*Science Insights: Exploring Matter and Energy*

1994. 672 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-201-81002-6.

Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 2725 Sand Hill Road,

Menlo Park, California 94025.

in a Brainless Book

Today most of us know better. We recognize that the atmosphere
rotates with the rest of the planet. The writers of
Addison-Wesley's *Exploring Matter and Energy*, however, haven't yet caught
up with Galileo, as they show on page 38:

The rotation of the earth is important to airplane pilots and navigators. When a plane enters the air, the earth continues to rotate beneath it. The plane's destination actually moves toward the plane or away from it. . . . A plane flying from Los Angeles to New York travels east -- the same direction as the rotation of the earth. The eastbound plane must overtake New York, which is also moving east as the earth rotates. To determine arrival time, pilots must consider the flight direction and the latitude of the ground beneath them.

Indeed they must, but not for the reason that Addison-Wesley's
writers suggest in that farrago of nonsense. Obviously, the
writers are still clinging to the notion that Earth spins while
the air remains fixed in space -- and we can be sure that these
writers have never thought *quantitatively* about a "plane flying
from Los Angeles to New York." It is easy to show that, at the
mean latitude between Los Angeles and New York, the eastward
speed of Earth's surface is about 830 miles an hour, which is
some 60% greater than the cruising airspeed of a typical
commercial airliner. If the atmosphere were standing still in
space, instead of rotating eastward with the rest of Earth, no
airliner could ever fly eastward from Los Angeles and "overtake
New York": The eastbound airplane would continuously lose ground
and would slip farther and farther to the *west*. If the plane
headed steadily eastward at an airspeed of 500 miles an hour, and
if it had enough fuel to fly for 17 hours or so, it would
eventually reach Osaka -- some 6,000 miles west of Los Angeles.

Is the writers' error just a bit of carelessness? No, they really imagine that the atmosphere is fixed: On page 52 they invite the student to "apply" that silliness in answering a question about a plane that flies from Miami to Toronto and back.

I have chosen these cases to introduce two fundamental traits of
*Exploring Matter and Energy*. First, this middle-school book is
the product of writers whose knowledge of science is not merely
spotty but absent. Second, the writers continually affirm their
ignorance by showing that they have no understanding of
measurement, no sense of real-world quantities, and no respect
for numbers.

A respect for numbers is one of the essential features that
characterize all science. When numbers are used by scientists,
they mean something; they describe, quantitatively, some aspect
of the real world. But numbers are also used by ignorant
practitioners of one-upmanship, who hope to pass themselves off
as erudite and "scientific" by throwing numbers around. This
form of lying appears often in *Exploring Matter and Energy*. I
shall pay special attention to it in this review, because it is a
practice that can instill in young people a lifelong insouciance
toward measurement and quantification.

The first two pages of *Exploring Matter and Energy* present a
stately saraband in which five "authors" and ten "content
reviewers" exhibit their advanced degrees and their impressive
titles. Alas, that splendid display is to no avail. The
illusion of erudition disintegrates as soon as we read the
book's first chapter and see the writers' notions about the SI
system of measurement. They don't understand that system, and
their list of the system's "basic units" includes such things as
the square meter (which is a derived unit, not a base unit) and
the liter (which isn't an SI unit at all). In fact, five of the
seven items on the list are false, and five genuine base units
are absent.

At age 5, the table says, Rosa was 45 cm tall. That, folks, is
18 inches! As a reality check, notice that the average length of
*newborn* girls is 50 cm (20 inches), and even those in the
shortest 5% are 45 cm long. At age 5, the mean height of girls
is 108 cm (43 inches), and even the shortest 5% have attained 101
cm (38 inches) -- more than twice the height of poor Rosa. (The
averages that I am citing have been derived from data collected
by the National Center for Health Statistics. This information
is well known, and physicians use it in evaluating the growth of
children. Graphical summaries of the NCHS figures can be
obtained easily from any pediatrician's office.)

