from The Textbook Letter, November-December 1990
Reviewing a middle-school book in life science
Addison-Wesley Life Science
1989. 598 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-201-25044-6.
The Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 2725 Sand Hill Road,
Menlo Park, California 94025.
A Bogus Book That Is Unfit
for Any Science Classroom
Ellen C. Weaver
Addison-Wesley Life Science has no use or place in any classroom
where science is taught, for Addison-Wesley Life Science is not a
science book. It is essentially a fundamentalist religious tract,
devoted to assiduous denial of the central principle of modern
biology: organic evolution.
Addison-Wesley's writers completely conceal the evolutionary basis of
taxonomy. They are silent about the powerful evidence that tells of
relationships among organisms. They shun dozens of opportunities to
show how evolutionary insights unite taxonomy, genetics, ecology and
other biological disciplines into a single, coherent science. They
depict evolution itself as an idiosyncratic notion left over from the
19th century. And when they give fleeting acknowledgment to the idea
that life on Earth has a history, they take pains to depict our
understanding of that history as idle conjecture. In short, they
present the living world in a way that has nothing to do with science
but has everything to do with fundamentalism.
Along with its sectarian religious viewpoint, Addison-Wesley's book
shows at least three more traits that make it unfit for use in any
- It has many blatant, basic errors: statements whose falsity will
be obvious to anyone who has taken introductory science courses, and
has studied from competent textbooks, as a college freshman.
- The content is intolerably unbalanced. Of the book's 598 pages,
some 130 are given to one species -- Homo sapiens -- while entire
classes, such as the insects or the fishes or the birds, get two to
four pages apiece. How wrong! How cheated must any student feel who
is interested in those wonderful groups of animals and who has been
hoping to learn more about them from a "life science" book!
- The writers use a style suggesting that students must be witless
dolts. Here is a passage from page 438:
The young are like their parents in many ways. For example, puppies
always look like small dogs. Kittens always look like small cats.
But within each litter there are some variations. Some puppies may
open their eyes before others. Some may grow faster. Some may have
floppy ears. Some may have bigger feet. Some may. . . .
Does that recall Dick and Jane and "Run, Spot, run"? Not all of the
writing in the book is as bad as the puppy passage, but most of it is
childish and dull.
Misleading the Student
The great, unifying principle of biology is that all organisms, past
and present, share an evolutionary history and are related by
descent. But when one seeks evolution in the glossary of
Addison-Wesley's book, one finds only: "See theory of evolution by
natural selection." Doing that, one sees:
theory of evolution by natural selection -- The idea proposed by
Charles Darwin that organisms have changed gradually over a long
period of time. Darwin believed that helpful variations developed by
chance, but that individuals with these variations were then more
likely to survive to bear young and thus pass on the variation.
That is false and grossly misleading. The idea that organisms have
changed over time -- that they have undergone evolution -- did not
originate with Darwin, is not unique to Darwin, and is not the same
as the idea of natural selection. Evolution is change: nothing more,
nothing less. Natural selection is one concept that explains the
change. And it is evolution, not natural selection, that unites all
of today's biology. Addison-Wesley's writers misrepresent and
confuse two different things, and they fail to acknowledge evolution
in its own right.
They repeat their performance on page 438 of the text (which
provides some expansion of the defective item in the glossary), and
they again mislead the student. They allocate about as much space to
Lamarck's ideas as to Darwin's, and they say that Weismann's famous
tail-cutting experiment showed that Lamarck was wrong; but Weismann's
work did no such thing. Most conspicuously, the writers again cast
evolution as the idea of one man, Darwin, who died more than a
century ago. They say nothing about the modern status of evolutionary
biology. There is no discussion of homologous structures in the
vertebrates, nothing about the overwhelming biochemical evidence that
all living things share a common ancestor, and not a single word
about human ancestry. There is not even an exposition of affinities
among the primates.
Lest students get an idea that evolution is something that actually
has gone on, the writers ignore, misrepresent or explicitly
disparage the compelling evidence supplied by fossils. On page 430
we find an abbreviated chart of "The Eras of Geologic Time," but
there is no meaningful text -- none! -- about the pageant of life
that unfolded during those eras. On page 432 we read that "Fossil
evidence suggests that for millions of years giant dinosaurs lived on
earth." Suggests? If the great dinosaurs are mere suggestions, what
can all those bones be?
The misrepresentations continue: "The fossil record suggests that
many kinds of organisms that once lived are no longer on earth. . . .
It is believed that the continents have not always been their present
distances from the equator. . . ." Suggests? Is believed? There is
not one line about the abundant evidence of continental drift, or of
the consequences of continental drift to the distribution of living
Addison-Wesley Life Science is the sort of bogus book that cannot be
adopted in California, now that California's newest Science Framework
is in force. Page 125 of the framework states:
The unifying theory of biology is evolution; as [the geneticist]
Theodosius Dobzhansky said, nothing in biology makes sense without
it. It is accepted scientific fact, and has been since the
mid-1800s, that organisms are descended with modification from other
organisms. . . . The classification of organisms -- indeed all of
comparative biology -- is based on evolution. Curricula must reflect
this centrality of evolution in the biological sciences.
