Blog Archives

BBC’s The Gene Code

Through decoding the Human Genome, researchers have uncovered many of the secrets of what makes us the way we are, how we got to be here and how complex life evolved. Another promising BBC documentary, The Gene Code, is hosted by Adam Rutherford (The Cell). This is well worth watching if you can get it in your area.

We must be getting close to the point where you could learn the whole of IB Biology through great documentaries. If you spend a lot of time in traffic and have a mobile device like a laptop or iPod, why not try to supplement or extend your own Biology learning through viewing? A great place to start is the Why Evolution Is True YouTube Channel.

TimeTree – Common ancestor calculator

This is a lot of fun. Plug in two species or taxa and TimeTree will give you our best estimate of when they last shared a common ancestor. Drawing on a multitude of sources, you can look through the database and use TimeTree as a launching pad for further research.

Here are some sample results:

Fun suggestion – play the ‘higher or lower‘ game with pairs of taxa.

David Christian’s Big History of the Universe

Billions of years compressed into 18 minutes of TED Talkiness. David Christian gives us a quick run-down of the history of the universe.

This is a nice link to TOK, evolution, cells and diversity. If you study History or Economics, give it a go, too. Some of you might find this familiar if you have been to one of Andy Fletcher’s TOK Seminars. Why not stick on your phone or iPod and watch it during your holiday this week?

If that gets your inquiring mind in gear, Christian and his team have put together a free online course in Big History, which you can take here. With Big History, Scitable, Khan Academy,, Encyclopedia of Life, Learn.Genetics  and many more free content providers out there, are we starting to see the end of the traditional textbook? I hope so.

Extreme Biology & The Rap Guide to Evolution

Double the fun – I came across this short TED Talk (some strong language) via Extreme Biology, a great collaborative high-school Biology blog.

Extreme Biology is maintained by Ms Baker, a teacher from the ‘North-East US’ and her Biology classes. Her students take the lead, blogging about AP Biology, Science in the news, podcasting, interviewing scientists and even taking part in the Science Online 2011 conference. Wow. They do such a good job, I’ve featured their blog as one of the RSS feeds at the base of this page, so we can keep up with their work.

Recently, in honour of Darwin Day 2o11, they posted this TED videoThe Rap Guide to Evolution, exploring evolutionary psychology, by Baba Brinkman:


Evolution of resistant Staphylococcus aureus

This is a lovely SlideShare presentation, if you’ll excuse the anthropomorphism of the bacterium!

TOK: “Just a Theory?”

Here’s a good clip from Friends where Ross (a paleontologist) is defending the scientific evidence for evolution against Phoebe.

Grade 11 Students, the Evolution Core content is here: 5.4 Evolution (Core)

Now do some research: what is the linguistic distinction between theory and fact? How can different meanings of the word theory lead to confusion in non-scientists?

When you watch the clip, think about the use of language: from a scientific point of view, what is the difference between a fact and a theory?

Here is the definition of a scientific fact:

“any observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and accepted as true; any scientific observation that has not been refuted”

In contrast, here’s the definition of a theory from the Science Dictionary:

“A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena. Most theories that are accepted by scientists have been repeatedly tested by experiments and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.See Note at hypothesis.”

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Look at these resources that outline why evolution is considered both a fact (that it happens, and its evidence) and a theory (the processes by which it happens):

Evolution: Fact & Theory, from ActionBioscience

Evolution as Fact and Theory, by Stephen Jay Gould

Evolution as Fact and Theory from Wikipedia

Fact or Theory? by John Pratt

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So now we’ve cleared up the issue of fact vs theory, we can move on. Think about how the scientific method works. If you need to, look at these resources:

Science as Falsification, by Karl Popper

Falsifiability (testability), via Wikipedia

Why is the the theory of evolution scientific?

Why was Ross right, from a scientist’s point of view, when he said “just a teeny-tiny bit,” at the end of the video clip?

What about the following theories – why do people have no trouble accepting that they are true based on scientific evidence, that they are empirical theories?

Gravity – Special Theory of Relativity – Plate Tectonics – Cell Theory

Why, then, are alternative creation theories considered unscientific?

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Evolution is one of those hot topics that seems to sit right in the space where science and religion don’t get along. It doesn’t need to. Science is about understanding the world we live in through reason, evidence and observation. Religion is an entirely different area of knowledge based on entirely different ways of knowing (emotion).