Raul, too, was marvelously miniaturized. At age 5 he measured only 60 cm (24 inches), though the average height of 5-year-old boys is nearly twice as great as that. The 5-year-old Raul, it seems, was about the size of a 3-month-old infant.

Addison-Wesley's table indicates that Rosa partially recovered from her poor start by doing a lot of growing. Indeed, between ages 13 and 14 she grew from 123 cm to 148 cm -- a spurt of 25 cm (or 10 inches) in only one year! (In reality, even the tallest girls add less than 5 cm in their 14th year.) Despite that extraordinary performance, however, Rosa never caught up with the rest of her sex. After age 14 she experienced no growth at all; when she was 18 years old, her height was still 148 cm (4 feet, 10 inches). In the real world, the average height of 18-year-old girls is 164 cm (or 5 feet, 5 inches), and even the shortest 5% have reached 153 cm (5 feet).

Raul, too, stayed runty. At age 14 he was only as tall as Rosa had been at 13, and at 18 he measured 160 cm (5 feet, 3 inches). Yet the average height of 18-year-old boys is about 177 cm, and the shortest 5% measure 165 cm (5 feet, 5 inches).

(Noticing that the twins have Hispanic names, I wonder whether
Addison-Wesley's writers have been influenced by a notorious
canard put forth by Ronald Reagan. Reagan said that Hispanics
are suited to using *el cortado* (the back-breaking short-handled
hoe) because they are "built low and close to the ground.")

Now, the writers' concocting of absurd numbers is bad enough, but
look at what happens when Addison-Wesley's technical draftsman
tries to show how those numbers can be converted into a line
graph. After plotting the first data point (height at age 5) for
each twin, the artist connects each data point to the origin.
This is exactly what students must learn *not* to do! It
represents a fundamental misconception, and in this case it
produces a plainly ridiculous result: Addison-Wesley's graph
reports that, at birth, Rosa and Raul each had a length of zero!
So much for the pretense that Addison-Wesley's people are fit to
tell students about graphs!

Perhaps you think that I have made too much of a few isolated mistakes, so let's look at some of the other instances in which Addison-Wesley's writers have invented nonsensical numbers and have failed to think quantitatively about the things that they supposedly are describing:

- Figure 2.16 shows a bowling ball that is rolling down a
street on a fairly steep hill. After starting from the top of
the hill and rolling past two houses (in other words, after
rolling 35 meters or so), the ball moves at 45 m/s, or 100 miles
an hour! The ball's acceleration, therefore, is more than 3
*g*-- more than three times the acceleration of an object in free fall. - On page 35 a "distance-time graph for a marathon runner"
tells that he covered the 42-kilometer course in 6 hours -- a
far-from-world-class performance in which his average speed was
7 kilometers (or about 4 miles) an hour. That pace corresponds
to a brisk walk; real marathon runners finish a 42-kilometer
race in 2 hours or so.
- In a problem on page 41, a car accelerates at 3.5
*g*-- which would excite the envy of even the hottest drag racers. - In a worked-out problem on page 42, a cheetah accelerates to
3 km/min (108 miles an hour) in 2 seconds, achieving a phenomenal
acceleration of 2.5
*g*. Yet this exorbitant result didn't set off any alarms in the heads of the writers. - On page 76 the ratio of the Moon's mass to Earth's mass is given as 1/6; the actual ratio is 1/81. A picture indicates that the solar tide is greater than the lunar tide; the opposite is true.

