Who thinks science textbooks are "correct"?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Max Leung, Nov 4, 2002.

  1. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    Science texts not always by the book
    Geez, the science books I used when I was in school weren't all that bad. But then again, they weren't very good either.
     
  2. Leila Dougan

    Leila Dougan Screenwriter

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    My books weren't that bad either, but then again it wasn't THAT long ago I was in school. Some of the books were obviously out of date, but that happens when the schools can't afford to replace books except every 7 years. I don't find it too hard to forgive books that contain an old version of the periodic table, for example, but I do find it incredible that a map would have the equator drawn incorrectly. If anything, I would hope that the teachers using those books would have enough sense to inform students of the mistakes and teach the students the correct information. At least in theory the students will also learn not to take everything they read as gospel but to question everything they read.

    At first,though, I thought they were referring to higher-level science books. I was about to comment that I didn't find my 400-level chemistry and biology textbooks to be inaccurate, aside from the occasional typo.
     
  3. GregoryM

    GregoryM Agent

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  4. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Printing errors are one thing (the Statue of Liberty transparency or computer image was positioned in reverse—and should have been caught), but there are no excuses for factual errors and bad editing and presentation.

    Too, there is a disinterest in science in many quarters of this society that seems to increase with age. Just an observation.

    As for the textbooks not being the actual teachers, true. But when I was growing up, I found my textbooks to be more reliable than most of my teachers (whom I used to have to occasionally correct in class when the subject matter shifted to astronomy).

    Disturbing topic.
     
  5. Philip_G

    Philip_G Producer

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    the textbooks we had in highschool were largely written in small blocks by individuals, history in particular. That created a really painful book to read. Oh well, never read them anyway [​IMG]
     
  6. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    A book that is a mere repository of facts is not a very good educational tool. However, a well-written science book will also incite passion for the subject in the reader.
    Perhaps they should replace the traditional boring textbooks with high-quality fare, perhaps books written by Stephen J. Gould, Carl and Dorion Sagan, Carl Zimmer, Stephen Hawking, E.O. Wilson, et al. for the science subjects, and Ambrose, Keegan, Thomas Friedman etc. for history? There are many top-notch journalists that write very good science, history, political, and sociological books!
    Something similar to what many educational establishments do for selecting fiction in English/Language Arts classes. Might as well select works from the best writers, and not from awful trash written by a committee or ghost writers who are not accountable!
    Oh heck, I just wanna see good sex-education books in schools! [​IMG]
     
  7. Morgan Jolley

    Morgan Jolley Lead Actor

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    One of the teachers at our school told all of his students to leave their history textbooks at home and to not use them because the information in them is either not true, BS, or edited in order to not offend anyone. Because of this, the books focus more on politics than education, so they're pointless.

    Unfortunately, I have a teacher who uses the same books for EVERYTHING.
     
  8. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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    books should be used as a tool to aid in learning.
    i remember doing an embryology experiment for my science class. it was really above my head, but the teacher said if i tackled it i would get extra credit.
    so, i gave it a shot. for a lot of the stuff i was like "wtf?"
    so i would bring it to the teacher and he would explain in his own words what the book was trying to say. [​IMG] i always thought mr. wilson was a cool teacher...except he always told me to "migrate" back to my desk. [​IMG]
    most of the textbooks i had were fairly accurate...or at least i think they were??? hmm...
    btw - editing a science book because it may offend someone seems asanine to me. science is science...
     
  9. Morgan Jolley

    Morgan Jolley Lead Actor

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    I think editing any book, History, Science, Math, or otherwise is stupid. If something is fact, then you shouldn't sugarcoat it.
     
  10. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    Yep, I agree! Too bad most of the better science textbooks don't do enough to install a sense of the awe and wonder of science.

    Why isn't the Cosmos TV series a mandatory requirement in all North American school science courses? And they need to include that British guy...darnit I can't remember his name...had a series on the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. Ugh, memory fading...must....stay...awake.
     
  11. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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    max -
    you're thinking of james burke.
    [​IMG]
    his show is called "connections". the science channel often runs his show. i agree...it's very interesting to watch. i sometimes can't believe how they link all that stuff together.
     
