Another scam in Texas

letter of 1 November 2001 from William J. Bennetta (the president
of The Textbook League) to Howard P. Lyon (an expert in the analysis
of "science" textbooks published by Prentice Hall)

1 November 2001
Howard P. Lyon
1029 Washington Place
Erie, Pennsylvania 16502

Subject:  Watching the Prentice Hall scam in Texas

Dear Howard:

Thanks for sending me those exhibits pertaining to the three Science Explorer, Texas Edition textbooks that Prentice Hall has submitted for adoption by the Texas State Board of Education. I have paid particular attention to the pages from Science Explorer, Texas Edition, Grade 7 and Science Explorer, Texas Edition, Grade 8.

I have collected some information of my own about the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books and about the textbook-adoption proceedings that are unfolding in Texas now, and I infer that Texas is doing business as usual. I therefore expect the usual results:

Texas officials will play ball with the publisher and will scorn the interests of teachers and students. The books will be adopted, even though they are manifestly incompetent and fraudulent. As soon as the books are formally adopted, the publisher will sell them to helpless school districts, in quantity, and will collect millions of dollars from the Texas treasury. While the publisher's functionaries congratulate themselves on another successful scam, teachers and students in Texas's middle schools will be left to contend with books that never should have got into any science classroom.

The same corrupt routine has been performed in Texas many times before, as I have noted in some of my reviews. (See, for example, "The Tiny Green Specks and the Two-Time Loser" in The Textbook Letter, July August 1998; "Beavis and Butt-Head Do Biology" in The Textbook Letter, November-December 1998; and "Students in Texas Have Been Betrayed Again" in The Textbook Letter, July-August 1999.)

The only novel element in this year's performance, so far, has been a brief appearance by some clowns from Texas A&M University. The Texas Education Agency ostensibly hired A&M to check the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books (and many other books involved in the current adoption) for the purpose of ensuring that they were "factually correct" -- but as far as I can tell from reading A&M's report, A&M's checking of the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books was, at best, a sham. A&M's appraisals of the three Science Explorer, Texas Edition books may serve as raw material for some new Aggie jokes, but otherwise they are useless.

The body of this memo has two major parts. In Part 1, I tell about how the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books originated. In Part 2, I say a little more about the A&M report, and I offer some thoughts about the corruption that characterizes textbook-adoption proceedings in Texas.

Part 1

Looking at the Science Explorer, Texas Edition pages that you sent to me, I find that most of the material on those pages is quite familiar. Though each Science Explorer, Texas Edition book shows "2002" as its copyright date, each is -- at bottom -- a repackaging of stuff that Prentice Hall concocted in the late 1990s, for use in a series of books called Prentice Hall Science Explorer. The individual books in the Prentice Hall Science Explorer series were slim (typically 170 to 210 pages), and there were fifteen of them. All fifteen books were dated in 2000. Prentice Hall began selling them in 1999.

Each of the three Science Explorer, Texas Edition books is, in effect, several of the Prentice Hall Science Explorer books bound together.

Those fifteen Prentice Hall Science Explorer books could not be taken seriously by anyone who knew much about science. They were too obviously phony, and a knowledgeable reader could easily discern that Prentice Hall's writers were both ignorant and dishonest. They continually pretended to be experts in matters of which they knew little or nothing, they contrived "facts" out of thin air, and they larded their books with lies.

The results of these efforts were sometimes so bad that they seemed comical. For instance: The writers evidently had heard that elephants use infrasonic signals for communication, so they took a wild guess and told students that elephants "stomp on the ground" to create infrasonic vibrations! The writers obviously didn't know that the infrasonic signals emitted by elephants are vocal signals. Another funny item was the writers' announcement that fish-farming "reduces the demand for fish caught in rivers and oceans." And I had to laugh again when the writers invented a fake, impossible "experiment" and attributed it to Joseph Priestley!

For the most part, however, the fakery in the Prentice Hall Science Explorer books wasn't comical at all. It was just disgusting. Especially repugnant (to me, at least) were the many cases in which Prentice Hall engaged in deliberate, sustained misrepresentation or plain lying. In this context, let me describe three features of the Prentice Hall Science Explorer books that seemed particularly noteworthy. I have chosen these three features because all of them have now been recycled into the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books.

A.      Each of the fifteen Prentice Hall Science Explorer books displayed -- on the page after the copyright page -- a colorful box that introduced three persons who allegedly had worked on the Prentice Hall Science Explorer series as "Program Authors." We saw photographs of these three specimens, we learned that their names were Michael J. Padilla, Ioannis Miaoulis and Martha Cyr, and we read about their impressive credentials. Padilla was a professor of science education at the University of Georgia (in Athens). Miaoulis and Cyr held positions in the College of Engineering at Tufts University -- and Prentice Hall emphasized the Tufts connection by claiming that "Faculty from Tufts University" had "participated in the development" of the Prentice Hall Science Explorer volumes and had "reviewed the student books for content accuracy."

