Critical Reflections on the Life Sciences: Lives in Science

Muriel Blaisdel, R. Hays Cummins

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WCP 222 Natural Systems II
Spring, 1999


Muriel Blaisdel--134 Peabody Hall, ph.#:529-5674

Office Hours:M 10-11 & 2-3, W 10-12 or by appointment

R. Hays Cummins--222 Boyd Hall, ph#:529-1338

Office Hours:W/F 10-12 and by appointment

Meeting Schedule
Lecture: Wed @ 9:00-9:50 a.m.
Seminars: 228 Boyd Hall

A TR 9:30-10:45 a.m.[hc]
B TR 11:00-12:15 [mb]
C TR 2:00-3:15 [hc]

Sophomore Media Night: Tuesday @ 7:00-9:30 p.m.

Exam: February 23
Poster Reception: March 23
Women in Science Panel: April 13
Fossil Field Trip—Saturday, March 20, Departure 9:00 a.m.

WCP 222: The Natural Systems Core Sequence

Most students have already taken courses in the physical sciences, the life sciences, and technology. Just last term most of you learned about Global Geochemical Cycles. To understand their causes and effects it is necessary to call upon nearly all the natural and social sciences, as well as the humanities. The inquiry into global systems should raise for you serious questions about the limitations of scientific inquiry. We look to science for solutions to problems, but science can not always address directly the moral and social conditions in which these solutions must be placed. Even if we have absolute confidence in scientific studies and their results how might these results be applied to policy? How, for example, can scientific results be weighted against economic considerations and humane values?

It is a program priority for the Natural Systems Core curriculum to explore the limitations of science as well as its successes, methods and implications. This course will explore several new facets of that multidimensional subject we call "science." It is important to understand the historical, philosophical and sociological development of the sciences. How have these factors influenced our culture and, indeed, our very habits of thought? The framework of assumptions and beliefs are part and parcel of the paradigms of scientific thought and modes of operation. These paradigms both open science to new knowledge and limit its domain. The disagreements in science may often be more illustrative than consensus among scientists, because in debate it is possible to see clearly the limits to understanding, to instrumentation, to the accuracy and reliability of measurement.

We hope every student who takes WCP 222 will emerge with a clearer understanding of the life sciences in their evolving context. That every student will find scientific data more explicable and accessible. That every student will see that not only is a "systems" approach to nature a worthwhile study, but that the growth of scientific knowledge itself has interactive and emergent properties. Though the specific content of this course may vary from year to year--from issues in biomedicine and ethics, agriculture, biodiversity, human ecology, or the history of science--our unifying goal is to examine the characteristics and limitations of quantitative and qualitative reasoning and to examine how the products of various disciplines may best be integrated to provide meaningful solutions to issues in the world.

Interdisciplinarity & Questions the Course Addresses:

Our course integrates the biological sciences with social questions of the past and present. We explore the historical development of biology, not just the growth of biological thought and knowledge but also how society has influenced science as we practice it today. As well as learning about the personal lives of women and minority scientists, we also study the intricacies of their scientific personas. For a time, you are called upon to be both a scientist and educator.

This course affords us an opportunity to use a scientific discipline as both subject and object of reflection. What is biology? How did it come to be as it is now? What are its relationships to other disciplines? How did it come to have the particular subdisciplines it has? Who are practitioners in biology? What kind of future can be projected for this discipline? What is the relationship of biology to ecology and environmental studies, to ethics and concern for proper applications of scientific knowledge? How do debates arise and get resolved in biology? How are popular understandings of science and scientists different from reality?

The first half of the course explores questions of the origin and evolution of the life sciences themselves. After spring break we look at the relationship between the present state of the life sciences as they are practiced today and are likely to be practiced in the near future. Science policy and science education will be the means through which we will ask questions emerging from critics of the sciences. Can biology be made even a more humane discipline that it is? Will changes occur in the content of the sciences as women and minorities become biologists in larger numbers?

