Category Archives: Evidence

Hans Rosling (1948-2017)

“Fame is easy to acquire, impact is much more difficult.”

Hans Rosling, 1948-2017 (Guardian, 2003)

Hans Rosling, public health guru, statistics wizard, creator of Gapminder and presenter of the best TED Talks of all time (playlist), has sadly died, way too young. Any long-term user of i-Biology.net will know what a fanboy I am, and there are many posts and pages on this site – from Bio content to MYP and TOK – that reference his work and talks.

He will be missed but his work, more important now than ever before, will live on.

……….o0O0o……….

We’re lucky to be in this world. Don’t be ignorant.

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Before the Flood: The Science is Clear, the Future is Not.

New from Leonardo DiCaprio and National Geographic, Before the Flood is a compelling and powerful climate change documentary. Where are we in the world right now with our understanding, challenges and potential solutions. What actions need to be taken right away?

The full movie is was available initially for free on YouTube, and their action website hosts more resources for use in class or discussions. Click here for other platforms where you can view, rent or buy the movie.

 

John Oliver: Climate Change Sketch

This funny (but sweary) John Oliver sketch skewers the non-debate on climate change.

“The debate on climate change should not be whether or not it exists, but what we should do about it.” 

With 97% agreement from scientists on the human cause of climate change, are the media skewing the debate with 1:1 representation?

This is connected to the Greenhouse Effect topic resources. Don’t play it in class without listening first – there is some strong langauage.

Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre: quick review & course connections

The Book

There’s a good chance that you’d not be here to read this without the pharmaceutical industry designing and manufacturing the vaccines and medications you’ve used during your life – but how much do we know about where they come from? 

In this thoughtful, well-researched and instructive book, Ben Goldacre* (doctor, evidence-based medicine proponent and author of Bad Science) outlines how Big Pharma works, but also what the issues are and how they can be fixed. He has a TEDMED Talk on the premise of the book (below) and takes care no to write a ‘hatchet-job’ on the industry, but to shine a light on the current state of clinical research and marketing.

I recommend the book to IB Biology and IB Chemistry students and teachers – read a copy before the next teaching cycle begins – as there are many sections of direct relevance to our courses that could be used as lesson ideas or real-world contexts for what we’re learning. It would make a great addition to the reading list for students, especially those intending to pursue medical, biochemistry or pharmaceutical careers.

In each chapter, Goldacre identifies a problem and gives a clear account of why it is a problem, using systematic reviews of academic literature and specific case studies to highlight each point. He makes it clear to the reader why these problems actually are problems, but also offers concrete advice or proposals on how to solve them.

Some highlights for the IB Biology course

Click & Go

Chapter 1 gets stuck in with statistical analysis and why systematic reviews of literature, meta-analyses and careful work with data are so important. It introduces the work of the Cochrane Collaboration and works through a neat illustration of the importance of considering all the data as more studies are carried out. The Cochrane Collaboration’s logo is itself a fascinating story, and you could model this in class with a simple set of investigations in the early stages of the course (see some ideas on the Statistical Analysis page).This video is very useful – from the Testing Treatments page.

The ideas and issues come thick and fast for the rest of the book. 

As you read it, you will see many potential connections to the course, as well as to Theory of Knowledge. Here are just a few ideas that might spark discussion in class:

  • What is the problem with missing trial data and publishing only favourable results? 
    • What does this publication bias do the reliability of the information we use to make decisions?
  • How are drugs designed and tested (this is super interesting, going from in-vitro and animal testing to stage 1, 2 and 3 human trials, and has an obvious link to the IB Animal Experimentation Policy).
    • What are the ethical issues with human testing, in particular the ideal/ representative nature of the patients used and the incentives they receive?
    • What is the impact of outsourcing trials to other countries that might have different ethical codes?
    • What are the ethical issues of randomising and controlling trials with humans, particularly in cases where there is a known drug that helps compared to a new drug?
  • What are the roles of drugs regulators on medicine and are they working?
  • How should trials be designed to give more valid and reliable data (for example, comparing the ‘new’ drug against the current best alternative vs placebo)?
    • How could we use nationwide health records to conduct larger, simpler trials to determine which treatments really are most effective?
  • How do the many branches of pharmaceutical marketing affect decision-making and how can we recognise and mitigate for this?
  • How can we fix it all to keep medical innovation going whilst generating reliable, cost-effective data and drugs?

TED Talk: What doctors don’t know about the drugs they prescribe

*Yeah, I know I’m a bit of a fanboy and have featured him on here a lot, but with this and Bad Science, he has produced a lot of useful content to connect to our classes. 

