Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Plants, not Fungi, Are Most Closely Related to Animals?

 
The American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology has drawn up guidelines for a new curriculum in undergraduate education. The complete recommendation can be found at Recommended Curriculum for a Program in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the Journal Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education (BAMBED).

Under the list of "Skills that biochemistry and molecular biology students should obtain by the time they have finished their undergraduate program," there are a number of motherhood type statements. One of them is "Ability to assess primary papers critically." We've been discussing these required skills for the past few months. I've questioned the wisdom of teaching undergraduates how to critically evaluate the scientific literature because I think it's a skill that only comes after a lot of experience in the discipline.

There are many confusing papers out there and it's difficult to decide what's right and what's wrong. We can give students our opinion but that's not the same as teaching them how to critically evaluate a paper.

Here's an example of how difficult it is to read the scientific literature. A recent paper by John Stiller (2007) promotes the idea that plants are more closely related to animals than fungi. Here's the abstract.
Evolutionary relationships among complex, multicellular eukaryotes are generally interpreted within the framework of molecular sequence-based phylogenies that suggest green plants and animals are only distantly related on the eukaryotic tree. However, important anomalies have been reported in phylogenomic analyses, including several that relate specifically to green plant evolution. In addition, plants and animals share molecular, biochemical and genome-level features that suggest a relatively close relationship between the two groups. This article explores the impacts of plastid endosymbioses on nuclear genomes, how they can explain incongruent phylogenetic signals in molecular data sets and reconcile conflicts among different sources of comparative data. Specifically, I argue that the large influx of plastid DNA into plant and algal nuclear genomes has resulted in tree-building artifacts that obscure a relatively close evolutionary relationship between green plants and animals.
This position is contrary to a whole lot of work that has been published over the past several decades. I don't think very much of this paper and neither do John Logsdon of Sex, Genes & Evolution [Promoting Plants at the Expense of Fungi?] and Ryan Gregory of Genomicron [Discovery wants to "demote" fungi]. Read their blogs to see why we're skeptical about this paper.

How do you explain this to undergraduates? How can you teach them to critically evaluate such a paper when, on the surface, it seems perfectly reasonable and the data seems sound? I submit that most of us work within a model of how we think the history of life has developed over millions of years. That model is based on reading hundreds of papers and getting a "feel" for the data. Some papers are rejected and some are given more credence and this is based on all kinds of intangibles—including the reputation of the authors. Can undergraduates be taught such a thing? I don't think so.

41 comments :

  1. Interesting post. I continually discover, too, that undergraduates mostly don't want to think critically about legitimate scientific controversies; they're (mostly) used to science teachers and textbooks delivering "fact" after "fact" which they can then memorize and spit back on exams. I've been trying to engage my freshmen in discussion about alternative hypotheses of animal phylogeny (prompted out of necessity by the very different trees presented in the 7th and 8th editions of the Purves/Sadava text)--it freaks them out. Mostly.

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  2. undergraduates mostly don't want to think critically about legitimate scientific controversies;

    Some of us would like to but barely have enough time as it is to cram into our skulls, and retain, the information that is legitimately not controversial.

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  3. Can undergraduates be taught such a thing?

    Indirectly, perhaps.

    I think the key is for professors to strongly encourage undergrads to become familiar with what is coming out of science journals. This means not limiting their scientific understanding to power point lectures and their textbook.

    I like what a professor at my own university has on his lab's webpage. He's created a list of "Must read papers in evolutionary ecology" (https://webspace.utexas.edu/dib73/Bolnicklab/Mustread.htm) . I like this because it gives Daniel's students the ability to understand where their professor is coming from, essentially.
    Reading those selected papers is going to give the student some of the same "feel" for the data that Daniel has, beyond what they cover in class.

    Granted most undergrads aren't going to be falling over themselves trying to read all these technical science papers, but I like Daniel's idea nonetheless.

