from The Textbook Letter, May-June 1997

Reviewing a middle-school book in physical science

Science Insights: Exploring Matter and Energy
Texas edition, 1997. 672 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-201-67326-6.
Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 2725 Sand Hill Road,
Menlo Park, California 94025.

Addison-Wesley Tries Again to Dignify Oriental Magic

William J. Bennetta

Addison-Wesley is still at it -- still producing "science" texts larded with false and misleading claims that promote magic and conflate science with superstition. Here is a nugget from the new "Texas edition" of Science Insights: Exploring Matter and Energy, dated in 1997:

Chinese builders first used compasses for geomacy [sic], a technique used to align houses and cities harmoniously with the forces of the earth.

What Addison-Wesley's writers are endorsing here (though they have misspelled its name) is geomancy -- a kind of ancient Oriental magic that is still practiced today, often as a swindle. Geomancers say that our planet is pervaded by mystical emanations that affect human fortunes, and they claim to know how these emanations can be used for securing good luck and for divining the future. Their enterprise is pure bunkum, completely unsupported by evidence, and the rituals by which they purport to align buildings, rooms and furniture with "forces of the earth" are nonsensical. If geomancy is a "technique" (as Addison-Wesley's writers call it), it is a technique for gulling the ignorant.

Addison-Wesley has been attempting to dignify geomancy for several years now, and the same sentence that I've quoted above (including the wrong spelling of geomancy) appeared in both the 1994 and the 1996 versions of Exploring Matter and Energy. I am not surprised to see it again in the 1997 "Texas edition" because this book is virtually identical to the 1996, even though Addison-Wesley has printed "NEW EDITION" and "TEXAS EDITION" on the 1997 book's cover.

Invisible Infants and Imaginary Arabs

The 1996 version of Exploring Matter and Energy was reviewed in these pages by Lawrence S. Lerner, who found that it was "full of howlers" and had been created by writers whose knowledge of science was "not just spotty but absent." [See "Now Addison-Wesley's Shame Is Doubled" in The Textbook Letter, September-October 1996, page 6.] The "Texas edition" is every bit as bad, as I have learned by making page-for-page comparisons and by checking to see whether Addison-Wesley has corrected any of the howlers that Lerner enumerated.

When I randomly chose 67 pages in the student's edition of the "Texas edition" and compared them with the like-numbered pages in the 1996 book, I found no substantive difference whatsoever in content, in wording, or even in punctuation. The only difference that I've detected is trivial: In the "Chapter Vocabulary" exercises in the "Texas edition," each vocabulary word is accompanied by a page number to show where a definition of the word can be found; the 1996 book gave section numbers, not page numbers.

All the howlers are still in place, including the twins who were 0 cm long at birth, the iceberg that violates Newton's first law, the bogus "explanation" of a diesel engine, the botched diagrams of electrical devices, and even the dumb notion that ECNALUBMA is the mirror image of AMBULANCE. And yes, Addison-Wesley is still telling students that the ancient Greeks and Arabs, apparently endowed with a precognitive awareness of medieval English, referred to magnetic rocks as "lodestones." [See "Unilingual Education" in The Textbook Letter, May-June 1996, page 11.]

Though the "Texas edition" is obviously trash, it has in fact been adopted by Texas's Board of Education for use as a 9th-grade science book -- and from this I infer that Texas's procedures for evaluating and adopting schoolbooks still revolve around sham and theatrics. I investigated a Texas adoption five years ago, when the state was dealing with American-history books, and I concluded that it was a bureaucratic sham from start to finish. For one thing, the committee that allegedly "evaluated" history books for the Board of Education didn't include anyone who had credentials as a historian. For another, the Board ran the adoption in a way which ensured that all of the candidate books, no matter how bad they were, would be accepted. [See "Deep in the Heart of Folly" in TTL, May-June 1992.]

I infer that these or equivalent practices still prevail. I cannot conceive of any other way to explain Texas's adoption of Exploring Matter and Energy.

To read about other cases in which Addison-Wesley has promoted superstition in "science" books, see "Addison-Wesley Extends the Quack Attack" in TTL for May-June 1995, and "Addison-Wesley Attacks Again" in TTL for November-December 1995.

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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