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from The Textbook Letter, March-April 1994

Reviewing six middle-school books in the Prentice Hall Science series

Motion, Forces, and Energy
1994. 160 pages. ISBN of the teacher's edition: 0-13-402041-3.

The Nature of Science
1994. 124 pages. ISBN of the teacher's edition: 0-13-400409-4.

Evolution: Change Over Time
1994. 117 pages. ISBN of the teacher's edition: 0-13-225525-1.

Heredity: The Code of Life
1994. 123 pages. ISBN of the teacher's edition: 0-13-400490-6.

Electricity and Magnetism
1994. 143 pages. ISBN of the teacher's edition: 0-13-402017-0.

Heat Energy
1994. 88 pages. ISBN of the teacher's edition: 0-13-400706-9.

The Books Are Still Junk,
the Claims Are Misleading

William J. Bennetta

The Prentice Hall Science series comprises nineteen middle-school books that allegedly deal with natural science. They were originally issued in 1992 (but with copyright pages that said 1993), and they seemed to be intended chiefly for sale in California. In advertising them, Prentice Hall said they were "designed to meet the needs of California educators." The company also said that the books incorporated all the requirements of the State of California's Science Framework. That claim was patently false.

Six of those original books have been reviewed in The Textbook Letter, and all six have been condemned as confused, uninformed and unacceptable. The two that I myself reviewed -- The Nature of Science and Heredity: The Code of Life -- struck me as two of the sleaziest "science" books that I ever had encountered.

For these reasons, a Prentice Hall advertisement in the January 1994 issue of Science Scope (a magazine published by the National Science Teachers Association) aroused my curiosity. The ad announced "new 1994" versions of the Prentice Hall Science texts, described the series as an "integrated learning system," and said that the "new 1994" books had "more activities than ever." I was not much interested in counting activities, but I wondered whether the 1994 versions were any better than the 1993, and I wondered whether Prentice Hall really had done anything to make the series "integrated." In its original form, the series was incoherent, badly fragmented, and unsuitable for showing students that science is an integrated enterprise whose various branches are unified by shared precepts and shared theories. [Please see "Science in Boxes," by Kevin Padian, in TTL for March-April 1993.]

I have now inspected the "new 1994" versions of the aforementioned six books, and this review will tell my findings. In examining each book, I did two things. First I sampled the text pages: I randomly chose fifteen pages in the 1994 version, and I compared each with the like-numbered page in the 1993 version. Then I checked the 1994 version against the TTL review (or reviews) of the 1993 version: I looked at every passage that had been cited in the review, to see whether the passage had or had not been revised.

Let me begin my report with some general observations:

Now, here are my observations about the individual books:

Motion, Forces, and Energy

Lawrence S. Lerner's review of the 1993 version of Motion, Forces, and Energy appeared in TTL for November-December 1992. Lerner was amazed to find that the Prentice Hall writers had managed to pack "so much misinformation, error and ignorance" into so few pages.

In the 1994 version, the writers' amazing achievement has been well preserved. During my random sampling of pages, I have found only these changes:

When I checked the 1994 version to see whether Prentice Hall had corrected the many mistakes, misconceptions and hare-brained guesses that Lerner had reported in his review of the 1993, I found only two alterations. On page 17, the 1994 book uses realistic numbers (instead of absurd ones) to describe a cheetah's running speed. And in the teacher's edition, on page 50, a foolish statement about gravitation has been eliminated by accident. It was part of the stuff that now has been replaced by a note about the new "Science and Skydiving" activity.

All the other items that Lerner cited in the 1993 version are now in the 1994. The book is still wrong about relative motion, wrong about friction, wrong about buoyancy, wrong about the works of Galileo and Newton, wrong about the conservation of energy and momentum, and wrong about all the other things that Prentice Hall's writers have so obviously failed to grasp. Even simple factual errors and grammatical mistakes are still in place, though they could have been rectified easily.

The teacher's edition of the 1994 book continues to provide wrong "answers" to questions and problems, along with bogus "background information." (Page 44, for example, still offers the teacher some claptrap about "a tenth planet with a large gravitational field.") Prentice Hall's phony-history stuff is still in place, too, including the tale of Elijah McCoy. [See "The Fake McCoy" in TTL for November-December 1992.]

I see also that the 1994 book retains an item in which I have taken a particular interest: On page 13 of the teacher's edition, Prentice Hall still peddles a false and prodigiously stupid "explanation" of how Fred Astaire danced on the ceiling of a hotel room in the film Royal Wedding. Readers may recall that I have analyzed this case in detail, for it provides a notably clear illustration of what can happen if the writing of schoolbooks is left to charlatans. [See "Elegant Illusion and Shabby Fakery" in TTL for May-June 1993.]

