Reader Poll: teaching evolution

Apr 09 2009 Published by under Uncategorized

Last week I criticized a video put together in an effort to get people talking about evolution. The makers of the video have contacted me to take issue with my comments and contend that it is an effective tool to get kids to think about evolution in it's native language, German. While that may be so, they have tried to internationalize the video with the English translation I previously embedded and I feel as though they may need to add more content to their English site in order to get their points across. So, if you have three minutes, (re)watch the video and answer the following to questions with one sentence each:

1) What is the main lesson about evolution you take away from the video?

2) What would be the one thing (in the form of an accompanying explanation) that would help you better understand what the creators of the video want to get across?

3) If you were a kid watching this video, what would it make you think science was like?

I have deliberately not included the link to the site here because I am interested to see what the reaction is to the video on it's own. They would appreciate the feedback on the English version of the video, but if you know German it would be interesting to hear whether you think there is a distinct difference between the two. Once you answer the questions, you can search for "Darwin Rocks" to read more about the project and see whether or not you are understanding what they would like to get across. So far, the video makers and I are not seeing eye-to-eye, but I'm just one guy with an opinion.

Teaching evolution to the public is a critical issue for anyone working in life science and if we can help those trying to accomplish this goal, let's try to do so.

16 responses so far

  • Professor in Training says:

    I find it hilarious that they contacted you! I'm not sure who did their English translation, but even without that, the whole thing was simply a bizarre music video.1) What is the main lesson about evolution you take away from the video?Something about manipulating soccer players under a microscope and then watching hyenas have sex. Was it supposed to have something to do with evolution?2) What would be the one thing (in the form of an accompanying explanation) that would help you better understand what the creators of the video want to get across?Wasn't the original idea that they promote discussion about evolution through the video?? If they need additional explanations (video cliff's notes) then they didn't do a very good job at all. How about storyboards and lengthy written explanations about each scene. Even then I doubt it would make sense.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Let's just say that they are a little "sensitive to criticism" and leave it at that. Sorry PiT, I added a question after you responded.

  • DamnGoodTechnician says:

    1) What is the main lesson about evolution you take away from the video?None, frankly. As far as I could tell it had nothing to do with evolution. It might be more evolution-y if the players who scored goals then had sex and made new, better players, and the players who didn't score goals sat on the sides and looked all depressed and eventually went away. There was no "selective advantage" to the orange team - if I recall correctly, the orange team was losing most of the time. The rest of the video had nothing to do with evolving, aside from the main old scientist dude bearing a passing resemblance to Darwin. Also, it teaches bad lab safety practices by drinking champagne in the lab. 2) What would be the one thing (in the form of an accompanying explanation) that would help you better understand what the creators of the video want to get across?Since I really couldn't figure out exactly what they were trying to get across, I'm not sure how to improve it. Like PiT said, if you need a guide on "how to watch the video", then you probably need to step back a bit and improve the video instead. Was the point that evolution & natural selection generate organisms more suited to their environment? Then how about my awesome sex example above? Another idea - a little stop-motion bit where it's really cold and snowy (ooh! you could even have a zoom-in on a snow globe that comes to life!) and we see a set of (let's say) six random cartoon-y critters, on a continuum from not-so-hairy to pretty-darn-furry. Each "page" of the stop-motion pairs them off with little hearts above their heads (the two least furry, the two middle ones, and the two most furry) and then makes baby critters who resemble their parents in the fur department. Show the more furry ones out-reproducing the less furry ones, and then they can all have a dance party (yay!). 3) If you were a kid watching this video, what would it make you think science was like?I would think science involved looking at animals in cages. Even kids don't think you can look at little humans playing soccer under a microscope. Their motivations are good, but the execution is terrible. If you want to teach kids about the awesomeness of evolution & the natural world, watch "Planet Earth" on the Discovery Channel. It rules.

  • Professor in Training says:

    As to your third question:3) If you were a kid watching this video, what would it make you think science was like? Honestly, I wouldn't think this video was about science at all. That's like suggesting the Ok Go video was an awesome tool for promoting environmental awareness. This video did absolutely nothing to promote the teaching of evolution.And what DGT said about the Discovery Channel.

