Campbell Biology is a Horrendously Expensive Worthless Book

Campbell Biology is a Horrendously Expensive Worthless Book

I recently picked up the latest “Campbell Biology” (11th edition) after reading two excellent books on genome evolution, namely “The Origins of Genome Architecture” by Michael Lynch and “Molecular and Genome Evolution” by Dan Graur. Descriptions of the later two are posted for our expert members.

Unlike the books by Lynch and Graur, Campbell Biology is considered extremely important for mainstream biological education. It is where the budding biologists get their first introduction to genomes and other topics related to biology. Therefore, I was shocked to find a terrible mess of a book written by a committee of clowns. The authors appear to be untrained scientists, who most likely update the book based on press releases. Any instructor using it in her classes is doing a great disservice to the students.

Did I also mention that the book is horrendously overpriced? Campbell Biology has become a classic textbook racket, where a committee updates the original book with inconsistent materials and raises the price back to top dollars. For a good analogy, imagine if some publisher decides to milk Richard Feynman’s name by constanly modifying his classic “Lectures on Physics”. Every update made in the name of “keeping the book current” would dilute the original content. Add four or five rounds of that, and you will end up with something similar to the 11th edition of Campbell Biology.

For those unfamiliar with the history of Campbell Biology, it was originally written by Neil Campbell, who passed away in 2004. To properly understand the evolutionary trajectory of this horrible mess, I compared the current book with the fourth (1997) and the eight (2005) editions. Both versions were authored by Neil Campbell himself, and the 2005 version came out after his untimely death. Based on this comparison, I concluded that the original book was excellent, and much of the garbage got added in the later updates.

Instead of going over inconsistencies all over the book, I will focus on its fastest evolving chapter - “Genomes and Their Evolution” (Chapter 21). My references for comparison were the two authoritative books by Lynch and Graur mentioned earlier. Given that this area of biology is advancing rapidly, the authors of Campbell Biology should have made sure it was covered correctly in the updated book to justify the high prices.

Instead here is what they are teaching the new biology students about eukaryotic genome evolution -

Perhaps the most striking finding is that about 75% of the genome is transcribed at some point in at least one types studied, even though less than 2% codes for proteins. Furthermore, biochemical functions have been assigned to DNA elements making up at least 80% of the genome. To learn more about the different types of functional elements, parallel projects are analyzing in a similar way the genomes of two model organisms…

Really? Biochemical function for at least 80% of the entire 3GB human genome has been assigned? WTF? This embarrasing text got added in the 10th edition, which is an abomination by itself. It continued to stay in the 11th edition even after Graur’s bombshell paper (On the immortality of television sets: “function” in the human genome according to the evolution-free gospel of ENCODE) came out. That clearly shows that the authors are completely clueless about genome evolution.

You see the evidence of this lack of understanding in the entire chapter. It is full of inconsistencies and jumps between the extremes of showing human genome being mostly repeats to text justifying over 80% of the genome being functional. My comparison between the versions shows that the correct texts (e.g. pie chart showing human genome is full of repeats) came from Campbell, and the grossly incorrect texts were added by the new authors. It is troubling that nobody noticed the inconsistencies between the two extremes sometimes presented in the same section.

Not only the authors got genome evolution wrong, they also got the technological aspects completely wrong in the same chapter. In Campbell’s original text (2005), Venter’s shotgun approach was given its proper importance. The new authors decided to buy the NIH version and downplayed the contributions from Venter and Gene Myers. That resulted in writing incorrect texts like -

Two approaches complemented each other in obtaining the complete sequences. The initial approach was a methodical one that built on an earlier storehouse of human genetic information. In 1998, however, molecular biologist J. Craig Venter set up a company……alternative strategy. The whole-genome shotgun approach starts with….randomly cut DNA. Powerful computer programs then assemble….

Today, the whole-genome shotgun approach is still used, although newer, “next-generation” sequencing techniques have resulted in massive increase in speed.

The authors probably have no idea that the whole-genome shotfun approach has been the only one used for genome assembly since 2000. Moreover, not telling the students about this fundamental technological change also ensures that they do not appreciate the importance of computer algorithms in biology.

My suggestion for instructors - save your money by buying Cambell’s 8th edition, and then teach students about genome assembly and evolution from correct books. Continuing to feed textbook rackets takes money away from the good books. Dan Graur’s Excellent Book Sold Only One Copy so Far.

Written by M. //