I have taught this class. It was called “Introduction to Biology for Non-Majors”.
Incidentally, I got pretty good student evaluations and none of my South Carolinian students argued with me about evolution.
xkcd by Randall Munroe (CC BY-NC 2.5)
Turns out biology is hard because biology is hard.
Stewart Firestein has a provocative piece in Nautilus on the role of failing well in science:
As your career moves on and you have to obtain grant support you naturally highlight the successes and propose experiments that will continue this successful line of work with its high likelihood of producing results. The experiments in the drawer get trotted out less frequently and eventually the drawer just sticks shut. The lab becomes a kind of machine, a hopper—money in, papers out.
My hope of course is that things won’t be this way for long. It wasn’t this way in the past, and there is nothing at all about science and its proper pursuit that requires a high success rate or the likelihood of success, or the promise of any result. Indeed, in my view these things are an impediment to the best science, although I admit that they will get you along day to day. It seems to me we have simply switched the priorities. We have made the easy stuff—running experiments to fill in bits of the puzzle—the standard for judgment and relegated the creative, new ideas to that stuck drawer. But there is a cost to this. I mean a real monetary cost because it is wasteful to have everyone hunting in the same ever-shrinking territory…
How will this change? It will happen when we cease, or at least reduce, our devotion to facts and collections of them, when we decide that science education is not a memorization marathon, when we—scientists and nonscientists—recognize that science is not a body of infallible work, of immutable laws and facts. When we once again recognize that science is a dynamic and difficult process and that most of what there is to know is still unknown.
You can argue that Pluto is not really a planet (really, at this point, why would you?), but the New Horizons probe has categorically dismissed any notion that Pluto and its associated moons are boring. Pluto has a “Chaos Region”. Boring things do not have “Chaos Regions”.
HT: Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing.
The most recent guest on This Week in Virology (or TWiV) is none other than our own Michele Banks. Michele welcomes host Vincent Racaniello of Columbia University into her home for an extended conversation about the hows and whys of her science-inspired art.
For those of you who are not regular readers of Michele’s Art of Science series, what I have always found fascinating about discussing art and the process of creation with Michele, is her engagement with the current art world and the history of art, with an honesty and clarity that is quite brave – when so many artists armor themselves (like scientists) against public judgment in overly complex jargon.
I can’t send Michele to everyone’s living room to have that conversation with you; but, thanks to TWiV, I can send Michele’s living room to you.