  12. Christ Reynolds

    Christ Reynolds Producer

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    Real Name:
    CJ
     
  13. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    Ted: Yeah, that's the guy! Thanks. [​IMG]
    Christ: Hmm, I wasn't actually thinking about having them textbooks, per se. Rather, use their already published work as required reading in science courses.
    Sagan's Demon Haunted World would be perfect for a critical thinking course, since Sagan wrote the book using material he developed while teaching the Critical Thinking course at Cornell University.
    The fact that these scientists decided to write science books for the general public makes me think that they wouldn't mind at all writing a textbook. It's already been done in fact: Carl Zimmer has helped write a textbook on evolution, which is also a PBS miniseries. E.O. Wilson wrote the (in)famous Sociobiology text in the late 70's, and won a few pulitzer prizes in-between.
    The difference between the textbooks written by committee and the ones written by these well-regarded scientists is like night and day. The latter displays the author's passion for the subject, while the former is uber-boring, dispassionate, and stale!
    I feel for you...it is very difficult to find a professor who knows how to teach. Couple that with a terrible textbook, and its no wonder you are so frustrated! Too bad there are no good writers of engineering texts (that I know of).
     
  14. Leila Dougan

    Leila Dougan Screenwriter

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    You all have some very excellent points, especially for the upper high school and college levels. . .
    The problem is, the article specifically talks about middle school science texts. A lot of those authors mentioned by Max are great, but I think a lot of intervention would be needed to get 6th graders to understand them. And I think there is where the problem lies: the information gets too watered down, to the point of uselessness.
     
  15. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    You guys think it's rough, try eastern Kentucky. Science is practically non-existent here.

    But changing a book or two isn't going to solve the problem. A lot of it has to do with teachers. Either they have no clue what they're talking about, or these professors simply can't teach. I don't know how many times I've thought, "Gee, smart guy, but can't teach worth a shit."

    To be honest, it's really hard to get kids excited or passionate about science. In other words, you simply can't force the issue. Science either clicks or doesn't. Reminds me of that book I read about Feinstein or something. Damnnit, can't remember his name. But the book was something like, Surely you can't be serious, Dr. Feinstein or something like it. The cover had a picture of a guy leaning up against a desk. Anyways, the basic gist of the early chapters was his passion for knowledge.

    I'm not saying people shouldn't make an effort, but the reality is that science should only be for the dedicated few. I don't need or want an average Joe or Jane running NASA.
     
  16. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    Just have the teachers read the aforementioned books instead. If the teachers don't have the passion, then they shouldn't teach science. Except, not to sure what to do if all the passionate people would rather work on more rewarding research projects instead of teaching overcrowded classrooms with crappy textbooks and an anemic bureaucracy...
    Dome, you meant Feynman. Good book, that one! I do disagree with your last sentence. Science isn't hard at all. Dealing with ignorance is much harder.
    Hunter-gatherers have been using the principles of science for hundreds of thousands of years! Otherwise, how else do you think they figured out how to make tools, track animals for hunting, figuring out what plants are safe to eat, find shelter, make fire, etc. etc.
    If the "average joe" had a quality education, I have no problem with that person running NASA. But, if this average Joe was denied the education because "it is for the elite only" then whoever denied it is at fault.
    And, how can you know if someone will be dedicated to science if he was never exposed to it in the first place? A person who was never exposed to it will not spontaneously decide to become a rocket scientist, y'know?
    There are many technically talented kids out there who can program their cell phones, VCR clocks, satellite dishes, tune their car engines, etc. These are everyday devices that all operate under the principles of science. Unfortunately, the way they are marketed, the advertising would have you think it is all done with magic. The manufacturers will never tell you how to make such a device yourself, because it would reduce their profits. Thus, it would be in their best interest to pander to the ignorance of the masses. Hey whaddya know, the science program in schools suck...therefore, PROFIT! [​IMG]
    Any child who has a good imagination will readily show a passion for science. With science, they can create their own "magic", and not have it dictated to them by a corporation or a New Age self-help book. A dispassionate middle-school "science" text written by a focus group and presented by an equally ignorant and bored teacher brought up under the same broken system will only feed the cycle of neglect. A child who lacks passion was taught to be that way. No one is born without a sense of wonder at the world around us!
     
  17. andrew markworthy

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    If it's of any interest, I've written a few textbooks, and all modesty aside, a couple of them have been well-received (copies of the 11th foreign language translation of one of them arrived in the mail yesterday).

