Texas to Decide Whether to Clean Up Biology Texts

Discovery Institute
November 5, 2003
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Faked Embryos, Human “Gill Slits,” and Flat Earth Myth

Top the List of Embarrassing Factual Errors to be Fixed

SEATTLE — Textbook reformers are calling on the Texas State Board of Education to require publishers to fix embarrassing factual errors in their books’ coverage of evolution. The Board votes Friday on which biology texts to adopt for use in state schools. Because Texas is one of the largest textbook markets in the nation, the decision has the potential to influence science education in schools around the United States.

“Textbook defenders have tried to turn this into a debate about religion, but it’s not. The issue here is accurate science,” says Dr. John West, Associate Director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. “Biology texts are littered with embarrassing factual errors and outdated science, and students deserve to have these problems fixed.”

According to Dr. West, Discovery Institute has identified dozens of factual errors in textbook treatments of evolution.

“We are pleased that publishers have fixed some of the errors we’ve identified,” says Dr. West. “But lots of problems remain.” For example:

  • One textbook still asserts that human embryos have “gill slits” like fish, a bogus claim long discredited by scientists.
  • Another textbook tells students that Europeans believed in a “flat earth” until the 1500s, a myth that has been debunked by historians.
  • Yet another textbook includes faked embryo drawings from the nineteenth century that overstate the similarities between animal embryos. (Two other textbooks using the faked diagrams recently agreed to replace them.)
  • Still other textbooks present contradictory facts. For example, one book insists that the “Cambrian Explosion” of life took “30-160 million years” to occur, while another books says it took “10-20 million years to occure.” (The standard dating of the Cambrian Explosion, which did take place 530 million years in the past, is that it took place over 5-10 million years.)

“Whether it’s due to laziness or bias, or a combination of both, these continued errors and contradictions are simply inexcusable,” says West. “Publishers should be held accountable for updating their textbooks with scientifically accurate information.”

Further documentation of the problems with biology textbooks and the textbook controversy in Texas can be found at Discovery Institute’s special Texas textbook webpage, http://www.discovery.org/csc/texas/.

For more information, or to arrange for an interview please contact Rob Crowther at (206) 292-0401 x107, rob@discovery.org.