Is it too much to ask that a schoolbook not make statements that are
patently false? When Addison-Wesley Life Science is judged for
accuracy, it fails miserably. It is full of "facts," stated flatly
and without qualification, that simply are not true. How can
students perform respectably on standardized tests, or in other
competitive situations, if they are burdened with such faulty
information? For example:
- On page 19: "Any compound made of molecules containing carbon is
called an organic compound." The writers are unfamiliar with basic
chemistry. Compounds such as carbon dioxide, carbonic acid and
calcium carbonate -- all of which have great biological importance --
- On page 81 the writers' "explanation" of chromosomes and nucleic
acids is a hopeless mess.
- Page 82 says that agar is "rich in protein and other important
compounds needed for growth [of bacterial." But as introductory
books on bacteriology tell, agar is a polysaccharide; to say that a
polysaccharide is rich in protein" is absurd. Moreover, one reason
why agar is so useful in the bacteriological laboratory is that, by
itself, it does not support the growth of heterotrophic organisms.
Addison-Wesley's writers have got things exactly wrong.
- On page 116: "The second part of a scientific name is the name
of the species." No. The second part is just an adjective that, by
itself, is not the name of anything.
- On page 160 the writers tell the student to do library research
on red snow, "which involves red algae." The writers should have
done some library work of their own, instead of guessing. Red snow
is caused by one of the green algae.
- Page 199 says that the staminate flowers and the pistillate
flowers of plums grow on different trees. This too is quite wrong.
Some tree species (such as carob) show such an arrangement, but plums
- On page 181: "The roots of most dicots are long, slender and only
slightly branched." The dicots shown in the accompanying picture
are radish, beet and carrot -- cultivated plants that have been
selected for large tap roots. They are not representative dicots,
and the whole business is misleading.
- On page 183, a picture purports to show sections through the stem
of a woody plant and the stem of an herb, but the drawing labeled
"herb" really shows the stem of a monocot. The caption asks: "Is
there more vascular tissue in a woody plant or in an herb?" Given
the mislabeled picture, that question is meaningless. Moreover, the
picture lacks any indication of the size or scale of the objects
- On page 400 a picture allegedly shows meiosis, but I doubt that
such a process has ever been seen under a microscope. It presumably
was guessed into existence by an artist who thought that it looked
good. It is not the way in which diploid cells give rise to haploid
One must hope Addison-Wesley Life Science will fail badly in the
marketplace. If educators will accord this book the scorn that it
deserves, the publisher may be motivated to replace it with a
A Sorely Incompetent Book
That Is Not Recommended
David R. Stronck
Collectively, the fourteen chapters of Addison-Wesley Life Science
mention almost every topic that may have any relevance to a life
science course, from scientific notation to the drug LSD.
(Strangely, however, there is nothing about crack cocaine.) The
book's vast range may be intended to impress selection committees,
but most topics are treated very superficially. Recent educational
research has shown that students learn more effectively when they
study fewer topics but in greater depth, and these findings are
reflected in the current goals of the National Science Teachers
Association. Addison-Wesley's writers seem unaware of them.
Because of recent curriculum-reform efforts, the state of California
will no longer adopt any life-science book that fails to promote
higher-order thinking skills or fails to provide legitimate
treatment of sex and of organic evolution. Addison-Wesley Life
Science fails on all counts. It clearly would not be acceptable in
California, nor can I recommend it for use anywhere else.
Besides evading the subject of sex and misrepresenting the subject of
evolution, Addison-Wesley's writers generally present information as
something to be memorized, rather than understood. They fail to
relate that information to scientific research, they fail to invite
students to think, they reduce various topics to incomprehensibility,
and they present many statements that are distortions or plain
The book opens with a section about "The Methods of Science" --
familiar material about asking questions, forming a hypothesis, and
so on. The writers seem to be setting the stage so that, in the rest
of the book, they can emphasize ways in which our knowledge of the
natural world has been acquired. But this does not happen. In the
rest of the book, the processes of science are ignored; I was unable
to find even one more occurrence of the term hypothesis.
As an example of the writers' giving information for blind
memorization, without explaining it or telling of its basis in
research, here is a passage from page 17:
All the elements are shown on a chart called the periodic table.
They are arranged according to their atomic number. This number
tells how many of a certain kind of very tiny particle [?] is inside
each atom of an element. Each element also has an atomic mass
number, which is a measurement of the average mass of one atom of the
As far as I know, none of the terms introduced in that passage is
ever used again. The book never again says anything about atomic
numbers, atomic mass or periodic tables. Why should students have to
memorize such meaningless prose? This is one of many cases m which
the writers seem to pad their book with empty mentionings that will
bewilder and discourage students.
On page 429 we read that the trilobites existed for only "a short
time" and "were not on earth for long" before they became extinct In
fact the trilobites entered the fossil record 570 million years ago
and persisted for 315 million years -- more than half of all the
time that has elapsed since the first hard-bodied animals appeared.
