What's in a name?

Editor's Introduction -- The Merrill Publishing Company's middle-school book Focus on Earth Science was so bad that a reviewer wondered how it had got into print. Here is what the reviewer learned when he talked with one of the "authors" and two of the "content consultants" whose names were shown on the book's title page.
from The Textbook Letter, September-October 1992

How Did Merrill Do It?

Arthur J. Boucot

The title page of Focus on Earth Science claims two "authors," six "content consultants" and one "consultant" whose realm is not specified. Trying to learn how a book as bad as Merrill's had got into print, I called three of those people, starting with two of the "content consultants": Russell A Utgard (of the Department of Geology and Mineralogy at The Ohio State University) and Allen A Ekdale (of the Department of Geology at the University of Utah).

Utgard and Ekdale recounted similar experiences. Each man told me that he had been engaged by Merrill to read the text of four or five chapters that already were in proof. In each case, Merrill required that the reading be done within three days. In neither case did the company provide copies of the illustrations that would accompany the text in question.

On its face, such a procedure does not look like an effort to get valid scientific critiques. I must wonder whether it had any purpose beyond creating a flimsy justification for ornamenting Focus on Earth Science with Utgard's and Ekdale's names.

My third call was to the "author" who had done some work on the book's geological chapters: Dale T. Hesser, a public-school educator in North Syracuse, New York. Hesser, who has a good university background in the earth sciences, said Merrill had not shown him any report from Utgard or Ekdale or any other "content consultant." He said he had not seen the final version of the book's text and had not seen the whole book (text with illustrations) before it was printed.

Arthur J. Boucot, a paleontologist, is a professor of both geology and zoology at Oregon State University in Corvallis.


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