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April 2011 Archives

Some of my colleagues over at Sciblogs (NZ) publish the occasional 'crazy science' letter. I thought I would join them, having just read the following in one of our local free papers.

Fluoride and Viagra - what do they have in common? As it turns out, a lot.


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That's the title of the first chapter in the AAAS's Vision and change report. It should cause tertiary biology educators to pause & think - because not all of the students sitting in our first-year classes are biology majors or, indeed, science majors. In my own Faculty around 1/6 of those students will be taking my papers out of interest or because they're required for a degree program from another part of the University. So, while there is an obvious need to prepare the biology/science majors for further study in the subject, just what do we want those 'others' to take away from their semester of biology classes? As the report's authors say, 

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Last week our department began to review its biology curriculum. I have a sneaking suspicion that some folks were hoping that one day was pretty much 'it', but realistically we'll be continuing the process for some time. Which is just as well, because Grant has pointed me at a document that I would have liked to have had my hands on last Wednesday: Vision and change in undergraduate biology education, from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the AAAS). (You need to sign up to view the document.)

It's a 100-page document, & this being Easter I am torn between reading (& blogging) it, consuming the inevitable chocolate (although I have to say that Peter Gordon's dessert risotto recipe has provided considerable competition!), & the considerable pile of undergraduate essays looming on my desk. So I will save the measured commentary for the next day or so, as otherwise my students won't get their essays back next week, but offer a taster tonight.

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A little while ago Ken alerted me to an Intelligent Design website that appeared to be set up to provide ID 'resources' to teachers & others who might be interested. Today I found time to wander over & have a look at what was on offer (not much, at the moment). The site's owner is 'idfilms', who tell us that

idfilms was established with the express purpose of reinvigorating and expanding the ID discussion in New Zealand and Australia.

The people behind idfilms are committed to the search for truth about the origin of life and the universe, just like you.

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... & I promise to write something more substantial in the next day or so, I just need to get the marking & committee work behind me!

In the meantime - & using the word 'theory' rather loosely! - I offer you this:


With many thanks to Dan Piraro at

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I've had a most enjoyable, and thought-provoking, discussion with a teacher friend of mine about the ideas & proposals contained in Looking ahead: science education for the 21st century. We both felt that the report is a provocative basis for discussion of what our science education system should look like (& indeed Sir Peter Gluckman described it in those terms last night), but after reading it & hearing what was said at last night's launch we also felt that we'd have to agree to disagree with Sir Peter on some aspects of what he's suggested. (Which is what you'd expect from a discussion document.)

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Last October I wrote about Inspired by Science, a document commissioned by the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor with the aim of "[encouraging' debate on how better to engage students with science". The paper had a particular focus on science education in primary and secondary schools and also asked  "whether there is an increasing mismatch between science education of today and the demands of the 21st century."

Today saw the launch of Sir Peter Gluckman's report Looking ahead: science education for the 21st century, a document that builds on Inspired by Science and a second report (Engaging young New Zealanders with science, which I'll talk about in a subsequent post) to identify

the challenges and opportunities for enhancing science education for the benefits of the whole of New Zealand society and our national productivity.

In his covering letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Peter comments that

the changing nature of science and the changing role of science in society create potential major challenges for all advanced societies in the coming decades

and New Zealand is no exception.

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The internet is a strange place - not least because it makes easier to stumble across such strange juxtapositions as PZ's sublime posting on killling and a strange and ridiculous piece by AIG (Answers in Genesis) that lays the blame for the Noachian flood on earthquakes (& I have to thank Ted for pointing me at the latter).

No, seriously. Apparently (in this strange parallel universe) "Japan's earthquake proves Noah's flood". (The link is to the SeriousSensuous Curmudgeon's post on this - I have no wish to drive up AIG's web traffic!)

Inside this world-view the terrible March 11 quake (& its associated tsunami) are 'small' - I'm sure the thought that it could have been much worse is comforting to those affected. Supposedly huge earthquakes leave behind the evidence of their own existence in 'superfaults' - unfortunately most geologists would beg to disagree. (This 'quakes cause faultlines' is eerily reminiscent of a claim by our own 'Moon Man'.) And if one 'small' earthquake-generated tsunami could do so much damage, think how much greater the harm from (& I quote) " the barrage of tsunamis generated by continuous, worldwide earthquakes during the year-long Flood of Noah"...

And there was me thinking it was all due to 40 days & nights of rain...


(Edit: & I hope the Curmudgeon will forgive me for getting the name wrong. I blame the i-pad's spellchecker running unchecked!)

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This is not exactly biology, but nonetheless - over on Pharyngula, PZ Myers has written an eloquent and moving post on why applying shades of grey to 'black-&-white' issues may be doing us all a disservice:

But sometimes the issues are black and white. Sometimes the answers are clear and absolute. And in those cases, attempts to bring out the watercolors and soften the story by blurring the edges do a disservice to reality. There are places where there are no ambiguities, and the only appropriate response is flat condemnation. And we witness them every day.

I urge you to read the rest of this thought-provoking piece.

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 For those keen on attending (via the KAREN network or another provider) next week's launch of Looking ahead: science education for the 21st century, here are the latest details on where & how to join the 'virtual' audience:

 Teachers can participate in the seminar in three ways.

    1. Via Satellite Television, combined with the livechat which requires only minimal broadband width.
    2. Via high speed internet webcast and livechat using either the KAREN Network or National Education Network. If you are on an alternative high speed internet provider, please click here for more information. You can also download a technology information sheet (468 kb).
    3. By participating at a number of schools and universities throughout New Zealand that have offered to be regional venues for the event.

→ List of host sites ←
(Excel, 46 kb, last updated 31 March 2011, 8.05 am)
Note: This list will be updated daily or more frequently. Please check back again for additional host sites. Sites may be directly contacted for further information on how to participate.

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