The representation that Padilla, Miaoulis and Cyr were the "Authors" of the "Program" (or of anything else) was absurd on its face, because neither Padilla nor Miaoulis nor Cyr appeared among the writers listed on the title pages of the fifteen books. It seemed clear that Prentice Hall was merely using the names and affiliations of Padilla, Miaoulis and Cyr -- along with the newly contrived notion of "Program Authors" -- to create the false impression that the Prentice Hall Science Explorer books were respectable and scientifically accurate.

At first glance, this cheesy sales-promotion gimmick was not remarkable. We already knew that Prentice Hall was a crooked company and that Prentice Hall had routinely engaged in commercial fraud by misrepresenting the provenance and authorship of its books.

But if we pretended to believe Prentice Hall's claims, we were driven to some grotesque conclusions. We found, for example, than neither Miaoulis nor Cyr -- nor, apparently, any other member of the "Faculty from Tufts University" -- knew how airplane wings worked! Please read on.

B.      Prentice Hall's "explanation" of airplane wings appeared in the Prentice Hall Science Explorer book titled Motion, Forces, and Energy. The "explanation" was a rewrite of some nonsense that had been printed, year after year, in other fake "science" books, and it had no connection to reality. It had been concocted long ago by someone who had no idea of what he was writing about, and it was not only wrong but ridiculous as well. Moreover, it had been discredited repeatedly by scientists, engineers and competent teachers.

Apparently, however, those eminent engineers Miaoulis and Cyr, when they reviewed the book "for content accuracy," had found that Prentice Hall's nonsensical material about airplane wings was just fine and dandy -- and so had all their pals on the "Faculty from Tufts University." Some faculty!

Now I must tell you that I couldn't resist amusing myself by writing to Miaoulis and Cyr. In an e-mail that I sent to both of them in March 2001, I told them that I had seen the Motion, Forces, and Energy book in the Prentice Hall Science Explorer series, and that I had given attention to the book's material about wings. I then recommended some sources (a journal article, a NASA Web site, and a book) that Miaoulis and Cyr could consult if they wanted to learn how an airplane wing actually generates lift.

I never received any reply from either of them, nor had I expected one. But I had had the fun of letting Miaoulis and Cyr know that I recognized them for what they were -- a pair of hustlers taking part in a Prentice Hall scam.

C.      The writers of the fifteen Prentice Hall Science Explorer books sometimes combined fake "science" with phony "history." This sort of double-barreled fraud was displayed with exceptional virulence in the Prentice Hall Science Explorer book titled Cells and Heredity, where the writers pretended to sketch the "history" of Darwin's voyage aboard H.M.S. Beagle and his formulation of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Though the writers of Cells and Heredity held themselves forth as persons who knew about Darwin's life and work, the "history" that they offered was actually a mess of fantasies, lies, and gee-whiz "facts" that were false. Indeed, their opening sentences sufficed to demonstrate that the writers hadn't read Darwin and were faking the whole thing:

"In December 1831, the British naval ship HMS Beagle set sail from England on a five-year-long trip around the world. On board was a 22-year-old named Charles Darwin. Darwin eventually became the ship's naturalist -- a person who studies the natural world."

How ridiculous! Reading Prentice Hall's account, one had to infer that Darwin had wandered onto the Beagle for no reason at all. Then -- "eventually" -- Capt. Fitz-Roy noticed him and decided that he should serve as the ship's naturalist, instead of just roaming the decks and whistling nautical tunes all day.

The truth, as you know, is that Fitz-Roy had appointed Darwin to the post of naturalist (during a meeting in London) before Darwin ever saw the Beagle. The circumstances of that appointment are well known because Darwin later described them in his Autobiography, but Prentice Hall's fraudsters hadn't bothered to read Darwin's account.

Nor had those fraudsters bothered to read Darwin's great memoir The Voyage of the Beagle. So when they decided to write something about Darwin's sojourn in the Galapagos Archipelago, they simply invented claptrap -- like this:

"It was on the Galapagos Islands that Darwin observed some of the greatest diversity of life forms. The giant tortoises, or land turtles, he saw were so tall that they could look him in the eye. There were also seals covered with fur, and lizards that ate nothing but tough, prickly cactus plants."

Excepting the statement about "seals covered with fur," everything in that passage was rubbish -- and the sentence about "diversity of life forms" contradicted Darwin's own report. The claim about "seals covered with fur" was true but idiotic. Fur seals occurred widely in the Pacific Basin, so the presence of such seals in the Galapagos Archipelago wasn't remarkable (nor did it signify anything about "diversity").

Prentice Hall's phony text about Darwin and the Beagle was accompanied by a map which purported to show the route that the Beagle had followed. The map -- contrived to resemble an ancient scroll, rather than a 19th-century Admiralty chart -- was ignorant, anachronistic hokum.

After that, things got worse. For example: There was a long paragraph that purported to tell about Darwin's finches, but it was another display of anachronistic fakery.

