I was troubled by Ricki Lewis's recent article on textbook selection (The Scientist, March 30, 1992, page 20), in which she describes the somewhat arbitrary and even whimsical approach that scientist-instructors often take in choosing textbooks for the courses they teach. I was troubled not because I take issue with what Lewis wrote--but because the practices she described are all too familiar.

Indeed, as a professor and, for eight years, chairman of a medical school biochemistry department, I have experienced discomfort and uncertainty in selecting textbooks. And I have sensed the same in my colleagues. Although we are scientists and should know better, our actual decisions are predominantly capricious. Couldn't we do better?

The key to improvement in this matter, it seems to me, is that--long before selecting a textbook--we must identify and analyze our teaching goals, rather than allow a particular text to determine the substance and pattern of...

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