of why Kendall/Hunt decided that Global Science should be subjected to such dumbing down, but I regard that decision as a step in the wrong direction.

Refusal to Discuss Birth Control       The 2000 version of Global Science, like the 1996 version, has plenty of discussions of social issues, and such issues are usually examined in a context of sound scientific information. A deplorable exception to this rule occurs in the chapter titled "Growth and Population," where the writers of the 2000 version have eliminated the topic of birth control and have substituted moralistic preaching for facts and explanations.

Both the 1991 and the 1996 versions of Global Science dealt knowledgeably with birth control as an approach to limiting the growth of human populations. In the 1996 version, the discussion of birth control occupied most of a six-page section, titled "Controlling Growth," in the "Growth and Population" chapter. It included passages about abstinence, vasectomy, tubal ligation, condoms, diaphragms, spermicides, intrauterine devices, contraceptive pills, contraceptive implants, contraceptive injections, and even the dubious "rhythm method." The material in those passages was perfectly suitable for high-school students, was graphic enough to hold their attention, and was presented in a straightforward manner. Now all of that material has disappeared. In the 2000 version, the writers just mention "birth control" in passing, without telling what "birth control" entails or how it is achieved. In the 2000 version, "birth control" is just a mysterious phrase.

In place of the solid treatment of birth control that graced the 1996 book, the 2000 version has a muddled, confused, polemical section called "The Case for Total Abstinence for Young People." This section starts out with the vague and unfounded claim that "society as a whole believes that sexual relations should be practiced within the bonds of marriage."

Oh, really? Which "society as a whole" is that?

A few sentences later the writers say that "Abstinence from sexual activity is the responsible standard for school-age children." You bet -- I accept that. But then the writers suddenly fly away on a tangent, declaring that "Couples should not have children until they can assume the full responsibility of raising children"? Why has the topic suddenly shifted from sexual activity to the production of children? -- and who are those "couples"? Are they married couples? Single couples? Pairs of high-school kids? What does this have to do with abstinence? Are all "couples" expected to practice abstinence until they are ready to "assume the full responsibility of raising children"? Why? And what does any of this have to do with science or technology or environmental affairs?

The entire section looks like something that was prepared by a pick-up committee of priests and ministers, then was edited during a street brawl in front of a family-planning clinic. It's all a mistake, and it's the worst section in the book. Moreover, it vitiates much of the material in the rest of the chapter. The writers pay lip service to the idea that "problems related to population growth" must be reduced, and they mention that "married couples" desire to control the "number and spacing of their children" -- but how? By abstinence? Deprived of any discussion of birth control, the "Growth and Population" chapter is just a baffling mishmash.

Recommendation

For the most part, the 2000 version of Global Science is what the 1996 version was: a sensible environmental-science book that focuses on environmental relationships, energy, and the management of resources. The 2000 version has a lot of good material and shows some substantial improvements over the 1996 version, but I can't give it an unqualified recommendation. If teachers decide to use this book as a classroom text, they and their students must be prepared to deal with its major shortcomings -- its cluttered and poorly designed pages, its paucity of review questions and problems, and its badly degraded chapter about population.

I Am Sorry to See It

William J. Bennetta

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.
Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

I first encountered that blather when the Mobil Corporation used it as the headline on an advertisement that ran in the 28 January 1991 issue of Time. In the body of the ad, Mobil referred to the headline as an "ancient Asian proverb" but didn't say any more about it. Nor did Mobil say any more about fish or fishermen or fishing. In the body of the ad, Mobil told a tale about a petroleum-refinery engineer and then said that "Mobil people" were bringing "technology, and a better standard of living, to people in equatorial jungles and frozen arctic slopes, to people in tiny villages and major cities." I could almost hear the world singing a great hymn of gratitude to Mobil as I tore the ad out of Time and saved it in my CORPORATE CLAPTRAP folder.

I didn't save Mobil's pretentious ad merely because it was pretentious, nor did I save it because I imagined that Mobil's "ancient Asian proverb" was really an ancient Asian proverb. I saved it because Mobil's proverb -- so clearly irrelevant to the modern world -- made the ad seem uncommonly stupid. Even if ancient Asians could believe that knowing how to fish would enable a man to eat for a lifetime, no informed person can accept that proposition today. Today, wherever we look, we see fisheries collapsing under the effects of overfishing. Today we see that if a man knows how to fish, he typically overexploits and depletes his stock of fish until fishing is no longer profitable. Then he goes looking for a new stock that he can ruin in the same way, or he looks for a government program that will provide him with cash to relieve the hardship that he and his fellow fishermen have brought upon themselves by destroying their own livelihood.

