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from The Textbook Letter, November-December 1996

Reviewing a high-school book in environmental science

Global Science: Energy, Resources, Environment
1996. 656 pages. ISBN: 0-8403-7483-6. Kendall/Hunt Publishing
Company, 4050 Westmark Drive, Dubuque, Iowa 52002.

This Revised Book Displays
Many Welcome Improvements

Max G. Rodel

Kendall/Hunt's Global Science teaches principles of chemistry, physics, geology and mathematics, all in a context of applied science, ecological interactions, and the management of resources. Unlike most of the environmental-science books that have been considered in The Textbook Letter, it is directed at high-school students. It is not a college text.

In my review of the 1991 version of Global Science I cited various good points, but I also noted some serious defects that kept me from endorsing the book for use in schools. The good points included admirable technical presentations, lots of challenging mathematical problems, and a general avoidance of advocacy and preaching. On the negative side, much of the text was outdated and unfocused, and the book appeared to lack any identifiable audience. Some parts seemed too childish for high-school students, but other parts were too difficult for any but the most advanced readers to follow. (See The Textbook Letter, January-February 1992.)

Now Kendall/Hunt has produced a new version, dated in 1996, that displays many welcome improvements. The writers and editors have strengthened a lot of the book's weaker passages while retaining its solid base of scientific and technical information.

The most obvious changes seen in the new version involve the artwork: Some of the illustrations have been redrawn (though most have not), a few obsolete or ineffectual photographs have been replaced by better ones, and nearly all of the old black-and-white pictures have been redone in color. The increased use of color helps to give the book a more modern appearance, even if many of the illustrations remain rather old-fashioned and staid in their design and typography.

More notes have been inserted into the page-margins, along with new questions and labels that are decorated with icons. (For example, a summary is marked by an icon representing an open book, while a question is designated by a stylized, oversized question mark.) This use of icons seems to be the editors' only important concession to the current fad for adding glitz to schoolbooks.

On the other hand, the editors have rejected the fashionable practice of placing a lot of preliminary material at the beginning of each chapter, ahead of the text. In the 1991 book, each chapter began with a list of vocabulary words and a list of questions. Those lists are absent from the 1996; vocabulary words are now shown in boldface type when they occur in the text for the first time.

Each chapter still concludes with a summary, a list of references, and sets of questions and problems. The problems often are quantitative, requiring a thorough understanding of arithmetic and some knowledge of algebra, geometry or even higher mathematics. The lists of references, I am happy to say, have been updated, and most of the obsolete sources that were cited in the 1991 book have been replaced or supplemented by more timely material.

The organization and essential content of Global Science have not been significantly modified. The 1991 version consisted of twelve long chapters, and it dealt largely with energy production, resource supplies, and resource-management practices. In the 1996 version, the chapters have increased to fourteen (with nuclear energy commanding a chapter all to itself), some of the old chapters have been renamed, and the sections about energy alternatives and the conservation of energy resources have been rearranged and expanded, but the book's scope and emphasis remain the same.

At the same time, many passages within the individual chapters have been altered, and four of the alterations seem especially significant:

As in the 1991 book, the discussions of controversial topics are generally respectable, fair, and free of any prominent advocacy. There are only a few exceptions to this rule, and I already have described two of them: the exclusion of abortion from the section about birth-control methods, and the inadequate treatment of market-based approaches to solving "the food problem."

Some of the childish items that I cited in my review of the 1991 version have been rewritten to good effect, but not all of them. In chapter 1, for example, the passage about Sputnik has been cast into respectable prose instead of kindergarten-talk; yet the same chapter retains a cutesy diagram in which a "fish lake" is successively transformed into a "duck marsh," a "frog meadow," a "rabbit thicket" and a "squirrel forest," with no explanation of why such a transformation might occur. This grade-school material seems inappropriate in a book that requires students to display a firm grasp of high-school science and math. The book's intended audience still is not defined clearly enough.

Despite that lingering lack of focus, however, Global Science has been substantially improved, and this 1996 version ranks among the better environmental-science books available for use in high schools. It provides strong coverage of science and technology, with minimal preaching and with a notable lack of glitz, and I recommend it.