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  4. It seems implausible to me as well, considering the similarities between amoeba, slime mold, and certain fungus and metazoan cells. However, is it possible that fungus and animal similarities are merely shared plesiomorphic features - and hence Unikonta is paraphyletic?

    Alternatively, Stiller is wrong and fungi are merely degenerate, like Myxozoa.

    Tupaia

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  5. I can't see how reputation of the authors has anything to do with judging the content of a paper.
    If you think that's important, you don't know how to evaluate the validity of a paper. I'd recommend the opposite: forget who wrote this paper.

    Even the greatest make mistakes, get confused or have simply ridiculous ideas. And even a buffoon can discover something and report what he has in front of his eyes.

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  6. Students who are really in it for thinking (and not merely for grades) WILL critically read papers in order to see if they have adequately understood them, whether you think it's good for them or not.

    If they then find problems that the teacher cannot answer correctly, it means that the teacher himself fails to adequateley evaluate the validity of a paper.

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  7. Sanders says,

    I can't see how reputation of the authors has anything to do with judging the content of a paper.

    If you think that's important, you don't know how to evaluate the validity of a paper. I'd recommend the opposite: forget who wrote this paper.


    You don't know what you're talking about. Whenever I see John Mattick's name on a paper, for example, I know I can ignore that paper.

    Over the years, I've come to know how some authors think so I can read between the lines when I examine their papers. It's a valuable insight, much like reading a book by Dawkins or by Gould.

    If you think all scientific papers are free of the author's bias then you've god a lot to learn, my son.

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  8. Experience accumulated over any years, reputations, intuitive feel for the subject, human intangibles, working from a background ulterior model – it all sounds about right to me (if ‘right’ is the right word). True though all this is, these human factors clearly raise challenges for accountability, transparency, fairness, and objectivity. We can but do our best to uphold these values I suppose.

    As I once posted on this site: “Evidence and social texts have a large domain of overlap”.

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  9. What do people think about a course, perhaps at the level of second year, specifically designed to introduce students to the scientific literature?

    This idea has been rattling around in my head for the past year or two, based on my encounters as a TA with many 3rd- and 4th-year students who have never read a paper that wasn't handed to them as a photocopy or electronic PDF in a class. They've never looked up a paper from the citation list of another paper, they've never searched a database like Pubmed or Web of Science for papers on a topic.

    These are basic scientific skills for all disciplines. Obviously, if a new course is added to a cirriculum, something else probably has to go (Bachelor's degrees are zero-sum, apparently). Does anybody reading this think the trade-off would be worthwhile, to replace some other introductory course with a generalist scientific literature course?

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  10. "If you think all scientific papers are free of the author's bias then you've god a lot to learn, my son"

    Pops, that's not what I'm saying. You REALLY cannot judge content from the people involved, even if you can anticipate its 90% bullshit. That's fine, but bullshit floats and is notorious by itself.

    Do you know how often I have to read a paper from some adaptationist bonehead to sieve actual fact from interpretation? I also know several authors who I know beforehand that I won't agree with their conclusions. But their paper may nevertheless contain that one datum or reference that will be useful.

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  11. Larry, at the least your "ad hominem" way of reasoning does not properly beware of errors and confusions that GOOD, even great, researchers can make in their papers.

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  12. thebrummell says,

    What do people think about a course, perhaps at the level of second year, specifically designed to introduce students to the scientific literature?

    I don't think they can handle it and I'm not sure I see the point. Can you give me an example of a paper you would ask 2nd year students to read for comprehension?

    In my 2nd year biochemistry course I used to ask students to write a short summary of a paper I choose. I deliberately picked papers that were related to the course material but the students still had a difficult time putting it into context and understanding the significance of the experiments.

    I finally concluded that they just didn't have the proper context to be able to appreciate front line research. They weren't getting anything from the experience other than frustration.