Clever, Those Chinese

The next time I saw the so-called proverb, it was serving as an epigraph in a chapter titled "Food, Agriculture and Population Interactions" in the 1991 version of Kendall/Hunt's environmental-science text Global Science: Energy, Resources, Environment. Somehow, Kendall/Hunt had divined that the Give a man a fish aphorism was not just Asian but was, specifically, Chinese:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a
man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
       -- Ancient Chinese Proverb

I saw that epigraph in the 1996 version of Global Science too, and I expected to see it again in the 2000 version. But in the 2000 version I have found:

Give people fish and you feed them for a day. Teach
people to fish and you feed them for a lifetime.
       -- Ancient Chinese Proverb

Somehow, it seems, Kendall/Hunt has now discovered that the ancient Chinese really said people (instead of man) and them (instead of him). Clever, those Chinese -- and prescient too! With remarkable foresight, they couched their proverb in the lumpy lingo that is considered politically correct by today's leftists.

Few Improvements

When I reviewed the 1991 version of Global Science, I wrote that it combined powerful virtues with crippling defects, and I judged it to be the product of an honest effort that had not succeeded. The 1991 book's virtues included its knowledgeable explanations of technology, its sound discussion of population dynamics, its recurrent emphasis on the role of population growth in exacerbating environmental problems, its forthright acknowledgment of our need to stop the runaway increase in human numbers, its descriptions and illustrations of contraceptive devices, and its good case studies. Its principal defects were its obsolescence and its occasional lapses into serious error, incoherence or confusion. In the end, I couldn't recommend the 1991 Global Science. Its defects, I concluded, outweighed its strengths.

Some five years later I reviewed the 1996 version of Global Science, and I found it to be substantially better, in terms of currency and accuracy, than the 1991. I wrote that it was a good science book, and I recommended it to high-school teachers, but I also suggested that any teacher who proposed to use it in the classroom should get a knife and excise most of the "Food, Agriculture, and Population Interactions" chapter. In that chapter, scientific information was agglomerated with various claims and slogans that smacked of bureaucratic baffle-gab and leftist guilt-literature.

When I received the 2000 version of Global Science, I hoped to see a lot of new improvements. I have been disappointed. Improvements are few, and the 2000 book contains many unacceptable items -- some retained from the 1996 version, some newly created. For example, the food-and-agriculture chapter (now titled "Sustainable Agriculture") retains the risible claim that the only "justification" for raising meat animals is "their ability to transform products of little or no value into nutritious human food" -- and then comes the guilt-trip: "However, in the United States, beef cattle commonly also are fed large quantities of corn, soybeans, and wheat bran that could be used directly by humans." To make the chapter worse, the Global Science writers have added a new, absurd section about "plant biotechnology." The section is absurd because the writers don't know what the term biotechnology means. They equate biotechnology with genetic engineering, they offer an account of genetic engineering that is incomprehensible, and (to demonstrate the depth of their expertise) they use the word bacteria as if it were singular. Ugh!

Equal-Opportunity Pandering

The most distressing traits of the 2000 version, though, are its displays of hypocrisy and pandering -- a sort of equal-opportunity pandering by which the Global Science writers have tried to accommodate both the left and the right. I've already described one such display, i.e., the recasting of the Give a man a fish proverb into the lingo of the left. Here's another case, far more vicious: Where the earlier versions offered good passages about contraceptive technology, the 2000 version offers nothing. The chapter "Growth and Population" still has a section titled "Family Planning," but now its only reference to birth-control technology is this sentence: "Birth control consists of a variety of strategies." There isn't a word to tell what the "strategies" may be. That is ridiculous, but the new, eviscerated chapter presumably complies with the tastes of the far right -- especially because, in place of information on contraception, it offers a lot of moralistic maundering about "total abstinence." At one point, Kendall/Hunt's hypocrites even pose as anthropologists and teach that "societies" -- all societies -- "believe that total abstinence should be practiced by young people." Humbug!

Now here's another delight for the lefties. Like the 1996 version, the 2000 has a boxed article about a woman who works on electric-power meters. But now the headline over the article has been changed to display the buzz-word "diversity" -- one of the lefties' favorites. "Diversity Delivers," says the new headline, though the article fails to tell how diversity delivers anything, or even what "diversity" is supposed to mean here. (By the way, Global Science seems to say nothing whatever about the ecological concept of diversity, an important quantitative concept that should be elucidated in any high-school treatment of environmental science. There is no entry for diversity or for biodiversity or for ecological diversity in this book's index.)

In my view, the principal lesson taught by the 2000 version of Global Science is this: Kendall/Hunt is desperate to sell books. I am sorry to see what Kendall/Hunt has done to Global Science, and I cannot regard this 2000 version as a respectable product.


Max G. Rodel, a consulting environmental chemist, lives and works in Mill Valley, California. His principal professional interest is the chemistry of natural aquatic systems, including the fates of pollutants. He regularly reviews science textbooks for The Textbook Letter.

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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