was team teaching; now FACTS?

Ross Koning koning at ECSUC.CTSTATEU.EDU
Wed Jul 14 19:15:15 EST 1999

At 2:33 PM -0400 7/14/99, Jon Monroe wrote:
>Dave Williams wrote,
>>And while we're at it, what about descriptive science? Don't students need to
>>understand that the quest for pattern, classification, organization, and law
>>are valid research objectives? Science is not strictly experimental. When and
>>how do we incorporate this vital aspect of biology into the "process" of
>A colleague of mine who does animal descriptive morphology teases me
>all the time about my "experimental" work on a gene family in
>Arabidopsis as really being "descriptive morphology"...
>Just because the students aren't doing an experiment doesn't mean
>they can't be investigating.  For example, rather than telling
>students what to see in a prepared microscope slide, let them make
>the preparations and figure out for themselves what it is they see.

Hi Jon!

I agree with the spirit of what you wrote...but do tell your pal
that your UNstained slide is the control in a histochemical
experiment. It is true that when some of the cells/tissues
show a color change and others don't, you also have an experiment,
and the unresponsive cells are the controls. Much of molecular
biology (I'm learning this now) involves controls of similar
sorts. There are controls for transformations, ligations, southerns,
and so on. They make these "projects" experiments. Moreover the
genetic manipulations you carry out are much more than descriptive;
they are quite invasively experimental. Dropping an antisense
construct into a cell is NOT descriptive...what happens next to that
cell or tissue might involve some description, but that happens
in ANY project.  ALL SCIENCE IS DESCRIPTIVE to at least some
degree...if it weren't, there would be nothing to write about in
our journals!  So that teasing should be thought of as just some
fun-poking rather than as a serious criticism.

I had that "descriptive" cricitism thrown at me early in
my career. At the time I was deeply hurt by it, but I have
grown up (unlike the reviewer who made the comment) to realize
that this is one of those "fighting words" that one person in
our business uses to "put down" others. I wish I knew who the
person was so I could point out the "description" in THEIR work,
but that is the nature of the review process in science.  It
is a place where sometimes you get "whacked" without chance for
defense or correction. Reviewers are, like everyone else, flawed.
Sometimes they are immature too.

Where "description" becomes a criticism is where a worker does
not see, appreciate, or mention her/his manipulation or controls.
In other words, the person is doing experiments but does not
realize it. As I see it, part of our "process" teaching must
be to recognize and articulate true experiments with adequate
controls, and to almost belabor the selection of controls to
the point of students designing their own experiments. And yes,
we need factoids to help us do just that! We need previous
knowledge to avoid making new wheels all the time. etc. etc.


Ross Koning                 | koning at ecsu.ctstateu.edu
Biology Department          | http://koning.ecsu.ctstateu.edu/
Eastern CT State University | phone: 860-465-5327
Willimantic, CT 06226 USA   | fax: 860-465-4479

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