Hey, school board members: remember this about Holt, Rinehart, and Winston

What’s wrong with this statement?

“We’re very pleased,” said Rick Blake, spokesman in Chicago for Holt, Rinehart and Winston. “Science is a very strong area for Holt.”

Since it is in response to Holt’s decision to water down biology textbooks in Florida, it’s wrong.

I’m sorry, Mr Blake, but science is not a strong area for Holt. You wouldn’t be listening to the Discovery Institute if it were.

(via Red State Rabble)


  1. says

    Reading what the article says about the changes the publisher made, they look so minor as to be virtually inconsequential.

    Previous editions of the textbook said Darwin’s theory “is the essence of biology.”

    In the Broward edition, students will read instead that Darwin’s theory “provides a consistent explanation for life’s diversity.”

    Holt also added one section that introduced students to the “Cambrian Explosion,” a period in early earth’s history that suggests species aren’t the result of gradual change over time, as Darwin thought.

    I’m not a biologists, but I have a hard time seeing these changes as “watering down” the science.

    Or is there something else I’m missing?

  2. Joe Shelby says

    Well, one (obvious to most of us here) problem is that by focussing on “where darwin was wrong” they can state accurate facts (darwin was wrong in some of his details) but at the expense of letting the students get a handle on the bigger indisputable (by science so far) picture (common descent and natural selection).

    The question is, to take RSR’s excerpt and example, how does it introduce and address the Cambrian Explosion? Does it just call it a flaw in darwin, or does it introduce punc-eq, the precambrian fossil evidence, and the geological conditions of the time that may have made such an explosion possible?

    One continues to teach science and show how theories change with new information, the other rehashes an old creationist talking point that damages the students’ education.

    By virtue of the pride taken by West in his quote, I’m assuming its not the science version. The DI wins their war for doubt, by creating doubt in the individual rather than the evidence.

    Quite a shame, really…

    One thing the article didn’t answer is if its just one version of that particular textbook, or if this is the only version of that text that Holt will sell to other school systems?

  3. says

    I notice that the article says that this Holt textbook was the one being fought over in Texas back in 2003. At the time Texas adopted it, it was declared a huge victory for science advocates over the anti-science forces.

    The Texas Freedom Network wrote (quoted at my blog in a summary post I wrote a few weeks ago): “I am happy to report that the biology texts were not censored, weakened, or modified in any way that would reduce their scientific accuracy, especially about the topics of evolution and the origin of life.”

    So if this is the same textbook, perhaps we can rest assured that the science is indeed strong.

    But I have not seen the book myself, of course.

  4. David Wilford says

    I guess starting a bullshit think tank is all that’s needed in order to harass book publishers! Holt should have told told the DI to fuck off, and make sure the press knew it. Now they’re just that much more vulnerable to all sorts of fundie crackpottery that’s out there when it comes to subjects like the formation of the Grand Canyon, etc.

  5. says

    In my previous comment, I misattributed the quote about the textbook edits. It’s not from the Texas Freedom Network, but from the Texas Citizens for Science. They were intimately involved in the discussions and no doubt saw the passages in question.

  6. Coragyps says

    Oh, if only I had kept better notes back during the textbook squabbles here in Texas….

    It seems like I remember Ms Leo’s bunch forcing several publishers to make some changes in biology texts, but I don’t recall details, other than that Holt was one of those involved. I’m pretty sure that TFN folks watch PZ’s blog, and they were very close to the issues in ’03. Perhaps they will know where the archives are kept on what really went on then.

  7. vandalhooch says

    If they are adopting the Holt Biology (by Johnson and Raven) rather than Modern Biology (also published by Holt), they are getting an inferior textbook anyway. It is completely watered down and has been scrubbed free of as much evolution as possible. The chapter on mammals simply lists a few orders and gives them a number. There isn’t a single phylogenetic tree anywhere in the text.

    The Modern Biology text however is much better. It even has a complete chapter on human evolution; it is woefully out of date and simplistic though! We just finished switching from Modern Biology to Miller and Levine’s Biology. In many ways, this text is better. However, it does short change human evolution by shrinking it to a section of one chapter and putting that clear at the end.

    I am going to keep the Modern Biology text for my advanced biology classes (good anatomy and ecology chapters). The other Holt text is just too watered down for consideration.


  8. Coragyps says

    Aha! Not biology, but related:
    “In a highly contentious 1994 debate, state board members and other critics demanded that publishers make hundreds of changes to health textbook content. For example, they insisted that publishers delete “embarrassing” illustrations of breast and testicular self-exams for cancer detection. The SBOE and other critics also wanted information on birth control and the prevention of STDs stripped from the books. One publisher – Holt, Rinehart and Winston – refused to make the changes and withdrew its textbooks from consideration.