So can you believe in God and accept that evolution is true? Of course you can. And many religious leaders agree (here are more statements).

To finish off, here is Sir David Attenborough talking about the fact of evolution and how scientific progress is made through empiricism and falsification, and also how we as humans have abused our supposed position of ‘dominion’ to massively detrimental consequences:

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Extension: hunt out The Genius of Darwin on YouTube for more evidence and explanation. Here is a clip from the first episode:

It is one of the simplest ideas anyone ever had

Find out more about the term Occam’s Razor. How does it apply to the scientific method and reasoning as a way of knowing?

Evolution of Altruism: Selfish Gene Video

Here’s a pre-viewing exercise for Grade 12. Watch this before we go on to the final topic: Further Studies of Behaviour.

What is altruism and how does it benefit the gene?

How does altruism originate and propagate in populations?

What is the difference between kin selection and reciprocal altruism?

We need to know examples in other animals. In Dawkins’ video, he explores a more TOK-related link to knowledge and ethics. Are we truly unselfish or is our kindness a veneer to promote our own reproductive fitness?

In what ways has Dawkins’ term ‘Selfish Gene‘ been misunderstood in general discussion?

Creation: Darwin Movie

Due for release this week, Paul Bettany stars as Charles Darwin in the biopic Creation. Based on Randal Keynes’ (Darwin’s great-great grandson) biography Annie’s Box, it promises to be a good movie and has received great reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival and the Guardian.

Here, the makers discuss the challenge of creating an exciting movie based on the life of a scientist, when the ins-and-outs of everyday science work can be pretty mundane. It looks as though they are focusing on the personal aspects of Darwin’s life and relationship with his wife as he works on the manuscript.

Bettany as Darwin

Bettany as Darwin

For more listening, the movie is discussed in this week’s Science Weekly Podcast, with discussion from Caspar Melville (with some questionable ideas*). Richard Dawkins also guests, to talk about his new book The Greatest Show on Earth.

Sadly, the movie has not yet only just been picked up for US distribution. I wonder if the title has something to do with that – perhaps Annie’s Box would have been easier to swallow? I also wonder if we’ll get to see it here in Indonesia.

* EDIT: It appears he was ‘conned’ by the AIDS-denialist ‘House of Numbers’ and explains here.

Why do gecko tails hop around when they drop off?

Here is a great article from and shows tbe potential of video analysis in science. It’s a great topic for Indonesia, too!

Here’s a quote from researcher Anthony Russell of the University of Calgary, trying to explain the randomness of the tail movements:

“The tail is buying the animal that shed it some time to get away,” Russell said. If the tail simply moved rhythmically back and forth, predators would quickly recognize a pattern and realize they’d been duped. Unpredictable tail movements keep predators occupied longer, and in some cases, they may even allow the tail itself to escape.

“Leopard geckos store fat in their tail, and a lot of their resources are tied up in there,” Russell said. “The tail may move far enough away that it actually evades the predator, so that the owner can come back and eat its own tail to recoup some of the resources.”

If you want more, head on over to Wired for the full article.

Think about how this topic relates to Option E: Neurobiology and Behaviour.

How could this research lead to progress in treating spinal injuries?

And take care not to tread on a gecko on the way home… – Lectures and Podcasts in Science

PulseProject is an interesting collection of video lectures and podcasts in science. It is aimed at university and IBDP-level (or A-level) students and educators as well as the general (well informed) public. Looking through their list of lectures and videos, there is some leaning towards eugenics and psychology, though there are many that might be of specific interest to IB Biology students:

Genetics & Evolution:

GM Crops and global food security Chris Leaver

Where did you leave your genetic fingerprint? Katharine Wright

Genes and Human History Gil McVean

Descent of the Dinosaurs Chris Jarvis

Music of Life: a new view on nature and nurture Denis Noble

What makes us human? Robin Dunbar

The practice of Eugenics in Estonia Ken Kalling


Saving the Asian Apes (Indonesia link!) Susan Cheyne

Exploring the Ecology of Insects Mike Bonsall

Seven Years to Save the Planet (Climate Change) Bill McGuire

And some bits from our heroes:

Ben Goldacre at Skeptics in the Pub

Marcus du Sautoy on A mathematician’s journey through symmetry

Ruchard Wiseman (the Quirkology guy) on the luck factor

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