The "Faculty from Tufts University," of course, had failed to notice any of these things. Some faculty! Some university!

Part 2

When the fifteen-book Prentice Hall Science Explorer series was developed, Prentice Hall was a division of Simon & Schuster. Since then, Prentice Hall has been absorbed into Pearson Education, an operation owned by the British company Pearson PLC. (See "Another Acquisition" in The Textbook Letter, March-April 1996, and "Pearson's New Schoolbook Enterprise" in The Textbook Letter, November-December 1998.) As far as the content and shoddiness of Prentice Hall's books are concerned, the change in ownership hasn't made any difference.

In March of 1999, Pearson Education announced, with much hoopla, that it would launch a program aimed at improving its schoolbooks in several ways, including the elimination of "factual errors." Pearson's announcement, however, was a publicity stunt. Pearson executives knew that one of their phony "science" books would soon be pilloried on the national television program 20/20, and they evidently hoped that their hoopla would serve to counteract the 20/20 presentation. (See "First the Hoopla -- Then the Whitewash" in The Textbook Letter, January-February 2000.)

The much-publicized improvement program has turned out to be a hoax, and the "new" books that Prentice Hall is peddling today are typically as bad as any books that Prentice Hall produced in the past. Indeed, many of the "new" Prentice Hall books are old Prentice Hall books that have been wrapped in new packaging. This brings us to the three Science Explorer, Texas Edition books that Prentice Hall has submitted for adoption in Texas.

I've already said that each of the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books is, in effect, several of the old Prentice Hall Science Explorer books bound together. And I've already told that the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books retain the three features that I described -- as items A, B and C -- in Part 1 of this memo. Those features alone, because they so clearly bespeak duplicity and dishonesty -- should suffice to disqualify the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books from being considered for adoption in Texas or anywhere else. Now it's time to play "Name That U."

Recall: Prentice Hall claims that no one on the faculty of Tufts University knows how an airplane wing produces lift. Question: Can you name another university where nobody knows how an airplane wing works? Can you name another U where nobody understands that the principle underlying the induction of lift by an airfoil is Newton's third law?

Did you say Texas A&M University? You're right!

Well, maybe you aren't right. Maybe somebody at A&M knows how airplanes fly, but you can't deduce this by looking at A&M's report to the Texas Education Agency, with its ridiculous appraisals of the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books.

A&M's report about textbooks and other instructional materials involved in Texas's current adoption is so uneven that it is weird. In some cases, the appraisals of specific books and ancillary materials are detailed, precise and well presented, and they bespeak diligent work. In other cases, the appraisals are incompetent or worse.

A&M's appraisals of the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books are worse. They are ludicrous. A&M's functionaries say that they found no factual errors at all in Science Explorer, Texas Edition, Grade 6, five errors in Science Explorer, Texas Edition, Grade 7, and one error in Science Explorer, Texas Edition, Grade 8. I'm not joking. These fact-checkers (or whatever they call themselves) say that they examined all three Science Explorer, Texas Edition books and found only six items that require correction. We must conclude that the checkers were completely unqualified for the work that they accepted, or that they merely glanced at the books and didn't even try to do their work in any serious way. Given three books that collectively contain scores and scores of errors -- not to mention absurdities, gross misconceptions, and flights of sheer nonsense -- these clowns noticed a total of six!

We could regard that as funny, in a pathetic way, if we weren't aware that Texas routinely allows corrupt publishers to make nominal "corrections" in submitted books -- even when the books are so bad that the notion of "correcting" them is laughable -- so that the books can then be adopted and the publishers can make money. This is one of the most obvious manifestations of the corruption that pervades textbook-adoption proceedings in Texas. It is one of the most obvious manifestations of how Texas officials serve the interests of publishers while scuttling the interests of students.

It is also the reason why publishers know that they can submit books that are junk. If something goes wrong and somebody makes a fuss, Texas officials will help the publishers to stage little "correction" charades, and then announce that the books have been made right. A fix-it charade costs a few bucks, but this cost is minuscule when compared with what the publishers would have had to spend to hire competent writers and to produce books that were respectable.

I stated, earlier, my opinion that the sheer duplicity and dishonesty of the Science Explorer, Texas Edition books -- never mind their loads of factual errors and other defects -- should result in their being disqualified from consideration. Of course, I don't expect this to happen. I expect that Texas officials will tell Prentice Hall to fix the six items cited in the A&M report, and perhaps some other items as well, and then will adopt the books. Teachers and students will lose again, and the guys at Prentice Hall and Pearson Education will get bonuses.

With best wishes,

William J. Bennetta
[telephone number, fax number, etc.]

*  I should note that Science Explorer, Texas Edition has a slightly altered version of the fake "history" of Darwin and the Beagle. In one paragraph, which appears on page 617 of Science Explorer, Texas Edition, Grade 8, a few words have been changed. The net effect has been to turn a statement that was merely wrong into a statement that is truly absurd. This matter is amusing but doesn't merit any more attention here. If you want the details, I'll provide them by telephone.