mercoledì 1 novembre 2017

Biodiversity courses, tools as means and not as aims, ecology

In the previous post I said that statistics is a tool and nothing else (bur also nothing less): I remember a graduate whom I was the co-relater, who did an important study of the enviroment of a Park in Albania. When he discussed his thesis (in Italy undergraduates discuss a thesis like graduates) the commission asked nothing about the ecology of the park and asked instead about the NMDS -I suppose they would have asked a student discussing a thesis on diploids and tetraploids about the type microscope he used to tell the former from the latter.

All this is terrifying to me, but tells us a deep truth about the courses of niology alla around the worls. With rare exceptions, they teach technical skills, like pipetting or statistics. Technique is fundamental, but science is a matter of thinking, not of tools (although the bosses of big tech firms are aiming at freewing us from the burden of thinking). Erathostenes calculated with striking precision the diameter od the earth with a stick  Galileo is famous for the telescope, which for the time was a rather sophisticated instrument, but much of his revolutionary ideas in physics were developed with relatively rudimentary tools such as the inclined plane.I am not assuming that brain is better than hands, but that you must not make the tool an aim in itself - a tool is a tool since it serve to us to extend our senses.

Since it is difficult to change the courses of biology, and since molecular biology is essentially a technical matter, I am convinced that we should take out ecology from biologists, and introduce completely different curricula, based mainly on taxonomy and analysis (see my previous post). In Italy there is a course named natural sciences, which with the introduction of many more teachings in matehmatics and biophysics could do the work well, provided that we change the name from natural sciences into course in biodiversity (natural science is a very small course, but I think simply changing the name could do miracles). In the anglo-saxon world the question is more problematic, but curricula are much more flexilble than in italy and it is probably only a question of advising (and again of naming). We must thank Raven fro the invetion of this beautiful name, biodiversity, let's make it work.

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