    In 2004, however, Holt and two other publishers offered four new high school textbooks that lacked any information on family planning and disease prevention except through abstinence.”

    from http://www.tfn.org/publiceducation/textbooks/index.php

    One of the “Health” books in the 2004 crop famously recommended “getting plenty of rest” as a good strategy to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Avoid “resting” in the back seat of the car, though.

  9. vandalhooch says

    I should probably clarify something. Holt’s Biology (Johnson and Raven) does cover evolution, a complete unit. It’s just that there doesn’t seem to be other references to evolution anywhere else in the text. A creationist teacher could simply skip Chapters 12-14 and move right into systematics. The rest of the book seems to ignore the evolution chapters.

    Chapters 12-14 are pretty good introductions to evolution, but are still inferior to the Modern Biology and Miller’s Biology equivalents.

  10. says

    A creationist teacher could simply skip Chapters 12-14 and move right into systematics. The rest of the book seems to ignore the evolution chapters.

    vandalhooch, Thanks for posting some detailed knowledge of the book in question. If the science teacher is creationist and promulgating those views, then we have an entirely different problem on our hands.

    Coragyps, the Texas Freedom Network claims that the 2003 fight ended with the state board “adopting the biology books with discussions of evolution intact.” All the sex education stuff, while very important, is also a very separate issue from science education.

    It sounds to me, from what I’ve read, that the textbook that Broward County’s science teachers adopted is a suitable biology textbook. The Sun-Sentinel article appears to have gone overboard in claiming it was “watered down.” Certainly the evidence presented in the article for that is extremely weak.

    The article does mention that the Broward County teachers rejected a book that mentioned ID, and that the book adopted stays completely away from ID.

  11. Joe Shelby says

    My (IMHO) is that most American middle and high school text books treat evolution as a separate concept rather than as something drives the rest of the desparate facts into a single whole. My understanding is that in other countries, evolution is introduced early, and evolutionary concepts and order & family histories in context are discussed throughout their works as the animals and planets current state is discussed.

    But my impression is based on only glancing at one or two and reading reviews, anectdotal at best.

  12. kyle says

    Could be that the DI jackasses are just trying to paint this as a success without cause. It’s a standard PR move to claim victory. It makes you seem successful and popular regardless of your merit.

    The only way to check would be to find a list of the changes in the text and see.

  13. Joe Shelby says

    Actually, the question is what do the original textbook authors have to say about this? I know that to a degree, textbook authors (like other non-fiction authors such as computer books from O’Reilly) generally agree to allow for editing without consultation for future releases, even to the point of turning over complete rights and having a subsequent book not keeping a single word of the original pressing.

    So given that this is likely what’s happened with this particular pressing, anyone know the authors and want to guess what they think?

  14. Mike says

    From the Sun-Sentinel article: “But Holt also added one section that introduced students to the “Cambrian Explosion,” a period in early earth’s history that suggests species aren’t the result of gradual change over time, as Darwin thought.”

    That’s watering down by falsely telling students that the Cambrian explosion is a challenge to evolution (since Darwin and evolution are commonly conflated) and it is a creationist standard. Because the age of the earth was not understood in Darwin’s day (even among those accepting it was far older than the the Bible would have it), his idea of gradual change over time fits well with the Cambrian explosion happening over some millions of years. In the current state of knowledge where recent fossil finds show the explosions had an extent in time and of molecular evidence that diversification predates the explosion, it is a pile of creationist crap.

    I also liked: ” “That was a key change,” Discovery Institute spokesman John West said. “We want to keep the textbooks honest.” ” The DI wouldn’t know honest if it bit them on the ass.

  15. Caledonian says

    If some earlier group proclaimed that these changes didn’t hurt the cause of science, then either they profoundly failed to understand the nature of Creationist undermining, or they lied.

    Most people believe authority. Control what authority says, and you control what they believe; control what people believe, and you control what they do, and say.

    This is not a war you can win.

  16. says

    That’s watering down by falsely telling students that the Cambrian explosion is a challenge to evolution

    The article is what uses those words. All we know about what the textbook says (from the article) is that Holt added a section on the Cambrian explosion. That alone hardly seems evidence of “watering down.” On the contrary, it would seem to add completeness, since the Cambrian explosion seems to be a crucial episode in the history of life on Earth.

    As someone else suggested above, the DI claiming this as a “victory” is just a PR move for them.

