Review: Galileo Goes to Jail by Ronald L. Numbers (ed.)

Ronald L. Numbers has long been at war with the war metaphor. For more than two decades, Numbers has argued that conceptualizing the relationship between religion and science as a battle between powerful opposing forces is ‚Äúneither useful nor tenable.” In Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (2009, Harvard University Press), Numbers continues his mission. For this book, Numbers presents 25 essays by noted historians debunking common “religion vs. science” myths. Audio interview

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The Weight of the Moon or How a Single Textbook Skewed Our View of History

In the 1950s and 1960s, Moon, Mann and Otto’s Modern Biology was the most popular high school biology textbook in the country, commanding upwards of 50% of the market. It was also among the most retrograde and out of date.

Scholars have criticized the book for its weak presentation of the topic of evolution. The 1956 edition is the focus of particular scorn. In that edition all references to human evolution were deleted. The publisher of the second most popular textbook, Exploring Biology, followed suit a few years later.

Had the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) not stepped in to stem the slide by developing new textbooks in early 1960s, would evolution have disappeared from American classrooms altogether? Continue reading

The Topic of Evolution in Secondary Schools Revisited

[Updated 2010.02.15]

A new analysis of high school biology textbooks shows that emphasis on the topic of evolution decreased sharply in the decade ahead of the Scopes trial (1925). However, contrary to the conventional scholarly view [1], relative priority of the topic retuned to pre-Scopes levels by 1935 and did not decrease significantly in the decades that followed.

The graph below is based on direct review and analysis (see table) of 80 American high school biology textbooks published between 1907 and 1969.


This graph was generated in Excel by plotting the data gathered through direct examination of 80 high school textbooks published between 1907 and 1969. It shows a clear decline in the priority of the topic of evolution in the years ahead of Scopes trial in 1925, restoration of the topic to earlier levels by 1935, a secondary decline from about 1945 to 1955 and then a rise into the 1960s.

The data strongly suggest that Scopes, or more accurately the general anti-evolution movement of the early 1920s, had an impact on the treatment of the topic of evolution in biology textbooks. However, the impact was temporary. By the later 1930s, the topic had returned to its pre-Scopes status, and remained at least at that status level through the 1960s.

The dip at toward the middle of the 1950s is almost entirely attributable to the popularity of one textbook, Moon’s Modern Biology (see article). It is interesting to compare this chart with a similar chart based on the same data set of the relative treatment of the topic of eugenics.

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