Liberal Education

There is abundant opportunity for liberal education in this course. It is intended as an opportunity for students whose orientation is toward the sciences to interact with students whose chief interests are in the humanities or social sciences. Critical thinking will be encouraged by reading contrasting approaches and appraisals of the sciences. Writing and quantitative reasoning are also significant features of our work and each activity is designed to help students learn to reason and choose the better or best choices from the array of possibilities. The uses of primary sources and essays by theoreticians and experimentalists is conducive to critical reflection and learning. Understanding contexts is a goal of the Miami Plan for Liberal Education and of Natural Systems II. The course is organized to emphasize the history of scientific ideas and their evolution in specific national and ecological settings. Historical context will help answer the question, Why is biology as it is today? To understand the social context of science education we will experiment with multicultural approaches to biology education. The principle of engaging other learners will be a consistent goal of the course as we learn from each other in seminar. Many seminars will be led by students and learning from groups will be important in the development of education teams. Each member of the class is both a learner and a teacher. Sharpening learning skills positively reinforces teaching skills and vice versa. The fourth Liberal Education Principle, reflecting and acting, will be found both in the course and long after it is finished. We believe the learning students do in the course may have impact on their adult lives, as professionals, as adults concerned for children, and as citizens. We developed a course with deep roots in philosophical and scientific literature and worked to form a strong practical linkage with "life after college."

Attendance Policy: Participation is basic to active learning. Attendance is a necessary, although not a sufficient condition for participation. So come to class prepared to participate constructively. Chronically absent students obviously cannot participate in course activities and run the risk of being dropped from the course roster. READ and be SEMPER PARATUS. Attendance at lecture, seminars and all events are very important to us. We are especially concerned that students recognize the importance of attending the course meeting in which student evaluations are taken. We use the constructive help of students in planning subsequent courses.

Academic Misconduct : Please read Part V, sections 501-507 in the Student Handbook.

SEO Requirement : All Western College Program majors must have submitted a Statement of Educational Objectives to receive a grade in WCP Sophomore Core Courses.

Class Evaluations: All students will complete a final course evaluation.

Books :

Blaisdell, Muriel and R. Hays Cummins, Natural Systems II Reader:
Critical Reflections on the Life Sciences.Miami University, Electronic Reserve.

Adobe Acrobat Reader is necessary to read these documents

Bowler, Peter J. Charles Darwin. The Man and His Influence . Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Gould, S.J. The Mismeasure of Man, W.W. Norton & Co.
Fox Keller, Evelyn , A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock, W.B. Freeman Publishers, 1983.
Jones, James H. Bad Blood. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment . New York: Free Press. 1993.
Vermeij, Geerat. Privileged Hands. A Scientific Life. W.B. Freeman, Publishers, 1997.

Course Activities:

Poster Sessions

Teams of 3-4 (within seminar groups) will take as their goal to illustrate--pictorially and with quantitative material-- essays that are "words only". Each will present a group paper on process including the participation of all group members, the reasons for supplementing the text in the way they did, reasons why some potential illustrations were rejected, quantitative points raised, aesthetic considerations, etc.. Each project culminates with a display and oral presentation.

Often, poster sessions are given in large symposia where there are too many people wishing to give presentations for each to give a separate talk. In settings like the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, poster sessions permit a great deal of information to be compressed into a small amount of time. It requires a careful distillation of the most important points and those that can be grasped visually, graphically, and holistically. It permits casual onlookers to gain a general understanding, and those who are very interested may inquire about details from the authors or read the whole study.

Poster Session Symposium

We will have a poster session for the whole class, perhaps on the media night following the due date for the posters so that each person can see all the posters. We'll try to have a reception to celebrate the work each group has done.

A Quicktime Viewing of the Winners of the '99 Poster Symposium

Science Education Project:

A significant public concern is that children and young people are not learning enough science and mathematics. Many recognize that failures in science education start with the inflexibility of traditional science pedagogy. Think back to the science courses you had in high school. Most are taught as a collection of facts to be memorized. Creativity rarely plays much of a role in science teaching or learning. No wonder many feel disenfranchised and bored.