Ben Goldacre: What doctors don’t know about the drugs they prescribe [TED Talk]

Here’s Dr. Ben Goldacre of Bad Science giving his TED Talk, which is an eye-opener into what happens in academic research and drug testing. A good link with TOK here:

  • How do research groups and journals decide what to publish – what is publication bias?
  • What are the consequences of not publishing negative results?
  • To what extent does publication bias affect other academic disciplines?

This is a really interesting dilemma. Evidence-based medicine works, that’s why it is called ‘medicine’. Sometimes publication bias leads into misrepresentation of data and drugs get approved. But it’s not the same as promoting pseudoscience – ‘fake’ medicines which we know do not work and are supported by no peer-reviewed, controlled evidence.

 

Ben Goldacre: Battling Bad Science

One of MrT’s science blogging heroes, Dr. Ben Goldacre, runs the Bad Science blog and Guardian column. Over the last few years, he has been dedicated to highlighting the problems of bad science in the media and dodgy claims – by looking at the actual evidence. Some great sources for TOK and Biology, and now he has a TED Talk. Enjoy!

Remember: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” [Sagan’s Standard]

A funnier version for an American audience after the jump…

Read the rest of this entry

The Incredible Human Journey

A great recent series from the BBC – The Incredible Human Journey. Dr Alice Roberts investigates the evolution of humans from origins in Africa to our spread and diversification across the globe.

Perfect viewing for a typhoon day!

You can see parts 1-5 on WhyEvolutionIsTrue‘s YouTube Channel.

Mesolens: see thousands of cells in detail at the same time

Living Water Flea, captured through the Mesolens

Living Water Flea, captured through the Mesolens, by Brad Amos at LMB

Currently on exhibition as part of the Royal Society’s 350th anniversary celebrations, the Mesolens is a giant microscope that can show large field-of-view images of living specimens in incredible detail – thousands of living cells in focus and in detail at the same time. Until now, scientists have had to rely on low-mag light microscopes to obeserve living specimens, or use sections of dead specimens on an electron microscope in order to get high-mag images.

Mesolens vs Hooke

Mesolens vs Hooke

Robert Hooke first drew a human flea in his 1665 book Micrographia. Along with van Leeuwenhoek, Hooke kick-started microbiology, and so it is a fitting tribute that some 345 years later, LMB give us their flea images. You can pan and zoom across a Mesolens image by clicking here

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Check out this short article from Wired.com explaining how the Mesolens works, and go to the Laboratory of Molecular Biology’s official site for the Mesolens. Can you distinguish between it and a normal light or electron microscope? What advantages will this give to researchers?

The Guardian has a gallery of images from Mesolens, and there is a short video showing image density from the LMB site, as well as a teachers guide to microscopy.

Evolution (Core)

Ecuador Hummingbirds

Ecuador Hummingbirds

Start with this reading on Evolution and Darwin: https://www.box.net/shared/6dx95t6ma6 and then watch this video of evolutionary researchers in action in Ecuador.

In the clip below, is Ross using the correct language when he describes the theory and evidence for evolution?

Here is the class presentation

And the Essential Biology notes can be found here: https://www.box.net/shared/550sxdbx82

There are many sources of interactives and animations on Evolution on the internet. Here are a few:

PBS Evolution has lots of high-quality activities and videos

BiologyInMotion has a very clear population evolution interactive

The Exploring Evolution weblab has examples of homologous structures and fossil evidence

MMHE has a pesticide resistance tutorial

And there are some good peppered moth simulations here and here

As always, sumanas has a great resource – this time on antibiotic resistance

And John Kyrk has a truly awesome timeline of the evolution of life

Darwin resources:

Attenborough on Darwin: The Tree Of Life

Dawkins Darwin Lectures from OU/BBC

And of course, all of Darwin’s works are available online from darwin-online.org

And here’s Dawkins on the evolution of the eye:

Inside Nature’s Giants

Channel 4’s fantastic series has just ended in the UK (I’m back for a holiday), and I can’t wait for the DVD. This is the kind of natural history quality that the BBC normally has a monopoly on, but C4 have presented something outstanding here.

Fin Whale Dissection

Fin Whale Dissection

Over the four episodes, Mark Evans presents dissections of four giants of the animal world: elephant, whale, crocodile and giraffe. On hand is the expert anatomist Joy Reidenberg, who does a great job of taking apart and explaining their findings. Richard Dawkins takes the opportunity to point out some of the wonders of evolution in the animals, using anatomical and computer-graphic explanations. It’s great.

Embedded below are part one and part two of the second episode: fin whale. Rather than dissect at the Royal Veterinary College as normal, their challenge was to dissect this whale which washed up on the coast of Ireland before it exploded with decomposition.

If you can get 4onDemand, all four episodes are available online for a month. They are not available for download, but to really get the full effect, you need a high-quality image – so fingers crossed for the DVD!

For now, visit the official website for some clips and animal autopsy games.

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