This Is a Good Science Text,
and You Can Make It Better

William J. Bennetta

During the past year I have examined three environmental- science textbooks that have been created explicitly for use in high schools.

One of them, Holt Environmental Science, is a garish TV textbook that is long on pictures but very short on content. In a review that appeared in the March-April issue of TTL, I said that Holt Environmental Science might be suitable for slow students who can't read well, but I could not imagine that it would be of any use to capable students who really want to learn science.

The second book, Addison-Wesley Environmental Science, is more conventional in design, but it is so corrupt that no honest teacher would consider using it. I intend to analyze it in a full-length review, but I already have described, in a brief article, one reason why Addison-Wesley's product must be rejected. A book which promotes numerology and which tells students that scientific findings are similar to Amerindian superstitions cannot be admitted to any science classroom. (See "Addison-Wesley Attacks Again" in TTL, November-December 1995, page 12.)

The third book is the 1996 version of Kendall/Hunt's Global Science, the book that I'm reviewing here. It is the best of the three, and it is the only one that I can recommend. My recommendation is conditional, however. If you propose to use Global Science as a teaching text, you should get a sharp knife and excise most of chapter 5. By doing so, you will make the book better and you will avoid exposing your students to some awfully confused and misleading material.

When I reviewed the 1991 version of Global Science, I declined to endorse it -- chiefly because it contained a lot of obsolete material and showed some serious conceptual defects. I observed, however, that the book also had some powerful virtues, such as its solid explanations of technology, its good presentation of population dynamics, its knowledgeable treatment of overpopulation, and its recurring emphasis on the effects of population growth. These characteristics persist in the 1996 version. The author of Global Science, John W. Christensen, again offers superior expositions of physical science, of many forms of technology, and of the workings of many natural or man-made systems, and he continues to give proper attention to population growth and its consequences.

At the same time, Christensen has done some significant updating and has corrected some of the substantive mistakes that made the 1991 version unacceptable.

The weakest parts of Global Science are those that deal with biology, whether theoretical or applied. Christensen doesn't seem to be as comfortable with biology as he is with the physical sciences, and he sometimes becomes confused or resorts to platitudes when he has to address biological matters.

This is especially evident in chapter 5, "Food, Agriculture, and Population Interactions," which is very messy. Christensen begins with some eighteen pages on soil and agriculture, but then he becomes lost in stuff that smacks of bureaucratic bafflegab and leftist guilt-literature. For example, he recites (but he does not examine) a United Nations agency's meaningless claim that "Global food production is adequate to feed all people on Earth"; he avers that "if we all became vegetarians or near- vegetarians, the world could feed more people" (which is true but inane), and then he goes on to say:

In fact, the justification for animals in agriculture is their ability to transform products of little or no value into nutritious human food. However, in the United States, beef cattle commonly also eat large quantities of corn, soybeans, and wheat bran that could be utilized in other ways.

Obviously, that second sentence directly refutes the first, and the first is nonsense anyway -- a fanciful effort to rationalize the irrational. In reality, the "justification for animals in agriculture" is simply that people like to eat animals, no matter what the animals may consume.

Christensen mentions Earth's carrying capacity for humans, and he correctly points out that "The number of people the Earth can support is inversely related to [their] standard of living." But then he gets tangled in the notion that one can calculate a theoretical carrying capacity ("about 20 billion people who eat like Americans") by considering the flow of energy to Earth from the Sun. This is unjustified and misleading.

The rest of the chapter is a jumble that includes odd passages on organic evolution, natural selection and endangered species. I do not know why Christensen has turned these important subjects into minor items within a chapter on agriculture, and I find his material poor and unreliable.

Happily, all these difficulties can be corrected with the knife that I recommended earlier. Just cut out the last 30 pages of the chapter, starting at "Food and Hunger," and you'll have a superior book for use in teaching environmental science.


Max G. Rodel is a consulting environmental chemist and a registered environmental assessor in the state of California. His major professional interest is the chemistry of natural aquatic systems, including the fates of pollutants. He lives and works in Mill Valley.

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.

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