from The Textbook Letter, May-June 1998

Reviewing a high-school book in physics

Conceptual Physics
1999. 692 pages. ISBN of the student's edition: 0-201-33288-4.
Addison Wesley Longman, 2725 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, California 94025

It's the 1997 Book with Some Internet Hokum

William J. Bennetta

In the textbook business, Internetism is the fad of the day. Throughout the industry, publishers have been hustling to make their books seem hip by decorating them with boxes and sidebars that mention the Internet. Usually, these items are just worthless gewgaws -- and usually, Internetism is just harmless hokum.

Such hokum is all that distinguishes the 1999 version of Conceptual Physics from the 1997 version, because -- as far as content is concerned -- the two are literally identical. Reviews of the 1997 version appeared in The Textbook Letter for May-June 1997, and both of those reviews are fully applicable to the 1999 as well.

The 1999 book carries the label "Third Edition with Expanded Technology," which seems to imply some substantial updating. In truth, it merely means this: A boxed note has been added to the first page of each chapter, telling the student that he can find more information by "exploring" one or another of the pages at a Web site. The site is devoted to promoting the Conceptual Physics textbook, and it is operated by the book's publisher, Addison Wesley Longman.

Any bright student will wonder: If the information displayed at that Web site is important, why isn't it in the book? If it is not important, why should anyone bother to view it at a Web site? Those are good questions that will help students and teachers alike to deal with Internetism.

Addison Wesley Longman's Conceptual Physics site comprises nine major parts. Six of these offer bits of information corresponding to the six units of the textbook. Another shows something called the "Next-Time Question of the Week." Another offers teachers a chance to send questions about such things as "the Conceptual Physics program philosophy." The ninth part, "Product Information," lists items (such as transparencies, tests, CD-ROMs and videos) that Addison Wesley Longman sells for use with Conceptual Physics.

Postscript: I said above that Internetism is usually just harmless hokum. A prominent exception to this rule is the highly pernicious form of Internetism practiced by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill. Glencoe's writers tell students to search the Internet for information about various broad topics, but they fail to warn the students that the Internet teems with junk sites and with fake "information" dispensed by pressure groups, hucksters and crackpots. In effect, the Glencoe writers are directing students to believe everything that shows up on a video monitor. My analysis of Glencoe-style Internetism, with some examples of the poppycock and disinformation that students will absorb if they try to follow Glencoe's prescriptions, will appear soon in The Textbook Letter.

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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