Are Textbooks Biased Against Business?

Study indicates the need to advocate for more positive messages in college textbooks about the relationship between science and business.
Are Textbooks Biased?

Many textbooks used in introductory biology courses at U.S. universities present an adversarial relationship between science and industry, according to researchers at the Center for Integration of Science and Industry at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Research associate Sharotka Simon, associate professor Helen Meldrum, student Eric Ndung’u, and center director Fred D. Ledley analyzed more than 20,000 pages and 2,379 passages in 29 of the textbooks used most in first-year biology courses. They found that 36 percent of the passages about business conveyed a negative relationship with science—only 20 percent conveyed a positive relationship.

The researchers warn that these negative messages could make students who pursue business careers less likely to engage with scientists. Those who pursue scientific careers might not appreciate the role business can play in amplifying the reach of their discoveries.

“When I entered the workforce after graduate school, I knew a lot about how to make scientific discoveries but not how to make them accessible to society,” says Simon, who holds a doctorate in biology and an MBA. “I had been exposed to negative stereotypes of business like the ones in these textbooks.”

These findings highlight a need to expose students to more constructive examples of how science and business can work together. Such examples, the co-authors write, would “contribute to an agenda of corporate social responsibility by raising the accessibility and salience of socially responsible behavior.”

Representation of Industry in Introductory Biology Textbooks: A Missed Opportunity to Advance STEM Learning” appeared online November 16, 2018, in CBE—Life Sciences Education.