  17. says

    If some earlier group proclaimed that these changes didn’t hurt the cause of science, then either they profoundly failed to understand the nature of Creationist undermining, or they lied.

    Whoa! This is Texas Citizens for Science and the Texas Freedom Network we are talking about. They are at the forefront of the evolution/ID/creationism textbook fight here and certainly understand what is going on and just as certainly are not lying.

  18. says

    This sort of garbage is exactly why I’m homeschooling my sons.

    They’re four and six years old. We’ve spent the last two weeks talking about avian evolution (dinosaurs are a great jumping-off point for pretty much anything) and are looking forward to getting into human origins in the next couple of weeks.

    And it’s amazing to me how many of my other atheist/freethinker friends are planning to do the same with their own little ones.

  19. Caledonian says

    Quick question: how long as the poster known as P.M.Bryant frequented this site? Does anyone know?

  20. says


    If I remember the Texas situation correctly, some publishers did voluntarily make slight changes in response to complaints by the hacks at the DI. However, in the end the state school board did not mandate the sweeping changes the creationists were after. In the end most publishers did not buckle and the board held strong, so it was for the most part a victory. However, that does not mean that all textbooks completely positive edits.

    Texas Citizens for Science has a page on the HRW changes, Holt, Rinehart and Winston
    Biology Textbook Changes Criticized
    . Follow the links to see the edits.

    [Note that I haven’t looked at the edits recently, so I’m not commenting on their value at this time.]

  21. says

    Quick question: how long as the poster known as P.M.Bryant frequented this site? Does anyone know?

    Oy! Since when does taking the words of two staunchly pro-science advocacy groups from Texas literally make one a troll? (By the way, I’ve been reading and posting on PZ Myers’ site for approximately a year. Please check out my blog B and B if, for some reason, you need further confirmation of my sincerity.)

    Reed, thanks for the links.

  22. vandalhooch says

    Just looked up the approved list here. Looks like they approved the weak Johnson/Raven for general classes and the better Modern Biology for honors classes. My assessments of each texts’ strengths/weaknesses comes from a high school biology teacher who has used one of the texts for the last three years.

  23. says

    From the link so helpfully provided by Reed Cartwright, back in August 2003, The Texas Freedom Network (TFN) complained about Holt caving in to the DI on one particular edit. The details are provided in Holt’s response to the criticism, which I’ll reproduce here:

    Original Question
    Use the media center or Internet resources to learn about the conditions on Earth that scientists think existed before life formed. Identify which compounds Miller and Urey formed in their experiment. Prepare a report describing which of the compounds on early Earth would have contributed to the types of compounds Miller and Urey made.
    Revised Question
    Use the media center or Internet resources to study hypotheses for the origin of life that are alternatives to the hypotheses proposed by Oparin and Lerman. Analyze, review, and critique either Oparin’s hypothesis or Lerman’s hypothesis as presented in your textbook along with one alternative hypothesis that you discover in your research.
    TFN’s reading of Holt’s revised question seems based on the ill-founded belief that Creationism is the only possible alternative to the named hypotheses. The key words hypothesis/hypotheses are repeated five times in two sentences, a clear indication to students that they are searching for alternative explanations based on objective observations and subject to verification. In fact, the Lerman hypothesis, that the precursor chemicals for life developed in bubbles over vents in the ocean floor, and the Oparin hypothesis, that the early atmosphere’s lack of oxygen made the formation of life’s precursors more likely, are but two of many hypotheses posed by scientists. In a quick search of the Internet, I personally found more than 30 websites that offer a myriad of scientific possibilities for the origins of life on Earth.

    I don’t know if this same edit is in the Florida version, though I assume so. The Sun-Sentinel article doesn’t mention it, though the quote from the fellow from TFN may(?) possibly be referring to it: “These are minor changes, but I think students are really going to waste their time looking for alternative hypotheses to evolution. There are none.”

  24. says

    Ok, one more comment because I just found something interesting in this Tampa Tribune article from January:

    Nancy Marsh, high school science supervisor for the Hillsborough County School District, said teachers based their decision on which book would best meet state science standards and prepare students for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
    That one potential textbook – “Biology: Dynamics of Life” published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill – included a reference to intelligent design was irrelevant.

    Orlopp said Glencoe/McGraw-Hill publishes an alternative version of its biology textbook that leaves out mention of “divine origins.” If his teachers like that book, he would have the option to buy it with or without that reference.

    This looks like a bigger issue than the minor edits by Holt.

    Unfortunately, this book was put on Florida’s state approved list by their education commissioner according to another article.

