Educational Research Analysts  November 2003 Newsletter 
Biology Books Evolve In Texas

In November 2003, after months of media cover­age and two public hearings, Texas' State Board of Education (SBOE) approved high school Biology books for 2004 local adoption. At issue was treat­ment of evolution in Glencoe's Biology: The Dy­nam­ics of Life, Holt Biology, and Prentice Hall Bi­ol­ogy, regular (non-Advanced Placement) texts by major publishers which will dominate Texas sales.

Like the gentleman he is, Prentice Hall Biology co-author Ken Miller graciously wrote to the Texas Education Agency, of our list of factual errors that we filed on his book:

" I am very grateful to the Gabler organization for finding these mistakes and typo­graphical errors. Their exceptional thoroughness is commendable, and in almost every case I have recommended that we follow their suggestions. Please extend my thanks and appreciation to their organization in helping to improve the accuracy of our text."

Dr. Miller referred here only to our errors list. He would take strong exception to our review of his treatment of evolution. Yet we brought the same precision to both.

These books were very e­vol­u­tion­ary. That did not vio­late Tex­as law. What did vio­late Tex­as law was their cen­sor­ship of sci­en­tif­ic weak­ness­es in evol­u­tion­ary theor­ies. Texas re­quir­es them to tell sci­en­tif­ic weak­nes­ses as well as strengths of sci­en­tif­ic theor­ies, in­clud­ing e­vol­u­tion. That is con­sti­tu­tion­al be­cause (un­like some states) it does not sing­le out ev­o­lu­tion for spe­cial treat­ment.

But not all of those texts were equal­ly non­con­form­ing. Two ac­knowl­edg­ed major scien­tif­ic weak­ness­es in ev­ol­u­tion­ary theor­ies. An en­tire page in Prentice Hall Biol­ogy ex­plain­ed that phy­logen­ies based on bio­chem­ical si­mil­ari­ties may con­tra­dict phy­logen­ies based on com­par­ative ana­tomy, com­plete with a stu­dent re­in­force­ment ac­tivity and review ques­tions.

This not only is a sig­nifi­cant scien­tif­ic weak­ness in evol­ution­ary theory; it is the exact op­posite of what that book said on the subject in its 1991 and 1998 Texas edi­tions, to which our re­views spe­cific­ally ob­jected in both those ear­lier adopt­ions. Had Texas added this weak­ness during the state ap­proval pro­cess, it would have riled the pro-evolu­tion gestapo. As it was, they ap­parently never noticed it.

Despite that improve­ment, and similar pro­gress in Glencoe's Biology: The Dy­namics of Life, all the books needed more scien­tif­ic weak­nesses in evo­lu­tion­ary theories to conform fully to Texas law … which e­vol­u­tion­ists opposed. A stale­mate en­sued. There were few import­ant changes during the state ap­proval process. The SBOE in Novem­ber basic­ally ac­cepted the books as sub­mit­ted in April.

The Texas rule re­quir­ing scien­tif­ic streng­ths and weak­ness­es of sci­en­tif­ic theor­ies prov­ed so con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly bullet­proof, that evol­u­tion­ists tried to re­frame the de­bate by at­tack­ing "in­tel­li­gent de­sign" instead, which no one was ask­ing for. In the me­dia, though, SBOE con­serva­tives suc­cess­ful­ly dis­ting­uish­ed the Texas rule from evo­lu­tion­ists' di­ver­sion­ary as­sault on "in­tel­li­gent de­sign."

These three 1100-page texts took us nine weeks each to re­view, about seven months' work al­togeth­er. We filed a list of 110 in­disput­able fact­ual errors that pub­lish­ers and the state of Texas missed in them. Pub­lish­ers ad­mit­ted these in writing, validat­ing our depth of ana­lysis. That pre­pared Biology text­book re­form­ers better than ever for 2004 local adoptions

This experience showed the superiority of the Texas rule on treatment of scientific theories. It helped set in motion (through public demand) greater compliance with that rule over time. It reaffirmed the wisdom of textbook activism rather than litigation to work for change. Califor­nia state-adopts only through grade 8, so Texas most influences high school textbooks nationwide.

 sample errors >>