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August 2007 Archives

Do you tend to think that science is a body of unchanging factual information, and everything published in the scientific literature is correct? Read on...

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Recently my favourite science blogger, Orac, provided links to a couple of videos that I think should be compulsory viewing for anyone interested in learning about critical thinking and the nature of science. So I'm going to give you the links through his website (because I'm pretty new to this blogging business and so far haven't worked out how to link direct to the videos...)

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One of the topics that you've probably covered in AS90718 is PCR - the polymerase chain reaction & its applications. You may have read quite a bit about it. Well, here's one more item for your reading list.

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You may have read the recent press coverage about the discovery of Homo erectus and habilis remains that suggest that these species coexisted for much longer than scientists had previously thought. The coverage was accompanied by headlines implying that the new finds overturned our current understanding of human evolution. But just how accurate is this?

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One of the attributes of a successful student is the ability to integrate material from across the curriculum - pulling together knowledge from (say) genetics, evolution, and biotechnology into a coherent whole. Here's an example of a recent paper that integrates biotechnology techniques and genetics to clarify our understanding of our own evolutionary past.

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If you're like me, you probably do quite a lot of net surfing, just looking for new science stories or something interesting to read. But I hope that you think critically about what you're reading. Not all websites are created equal, and the material you find may contain one or more logical fallacies. Check them out - not least because learning to recognise them will help you to avoid using the same fallacies in your own writing.

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You've probably already heard this from your teachers - but it's an important message, so read on...

The ability to write well is one of the most important skills you need, if you're going to achieve well in the Scholarship Biology examinations. Don't believe me? Have a look at the examiner's report for last year's exam.

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Here's a question to consider: are humans still evolving? What sort of evidence could we use to answer this question?  

  

We do tend to view evolution as something that happened in the past, and see the study of evolution as a 'historical' science. But nothing could be further from the truth. Evolution is an ongoing process, and we can detect its influence on the present-day human gene pool just as easily as we can view the development of our species' family tree.

 

Remember that evolution is essentially a change in a population's gene pool, as the result of 'drivers' such as natural selection and genetic drift. And studies of present-day human evolution look just there, at our genes. Some of these studies are summarised in a recent paper in Science (Michael Balter (2005) "Are humans still evolving?" Science 309: 234-237), which is the basis for this posting.

 

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I've set up this blog in response to comments from secondary school biology teachers, especially those preparing students for Scholarship Biology examinations. I hope to use it as a way of encouraging critical thinking, looking at scientific papers that are relevant to the Level 3 curriculum and to Scholarship, and fielding questions that you may come up with.

 

Why critical thinking? Because the Scholarship standard makes it clear that this is a necessary attribute for a successful student. But also because critical thinking is a necessary skill for all of us. How else can we separate nonsense from sensible statements, recognise the relevance and significance of what we already know, and avoid being bedazzled by all sorts of claims and counterclaims of scientific and technological wizardry? Think of critical thinking as a tool for life.

 

I intend to publish something here each week - a discussion of a paper, a closer look at some story that's made news headlines, or an answer to a question. Your feedback and questions are welcome - just use the form provided here. After all, this blog was set up in response to a perceived need, and your input will help it to grow.


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August 2013

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Recent Comments

  • Alison Campbell: a cat may look at a cephalopod! read more
  • herr doktor bimler: Poaching on PZ's territory! read more
  • Stephen: Snap or is that Schnapps! I'm reading The Drunken Botanist read more
  • Alison Campbell: Perhaps you should be promoting 'liquid oxygen' enemas for maximum read more
  • herr doktor bimler: Sorry, that was supposed to be a comment on the read more
  • herr doktor bimler: I see a potential market here in selling Charles Atlas read more
  • herr doktor bimler: drinking a couple of spoonfuls of 'liquid oxygen' isn't going read more
  • herr doktor bimler: Speaking of fermentation: http://eusa-riddled.blogspot.com/2013/08/smut-dont-drink-it.html read more
  • Alison Campbell: an army of post-docs looking for that place to settle read more
  • herr doktor bimler: Tunicates are inevitably compared to senior academics, because they reabsorb read more