Almost everyone who has taken a biology class knows the following:
Mendel studied seven traits of peas and came up with the foundation for Mendelian inheritance.
Science research is accomplished by using “the scientific method.”
“Survival of the fittest” describes Darwin's concept of natural selection.
DNA fingerprinting is a way of revealing what is coded in a person's genome.
Males possess an X and a Y chromosome, while females have two X chromosomes.
Errors in science experiments are solved by replicating the experiments.
There are absolute laws of biology responsible for the way living organisms grow, develop, and survive.
Nobel Prizes in science fields have been awarded only to scientists who drew accurate conclusions in their research.
But wait! Are these statements all true? Actually, these examples, like much of the information we, as teachers, learned in science classes and later taught to students, are not completely accurate. Erroneous biological information is accepted by numerous people who haven't really verified that it is true. Biological nonsense is often shared as fact in some print media as well as on websites and in social media. Many ideas regarding how science works are romanticized or simplified versions of what actually happens. Author Douglas Allchin notes that “what we know – or what we think we know – is not always reliable.” In this amazing collection of 28 essays portraying the nature of science, many of which were first published in his American Biology Teacher column “Sacred Bovines,” Allchin brilliantly explores and challenges a wide variety of topics such as the nature and validity of science, errors in science, evolution theory, biological heroes, and ethics and values. The essays support the value of wonder as a target in biology education. As Allchin explains, “Immersed in wonder, one may learn to appreciate living things more deeply.”
The essays consist of numerous extensively researched stories with highly detailed accounts and insights that show how science intersects with our lives and why we must question assumptions. The nature of science is revealed in the deep analyses of the contributions of numerous scientists and the admission that scientists can and do make errors, which are sometimes corrected by other scientists. A brilliant probe of science con artists, those whose research and claims are deceptive or fraudulent, helps us understand why there is so much pseudoscience spread in today's culture.
Among many other issues finding their way into these essays are biological curiosities, the meaning of “human,” political influence in science, professional ethics and values, appreciation and respect for life, cultural and emotional connections, philosophical explanations, rivalry between scientists, and problems with dissection alternatives.
Science teachers typically try to foster scientific literacy, encourage students to follow the science that impacts their lives, provide an understanding that there is no single method to reach new discoveries, and instill a trust in science, but rarely do they teach a healthy skepticism of much of the science that shows up in various information sources that don't include legitimate scientific literature. This book would be a valuable asset for all biology teachers, helping them avoid inadvertently passing along misinformation to the next generation of scientists, including some of what may still exist in textbooks used in their classrooms. Also appropriate for college and advanced high school biology students, it can help them discern the accuracy of popular science. An “Afterword for Educators” provides advice, suggestions, and strategies to enable teachers to use “Sacred Bovines” to improve their instruction in many ways. Some readers may need to use reading glasses, as the font size in the essays seems a little less than the size of newspaper text, though the content is more fascinating than most newspaper articles.
This is not a joke book, but many of the engaging essays demonstrate some pleasant and refreshing wit, such as the dead cat that actually became a certified member of a nutritional consultant group, the murder of dandelions and other weeds, or the ending of an essay concerning GMOs, where Allchin answers a question about understanding “organisms, modified genetically?” OMG.
In addition to the main text, the book contains notes, a large list of references, and an index. As I reflect on the mind-boggling content and focus of this remarkable volume, my best commentary is “Holy Cow!”
AMANDA L. GLAZE is an Assistant Professor of Middle Grades & Secondary Science Education at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. In addition to science teacher education, she has taught courses in biological sciences for grades 7–12 and undergraduate students over the last 13 years. Her interests include evolutionary biology, science and religion, and the intersections of science and society – specifically where scientific understandings are deemed controversial by the public. Glaze holds degrees in science education from the University of Alabama and Jacksonville State University. Her address is Department of Teaching & Learning, Georgia Southern University, P.O. Box 8134, Statesboro, GA 30458; e-mail: email@example.com.