There is additional concern that minority and female students are specifically being lost from the pool of potential scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. As our course materials familiarize us with the history, philosophy, and social aspects of the sciences we plan to bring this knowledge to bear on the development of an appealing science curriculum for all children, perhaps especially for those whose interests are not currently being cultivated.

Most scholars, regardless of their own area of academic interest, agree that intellectual excitement and stimulation comes not from passive acceptance of information transmitted from the teacher to the student in the classroom, but rather from the active involvement of the individual in the learning process. Quite simply, we learn by doing. In the spirit of discovery-oriented science, a significant component of the course will be the development, by student teams, of discovery-oriented experiences that may take place in the classroom, lab, or field, that are suitable for middle-school, junior high, or high school students. We will write curricula and plan activities with these folks in mind.

Where does one start? First what are you interested in? How can these interests be developed into an experience that you can share with a younger age group? How will you avoid the pitfalls of a rote science experience? Your group will develop your own questions, design methods, write your own text, run your own lab or experience, gather and analyze data, and present the results to the class while continually keeping your audience in mind.

We are able to use the Western Duck Pond, the woods behind Peabody, Bachelor Preserve, Hueston Woods, Four Mile Creek, and local fossil outcrops as our laboratories. There will be about 5 science-education projects per seminar. Each group will decide upon a question, research literature relevant to your question, decide upon the best way to address the question given available time and resources, and write a project [lab, field, classroom experience]. The authors of each project are responsible for the success of the experience. You will need to provide data sheets, introductory material, and try to make adjustments for unanticipated events.

Upon completion of the project, authors will interpret the results and, towards the end of the semester, give a presentation about their findings. The final project write-up will include the documents for your class or lab experience, the literature used to develop it, descriptive and analytic writing about the curriculum writing process. Your write-up should be your own answer to "critiques of the life sciences."
It should be both explicitly and implicitly "friendly to minorities and women (girls)." You may have experience with research and with sharing that in a laboratory, but this time DIVERSITY is a special concern.

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The Science Education Project and You

If you are ready, you can Enter Your Own Science Education Idea, etc Topic NOW . Or, you can respond to a particular topic submission! Perhaps you have some insights that can help! To do so, browse the works in progress by clicking on the topic area of your choice. Then add your response!

NS 2, Spring 99- The "4-Step Program" and Class Postings

Natural Systems, Education Project Submissions

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Examine Progress Reports .....

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Final Discovery Lab Report

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Science Autobiography

How did you learn about nature? What were your earliest memories learning about nature? Were there both positive and negative experiences? How were your scientific skills and scientific information expanded when you were in grade school, junior high, and high school? How do you think about science now? If you are aiming for a college emphasis in the sciences, what are the issues you think are most important? If you are aiming for an emphasis outside the natural sciences what relationship do the sciences have in the field you have chosen? Have you ever been "math anxious" or "science phobic"? If the answer is "yes", what did you do about your anxiety? What are the most important scientific problems being worked on in our time? Why do you think these are the most important? If you could contribute to the solution of a particular problem what would it be? Look here for an example of a science autobiography from one of your professors.

A "Classic " Field Trip: Fossils

Molly & Karla looking for fossils in an Ordovician outcrop in Indiana. Spring '97

One important aspect of a life in science is that of learning from nature. We will collect and study our collections as scientists have been doing for several centuries. We will be both recapitulating the experiences of such naturalists as Charles Darwin, and bringing recent sensibilities into the experience as well.

Alisa, Megan, Natallie and Andy celebrate Natallie's find of several echinoderm calices! Spring '97

Quicktime Movies- Students Check the Ordovician Outcrops for a Variety of Interesting Fossils, Spring '99

Lives in Science: Charles Darwin, Barbara McClintock, Geerat Vermeij, and You

Although not as well known as Darwin, Barbara McClintock was a biological pioneer in plant genetics and winner of a Nobel Prize for her work on genetic transposition. The importance of her work was recognized years after her field work was done when confirmed by laboratory-based [male] geneticists. Geerat Vermeij is physically blind but scientifically insightful. His new book Privileged Hands presents his own story. This autobiography relates evolution to conchology and his own experience of learning to see with his hands. We have the chance to see in the experience of the research subjects of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments the intrusion of race and class bias on the practice of science.