  • Anonymous says:

    I cheated and read their English description. My anonymous response in the previous thread was that they seemed to be pushing a group selectionist's view and now after reading their description now I believe they are in the Joan Roughgarden camp of "it's a beautiful cooperative world". The orange team is nice and caring and will spend their time making babies, while the purple team wastes their lives scoring goals and forgetting to mate. In the end evolution selects for the "nice" and "cooperative" people. It wouldn't take too much time and effort on a search engine to see that professional goal scorers have plenty of opportunities to mate.I think they could have done a better job getting across the message the name of the game isn't survival, but it's sex. It's a pretty easy message that I think students quickly understand.

  • Anonymous says:

    No kid would even get as far as the conclusions you are making. i'm a grown up post-doc and didn't get any further than "WHAT?" they might be trying to get kids to think about evolution, but spend most of their time essentially making fun of scientists with the stereotypical rats on a maze BS.

  • Anonymous says:

    The video didn't make me think of evolution at all. At best it made me think that if at first you dont succeed, cheat. It is much easier to score a goal when you have 15 against 3. If the players maybe changed shape to be better at kicking the ball that would be one thing. In evolution the idea is to become better suited to what you do, not just multiply. If they want to show more of something maybe they should have used rabbits to show how species multiply quickly.Kids would not be able to determine this was at all about evolution. Besides the music saying it over and over, the images didn't show anything evolving. The orange players didn't become better players or develop new skills. Based on the trend in the video soon there wouldn't be any players on the other team and then what would the orange players do accept keep multiplying for no reason. Survival of the fittest is one thing but if you annihilate the other team what are you going to do then - what have you evolved to do?

  • Anonymous says:

    1) What is the main lesson about evolution you take away from the video?My first thought is local adaptation but this video goes above and beyond. Seems like the rules of evolution sure are different in Germany.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    If you have taken the time to read the statement associated with the video, the claim is that it is reproduction and love that rules the day over competitiveness in this scenario, because the orange team survives by reproducing even if they are inferior competitors. As I have been told, the authors made the video cryptic with the express purpose of getting people curious enough to go to the website. All of the other seemingly random lab shots are just there to separate the 25 year time intervals that occur between the soccer montages, despite the implication (to me at least) that there is genetic engineering going on. I understand pushing the idea behind the need to reproduce as the most critical factor in evolution, but this example made me ask "If the soccer game were resources and the purple team thoroughly out-competed the orange team, how would the orange team survive to reproduce?" The reproductive fitness of organisms that get out-competed for food, space or other critical resources is not exactly stellar unless the resource is so abundant that competition is not a strong selector. Evolutionary ecology is not my field, but can anyone come up with an example where organisms that are consistently out-competed for a major limited resource go on to dominate a system? Certainly this would not be true in a prokaryotic system unless there was niche partitioning where the out-competed could utilize a sub-optimal carbon source that the more competitive could not. Perhaps I am missing a body of literature in eukaryotic ecology and I am not familiar with Roughgarden's work brought up by Anon@12:32.I was also bothered by the fact that anyone actually doing science in the video (as opposed to watching) was male and the whole thing was a white-wash, especially if this is supposed to be viewed by children. Do we really have to reinforce stereo-types as early as possible?I think we can agree that, for the most part, any evolutionary lessons the video is trying to get across are certainly not helped by the random lab activities going on between soccer clips. For those who looked at the website, did you think it helped? Do you feel like a teenager might think about the video more after reading the text?Good to see some de-lurking going on for this topic!

  • Dr. No says:

    If I was a kid watching this video...1) I would instantly quit the soccer team. What's the point? Unless your on the "right" team, you're screwed (that's what the video seems to imply). 2) After quitting the team, I'd likely go Google "hyena sex" (there might be some educational value in that).

