Year after year, standardized tests indicate that American students fall behind their peers in other countries when it comes to science and math. If the results of a new study are any indication, part of the problem may be their textbooks. According to the report, examinations of some of the nation's most widely used middle school physical science textbooks revealed numerous errors and inappropriate lessons.

Physicist John L. Hubisz of North Carolina State University and his colleagues scrutinized a dozen textbooks. Over the course of this two-and-half-year-long study, they discovered errors that ranged from incorrectly stating Newton's first law of motion to misrepresenting the scientific process. "The books have a very large number of errors, many irrelevant photographs, complicated illustrations, experiments that could not possibly work, and diagrams and drawings that represented impossible situations," the team notes. Indeed, most of the report's 100 pages are filled with examples of such errors. Moreover, the study found that the authors listed on the book covers often didn't appear to be authors at all. "Of the several names listed in several of textbooks, none that we contacted would claim to be an author and some did not even know that their names had been so listed," the researchers write. "Instead of authors, we have a collection of people who checked parts of aspects of the textbook. Some of these reviewers actually panned the material and heard nothing further from the publisher."

When the study panel contacted the publishers to alert them to the errors, the publishers apparently either dismissed their findings or made empty promises to correct subsequent editions. Hubisz thus plans to create a Web site that will list the many errors that did not make it into the report and that will solicit reviews of the textbooks to be posted on the site.