This course gives each person a chance to see the "human face" of science, not only reflected by Darwin, McClintock and Vermeij, but also reflected in your own mirror.


Attendance/Preparation/Participation 10%
Examination 20%
Final Examination 20%
Curriculum Project 20%

group project paper + individual process accounts

Poster session 15%

group project paper + individual process accounts

Science Autobiography 10%
Short Writings 5%

Consistent with the Writing-Across-the-Curriculum commitment writing will be evaluated for both form and content. The course will involve Quantitative Reasoning. Please note the quantitative information required by the autobiography, poster, and project. Other opportunities for quantitative reasoning will be presented throughout the term.

Due Dates and Other Important Events
Due Date
Exam February 23--Media Night
Posters & Papers Due March 18--Thursday Seminar
Fossil Field Trip March 20--Depart 9:00 am
Poster Reception March 23--Media Night Science Center
Science Autobiography April 2--Thursday
Women in Science Educators Panel April 13--Media Night
Other Writing and Quizzes (To be announced)
Science Currriculum Project April 22--Thursday
Final Examination Finals Week--To be announced

Calendar and Schedule

Click Here for Electronic Readings


Date/Topics Readings
12 Seminar Welcome, Introduction, and the Syllabus
13 Lecture Biology's Beginnings [mb/ hc]
14 Seminar: Discussion of Lecture and Readings
Reader Week I

Charles Darwin, pp 1-32

Unit I

Reflections on the Nature of Science and of Biological Knowledge

Date/Topics Readings
Week II
19 Seminar: Discussion of Lecture and Reading
20 Lecture: Scientific Biography: Charles Darwin [mb]
21 Seminar: Discussion of Readings
Reader: Week II

Charles Darwin, pp. 33-125

Week III
26 Lecture: Evolution and Natural Selection [hc]
25 Seminar: Student Initiated Conversation
27 Seminar: Discussion of Lecture and Readings
Reader: Week III

Charles Darwin, pp. 127-220

Post Science Project Ideas

Week IV
2 Seminar: Student Initiated Conversation
3 Lecture: Applications of Evolution to Human Development [mb/hc]
4 Seminar: Discussion of Lecture and Readings
Reader: Week IV

Mismeasure of Man, pp 62-175

Peer Review and Feedback

Week V
9 Seminar: Student Initiated Conversation
10 Lecture Feelings for Organisms: Alternative Science [ mb]
11 Seminar: Discussion of Lecture and Readings


Reader: Week V

Feeling for the Organism, pp. 1-77.

Peer Review and Feedback

Week VI
16 No Seminar: Monday Classes Meet
17 Lecture : Jumping Genes [hc]
18 Seminar: Student Initiated Conversation--
Reader: Week VI

Feeling for the Organism, pp. 78-138

Peer Review and Feedback

From: A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock. By Evelyn F. Keller. W.H. Freeman and Company

Unit II Science and Social Critiques--
Subtheme 1-- Science in Service to Politics
Subtheme 2-- Quantitative Applications in Science

Date/Topics Readings
Week VII
23 Seminar: Student Initiated Conversation
24 Lecture: No Lecture: Recovery Time
Examination-- Media Night: 7:00 p.m.
25 Seminar:
Reader: Week VII

Feeling for the Organism, pp. 139-207

2 Seminar-- Student Initiated Conversation
3 Lecture: The Knower and the Known [mb]
4 Seminar—Discussion of Lecture and Reading
Reader: Week VIII

Privileged Hands, pp. 1-149

Science Education Project Proposal

Spring Recess--March 6-14 -
Week IX
16 Lecture: Conchology [hc]
17 Seminar: Poster Session
18 Seminar--Poster Session

Fossil Field Trip-- Saturday, March 20, 9:00 a.m.

