Repeating Students Only

You've taken this course before...maybe from me...maybe more than once.  But you didn't achieve the minimum C grade required to advance to BIOL 1130, General Biology II.  But that's not going to happen again, is it?!  I hope you are as motivated as I am to get you through this course successfully!

What will you do differently this time?  DON'T fall into the trap of thinking, "Well, I was close last time...I won't have to do too much to get through.  I'll just use my old notes and old tests and that should be enough."  If you follow that strategy, I'll probably be seeing you again next semester!

Compare yourself to a baseball player who had a poor season last year in the minor leagues.  He's not very motivated.  He's resentful, maybe even a bit pissed.  He thinks that he doesn't have to work hard or practice hard.  He doesn't have to change his swing; he'll just do the same things he did last year.  What do you think his chances are of being called up to the big club this time?

Consider this quote attributed to Albert Einstein....

The definition of INSANITY - doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

So, what will YOU do differently this time?  Your 10 point assignment, due NEXT CLASS, is to write a detailed study plan for this course.  Saying "I'll try harder." or "I'll put in more time." isn't good enough!  I want details!  How will you attack each chapter?  When will you read the chapter; will you outline or underline it?  Will you be in a study group?  Will you do the end of chapter questions and online quizzes?  How will you study for quizzes and tests?  When will you do this?


Read The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science.  Then use the Pseudoscience Links to investigate the pseudoscience of your choice to research and report on.

Pseudoscience Report Assignment: Select any pseudoscientific topic to research.  In no more than one typed page, write 1) a summary paragraph discussing what the major idea(s) of this belief is; 2) your critical evaluation of whether these ideas have any credibility.  Of course, you must cite your source material.

Pseudoscience Links:

The Skeptic's Dictionary

Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP)

The James Randi Educational Foundation

Quack Watch:  Your Guide to Health Fraud, Quackery, and Intelligent Decisions

Bad Astronomy

The Chronicle of Higher Education

From the issue dated January 31, 2003


The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is investing close to a million dollars in an obscure Russian scientist's antigravity machine, although it has failed every test and would violate the most fundamental laws of nature. The Patent and Trademark Office recently issued Patent 6,362,718 for a physically impossible motionless electromagnetic generator, which is supposed to snatch free energy from a vacuum. And major power companies have sunk tens of millions of dollars into a scheme to produce energy by putting hydrogen atoms into a state below their ground state, a feat equivalent to mounting an expedition to explore the region south of the South Pole.

There is, alas, no scientific claim so preposterous that a scientist cannot be found to vouch for it. And many such claims end up in a court of law after they have cost some gullible person or corporation a lot of money. How are juries to evaluate them?

Before 1993, court cases that hinged on the validity of scientific claims were usually decided simply by which expert witness the jury found more credible. Expert testimony often consisted of tortured theoretical speculation with little or no supporting evidence. Jurors were bamboozled by technical gibberish they could not hope to follow, delivered by experts whose credentials they could not evaluate.

In 1993, however, with the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. the situation began to change. The case involved Bendectin, the only morning-sickness medication ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It had been used by millions of women, and more than 30 published studies had found no evidence that it caused birth defects. Yet eight so-called experts were willing to testify, in exchange for a fee from the Daubert family, that Bendectin might indeed cause birth defects.

In ruling that such testimony was not credible because of lack of supporting evidence, the court instructed federal judges to serve as "gatekeepers," screening juries from testimony based on scientific nonsense. Recognizing that judges are not scientists, the court invited judges to experiment with ways to fulfill their gatekeeper responsibility.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer encouraged trial judges to appoint independent experts to help them. He noted that courts can turn to scientific organizations, like the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to identify neutral experts who could preview questionable scientific testimony and advise a judge on whether a jury should be exposed to it. Judges are still concerned about meeting their responsibilities under the Daubert decision, and a group of them asked me how to recognize questionable scientific claims. What are the warning signs?

I have identified seven indicators that a scientific claim lies well outside the bounds of rational scientific discourse. Of course, they are only warning signs -- even a claim with several of the signs could be legitimate.