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  13. I would not do paper critcizing as something introductory. They have not yet learned the basic research tools, techniques, andfacts. It is obvious their capacity for critical evaluation will increase the more information and simple "science habits" they accumulate. I think the best way in the beggining is to have them do lots of math and labwork and problem-solving. Get them involved in some labs where they can get a taste of the discussion and work of thoe who do research.
    THEN make them criticize papers and expose them in seminars, perhaps starting around the 3rd or 4th year course as undergrad.

    This was roughly my experience as an undergrad studying biology. However, I understand the situation was very different in carreers that unlike my "useless" biology diploma, are supposed to insert people into jobs to apply knowledge and get paid, rather than generate new knowledge (doctor, vet, etc). Those have much more details of the craft to memorize an critical thinking is not really an objective... awfully boring. Poor guys.

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  14. I taught at a course this summer where mostly 1st year undergraduates had to do a whole ecological mini-experiment in groups - plan (together with TA), execute, write up roughly in the shape of a research article complete with literature discussion. I don't think criticism of the published research was the hardest thing to learn on that course!

    If that sounds too "off the deep end", what about seminars where students read different papers chosen by the teacher (as Larry did), but then they present their evaluation of the paper to the other students and discuss it in groups?

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  15. We did the scientific paper thing in an intro to biodiversity course. It was your basic 1st year course, core, prerequisite material. You weren't expected to know phylogeny was a word even going into it. About a dozen papers were assigned as supplementary reading and if you volunteered to speak before the class about one of them, the prof counted your final for slightly less, if you did better on the paper than on the final. IMO a good example of the legitimate use of optional grades.

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  16. Dr. Moran: I finally concluded that they just didn't have the proper context to be able to appreciate front line research.

    Excellent! This is the kind of experience-based feedback the hypothetical course in my head needs.

    What if the course started by providing that context? I'm thinking a full paper critique would be nearly the last thing covered in the course. The first few topics would be really basic things like distinguishing between peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed research, and the different types of research that gets published (data vs. review vs. model papers, for example).

    Sanders: I think the best way in the beggining is to have them do lots of math and labwork and problem-solving. Get them involved in some labs where they can get a taste of the discussion and work of thoe who do research.

    This sounds distinctly like the current best-case situation, what several professors have described to me as, roughly, the point of an undergrad degree in the sciences. I'm not suggesting drastic changes, I'm suggesting one course that provides an early introduction into one major component of the communication side of science.

    My personal experience during my undergrad was roughly what you describe, except I never felt like I was doing real research until my final-year directed study project, in which I was essentially a trained helper to a PhD student for four months. That felt like research; previous lab sessions spent learning about families of beetles, or how to identify musuem specimens of birds, or sticking electrodes into a frog's leg in Ringer's, did not feel like research. The answer in those situations was obviously known, and while the point of the exercise was equally clear (learn something), everything was so rigidly structured that it did not resemble real research.

    Several professors have expressed to me their frustrations with the level of ignorance among undergraduates regarding scientific literature. I've heard complaints that not only can these students not do a decent paper critique, they don't know how to look up a paper, and don't have a clue when it comes to citations and proper references. My putative course would seek to address those problems.

    Dr. Moran: Can you give me an example of a paper you would ask 2nd year students to read for comprehension?

    Not on-hand, no. That is an obvious flaw in my current argument for proposing such a course. Thanks, I'll have to find something. If I cannot, then obviously this course is unlikely to be a good idea.

    In my experience, first-year biology courses are primarily a little bit of everything (one week on mitosis, one week on evolution, one week on cellular anatomy, etc) or, less commonly, straightforward biodiversity-survey courses in which examples of 'major' groups of organisms are presented and some appreciation of the vast diversity of life on Earth is demonstrated. The latter seems more useful as a starting point (or pre-requisite) for my putative 2nd year course. You've seen some biodiversity, here are some biodiversity papers. But I'm just brainstorming, here.

    Sorry for the long comment, and thank you for the feedback and the forum.

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  17. Students in my first-year biology classes have an option of reading a scientific paper and writing a report on it; this replaces 15% of midterm+final exam marks. I provide a list of papers by local authors that aren't likely to be too technical, but they can select a different paper if they like. I don't vet their paper choices, and give them only a small amount of guidance.