The new "Activity Bank" at the back of the book contains nine items. Most look like time-wasters, but most also seem harmless. The one on page 145, though, is intolerable: It leads students to believe that they can't grow plants without using soil unless they cobble a cockamamy device that allegedly involves "the principles of fluid pressure." The device actually is needless and silly. No such contraption is needed to make a hydroponic set-up work, and there are better, simpler ways to show students that water will flow in response to a change in hydrostatic pressure.

As far as I can tell, then, the "new 1994" version of Motion, Forces, and Energy does not differ from the 1993 in any important respect, and it is not a new version in any meaningful sense. As far as I can tell, Prentice Hall has just repeated an earlier display of incompetence and irresponsibility.

The Nature of Science

My review of the 1993 version of this book appeared in TTL for November-December 1992. I said then that The Nature of Science was a piece of junk -- a "science" book concocted by nitwits who lacked even the dimmest apprehension of what science is or what scientists do. I also noted that the book's title was misleading, because only the first chapter even tried to say anything about the nature of science. The rest of the book consisted of various kinds of filler.

The 1994 version does not differ from the 1993 in any significant way. Here are the only changes that I have found during my random sampling of pages:

All the tommyrot that I cited in my review of the 1993 version has been reprinted. The 1994 book, like the 1993, confuses science with technology, confuses theory with hypothesis, babbles about "facts" without ever saying what facts are, and promotes the stale, ignorant notion that scientific work has to involve experiments.

As before, the book says nothing about the concepts of evidence and reason, and it fails to offer any discussion that might help students to distinguish science from pseudoscience.

The buffoonish passage about Charles Darwin is still in place, as is the notion that we can learn about "almost all living things" by watching one lizard. That lizard stuff, by itself, is enough to disqualify the book from use in any science class. So is the gratuitous, brainless claim that scientists' ways of studying nature "may not be very different from those used [in prehistoric times] by the Anasazi Indians" (page 63). As I have said, Prentice Hall's writers lack even the dimmest apprehension of what science is or what scientists do.

The new "Activity Bank" at the back of the book has five items. Four seem harmless, but the fifth is idiotic and pernicious: The student is to set up an aquarium and put some plants and a fish into it -- then, after doing those things, the student should try to find "books about how to keep and raise fish." Here again is an item that, by itself, suffices to bar The Nature of Science from use in any science class.

I can't imagine that any person would actually suggest inflicting this book on students, unless that person were exceptionally ignorant or irresponsible.

Evolution: Change Over Time

Kevin Padian's review of the 1993 version of this book ran in TTL for March-April 1993. Padian found Evolution to be highly inconsistent. Of the book's three chapters, the first two showed inept writing, dozens of errors, and much confusion. They also promoted the notion that scientists merely "believe" things, as if scientific work depended on leaps of faith, rather than on the examination of evidence. But in the third chapter, Padian said, the scientific content was strong and the presentation was "a model of how to use language in presenting science to students."

For all practical purposes, the 1994 version is interchangeable with the 1993. During my random sampling of pages, I have found only these revisions:

When I checked the 1994 version against Padian's review of the 1993, I saw no differences at all. The third chapter is still strong, but the book as a whole is still full of what Padian called "the typical silliness that we have come to associate with the textbook industry." Nor has Prentice Hall fixed misspellings or the contradictions on page 67.

The new "Activity Bank" at the back of the book contains two items. One is an elaborate variant of the "Activity" item on page 59. The second is rubbish and seems likely to instill misconceptions, such as the common, wrong notion that evolution is the process of turning "simple" organisms into "complex" ones. The student eventually must answer some questions, including this: "What relationship does this activity have with evolution?" The answer is: None.

Heredity: The Code of Life

The 1993 version of this book was the subject of two reviews -- one written by Ann T. Bowling, the other by me -- in The Textbook Letter for March-April 1993.

Bowling, writing as both a geneticist and a parent, found the 1993 version unacceptable. She said that it sowed confusion about genetic principles and about applications of those principles in the real world. She called attention to conceptual errors, factual errors, mistaken terminology and irrelevant illustrations, and she pointed out that even the book's title was flawed: Heredity is not a code. In my own review, I said that Prentice Hall's writers evidently had tossed the book together without bothering to learn any genetics. They did not even know the meanings of such basic terms as hybrid, hybridization and inbreeding, and they apparently imagined that hybrid tomatoes arose from the crossing of plants belonging to different species!

The 1994 book is virtually identical to the 1993. Here are the only differences I found in my random sampling of pages:

(I don't know who the writers are, and I haven't tried to find out. The title pages of the Prentice Hall Science books say that the primary author, in all cases, is one Anthea Maton, "Former NSTA National Coordinator Project Scope, Sequence, Coordination." There is no indication of this person's present occupation or whereabouts.)

All of the egregious errors, bizarre misconceptions and plain absurdities that Bowling and I cited in the 1993 version have been carried into the 1994. The book still reduces topic after topic to incomprehensible mush, still spreads misinformation and bafflement, still employs basic terms in weird, wrong and sometimes contradictory ways, and still shows pictures that are irrelevant to the text or are simply wrong. In the teacher's edition, the pedagogic notes still include "Multicultural Opportunity" items that promote the confusion of culture with race. And (believe it or not) the note on page 71 continues to tell the teacher that when 2,400 is divided by 800, the quotient is 4.

