Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Guardian Takes on Biological Evolution

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Evolutionary Biology, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

In late June I noticed an article in The Guardian (UK) titled "Do We Need a New Theory of Evolution?" 

My first thought before reading further was "Clickbait," which was followed by "no." It was, I thought, another example of  Betteridge's law of headlines. This  aphorism states  "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no."  The Wiki link has important details, if it is new to you.

I did read the reporting and thought it was strong evidence supporting Betteridge. I wanted to say something about it, hoping, no depending first that Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True and/or others I look to for analysis based on  immersive knowledge and long, highly regarded record of evolutionary biology research to comment. 

Coyne wrote an extensive comment (Short summary: The answer to the headline is no. The longer answer is based on substantial evidence and technical details.). However, I decided not to write anything because I didn't think I could summarize it easily enough. This became even more difficult when The Guardian published some letters (not one from anyone mentioned in the reporting by Stephen Buranyi).  And that is where I left it until now.

However, Professor Coyne recently posted a link to a YouTube video by Jon Perry about the Guardian piece. Coyne was enthusiastic about the video and used the word "demolished" with respect to the reporting. Perry runs the YouTube channel "Genetics & Evolution State Casually." 

I'd never heard of this channel but no longer am I surprised but disappointed about what I don't know what the web offers. I regret not knowing about this channel. It is splendid. Wonderful. Content rich. There, Perry discusses "genetics, evolution, science and the interplay of science with religion within Western culture."

This is how Perry describes the video (see previous link above to view it. 14m 37s): "The Guardian recently wrote an article about evolution. How accurate was it?" *

I also commend to you this post by Professor Coyne on letters that he and others wrote to The Guardian. His, written with two colleagues, was finally published. He also includes a letter that wasn't published (and should have been).
*The introduction by Perry is important because he describes why he decided to focus on this article. It was a response to a question from a high school teacher who has been assigned to teach biology, a task for which she has no training.. She teaches maths. Furthermore, I especially appreciated what he had to say about the nature of introductory texts and courses. Their purpose is never, nor can it be, to help students uncover everything. Their role is exposure and to introduce students to major ideas, concepts, and practices of scientists and engineers.

I was familiar with the two texts shown but have no idea of how widespread their use is now that teachers are working in a standards based environment which requires less delivery and more emphasis on how scientists probe the world. Vocabulary requirements are greatly reduced and the emphasis is on understanding and using concepts, science and engineering practices, and cross-cutting concepts. In addition, the concepts are developed gradually in a progression from grade school. The depth  of the two texts shown would, it seems to me, not be developmentally appropriate for the standard 10th grade biology course. Reading them would be a challenge and in the end a barrier to learning. They made me think of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and in Minnesota, Concurrent Enrollment Programs. I have not examined the requirements of these biology courses...
I'm not going to say more but instead point you to the  Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and to the current Minnesota standards for science where you can examine them for biology content. The eye is not among them. The emphasis on evolution is on diversity, variation,  natural selection, etc. The basics.

NGSS. You will see a blue box, "Get to Know The Standards"  Click and go to learning progressions.
Minnesota K-2 Academic Standards in Science. This is a draft approved by the Commissioner of Education. They are going through a state rule making process before their full implementation in 2023-2024.
Minnesota is is a state that adopted NGSS in its entirety or with modifications/additions.  For us, it is the latter. See here for the full list as of 2020 and a brief discussion of each state. However,  Minnesota was represented in the development of the NGSS.

With thanks to Professor Emeritus Jerry A. Coyne, University of Chicago

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