    Those who choose to do this find it very challenging, often telling me that "I had to read the paper six times before it started to make sense!". But they also find it very rewarding; they're proud to have accomplished this difficult task, and feel that the experience will give them an advantage over other students in future courses.

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  18. I rarely disagree with you LArry but I have to think we need to begin teaching difficult concepts or skills at some point. Just because its difficult and takes experience to learn a skill shouldn't cause us to delay. At every level of learning a skill can be difficult and require experience but we need to start at some point. It could be argued that the more experience needed to perform a skill should cause to us introduce the skill earlier, not later.

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  19. Linzel,

    I appreciate your perspective but I still maintain that you can't critically evaluate a scientific paper until you've mastered the basic concepts of a discipline. As the old cliché goes: you can't run until you can walk.

    I think this is a serious problem in science today, and not only with teaching undergraduates. I think there are far too many scientists who are publishing papers without understanding the basic concepts in their field. If the scientific literature is so flawed then what's the point of pushing undergraduates to read it? That's not going to solve the problem in the next generation, it's only going to make it worse.

    We need to get over this idea that the front line scientific literature is where all of the excitement is. Most of it is little more than sophisticated garbage. The real excitement is in learning what evolution really means, or the correct meaning of the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology, or what really holds the double helix together, or how photosynthesis works.

    We can see the problem on another thread. Apparently we have a whole generation of so-called scientists who were never taught genome organization and the evidence for junk DNA. Maybe they spend too much time as undergraduates reading about the latest (now obsolete) techniques and not enough time mastering the fundamental concepts in their discipline?

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  20. thebrummell said:

    What do people think about a course, perhaps at the level of second year, specifically designed to introduce students to the scientific literature?

    This goes back to a discussion regarding textbooks a week or so ago. Larry was stressing the importance of textbooks in teaching undergraduates, whereas I was relating the UK perspective where literature is stressed at a pretty early point (first year to a certain extent).

    I strongly suspect Larry is sceptical of this approach (!), but I do remain in favour of a significant element of primary literature being used. Obviously the basics have to be stressed, but I believe that papers can be incorporated pretty quickly around this. In a rigorous degree course, I'd expect second year students to be able to have a decent stab at critically analyzing a paper and generally having a good feel for the literature (obviously not all students will be capable, but thats beside the point). In my experience this is perfectly possible (indeed, it's expected if you are to get a decent grade).

    However, obviously Larry knows a lot more about his students than I do and if he says they aren't ready for the literature, then they aren't. Therefore I wonder what the differences are. Obviously it's not intelligence and it seems unlikely that some subjects have more "basics" than others (though maybe this is possible) so perhaps part of the reason may lie in the fact the UK students specialise in a subject pretty quickly, rather than getting the broader education that North American undergraduates do. This may well help them to be at a stage where they can deal with papers earlier. This undoubtedly has it's downsides though as things are lost in not having this breadth.

    Additionally, a problem I mentioned in the Textbook discussion was that UK students generally don't get enough exposure to maths (or they don't in my field anyway). Much of the time this isn't a massive problem; geology is still pretty qualitative, but there will be circumstances where this leaves a student underequipped. It's a problem that badly needs fixing. rectifying.

    In summary and with all due deference to Larry's experience, I'd recommend giving students a try with a few papers reasonably early on. From my experience over here, they can and do get to grips with the literature. Transatlantic differences may be significant here, but I still think it's worth a try.

    BTW, if anyone is interested, as an example of what a second year undergraduate would be expected to deal with in my subject, a typical question they would be asked in their second years would be; "Critically evaluate the evidence for the role of North Atlantic Deep Water forcing in late Pleistocene climate change". Answers would be solely based on the literature. They could also expect another similar question during the term and their final exam answers (usually examined at the end of the academic year) would also be based on literature reading.