    I think we should clear up a few misconceptions here:

    (a) textbooks are usually bland in tone because they are meant to provide the basic information on facts and key arguments in the field in question. It is a lot harder to be entertaining when you're presenting a balanced view of things - trust me, after writing near half a million words, I know what I'm talking about! Some of the most entertaining writers in the field are presenting *their* arguments, not necessarily a balanced viewpoint. E.g. I cringe every time I hear Stephen J Gould's arguments cited as gospel truth. Some of his arguments are indeed valid, but others have been *very* heavily criticised, but you wouldn't know that from reading his work. If you present just one viewpoint, you can easily get a smooth narrative and be amusing about it. However, if for every arugment you must present the key counter-arguments, etc, there is a tendency to be bland. However, you should be bland and readable. I have no time for over-elabourate prose.

    (b) I entirely agree that textbooks should only be used as an aid to teaching - they should not be a substitute for class preparation for lazy teachers and they should not be used as a substitute for skipping classes for lazy students. I always try to give a basic framework of an area, point the smarter or more inquisitive students in more advanced directions, and leave it at that. I don't think it's the job of a textbook writer to tell a reader everything that they're supposed to think. Unless there's room for the reader to discover something for him- or herself, then there's no learning involved.

    (c) On the subject of editing, I think it depends very much on the publishing house concerned. There are some publishers whom I have very grave suspicions about - sloppy editing, poor page layouts, etc. There are others whose standards are excellent. I've written on evolution, a subject which causes no qualms in the UK (or indeed most other parts of the world), but being mindful of an American readership, I inserted a paragraph at the start of the section indicating that some people have an alternative set of beliefs, etc, etc. And that paragraph I put in myself without being asked. The only time I've encountered 'censorship' otherwise was when I'd inadvertently put in a potentially homophobic comment (too lengthy to explain here, but I'd used 'queer' in its original meaning without realising how it could be read in the context of the sentence).

    (d)As regards factual errors, I agree - there shouldn't be any. However, bear in mind that a textbook of 100,000 words or more, probability dictates that an occasional error will slip under the radar. I confess that I've made a couple of very minor ones (misattributing the nationality of an obscure mediaeval philosopher, that did not remotely affect the rest of the argument; and accidentally subsituting 'vertical' for 'horizontal' at one point in a complex description - we were on to the 2nd UK edition when the error was detected by the Japanese translator, of all people). I think there's a world of difference between these and absolute whopping great errors. These often come from leaning heavily on secondary sources for information. If a key textbook makes a mistake, chances are that lesser textbooks will repeat it. This is down to bad scholarship, and there is no excuse for it.

    (e)Before you all start asking 'why isn't everyone really enthusiastic about teaching?' just ask yourself this - how many students are really keen on their subject? You can enter the profession full of bounce and vigour and convinced that you can make a real difference. Then you meet a wall of apathy. It cuts both ways, guys - if you want your tutors to be keen, try being keen yourselves.
     
  18. Morgan Jolley

    Morgan Jolley Lead Actor

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    As someone who is still in school, I think that the problem with text books is that they're starting to do a good job of explaining things, but they're explaining them in a sort of backwards way.

    If I read something in a textbook and it takes me 30 minutes to read and figure it out, chances are it takes a teacher 10 minutes to do the same thing (assuming it's a good teacher). The textbook does a good job in getting me to understand the content, they just do it in an extremely complex manner.

    The opposite is also true for teachers. They teach you tips, tricks, and shortcuts, but don't explain why those shortcuts work correctly. They say "if this and this are this, then do this" instead of "because this and this are this, you can do this and get this" which can confuse some kids. I often will help my fellow students figure out why a problem works out a certain way.

    A good example was in Physics freshman year (it was a half-year introduction thing, not real physics). Our teacher explained how to find out the size of the angles in a curve that represented airborn movement of an object, but all he did was give us the formulas (which involved sin, cosin, and tangent). Needless to say, we all failed the test for that section and had to retake it as a class because he didn't want us to keep going without knowing the material. Had he explained to us what sin, cosin, and tangent were before he told us how they were used, we would have done better, but all he did was write them in some equations we used and show us where the buttons were on the calculator.
     

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