1. April Fools' science fables2. Suicidal rodents3. Half rot, half right4. Mocking mimics5. Booked for bunk6. Ignorance = bliss   April Fools! Science fable vs. science fact
     
    Lost on the highway of science
illustration of a text bookJust cause it's in black and white, is it true? Not according to a recent survey of 12 popular middle-school science texts, which found repeated errors. Using rather faint praise ("nonsense," "typically inaccurate," "typical incorrect picture," and "gives credence to the new age nonsense") the report homed in on major errors and misleading statements alike.

Here are some of our faves:

Mistaking the gas pedal for the engine: "An acceleration is a change in velocity that results from speeding up, slowing down, or changing direction." Hodgepodge! Acceleration is the change in velocity per unit of time, not just a change in velocity. And by definition, a change in velocity is a speeding up, slowing down, or changing direction. It does not "result from speeding up, slowing down, or changing direction."

photo of a red Studebaker Hawk The 1956 Studebaker Hawk is an amazing car, but it won't accelerate unless a force is exerted on it. You wouldn't know that from some science texts...
Bill Jackameit's Studebaker page
Breaking the law, physics-wise: Newton's first law of motion does not, as one textbook claimed, say "an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force," unless you add at a constant velocity. In other words, a 1956 Studebaker Hawk won't turn a corner without someone yanking on the steering wheel. If it did, it would get busted by Cap'n Newton of the physics police!

Printing scam diagrams showing particles in solids, liquids and gases and implying that the density of a liquid is close to that of gas. Actually, liquids are closer to solids, which is why a liter of liquid gasoline packs more energy than a liter of hydrogen gas.

Making gray while the sun shines: Implying that the sun emits only infra-red energy. Open the driver's-side window, folks, and notice that the highway is bathed in sunlight -- in the visible spectrum (you can't see infra-red).

The report, by John Hubisz, visiting professor of physics, of North Carolina State University, is only part of the ongoing battle between textbook publishers and scientists (see "Science Texts..." and "Errant Texts" in the bibliography or this material on textbook analysis).

When you're ignorant, you know it, right?

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