The new "Activity Bank" at the back of the book offers eight time-wasters. Most of them are contrived and inane, lacking any real connection to genetics. Two of them are grossly misleading, and the one titled "Stalking the Wild Fruit Fly" requires the student to embrace a "conclusion" that is unfounded and stupid.

I assert that the "new 1994" version of Heredity: The Code of Life, like the 1993 version, is worse than worthless.

Electricity and Magnetism

Lawrence S. Lerner's review of the 1993 version appeared in TTL for November-December 1993. Lerner called Electricity and Magnetism "a travesty -- an insult to teacher and student alike." He was appalled to find that the book tried to reinforce "the phony, scary impressions of 'science' (including the fearsome image of the mad scientist) that young people get from films and television programs." When he analyzed the book's technical content, he found many misconceptions, and he inferred that the Prentice Hall writers didn't grasp the difference between voltage and current.

The 1994 version sustains much of the insult. My random sampling of pages has disclosed only these changes:

When I checked the 1994 version against Lerner's review of the 1993 version, I found that Prentice Hall has eliminated only four of the errors and other defects that Lerner had cited. Two of the changes have been described above: The text on page 27 no longer equates a current with a potential difference, and the caption for the table on page 36 no longer confuses energy with power. (In the teacher's edition, however, a pedagogic note about the table still says that a 2,600-watt oven uses more power than a 4,000-watt clothes dryer does!)

On page 70, the text no longer says that sewing machines and refrigerators "would be practically impossible without electric motors," and the inaccurate diagram of an electric motor has been replaced.

Everything else that Lerner cited is still in place. For example, the book still sees "science" in terms of Dr. Frankenstein and horror movies, and it still misconstrues basic concepts and expressions (such as potential difference, current and ampere). It continues to burden the student with wrong accounts of vacuum tubes, semiconductor devices and integrated circuits, and it continues to assail the teacher with nonsensical pedagogic suggestions and with subject-matter notes that are false or absurd. (On page 92, for instance, a note still tells the teacher to "Emphasize how the transistor is a miniature triode vacuum tube.")

The new "Activity Bank" at the back of the book has eight items. In my judgment, four of them are useful, four are pointless. But no number of activities would suffice to turn Electricity and Magnetism into a science book.

Heat Energy

Lawrence S. Lerner's review of the 1993 version of Heat Energy ran in TTL for January-February 1993. Lerner said that "The whole structure, including the pedagogic material in the teacher's edition, is permeated by misconception, misinformation and gross ignorance." He supported that appraisal by recounting many specific features of the book, and he pointed out that Prentice Hall's writers didn't know the difference between heat and temperature!

The 1994 version is almost identical to the 1993. My random sampling of pages disclosed only these changes:

When I checked the 1994 version against Lerner's review of the 1993, I found that Prentice Hall's writers still don't know the difference between heat and temperature. The book remains laughably ignorant and incompetent, and Prentice Hall has eliminated only three of the gross defects that Lerner cited. On page 9, a picture-caption no longer makes a false statement about a thermogram -- but the rest of the stuff about thermograms has not been corrected, so we can see that the writers still don't know what a thermogram is. On page 14, as I noted above, a picture-caption no longer says that molecules can be warm or cool. And on page 30 of the teacher's edition, a nonsensical note about isothermal transformations has been deleted.

Everything else that Lerner found has been carried into the 1994 book without correction. The book still uses idiotic expressions (e.g., "less intense amounts of heat") showing that the writers have little idea of what heat is. Conceptual errors abound, and the pedagogic notes still load the teacher with "information" that is false and stupid. The writers have not even found out what specific heat really means or what Count Rumford really did, and they still have not noticed that something is hopelessly wrong in their calculation on page 27. While all of the Prentice Hall Science books that I have examined include attempts to dupe the teacher, Heat Energy seems to be especially rich in such chicanery.

The new "Activity Bank" at the back of the book has five items. In my view, the second (about calibrating a thermometer) is innocuous, the fifth (about measuring the effectiveness of thermal-insulation materials) is good, and the three others are worthless or even harmful. In the first activity, the writers treat friction as a "force" but they evidently have no idea of how this force may be linked to heat or to an elevation of temperature. In the fourth activity, which involves burning samples of food, the procedure is so crude and sloppy that it cannot yield any respectable results.

Conclusion

In summary: The "new 1994" books that I have described here are not new in any meaningful sense, and the claims made in Prentice Hall's advertising are unjustified and misleading. None of the books is respectable or acceptable, and none should be allowed into any science classroom. As far as I can judge, Prentice Hall is just trying another scam, but with "more activities than ever."


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 frequently about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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