For at least 80 million years, they constituted the most common and
diverse group of animals that left fossils. How can Addison-Wesley's
writers imagine that the trilobites "were not on earth for long"?
For incomprehensibility, try page 174 and a passage that purports to
tell seventh-graders about alternation of generations in
The familiar tree or bush is the spore-producing plant although the
spores it makes always remain within the cones. This part of the
life cycle is easy to see. The other stage is very hard to see. The
generation that produces eggs and sperm forms inside the cones. The
egg-producing stage is found inside the ovule on female cones. The
sperm-producing stage occurs within the pollen grain.
How could a seventh-grader understand that? There is no picture or
further text to help with comprehension -- not even an explanation of
why spore-production, occurring within cones, is easy to see, while
egg-production or sperm-production, occurring within cones, is hard
On page 143 the writers present slime molds as "the eighth phylum of
protists." That is questionable; specialists such as O'Neil Ray
Collins and Donald Betterley think that slime molds (and other
myxomycetes) are allied more closely to animals than to protists.
What is not questionable is that the life cycle of slime molds has
three principal stages. Addison-Wesley's writers, however, imagine
that it has only two.
Chapter 7, "The Human Body," has a section on "Reproduction and Life
Stages." It omits any mention of sexual intercourse.
In this book, the vagina is solely "a passageway that serves as the
birth canal." The penis is mentioned but seems to have no function.
It is just something through which sperm cells pass as they are
"exiting the urethra." The writers' aversion to the penis is
reflected in the nearby picture, which depicts only the "internal
organs of the male reproductive system," not the system as a whole.
Yet the picture shows the testes, even though the text says that
testes lie "outside the abdomen in a protective sac." How can
"internal organs" be "outside"?
The book's handling of AIDS is vague. The term AIDS is not found in
the index or the glossary, though AIDS is mentioned three times in
Chapter 8, "Defending the Healthy Body." A chart in that chapter
says that, for prevention of AIDS, one should "Avoid exchange of body
fluids with infected persons." That is inadequate and confusing;
"body fluids" could include sweat and other fluids that currently are
regarded as harmless. The book should say: Avoid sexual intercourse
with, or blood from, infected persons. (And it should, of course,
tell what sexual intercourse means.)
A recent survey by the National School Boards Association showed that
some 80% of the schools in the United States now furnish students
with information about AIDS, and that such information is most
commonly inserted into courses given in grade 7. Addison-Wesley Life
Science is certainly inadequate for any such purpose.
Long before Charles Darwin, various scholars -- especially in France
-- presented the idea of organic evolution. Today evolution is the
overarching concept of all biology, and it provides the basis on
which we classify all living things.
The "classification" offered in Addison-Wesley Life Science
absolutely excludes any evolutionary perspective. It absolutely
excludes today's science.
Much the same can be said of the book as a whole. The writers
rigorously avoid the concept that should be the book's grand theme,
and they even fail to define the word evolution. Both the glossary
and the index falsely equate evolution with theory of evolution by
natural selection. The text does the same thing, and it falsely
treats both evolution and natural selection as old ideas, originated
by Darwin, that apparently have no modern significance.
The brief discussion of "Darwin's theory" is in chapter 11,
"Organisms in the Past and Present." The chapter opens with a vague,
unfathomable section about fossils. There is no attempt to tell how
the ages of fossils are determined, and the picture captions do not
tell the ages of any of the fossils that are shown.
This is followed by a section called "Time and Change," in which the
writers relegate the history of life and the history of Earth to some
equivocal hints and distortions. On page 433, for example: "The
fossil record suggests that many kinds of organisms that once lived
are no longer on earth." In fact, the fossil record indisputably
shows that Earth once supported organisms that now are extinct; this
was established some 200 years ago by Cuvier (1769-1832). The
writers' expression "suggests" is wrong and misleading.
On the same page: "It is believed that the continents have not always
been their present distances from the equator. . . ." Is there any
evidence for that idea? The writers do not say. They lead the
student to think that continental drift -- a richly confirmed
principle and one of the most potent explanatory ideas in
paleontology and biogeography -- is just a notion that, for no
cognizable reason, "is believed." That is no way to write a science
Ellen C. Weaver is a professor of biological sciences, emerita, from
San Jose State University. Her scientific specialties are plant
physiology and the application of remote sensing to the oceans, and
she has served as an advisor to the National Academy of Sciences.
She is an elected fellow of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science and a past president of the Association for
Women in Science.
David R. Stronck, a specialist in science education and in health
education, is a professor in the Department of Teacher Education at
California State University, Hayward.
The "authors" shown on the title page of Addison-Wesley
Life Science are two professors -- Bonnie B. Barr and
Michael B. Leyden. Did Barr and Leyden really participate
in the creation of Addison-Wesley Life Science?
Have these "authors" ever seen the book that they allegedly
wrote? To learn how they responded to our written
inquiries, please read "Still No Answer from Either One."
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