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But Why Do Biology Textbooks Retain Discredited Evolutionary Icons?


That’s a question naturally prompted in reading two books by biologist Jonathan Wells. Reviewing Dr. Wells’s Zombie Science: More Icons of Evolution for Salvo Magazine, Denyse O’Leary puts her finger on the mot juste, or one of them, to describe the way textbooks leave in discredited evolutionary icons, in defiance of accurate science:

About fifteen years ago, I read Jonathan Wells’s Icons of Evolution (2000). The sheer brazenness of the outdated information that continued to be paraded in decades of textbooks dealing with evolution was striking — even to a longtime textbook editor (now retired) like me.

Little has changed since then. And Denyse is right, it’s the “brazenness” of it that astonishes. They must know they’re feeding students fake science — don’t they? — yet they go merrily on their way. She explains on the basis of past professional experience:

The textbook publishing industry depends on a simple set of facts:

  • Parents are required by law to present their children to the local public school system unless they can afford other legally acceptable arrangements.
  • Homeowners and businesses are required to fund the public system.
  • The system needs textbooks.
  • Textbook authors, usually successful teachers, are well rewarded.

Thus, the opportunities for soft corruption (stale, dated content that lingers year after year) are vast and inevitable. Some such stuff is doubtless defended by pressure groups, anxious to retain a discredited icon that supports their cause.

Jonathan Wells is willing to go farther than calling it “soft corruption.” O’Leary asked him:

Why is it so easy for Darwinians to get away with disquieting misrepresentations in textbooks — for example, the idea that traditional Darwinism is a “done deal,” when the lively Royal Society (founded in 1660), meeting last November, showed that the whole field is in ferment (much as many have tried to pretend otherwise)?5

Wells replies:

“Disquieting” is too mild. I would say “disgraceful,” “appalling,” even “evil.” Every time we have tried to correct textbook misrepresentations, school boards or textbook adoption committees are bombarded by experts from the scientific establishment who assure them the textbooks are fine. Why does the scientific establishment go along with this? Most scientists ignore the issue and just want to be left alone to do their research.

“Evil”…Well, that is pretty frank to call it that.

The “experts” who swoop in to assure schools that the textbooks are in no need of fixing present a psychological puzzle. But an insistence on conveying untruths that touch on ultimate questions, year after year, to students compelled under law to read these textbooks — whether evil or merely corrupt, that’s certainly not a very pretty thing.

Maybe it depends on your understanding of what makes people tick. I don’t disbelieve in evil, of course. Far from it. But I’m also constantly impressed by the way ideas are tied to self-esteem, self-image, and group belonging, so that even highly decent people will defend preferred, false concepts at all costs because those ideas are vital to how they see themselves.

Photo credit: Free-Photos, via Pixabay.