MCB241W - FALL 2005
D. R. Benson
Prospectus: Introduction to Research Literature in MCB
Purposes of the course
• To introduce students to the manner by which scientific
information is exchanged
• To develop a comfort level with the primary literature
• To develop a critical sense while reading the literature
• To focus, in depth, on particular topics in MCB
Biology is larger than can be encompassed in any textbook. It is not only a collection of facts and "just-so" stories, it also embodies the long, imperfect process by which facts and stories are collected and interpreted. Sometimes a hypothesis is correct, and sometimes it is incorrect. The correct ones wind up in textbooks.
One goal of this course is to develop a critical ability. To take an illustration from history, consider the following famous quote from Sir Isaac Newton who wrote in a letter to Robert Hooke about separating white light into its component colors:
"What Des-Cartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, & especially in taking ye colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants.” --Newton to Hooke, Feb. 5, 1676
This “shoulders of giants” quote, on its face, implies that Newton understood that he owed much to scientists who had come before. The quote is often used today to describe how science progresses as well as to provide an eloquent example of generosity and humility which scientists might be expected to display.
A more dyspeptic view is that Newton was responding to a letter from Hooke who had complained therein that Newton was not giving him sufficient credit; Hooke, as it turns out, was short and humpbacked, not to be confused with a giant, and therefore of little importance to Newton’s discoveries.
What truths emerge from this example? One is that Newton’s statement, regardless of its original context, is generally recognized as being true. The second truth is that written words can almost always develop complexity when one understands the context. A third truth is that we simply do not know what transpired between Hooke and Newton and therefore should not overly savor the latter explanation. The sum of these ‘truths’ can be generalized as: What is written? What is meant? What is to be believed? The answers to these questions constitute a critique of the writing we will be looking at this semester.
This course will introduce students to areas of literature that have progressed in recent years, months or weeks. We will focus on topics in microbiology. The instructor will choose an article from the primary literature and post it on the course website (URL below) prior the next meeting. Read it, and understand it. Begin with the questions: What is the hypothesis being tested? What is the system under study? (If the system is unfamiliar...Google it). Once you understand what is being done, go through the figures and tables and reconstruct what was done. Finally, form an opinion about the conclusions: Do you believe them; are they overinterpreted? Are the authors missing something? Write a critique of the assigned articles (1 page long, single spaced).
Each student enters this course with an “A”. You keep the A so long as you:
• Attend each class.
• Demonstrate that you have read the article.
• Participate in each class.
• Turn in writing assignments ON TIME.
• Progress in writing quality.