  • Ariadna says:

    > I was also bothered by the fact that anyone actually> doing science in the video (as opposed to watching)> was maleYou need glasses. Right in the opening scene one of the three scientists is a female. Ok, she is doing less "science" compared to the other two, not carrying a football or a flask. That can also be interpreted as being of higher rank than the male on the right, because he has to carry the flask for her and do the experiment. The second one to the left of the microscope in the first microscope scene is a female. Around 1:22 in the video a female "is doing science" (ogling through a microscope ...), while the guy with the glasses takes notes. So get your glasses and watch again.> and the whole thing was a white-wash, especially> if this is supposed to be viewed by children. Do we> really have to reinforce stereo-types as early as> possible?Ah, now we come to the point. Your issue is because it is made by Germans. And Germans are, by definition, racists. Now, who is the one with the stereotypes?The video portrayed the two aspects of the current German society accurate: There are very few females in science. The male/female ration as portrayed in the video is about right. May I guess, you are also disappointed not seeing any well endowed, blond German Fräuleins with braids wearing dirndls?Second, there aren't many colored, Hispanic or Asian people in Germany, and not because of the Nazis. It is that not many immigrant to Germany. The largest group of immigrants are of Turkish origin. In higher education they usually blend in with all the others. The young guy at the microscope, wearing glasses might be one, or he might not be an imigrant. In practice it doesn't matter, because political correctness hasn't reached such an abused state in Germany compared to the US. Or are you arguing that all societies have to be portrayed as a political correct American society?As for random lab activities, including the florescent glowing of the lab, they are modeled after CSI. The TV series and its clones is very popular among younger people in Germany. I know, mentioning CSI makes a scientists cringe. So let me do it again: CSI.As for using soccer, combinethe popularity of baseball, basketball, and football in the US and you have a vague clue about the popularity of soccer in Germany. You certainly don't have to educate any young children about the rules of soccer, and no one would see the 15:3 teams as a cheat, but as a what-if Gedankenexperiment, or some extra hard training lesson. Think two vs. one in basketball.As a scientist you, and your buddies agreeing with you in this xenophobic flame fest are making a mayor mistake for scientists: Talking about something (a society) you haven't have a clue about, and applying their own xenophobia, political correctness, fear of sex and view of science.

  • Professor in Training says:

    Ahahaha - were we watching the same video as Ariadna? Wow - so there were two female scientists in the video and it's ok to reinforce the notion of science being male-dominated but it's not ok to comment on the lack of non-Caucasian scientists because all of this is an accurate reflection of the way things are in Germany? Total and utter crap. If you wanted to stimulate discussion about evolution how about also promoting gender and racial diversity in science? Let's call it Teh Evolving Scientist.As a scientist you, and your buddies agreeing with you in this xenophobic flame fest are making a mayor mistake for scientists: Talking about something (a society) you haven't have a clue about, and applying their own xenophobia, political correctness, fear of sex and view of science. Fear of sex? Xenophobic flame fest? Ummmm ... did you actually read the comments? Something tells me Ariadna had something to do with the making of the video. If the video is so Deutsch-centric, maybe you should have restricted its online access to Germany because it clearly makes absolutely no sense to any other nationalities.

  • anon@12:32 says:

    Rather than addressing the poor representation of evolutionary knowledge in the making of this video Ariadna has constructed the strawman of political correctness (and perhaps a misunderstanding of what "white-wash" means). I'm not asking that "that all societies have to be portrayed as a political correct American society". I'm asking for evolution by natural selection to be depicting correctly, even close to correctly. How about a simple question: is evolution well depicted as a team sport?

  • Ink says:

    [I posted this on the original post today (forgot that I'd clicked a link to get to the video part) so am reposting here.]Admittedly, I'm no scientist, but I'm baffled. Here's what I got from it.(1) These scientists like to pet mice, even though they have no correspondance to the actual experiment;(2) You can see tiny soccer fields on petri dishes through microscope lenses; (3) Pitting 30 orange soccer players against 4 purple ones equals more goals; (4) An injured older soccer player is cause for champagne.Yep, I'm still confused.

  • Prof-like Substance says:

    Ariadna - Let's get one thing straight. Pointed out the lack of visible minorities in a video is completely and utterly different from calling a person or a nation of people racist. Rather than contributing to the discussion with a well-reasoned alternative viewpoint, you expose yourself as having a clear agenda by forcing such an interpretation on my comments. My thoughts on this video were directly solely at the English version that is meant for international consumption. If you want to have a specific video for specific people, that is fine. If you want to create a international video and have it displayed publicly, you should take your audience into consideration and get feed back from a larger group of people. All this aside, anon@12:32 gets to the point that we should be discussing:"How about a simple question: is evolution well depicted as a team sport?"

  • Ink says:

    You know what might work better, if one feels compelled to adhere to the soccer paradigm?Robots playing soccer!

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