USING the Supermarket Botany Article

David Hershey dh321 at
Fri Jul 9 01:20:39 EST 1999

Your suggestion is a novel use for a flawed article. Unfortunately,
there have been quite a few plant science teaching articles you could
use for such an exercise. It would also be interesting to look at the
three botany texts by the "Supermarket Botany" authors. I wouldn't be
surprised if those texts also have similar errors.

You may be correct that the ABT Editor did not read the manuscript but
he should have seen to it that some competent botanist carefully
reviewed it. I have been writing letters in ABT for years pointing out
major errors in botany manuscripts, so the problem is not really new.
This was just a particularly good example of a "bad" article. Perhaps,
ABT needs one or more Associate Editors to share the workload. ABT did
have an Associate Editor a few years ago.

In my experience as both an author and reviewer, peer review is not what
it is cracked up to be. Few reviewers are going to spend the time needed
to thoroughly review and improve another person's manuscript. Reviewers
frequently do a cursory job. Often, the most in-depth reviews are ones
by a reviewer who clearly wants to kill the manuscript by finding as
many imagined flaws as possible. Those kind of reviews are not very
useful to an author. I have also seen abuses where three reviewers were
used and a simple majority ruled even if the dissenter correctly pointed
out major problems with the manuscript. I think a better approach might
be a review panel of dedicated experts rather than a large pool of peer

It is to ABT's credit that it is willing to publish letters pointing out
flaws in ABT articles. I know that many journals, including "Science",
will sometimes not publish such letters, presumably to avoid

The thing that was most disconcerting to me was the authors' response to
the criticisms. They would only admit to one specific error and used all
sorts of vague and tricky statements, including contradicting what they
said in their article, to defend themselves. They would not even admit
that they had a drawing of a peach labeled incorrectly as an apple!
Scientists are supposed to search for the truth but their response
attempted to hide the truth. It would also be instructive for students
to compose a letter to rebut the authors' response as well.

David Hershey
dh321 at

Ross Koning wrote:
> As a professor in the CSU system, I was quite
> embarassed by the article that has been mentioned.
> Not only does it reflect badly on ABT but also on
> CSU when faculty at our sister campuses don't
> put their manuscripts out for peer review.
> However, several of the posts about this article
> have indicated that such published articles are
> useless to the teaching profession.  And, while I
> agree that errors make us have to do double-time
> to prevent them multiplying in school systems, there
> IS one use that can be made of this article...
> I recommend sending your college students to the
> library (or reprinting the article with permission)
> to read the article and then submit a list of errors
> of botanical fact that they find in the article.  I
> wouldn't tell them about the letters in later issues
> or the authors' reply to the letters.  This activity
> will get the students to read an article closely, and
> the errors are so obvious and aggregious, that even
> non-majors have a good chance of uncovering many of
> them on-their-own. It also reminds students that
> they shouldn't believe EVERYTHING they read in print.
> You could score the student papers on a numerical scale
> because of the multitude of the errors in the article.
> After allowing this to reinforce the RIGHT ideas, I
> would then point them on to the letters and responses
> published in ABT. Were all of the errors reported?
> Were the reported errors truly errata? You might even
> have the students evaluate the authors' reply.  Then,
> as the editor-in-chief of ABT is also the primary author
> of a MAJOR Botany textbook and is a plant physiologist,
> have the students compose a letter to him about his
> responsibility to ABT and to the science. Finally you
> can have students reflect on the whole situation and
> to figure out what is RIGHT about science when the
> letters are published openly in the same journal.
> I plan to do this in my botany class for majors this
> next spring.  We'll see how it works out.  My take on
> the editor is that he is too busy writing his book on
> Evolution to keep an eye on the day-to-day drudgery of
> finding qualified reviewers for botanical manuscripts
> in the journal. He obviously didn't read the "supermarket"
> manuscript himself...he is a bright guy and knows fruits
> and five-kingdoms (I use his book!), but IMHO he is
> spread too thinly. There is a lesson in that for me too.
> ross
> ________________________________________________________________
> Ross Koning                 | koning at
> Biology Department          |
> Eastern CT State University | phone: 860-465-5327
> Willimantic, CT 06226 USA   | fax: 860-465-4479
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