1. The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media. The integrity of science rests on the willingness of scientists to expose new ideas and findings to the scrutiny of other scientists. Thus, scientists expect their colleagues to reveal new findings to them initially. An attempt to bypass peer review by taking a new result directly to the media, and thence to the public, suggests that the work is unlikely to stand up to close examination by other scientists.

One notorious example is the claim made in 1989 by two chemists from the University of Utah, B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, that they had discovered cold fusion -- a way to produce nuclear fusion without expensive equipment. Scientists did not learn of the claim until they read reports of a news conference. Moreover, the announcement dealt largely with the economic potential of the discovery and was devoid of the sort of details that might have enabled other scientists to judge the strength of the claim or to repeat the experiment. (Ian Wilmut's announcement that he had successfully cloned a sheep was just as public as Pons and Fleischmann's claim, but in the case of cloning, abundant scientific details allowed scientists to judge the work's validity.)

Some scientific claims avoid even the scrutiny of reporters by appearing in paid commercial advertisements. A health-food company marketed a dietary supplement called Vitamin O in full-page newspaper ads. Vitamin O turned out to be ordinary saltwater.

2. The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work. The idea is that the establishment will presumably stop at nothing to suppress discoveries that might shift the balance of wealth and power in society. Often, the discoverer describes mainstream science as part of a larger conspiracy that includes industry and government. Claims that the oil companies are frustrating the invention of an automobile that runs on water, for instance, are a sure sign that the idea of such a car is baloney. In the case of cold fusion, Pons and Fleischmann blamed their cold reception on physicists who were protecting their own research in hot fusion.

3. The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection. Alas, there is never a clear photograph of a flying saucer, or the Loch Ness monster. All scientific measurements must contend with some level of background noise or statistical fluctuation. But if the signal-to-noise ratio cannot be improved, even in principle, the effect is probably not real and the work is not science.

Thousands of published papers in para-psychology, for example, claim to report verified instances of telepathy, psychokinesis, or precognition. But those effects show up only in tortured analyses of statistics. The researchers can find no way to boost the signal, which suggests that it isn't really there.

4. Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal. If modern science has learned anything in the past century, it is to distrust anecdotal evidence. Because anecdotes have a very strong emotional impact, they serve to keep superstitious beliefs alive in an age of science. The most important discovery of modern medicine is not vaccines or antibiotics, it is the randomized double-blind test, by means of which we know what works and what doesn't. Contrary to the saying, "data" is not the plural of "anecdote."

5. The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries. There is a persistent myth that hundreds or even thousands of years ago, long before anyone knew that blood circulates throughout the body, or that germs cause disease, our ancestors possessed miraculous remedies that modern science cannot understand. Much of what is termed "alternative medicine" is part of that myth.

Ancient folk wisdom, rediscovered or repackaged, is unlikely to match the output of modern scientific laboratories.

6. The discoverer has worked in isolation. The image of a lone genius who struggles in secrecy in an attic laboratory and ends up making a revolutionary breakthrough is a staple of Hollywood's science-fiction films, but it is hard to find examples in real life. Scientific breakthroughs nowadays are almost always syntheses of the work of many scientists.

7. The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation. A new law of nature, invoked to explain some extraordinary result, must not conflict with what is already known. If we must change existing laws of nature or propose new laws to account for an observation, it is almost certainly wrong.

I began this list of warning signs to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. But as I finished the list, I realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop.

Robert L. Park is a professor of physics at the University of Maryland at College Park and the director of public information for the American Physical Society. He is the author of Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness to Fraud (Oxford University Press, 2002).
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 49, Issue 21, Page B20

Scientific American: August 12, 2002
Smart People Believe Weird Things
Rarely does anyone weigh facts before deciding what to believe
By Michael Shermer

In April 1999, when I was on a lecture tour for my book Why People Believe Weird Things, the psychologist Robert Sternberg attended my presentation at Yale University. His response to the lecture was both enlightening and troubling. It is certainly entertaining to hear about other people's weird beliefs, Sternberg reflected, because we are confident that we would never be so foolish. But why do smart people fall for such things? Sternberg's challenge led to a second edition of my book, with a new chapter expounding on my answer to his question: Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for nonsmart reasons.

Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational explanation, regardless of what we previously believed. Most of us, most of the time, come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning. Rather, such variables as genetic predisposition, parental predilection, sibling influence, peer pressure, educational experience and life impressions all shape the personality preferences that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to our beliefs. We then sort through the body of data and select those that most confirm what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that do not.

This phenomenon, called the confirmation bias, helps to explain the findings published in the National Science Foundation's biennial report (April 2002) on the state of science understanding: 30 percent of adult Americans believe that UFOs are space vehicles from other civilizations; 60 percent believe in ESP; 40 percent think that astrology is scientific; 32 percent believe in lucky numbers; 70 percent accept magnetic therapy as scientific; and 88 percent accept alternative medicine.

Education by itself is no paranormal prophylactic. Although belief in ESP decreased from 65 percent among high school graduates to 60 percent among college graduates, and belief in magnetic therapy dropped from 71 percent among high school graduates to 55 percent among college graduates, that still leaves more than half fully endorsing such claims! And for embracing alternative medicine, the percentages actually increase, from 89 percent for high school grads to 92 percent for college grads.

The siren song of pseudoscience can be too alluring to resist.

We can glean a deeper cause of this problem in another statistic: 70 percent of Americans still do not understand the scientific process, defined in the study as comprehending probability, the experimental method and hypothesis testing. One solution is more and better science education, as indicated by the fact that 53 percent of Americans with a high level of science education (nine or more high school and college science/math courses) understand the scientific process, compared with 38 percent of those with a middle-level science education (six to eight such courses) and 17 percent with a low level (five or fewer courses).

The key here is teaching how science works, not just what science has discovered. We recently published an article in Skeptic (Vol. 9, No. 3) revealing the results of a study that found no correlation between science knowledge (facts about the world) and paranormal beliefs. The authors, W. Richard Walker, Steven J. Hoekstra and Rodney J. Vogl, concluded: "Students that scored well on these [science knowledge] tests were no more or less skeptical of pseudoscientific claims than students that scored very poorly. Apparently, the students were not able to apply their scientific knowledge to evaluate these pseudoscientific claims. We suggest that this inability stems in part from the way that science is traditionally presented to students: Students are taught what to think but not how to think."

To attenuate these paranormal belief statistics, we need to teach that science is not a database of unconnected factoids but a set of methods designed to describe and interpret phenomena, past or present, aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation.

For those lacking a fundamental comprehension of how science works, the siren song of pseudoscience becomes too alluring to resist, no matter how smart you are.

Michael Shermer is publisher of Skeptic magazine ( and author of In Darwin's Shadow and Why People Believe Weird Things, just reissued.

Your Science Hero

If you were asked to name your favorite musician, athlete, or public figure, you'd probably have no problem coming up with several names for each category.

But if you were asked who your favorite scientist is, could you name one?  Sure, there's Einstein, and Watson and Crick, but who else could you name beyond those?

For this assignment, you are to research someone who is an outstanding role model in your chosen field.  They should clearly be an exceptional scientist--someone who deserves to have their own bobblehead doll.


In ONE page, write an essay in which you discuss a scientist who has influenced your scientific pursuit.  Do not simply write the scientist’s biography.  Include the importance if her or his work and methods.  Your paper will be partly a character sketch and partly an exploration of how your science ”hero” conducted her or his work.   Of course, you must cite your source material.  Of course, you'll all probably want to use this scientist as your hero!

Cytology PowerPoint

Develop a PowerPoint presentation on your assigned cell structure or topic.  Your goal is to teach the topic thoroughly to your colleagues so that they will be successful when they take a quiz on this chapter.    Your PowerPoint must be delivered to me no later than one hour prior to the start of class on the due date.  Try to keep the overall file size smaller than 1 mb.  Excellent PowerPoints might be invited to present in class!

Topics that must be included:  graphics; structure (describe the anatomy of the organelle); are there any diseases associated with the structure?

Here's a list of topics:

Eubacteria Archaea Microscopy (various types of light and electron)
Cytoplasm Nucleus Ribosomes
Golgi apparatus Rough ER Smooth ER
Lysosome Peroxisome Vacuoles
Mitochondrion Chloroplast Endosymbiosis
Cytoskeleton Flagellum/Cilium Cell Wall
Centrioles Cell-to-cell junctions