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  21. Stevef, I wonder if the difference in our approaches depends on how you interpret the phrase "critically evaluate a paper"?

    We certainly expose our undergraduates to classic papers, even in our introductory biology course. In my second year biochemistry course, students have to read a few papers that I have carefully chosen to teach an important concept. For example, they have to read a paper that evaluates a common misconception about metabolism. I also expect students to use the various biochemisty databases.

    What I'm talking about is giving them a paper from a recent journal and asking them to figure out what the paper means and whether the result is significant (or even correct). That's "critical evaluation" in my opinion. I find that even beginning graduate students find this challenging and this includes graduate students from UK universities.

    In typical Canadian fashion, the Canadian university system is something of hybrid of the American and British systems. Our students specialize a lot more than American undergraduates but less than those in the UK.

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  22. I was trying to stay out of this thread (yes, really :-P) as I'm not into teaching, but educational issues are dear to me as a scientist and this got very interesting. While I can only draw on my own experiences, I think Larry describes the issue well.

    Bloviating over many papers in a subject and constructing a tentative model to work from is more or less a must. (Including recognizing the key players in the coarse filter to find the most valuable stuff. Sorry Sanders!) While one can get more adept and streamline the process, this defines a method that ought to be valuable to learn systematically and early. But can it?

    I submit tentatively that learning methods is a rather individual task, but so is learning in general. So YMMV. But most people I know is helped by the hands on experience and motivation experimental work gives. A substitute could be to answer a specific question (probably setting a guideline limit on the amount of literature), so I would definitely try that.

    Heh, I just read Larry's description of Canada's fashion. Sweden is also hybridizing a lot, as in education. No wonder then that many canadians seem to feel a little bit of resonance with our fashions when they visit. And here I thought it was mostly our similar tastes in beer. :-)

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  23. Another approach, appropriate for mid- to upper-level undergrads, is to spend the time to hold their hands through a few papers before asking them to analyze literature on their own. There is a technique called "writing to read" that works well; essentially, students read a paper, are completely overwhelmed, and then class time is used to lead them through a section at a time with short in-class writing assignments that provide a basis for discussion. For example, you might start by asking students to rephrase the title in their own words. After 5-10 minutes a few students read theirs and a discussion ensues, and everybody gets it. Similar short writings allow students to crystallize interpretations of sentences or paragraphs from the introduction, identify controls and other aspects of experimental design from the methods, draw conclusions from important figures and tables, etc. (The Bard Center offers workshops on this and other writing-to-learn techniques.)

    Eventually, one can ask students to read, analyze, and present primary literature as part of a capstone senior seminar course; they have been exposed to primary scientific literature relatively painlessly without expecting them to be expert at it, which (as Dr. Moran points out), they really can't be.

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  24. What lary and Larsson say is that with time you recognize "good" and "bad" authors and you may choose not to read a word of the bad authors. But this has nothing to do with actually critically READING a paper.
    I think Larry and some "rationalists" are too much into discarding people along with ideas. This is a genral philosohy of Larry, expresse on several topics, not juts the topic of paper evaluation. So, I want to go on the record as saying that is a quite clearly fallacy, a frivolous mistake of reasoning.

    Again: I am not saying authors are not prejudiced and motivated. Of course there are! Good grief, of course! I hate some of them! But his does not mena that if confronted by a claim I have actually refuted it by pinting out to the auhtor, right? Why do this if you can merely pint out the absurdity of their claims?

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  25. This reminds me of

    "Let the students hear both sides and decide for themselves."

    I read the abstract and it made perfect sense to me. But I don't know anything about plastids or how they might affect factors that in turn are used in determining relationships. It would take a very long time for me to look up materials to remedy the particular deficiencies that prevent me from assessing the report. I can imagine the same difficulties for students who are unfamiliar with statistical assumptions and validity of statistical tests, or matters of physical chemistry or geology needed to appreciate the validity of what is being argued.

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  26. sanders says.

