Publisher to Texas Creationist's Demands for Biology Textbook Changes: Not Gonna Happen

by Dan Quinn

We now have Pearson Education’s response to claims that the publisher’s high school biology textbook for Texas public schools contains factual “errors” in its discussion of the genetic similarities between humans and chimpanzees. In a detailed response, the company essentially says (politely) that the anti-evolution activist who has made the claims simply doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

Neal Frey, who runs an East Texas-based censorship outfit called Educational Research Analysts and rejects the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting evolution, filed his formal complaint against the Pearson textbook with the Texas Education Agency last month. Frey claims that textbook statements pointing out that chimpanzees are humans’ closest living relatives “falsify known facts.” And he demands that state officials require Pearson to “correct” the alleged errors or fine the publisher if it refuses to make the changes.

In its response, Pearson points out that Frey has mischaracterized the technical papers he points to as evidence for his claims. “(N)one of the five technical monographs provides any evidence disputing the conclusion that chimpanzees are humans’ closest living relatives,” Pearson writes, before taking readers through each of those paper’s research and conclusions. The publisher then flatly rejects Frey’s demanded changes:

“The first change proposed for page 767 of our textbook would mislead students by telling them that there is ‘no consistent pattern of evolutionary relationships among these hominoids.’ There is, in fact, a consistent pattern of relationships, as increasingly detailed molecular studies have shown, and that pattern indicates the close genetic relationship between humans and chimpanzees. The second proposed change would imply that chimpanzees are just ‘one of the hominoids,’ when in fact they are our closest relatives among these organisms.

Because we are committed to scientific accuracy and integrity, we dispute the charge of “errors” on page 767, and insist on keeping the fair, accurate, and complete descriptions current in our textbook.”

We obtained Pearson’s response from the Texas Education Agency through a public information request. You can read the company’s full response to Frey’s claims here: Pearson_Response_HumansChimps

The State Board of Education adopted the Pearson textbook last November, along with textbooks and online instructional materials for high school biology from 13 other publishers. But the Pearson textbook had to pass an additional last-minute examination by a panel of experts after a creationist serving on an official review team claimed the textbook had nearly 20 factual errors in sections related to evolution. The expert panel rejected all of those error claims in December. (None of those alleged errors addressed the issue of human and chimp genetic similarities.)

It’s interesting that Frey went after only Pearson in this latest attack. We know that he tried, before the state board vote last fall, to pressure other publishers to revise passages explaining the close genetic similarities between humans and chimpanzees. But it appears that Frey filed a formal complaint against only the Pearson textbook.

It is unclear how the Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education will resolve the dispute. It’s possible that the state board will have to address the issue at its April meeting. Stay tuned.