Editor's Introduction -- Among fraudulent "biology"
textbooks, Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology: The Web of
Life is hard to beat. The original version of this book, dated in 1998, was a hodgepodge
of fictitious "science," phony "history," incomprehensible throwaway
lines, ignorant guesses disguised as information, and bogus
"activities" that had no connection with reality. It was published
by Addison Wesley Longman, which was a subsidiary of the British
corporation Pearson PLC. A second version, dated in 2000, has been
published by Prentice Hall, which is a part of Pearson Education,
which is another company owned by Pearson PLC. Like the 1998
version, the 2000 is a sustained exercise in ignorance and fakery.
Indeed, the 2000 version is virtually identical with its
Even the title Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology: The Web of Life is a fake. "Scott Foresman" and "Addison Wesley" are vestiges of the names of two publishing companies that no longer exist, and the phrase "The Web of Life" embodies a gross fraud. That fraud was exposed in "Beavis and Butt-Head Do Biology," a TTL review of the 1998 version. Here is the pertinent passage from the review:
"The Web of Life"! That catchy subtitle looks as if it may actually mean something -- and we soon learn where it allegedly originated, because [Addison Wesley Longman's] writers have put this epigraph on their book's title page: " 'We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.' -- CHIEF SEATTLE"
The review was accompanied by a sidebar, titled "Fakery Squared," which outlined the history of the phony speech and then explained how the writers of Scott Foresman - Addison Wesley Biology: The Web of Life had contrived their fake "quotation." Here is the sidebar, in full.
from The Textbook Letter, November-December 1998
The speech that Smith ascribed to Chief Seattle was a florid display of metaphor and simile, as some excerpts will show:
Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion on our fathers for centuries untold, and which, to us, looks eternal, may change. To-day it is fair, to-morrow it may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never set. What Seattle says, the [American government] can rely upon, with as much certainty as our pale-face brothers can rely upon the return of the seasons. . . .
The great, and I presume also good, white chief sends us word that he wants to buy our lands but is willing to allow us to reserve enough to live on comfortably. This indeed appears generous, for the red man no longer has rights that he need respect, and the offer may be wise, also, for we are no longer in need of a great country. There was a time when our people covered the whole land as the waves of a wind-ruffled sea cover its shell-paved floor. But that time has long since passed away with the greatness of tribes now almost forgotten. I will not mourn over our untimely decay, nor reproach my pale-face brothers for hastening it, for we, too, may have been somewhat to blame. . . .
And so on. H.A. Smith's purported transcription of Seattle's speech had some 1,500 words, and its dramatic conclusion looked like something out of Homer:
We will ponder your proposition, and when we have decided we will tell you. But should we accept it, I here and now make this the first condition: That we will not be denied the privilege, without molestation, of visiting at will the graves of our ancestors and friends. Every part of this country is sacred to my people. Every hill-side, every valley, every plain and grove has been hallowed by some fond memory or some sad experience of my tribe. Even the rocks that seem to lie dumb as they swelter in the sun along the silent seashore in solemn grandeur thrill with memories of past events connected with the fate of my people, and the very dust under your feet responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours, because it is the ashes of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch, for the soil is rich with the life of our kindred.Some speech! -- but there is no reason to believe that Chief Seattle uttered any of it.
The sable braves, and fond mothers, and glad-hearted maidens, and the little children who lived and rejoiced here, and whose very names are now forgotten, still love these solitudes, and their deep fastnesses at eventide grow shadowy with the presence of dusky spirits. And when the last red man shall have perished from the earth and his memory among white men shall have become a myth, these shores shall swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children shall think themselves alone in the field, the shop, upon the highway or in the silence of the woods they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages shall be silent, and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled and still love this beautiful land. The white man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not altogether powerless.
The National Archives of the United States preserve two short speeches that Seattle gave during the Port Elliott negotiations. These constitute the only credible accounts of anything that Seattle ever said, and they bear no resemblance to the speech that H.A. Smith attributed to him.
Smith's own statements concerning that speech were, at best, unhelpful. Smith claimed to have been present when Seattle made the speech, and he claimed to have taken notes -- but no such notes have ever come to light. Smith claimed that the material which appeared in the Seattle Sunday Star was "but a fragment" of Chief Seattle's oration -- but he later was quoted as saying that his notes had enabled him to reconstruct "the entire address." And as far as we know, Smith never told whether the speech was given in English, in Seattle's own tongue, or in Chinook Jargon (the lingua franca of the Pacific Northwest during the mid-1800s).
In sum, there is no reason to believe that the material which Smith sent to the Seattle Sunday Star in 1887 was a record of history, in any sense. There is no reason to think that it was anything but a romantic fabrication.
Smith's material lay in obscurity for more than 40 years, until it was retrieved and republished -- with significant modifications, including some completely new sentences -- by one Clarence B. Bagley. Bagley's version appeared in the Washington Historical Quarterly in 1931. It marked the first of many mutations that would befall "Chief Seattle's Speech."
In 1969 a poet named William Arrowsmith brought forth a "Speech of Chief Seattle" that he had fashioned by thoroughly rewriting the Smith text. Arrowsmith's version was fairly faithful to the ideas expressed in Smith's version, though Arrowsmith had made wholesale changes in phrasing and had added a few new thoughts of his own.
In 1971 a Texas scriptwriter, Ted Perry, cobbled another version. This one was loaded heavily with newly invented material. Perry mauled H.A. Smith's text, turned Chief Seattle into a full-fledged eco-freak, and mocked history. For example, Perry's Chief Seattle told of how he had seen "a thousand rotting buffalos on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train." (The transcontinental railroad wasn't completed until 1869 -- fifteen years after Seattle had allegedly given his speech -- and the destruction of the Great Plains bison herds didn't begin until the 1870s. Ted Perry evidently assumed that his audience would be too dumb to notice such things or to wonder why a Suquamish Indian from the Pacific Northwest might have been roaming over the Great Plains.)
After lamenting the "thousand rotting buffalos," Perry's Chief Seattle said:
What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of earth.
Those lines, too, were brand-new inventions by Ted Perry. Nothing resembling them had appeared in the earlier versions of the speech.
In 1974 a new, anonymous "Speech by Chief Seattle" was displayed at an international exposition held in Spokane, Washington. This variant was evidently based upon the Ted Perry concoction, but it was shorter and showed some alterations. For one thing, the "rotting buffalos" were gone. For another, the Spokane Seattle embellished the notion that "All things are connected" by invoking a new metaphor -- "the web of life." Here it comes:
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? that the earth is our mother?
Whatever befalls the earth, befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites us all.
Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
In 1992 Senator Al Gore apparently copied those lines from the Spokane version, changed them just a little, and put the resulting "quotation" into his book Earth in the Balance. Al Gore made Chief Seattle say this:
Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth.
This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.
One more round of diddling produced the bogus "quotation" that now appears on the title page of Addison Wesley Longman's textbook The Web of Life. The AWL writers evidently copied the "web of life" stuff from the Spokane version or the Al Gore version of Ted Perry's fantasy, but then they made it politically correct. By replacing Man and he with We and we, they contrived this: We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
So there you have it: AWL's We-we stuff -- a fake "quotation" from a speech that was phony to begin with.
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 often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.
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