    What lary and Larsson say is that with time you recognize "good" and "bad" authors and you may choose not to read a word of the bad authors. But this has nothing to do with actually critically READING a paper.

    It has everything to do with critically reading a paper.

    All experiments are done in the context of a model or hypothesis and all results are interpreted in light of one's expectations. If you've read enough papers by a certain scientist you begin to see where they are headed and what their unstated biases are. Only then, can you critically evaluate the work.

    I never said that I don't read the papers by "bad" scientists. Quite the opposite, in fact. I often spend more time trying to understand people I disagree with than people I agree with.

    I'm still working on a review of Behe's latest book, for example. I don't feel confident writing about his ideas until I understand them thoroughly. It ain't easy.

    What Sanders fails to appreciate is that by the time I'm ready to take a position I've usually done my homework.

    I think Larry and some "rationalists" are too much into discarding people along with ideas. This is a genral philosohy of Larry, expresse on several topics, not juts the topic of paper evaluation. So, I want to go on the record as saying that is a quite clearly fallacy, a frivolous mistake of reasoning.

    I don't get this. When people consistently promote stupid ideas what's the fallacy in called them idiots? Why is it a mistake in reasoning to call Richard Dawkins an adaptationist, for example?

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  27. What lary and Larsson say is that with time you recognize "good" and "bad" authors and you may choose not to read a word of the bad authors.

    Key word is "may". I too spend a lot of time on papers that are controversial (for me or in general). But that has nothing to do with getting to know a subject.

    It is the same filter as when you prioritize top journals to read from.

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  29. "If you've read enough papers by a certain scientist you begin to see where they are headed and what their unstated biases are. Only then, can you critically evaluate the work"

    Pffftt. I guess any time you confront an unknown author or team you just cannot critically read their papers, then.When exactly can we start critically reading such authors?

    Do we have to do years of author -following to realize whether a given paper is full of bull or not? My answer is a clear NO. Sounds to me like you're trippin, Larry. It is not quite as you think it is. Yes, it helsp as you get older to critically read papers, but not because you learn to vilify certain names, but because your knowledge and understanding increases. If you have a fair understanding of a topic, you will be able to critically read a paper even if you have no idea who those authors are.

    Calling dawkins an adaptationists is no exaggeration. I doubt he would be offended, too. Many adaptationists stick out their chest about it.
    Calling creationists Idiots not only has a pejorative that no one wnats to be called. It is also exaggeration. They have no neurological diseases, you know. Exaggeration comunicates fanatism.

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  30. Sanders says,

    I guess any time you confront an unknown author or team you just cannot critically read their papers, then.When exactly can we start critically reading such authors?

    Don't be silly.

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  31. It IS silly, right? But you leave me no choice

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  32. It's kind of like reading blog comments. I tend to lend more credence to the opinions of people that care about things like spelling and syntax.

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  33. rather than the content of the message...All I can say is "way to go, Sven".

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  34. Ow! My eye-rolling muscles are cramping up!

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  35. The best way to teach people how to read papers is to teach them how to read papers. This is less obvious than it seems. Sure, looking at the authors reputations is useful, but it is also important to know how to read their abstract. What are they saying? How are they backing it up? What did they do? What were their results? What are they missing? Where could errors creep in? Why did they write this paper? How does it fit into the bigger puzzle?

    That is not how you read a textbook. It is a totally different skill and it needs to be taught as such.

    Having students actually do some research, even if they don't plan to do so in their careers, teaches them the limits of raw experiment and the need for interpretation. Actually doing some research, even a single experiment, can be quite sobering.

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  36. anonymous says,

    The best way to teach people how to read papers is to teach them how to read papers. This is less obvious than it seems.

    That's an understatement! The whole issue is much more complicated than most people realize. Part of my objective here is to get people thinking about some typical motherhood statements. Is it really true that the goal of getting undergraduates immersed in the scientific literature is the best way to educate them?