  25. Ediacaran says

    The Texas Education Agency keeps archives of the textbook hearings and the publishers’ responses. One such link for Holt’s response to written is found at:


    Their response to oral comments is at another link.

    I agree with Kyle on this one. The Florida article seems more like the Discovery Institute trying to spin whatever changes are made in response to their comments into a major victory, and the reporter seems to have taken their spin more or less at face value.

    The DI tried the same spin tactic during the Texas textbook hearings, without much success. The textbook publishers, faced with a Texas State Board of Education that could sink their efforts in a large market, were wanting to seem to be responsive to all comments, while maintaining integrity in the science textbooks. Certainly the majority of those of us who turned out for the hearings didn’t want to see -any- changes that could be spun as concession to the DI’s idiocy, but the pubishers were responsive to suggestions which countered the DI’s suggestions as well. The Texas Freedom Network and the NCSE did a great job of turning out people to defend science education and giving the publishers motivation not to cave in to the DI.

    Since PR is the only tool that the DI has that works, they try to project an image that the publishers should heed their advice if they want to get their books published. Publishers are understandably concerned about this in the Texas market, given that the Fundamentalist couple Mel and Norma Gabler held such sway over Texas textbooks for decades with considerably less funding than the DI. But we can fight them:

    1) Write to the publisher asking for the text of the DI comments and their responses, and make your own comments – to the publishers, authors, and State Board of Education – and make it clear that you want them to stand up against the Disco Institute’s attacks on science.

    2) Review the textbooks up for adoption (in Texas, the proposed books are available at Texas Education Agency Regional Service Centers), then sign up for textbook hearings early and show up to testify (you’ll probably have 3 minutes to make your case if the place is crowded). Submit written comments with proposed revisions and clarifications, and counter the creationist comments.

    3) Get your scientifically literate friends (and scientific organizations) to join you at the hearings. Work with the NCSE – they’re the experts on combatting the DI’s tricks.

    4) Work with friends to coordinate letters to the editor on the issue. Have some ready for a second wave to respond to replies from the first round. Contradict the DI’s spin that appears in articles. Intelligent Design Creationism can’t stand the light of data.

    Don’t take the hearsay of a reporter repeating the DI talking points as the final word. Not every textbook revision will be to your liking – but don’t let the DI’s spin cause you to alienate the publishers. You need to show up en masse to persuade the politicians and publishers not to give in to the creationists.

  26. csa says

    From p. 282, “Holt Biology”: (please forgive the typos)

    Were the animals that lived in the seas 550 million years ago, during the Cambrian period, more diverse than those that inhabit modern seas? A small limestone quarry tucked away 800 m above sea level in the Canadian Rocky
    Mountains is slowly yielding answers to this and other evolutionary puzzles. These rocks, which contain the fossil remains of organisms from a Cambrain sea buried by an ancient mudslide, are known collectively as the Burgess
    Shale (named for the Burgess Pass, where the quarry was found).

    Discovered in 1909 by Charles Doolittle Walcott, head of the Smithsonain Institution at the time, the Burgess fossils remained in museum drawers until 1971, when Cambridge University professor Harry Whittington and two graduate students reexamined them.

    Attaching a device known as a �camera lucida� to a microxcope, the scientists used mirrors to project enlarged images of the fossils onto a flat surface. Then they carefully made illustrations of the ancient animal
    forms, In the process, they discovered that they could learn more from the large-scale drawings than they could form the actual tin specimens.

    The very fine-grained silt that surrounded the orgtanisms helped preserve soft tissues in addition to bony structures. Thus, the remains of organisms that might have otherwise remained unknown were preserved. The variety of organisms found int heBurgess Shal is evidence of the explosion of lifeforms that took place during the Cambrian period.

    The Burgess organisms lived much as organisms do today. They lived in a ecosystem that included a wide range of animals, each with specialized organs for movement an dfeeding. Many of the organisms were ancestors of common sea creatures such mollusks, segmented worms, and crustaceans. Whittington�s team also discovered fossils of animals that were completely different from any inhabiting modern oceans.

    What does this mean? The shale fossils reveal that the earliest multicellular animals included a much broader range of body plans than expected ? some so different that they cannot be classified into any group of modern animals.

    These conclusions about Cambrian life-forms are supported by recent discoveries in China, Australia, and Greenland. Scientists have unearthed similarly diverse and complex fossils dating back to the betginning of the Cambrian period, 500 million years ago. Thus, it appears that a high level of diversity and complexity developed in animals in a relatively short span of geologic time.