Publishers correct some factual errors, but now textbooks contradict each other

Discovery Institute
October 30, 2003
Print ArticleTop corrections include removal of Haeckel's embryos and gill slits clarification

OCT. 30 SEATTLE - After months of claims by Darwinists that biology textbooks don't contain any factual errors about evolution that need to be corrected, publishers have agreed to fix a number of errors identified by Darwin's critics.

Top corrections made by publishers include the removal of bogus nineteenth century embryo diagrams ("Haeckel's embryos") from two of three textbooks that use them, the dropping from one text of a false claim that animal embryos have "gill slits," and the elimination of an assertion that Darwin's theory is the "essence of biology." Two textbooks have also added acknowledgments that the Miller-Urey origin of life experiment was based on ideas about the earth's early atmosphere no longer accepted by scientists. Other textbooks have revised language dealing with such issues as mutations, homology, evolutionary intermediates, and the evidence of the fossil record, so as not to overstate the evidence for Darwin's theory.

"These changes represent a modest victory for students and parents who want to learn accurate information about evolution," says Dr. John West, Associate Director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute. "Unfortunately, a lot of problems still need to be fixed."

According to West, one of those problems is that "several textbooks now contradict each other on key topics relating to evolution. Even different texts issued by the same publisher sometimes contradict each other. As it stands now, whether students learn accurate information on a specific topic may depend solely on which textbook they happen to be assigned."

West gave several examples of textbook contradictions:

  • Peppered Moth Experiments. The classical account of microevolution in peppered moths has come under sharp criticism in the scientific community. One McGraw Hill textbook proposed for Texas accurately informs students about the problems with peppered moth experiments, but several textbooks (including two other textbooks from McGraw Hill!) continue to present the traditional story without alerting students to any of its problems. Still other textbooks have deleted the peppered moth story entirely.
  • Gill Slits. Some texts have dropped the bogus claim that human embryos have "gill slits." One publisher, Holt, has even acknowledged that it didn't include this claim because it is one of the "aspects of Haeckel's theory that have since been discredited." Glencoe/McGraw Hill is another publisher that has decided to drop the use of biologically inaccurate term "gill slits" in its general biology textbook. Ironically, McGraw Hill continues to defend the claim that human embryos possess "gill slits" in one of its AP biology texts!
  • Cambrian Explosion. The LeBel biology text says that the Cambrian Explosion took 10-20 million years, while Holt Biology claims that the Cambrian Explosion took 30-160 million years. The standard scientific dating for this event is actually 5-10 million years.

In addition to these textbook contradictions, says West, there are a number of other embarrassing factual errors spread throughout various texts that have yet to be fixed, including:

  • Flat Earth Myth. One textbook asserts that Europeans still believed in the "flat earth" until the 1500s. This myth has been refuted by historians, most notably by University of California historian Jeffrey Burton Russell in his book Inventing the Flat Earth (New York: Praeger, 1997).
  • Miller-Urey Experiment. Most accounts of the Miller-Urey origin of life experiment still mislead students into thinking that revised Miller-Urey experiments have produced results helpful to understanding the origin of the first life. In fact, these experiments are now widely considered a dead-end by origin of life researchers.
  • Homology. Some textbooks claim that all homologous structures, including vertebrate limbs, follow the same path of embryological development. They do not.
  • Embryology. Some textbooks continue to imply that animal embryos are the most similar in their earliest stages, and differences only become apparent later in the developmental process — another false claim that can be traced back to the work of German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel.
  • Inaccurate Attacks on Intelligent Design. Two textbooks have inserted one-sided and factually inaccurate attacks on intelligent design theory.

The publisher's proposed revisions were made public this week by the Texas Education Agency, just a few days before the Texas State Board of Education meets to choose the state's new biology textbooks.