    Sure, looking at the authors reputations is useful, but it is also important to know how to read their abstract. What are they saying? How are they backing it up? What did they do? What were their results? What are they missing? Where could errors creep in? Why did they write this paper? How does it fit into the bigger puzzle?

    We can teach students to ask those questions but finding the answers requires a huge amount of background information. You can't tell whether a pieces of work fits into a bigger picture—or refutes it—until you know what the big picture really is.

    The discussions about junk DNA are a good example. In order to critically evaluate the latest paper you need to have a whole lot of information about what went on over that past four or five decades. You need to understand what the term "junk" DNA actually means and what it doesn't mean. You need to know the evidence that supports the concept. This includes the evidence that's 40 years old but isn't being mentioned in the latest paper. I'm thinking about genetic load, here.)

    That is not how you read a textbook. It is a totally different skill and it needs to be taught as such.

    I spend a good deal of time trying to teach my students how to be skeptical about what's in the textbook. I use examples from my own book where what I wrote four years ago is now thought to be wrong. Or, where it's right but the other lecturers in the course disagree with me. :-)

    I try to get students to appreciate the fact that every Professor has a somewhat different perspective on things and their perspective may not be the same as the textbook authors'. It's one of the reasons why a textbook is so important. If nothing else, it lends balance to the course by offering a different opinion than the lecturer.

    At this stage in my career I'm much more interested in getting students to challenge their Professors than in reading the latest literature. In my experience, a course that relies heavily on the latest papers tend to reinforce the idea that the facts and data speak for themselves. The different approaches to undergraduate education reflect a different emphasis on concepts and ideas on the one hand, and practice and experimentation on the other. It's the different—to put it crudely—between understanding something and reproducing it. Or, between theoretical science and practical science. Or, between education and training.

    Having students actually do some research, even if they don't plan to do so in their careers, teaches them the limits of raw experiment and the need for interpretation. Actually doing some research, even a single experiment, can be quite sobering.

    I assume you mean actual research and not the kind of experiments that are done in a course laboratory? If so, I tend to agree with you. In fact, I would go one step further. Unless you have some real experience in a research lab it's very difficult to critically evaluate a recent scientific paper.

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  38. Maybe encouraging to define and carry out their own research is a good idea...and write their own manuscripts too, revising the pertinent literature. In fact many publish as an undergrad. We just have to find the way to make this a more common practice.

    This can give them an idea of the actual process of research, their own role in the process, the criteria that have to be met for reviewers, etc etc

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  39. Sanders says,

    Maybe encouraging to define and carry out their own research is a good idea...and write their own manuscripts too, revising the pertinent literature. In fact many publish as an undergrad. We just have to find the way to make this a more common practice.

    Are you still being silly? It's hard enough to get papers published when you're a graduate student or a post-doc. What makes you think typical undergraduates can publish papers by working in a lab for one day a week?

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  40. Jeez, touching a sensitive spot here.

    I don't know how do you work things out Larry, but most publications are certainly not just a matter of working a couple of weeks at a lab.

    Larry, you said

    "If you've read enough papers by a certain scientist you begin to see where they are headed and what their unstated biases are. Only then, can you critically evaluate the work."

    Sorry, that's silly. We CAN critically evaluate authors we don't know. You're trippin.

    It used to be the case before, that as an undergrad you had to make a thesis, that could lead to publication. Despite this practice is mostly gone, I am pointing out a fact: some undergrads can and do publish. It would be good if we had more of that; subjecting them to the standards of publication can give them a much better idea about how to judge a paper. I don't know if phd scholarships fall form trees here, but in Chile, a publication also helsp you get a pd scholarship. if you are going to follow a scientific carreer, early ublication helps a lot.

    Anything in any case is better than misleading them with fallacies such as "you have knwo the authors". You make it seem as if science is all about placing blind trust in the right "faction".

    It's all part of your mere unwillingness to apply the correct distinction between ideas and people.

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  41. pluralism...pluralism...
    These are NOT either/or questions.
    One considers both content AND authors; spelling AND content.
    See? Pluralism, yay!

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