Publisher Waters Down Biology Textbook
From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel comes this annoying, but typical, example of a textbook publisher caving in to creationist pressure:
High school biology students in Broward County will use a textbook next year that watered-down passages about Charles Darwin and evolution theory.
Science teachers picked Florida Holt Biology this month in a countywide vote, favoring it over another book that discussed the controversial idea of intelligent design.
The Holt textbook stays away from intelligent design, the idea that a god or other guiding force caused the development of life on Earth. Mainstream scientists have discredited the theory as a repackaged form of old-school creationism.
But publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston did edit several sections at the request of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that has peddled intelligent design around the country for years.
The changes were “kind of a merging of philosophies to get something that everyone was satisfied with,” said Broward science curriculum supervisor J.P. Keener.
“What came out in the book was scientifically correct,” Keener said. “That's the bottom line.”
Does anyone honestly think that scientific correctness represents the bottom line for Mr. Keener? Or do you think maybe he's perfectly willing to water down the science to sell a few more books?
The article goes on to describe a few of the changes:
A review by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found that on one edited page, Holt agreed to give Darwin less credit for shaping modern biology. In another section it inserted descriptions that conservative Christians believe challenge evolution theory.
Previous editions of the textbook said Darwin's theory “is the essence of biology.”
In the Broward edition, students will read instead that Darwin's theory “provides a consistent explanation for life's diversity.”
But Holt also added one section that introduced students to the “Cambrian Explosion,” a period in early earth's history that suggests species aren't the result of gradual change over time, as Darwin thought.
“That was a key change,” Discovery Institute spokesman John West said. “We want to keep the textbooks honest.”
Let's take these in reverse order. The idea that the Cambrian Explosion suggests that species aren't the result of gradual change over time is pure nonsense. If the article accurately describes what is in the book, then Keener was mistaken when he claimed the book was scientifically correct.
Describing Darwin's theory as the essence of modern biology sounds a little odd, but describing it as a consistent explanation for life's diversity isn't much of an improvement. (We'll leave aside the infelicity of referring to modern evolutionary biology as Darwin's theory.) The trouble is that “consistent” is a rather flabby word, and putting the emphasis on explaining “life's diversity,” doesn't really capture the most important aspects of evolution. Why not describe it the way it is: A theory supported by copious evidence that asserts that all modern species descended from common ancestors via numerous well-understood genetic mechanisms?
And considering that evolution now underlies virtually every branch of modern biology, it seems a little rich to downplay Darwin's significance.
In his State of the Union address President Bush talked about the need for quality science education. Now his brother's state is allowing a group of religiously motivated ignoramuses to dictate the content of their science books. Lovely.