Inevitably, the writers' ignorance of quantities blends into, and exacerbates, their failure to understand concepts. We already have seen this in their fantasy about the airplane traveling from Los Angeles to New York. Here are some more cases in point:

- On page 42 they ask the student to compute an "acceleration"
that doesn't exist: "A light breeze blows at 6 km/h. After 1 h
the breeze becomes a strong wind that is traveling at 120 km/h.
What is the acceleration of the wind?" A student can plug in
some numbers and get an answer -- but in doing so, he will
acquire a completely false impression of what acceleration means.
A wind isn't a discrete body; the cubic meter of air that is
blowing past me right now is not the same cubic meter that blew
past me an hour ago, so the idea of "acceleration" has no
relevance here.
- On page 69 the writers pose this problem: "A 28-kg meteor
hits the surface of the moon at 130 km/s. What is the force of
the meteor?" The problem evidently has something to do with
momentum, but the writers don't understand how momentum is
related to force. The problem can't be solved.
- On page 78 a picture caption says that mysterious "special
equipment" will enable a scientist to determine "the amount of
radioactive elements" in a carved stone, and that the results
"will reveal the age of the carving." Wrong. The results may
show the age of the stone, but they
*cannot*show when the carving was done. (Much later, on page 568, the writers reaffirm that they don't understand radioactive dating: They try to relate carbon-14 dating to a triceratops, a beast that lived millions of years ago, during the Cretaceous Period. In reality, carbon-14 dating can be used only on objects whose ages are less than 70,000 years or so.)

Even when they stay away from numbers as such, Addison-Wesley's
people manage to muck things up: "Because potential and kinetic
energy can change from one kind to the other, energy can't be
created or destroyed. This is known as the *law of conservation
of energy. . . . * Maintaining and transferring momentum is
called the *law of the conservation of momentum. . . . * all forms
of nuclear medicine produce hazardous radioactive waste. . . ."
Wrong, wrong, and wrong! The diagrams of an electric motor and a
galvanometer are both erroneous, and neither device will work as
shown. The complicated diagram of a steel-making process misses
the point and implies that steel is simply purified iron. And so
on, and so on.

- "Should Cars Use Solar-Powered Engines?" The "issues"
surrounding this question are stated in an idiotically
oversimplified fashion. They are also skewed so that the student
can have no doubt about what he should do when the writers tell
him to "Write a paper stating your position for or against using
solar-powered cars"; he is expected to take the "for" position.
- "Should Seat Belts and Air Bags Be Required?" Here too, the
issues are idiotically oversimplified and the "correct" answer
is telegraphed. Worse, perhaps, the writers include a paragraph
(labeled "Think About It") in which they ask: "Does the risk of
personal injury outweigh the inconvenience of using seat belts
and the cost increase of air bags?" Here they are urging the
student to buy into a practice that often is used in false
"cost-benefit analyses" -- the lumping of measurable and immeasurable
factors. The cost increase associated with air bags can be
quantified in dollars, but "inconvenience" certainly cannot.
- "Should People Avoid Low-Level Magnetic Fields?" The writers (who guess that electric
fields are "low-frequency current") present a jumble of false claims and misleading,
unsupported allegations. This seems to be another case in which textbook-writers have tried
to look trendy (and to scare students) by hawking superstition. See Max G. Rodel's review of
*Environmental Science: A Global Concern*in the May-June issue of*TTL.* - "Are Biodegradable Plastics Good for the Environment?" Here the "issues" are fuzzy statements about things that people allegedly "say" or "feel" or "claim," with no attempt to give real information. A "Think About It" paragraph asks, "Which strategy would use less of the world's petroleum reserve -- using biodegradable plastic or recyclable plastic?" The question is unanswerable.

The best that can be said about *Exploring Matter and Energy* is
that some of its chemistry chapters aren't as bad as its physics
chapters. But even there, the writers don't really know the
material. They give a lot of this-is-how-it-is description, but
they don't convey any real feeling of chemistry's thrust and
meaning.

As a whole, *Exploring Matter and Energy* strikes me as the work of
people who haven't the foggiest notion of what science is about.
Like the competing, equally reprehensible text sold by Prentice
Hall, this is a book that educators should shun.

Lawrence S. Lerner is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at California State University, Long Beach. He served on the panel that wrote the current framework for science education in California's public schools, and he is a director of The Textbook League.

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