Prepare for cold or inclement weather.

Reader: Week IX

Privileged Hands, pp. 151-272

Post Progress Reports

Peer Review and Feedback

Poster Session

From: Privileged Hands: A Scientific Life. By Geerat Vermeij. W.H. Freeman and Company

Unit III--Science Education:

Who Becomes a scientist? Why? Who Gets Left Out?

Date/Topics Readings
Week X
23 Seminar: Discussion of Lecture and Reading
Media Night, Tuesday MARCH 23 POSTER RECEPTION
24 Lecture: Who Succeeds in Science [mb]
25 Seminar: Discussion of Lecture and Readings
Reader: Week X

Mismeasure of Man, pp.176-204,


Post Progress Reports

Peer Review and Feedback

Week XI
30 Seminar: Guest: Alexander Echols, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
April 1 Lecture: Blood and Blood Related Diseases [hc]
2 Thursday, Discussion of Lecture and Readings
Scientific Autobiography Due
Reader: Week XI

Bad Blood, pp. 1-90

Post Progress Reports

Peer Review and Feedback


Week XII
6 Seminar: Discussion of Readings
7 Lecture: Scientific Racism [mb]
8 Seminar: Discussion of Lecture and Reading
Reader: Week XII

Bad Blood, pp. 91-187

Science Education Teaching Packet


Unit IV Science in Our Lives--Science Education Project--AIDS and the College Student

Date/Topics Readings
13 Seminar: Discussion of the Readings
Media Night: Panel—Women Leaders in the Sciences
14 Lecture: The Biology of AIDS [hc]
15 Seminar: Discussion of Lecture and Readings
Reader: Week XIII

Bad Blood pp.188-241

Post Progress Reports

Week XIV
April Senior Project Conference, April 20-23
20 Seminar: Discussion of the Readings
21 Lecture: Biology and the Culture of AIDS [mb]
22 Seminar-- Curriculum Projects Due
Reader: Week XIV

Post Progress Reports

Week XV
27 Seminar: Project Presentations
28 Lecture: Reflections and Evaluation [mb & hc]
29 Seminar: Project Presentations
Catch up and Review

Final Science Education Project Postings

The Western Pond Swans show off some of their feeding strategies in this Quicktime Video Check out the final report of the "Swan Study."


In this age of Climate Change, see a Quicktime movie of the Great Meltdown (209 Boyd Hall) as the ceiling collapses during the recent January thaw!

Reader for Critical Reflections on the Life Science

Table of Contents

Adobe Acrobat Reader is necessary to read these documents from Electronic Reserve

Week I
The Antecedents of Scientific Thought
The Place of Biology in the Sciences

Week II
Foundations of the Modern World View
Lost Species
Principles of Geology (1830-33)

Week III
Charles Darwin's Notebooks
On the Races of Man
General Summary and Conclusion

Week IV
Autobiography of Charles Darwin
Out of Africa
Future Evolution of Homo Sapiens

Week V
Experiments in Plant-Hybridization
Revolt from Morphology II Heredity and Evolution

Week VI
McClintock's Maize
The Origin and Behavior of Mutable Loci in Maize

Week X
A Profile of Undergraduates in the Sciences
Women in Science and Engineering
Career Pattern of Women and Men in the Sciences

Week XIII & Week XIV
How HIV Defeats the Immune System
Viruses Launch Their Own "Star Wars"
The Long Shot
Hot fusion of HIV
New Hope in HIV Disease
Reexamining AIDS Research Priorities
AIDS Related Infections
Prevalence of AIDS-Related Risk factors & Condom Use in the United States

Defeating AIDS: What will it take?
HIV 1998: The Global Picture
Improving HIV Therapy
How Drug Resistance Arises
Viral-Load Tests Provide Valuable Answers
When Children Harbor HIV
Preventing HIV Infection
HIV Vaccines: Prospects and Challenges
Avoiding Infection after HIV Exposure
Coping with HIV's Ethical Dilemmas

Astronomy at Western--Even Mel's snake "Louise" gets into it!

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