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Ge-what-ics?: Nation's teenagers

A significant portion of American high schoolers have seriously flawed ideas about genetics, according to a linkurl:study;http://www.genetics.org/cgi/content/abstract/178/3/1157 conducted by the country's largest society for genetics professionals. The study, which was published in this month's issue of __Genetics__, contained some fallacy-ridden quotations from the student essays. Here are some of the notable examples: "When people who cannot have children and want their own from their own bl

By | April 9, 2008

A significant portion of American high schoolers have seriously flawed ideas about genetics, according to a linkurl:study;http://www.genetics.org/cgi/content/abstract/178/3/1157 conducted by the country's largest society for genetics professionals. The study, which was published in this month's issue of __Genetics__, contained some fallacy-ridden quotations from the student essays. Here are some of the notable examples: "When people who cannot have children and want their own from their own blood, meaning having their genes, what will stop them from putting some cells into a cow to get their child?" "Genetics create a perfect being. Change the genes. Make that child perfect. There's no better solution to an impending health care crisis. A perfect child means that health care can be focused on an aging generation of people. What we can have is a sea of people who all look brilliant, who are all smart and who all have perfect eyes, nose and lips. It's a perfect society, what more could we want?" The American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) reviewed 500 essays on genetics submitted by ninth through twelfth graders for the National DNA Day Essay Contest in 2006 and 2007, and found that more than 50 percent of submissions contained at least one "obvious misconception" concerning the study of genetics. Approximately 20 percent contained two or more misconceptions. The essayists were asked to answer one of three questions: 1) Why is it important for everyone to know about genetics? 2) If you could be a human genetics researcher, what would you study and why? 3) In what ways will knowledge of genetics and genomics make changes to health and health care in the United States possible? According to the ASHG report, many students misunderstood the complexity of genetic research, including biotechnology and genetic engineering, and failed to accurately portray concepts related to heredity and patterns of inheritance -- such as the fact that even simple traits are usually influenced by multiple genes. The authors of the study wrote that "a strategic effort to improve secondary genetics education is especially needed," and encouraged working scientists to become more involved in K-12 classroom education. The winners of this year's essay contest will be announced on April 25th, coinciding with linkurl:National DNA Day.;http://www.genednet.org/pages/k12_dnadayabout08.shtml
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Comments

Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 199

April 10, 2008

With things like X-men movies, media hyping of genetic engineering, combined with sensational claims of neo-luddite activists, I'm honestly surprised it wasn't 100%. \n\nIn our day it was movies about radiation induced mutant monsters - and in the older generation of biological scientists, M.Ds and nuclear physicists, many actually believe the most incredible misconceptions about radioactivity's effects on people and the environment. \n\nSo these kids are growing up with genetically engineered people who can grow titanium knives out of their hands when they get mad. Just wait until they become scientists and take their childhood prejudices into policy making - just like we did.
Avatar of: Eric Schauberger

Eric Schauberger

Posts: 2

April 10, 2008

I tend to agree with the comment above--the prevalence of science fiction movies impacting students is no doubt part of the problem. \n\nThere are some fantastic and complex animations in the first Spiderman movie--showing the spider's genes being inserted into human DNA. Then amazingly the next day Peter Parker can swing through the air, shoot spider webs, and has amazing strength. I think even if children and adolescents realize that it is science fiction (or comic book in this case), they still walk away thinking that a spider's venom can change their DNA OR at least that changes to your DNA can help look buff overnight.\n\nThat being said, I think SciFi has always served as a catalyst that draws people towards science and research. I once heard a statistic comparing the amount of science concepts a elementary school child learned by watching Star Trek and amount of science learned in school. If it causes kids to wonder and dream their way into science and/or research, then the ends might justify the means somewhat even if students start college with some misbeliefs. I know of several students who have done things like PCR and Gel electrophoresis while in high school--which puts them miles ahead of me when I started college, and I think I've turned out ok.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

April 10, 2008

Students can't be blamed if their teachers are not educating them well enough to know the difference between what is "fictional genetics" and actual genetics. If students are receiving notions about genetics primarily from popular culture, it's not a surprise they will come up with these ridiculous ideas.\n\nIt's the teachers that should take the ultimate blame for this, because it is the teachers' responsibility to point out the flaws in popular culture genetics. \n\nSpeaking as a soon-to-be Ph.D. graduate figuring out his future career path, I say teachers need to be better educated themselves about how to teach important science like genetics. And who better to teach the teachers than geneticists? Or, more directly, who better to teach high school science than actual scientists?\n\nUnfortunately, and shamefully, it is the vast minority of Ph.D.'s that are willing to "stoop" as low as to teach high school or to assist teachers in their craft.\n\nSo maybe the ultimate blame lies with us scientists?
Avatar of: Wendy Hughes

Wendy Hughes

Posts: 3

April 11, 2008

I agree with the comments above. Popular culture uses the figures of speech that sound "scientistic," but does not teach the concepts realistically. My grandson used to watch a cartoon show that used the expression "evolving" to describe what might better have been called morphing. It's too bad, because I think the children then have to unlearn the mistaken notions, doubling the effort to try to wrap their minds around deep time and complicated processes.\nWorking scientists are the best source for credible information about developments in science. Efforts by public TV and Radio, and organizations such as Cafe Scientifique to give scientists a forum are important because they are the media that are familiar to children, and accessible to the public.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

April 11, 2008

As someone who has taught in high school most students are not willing to sit still long enough to learn the truth. I am not the only one who has had this problem. Teachers are always blamed for everything but if students don't come with the right attitude it is difficult for the teacher to do anything. Little blame is put on the parents who did not raise their kids to be respectful. I don't remember my generation of students (I'm 47) as being as disrespectful. There are good students but many students have poor tests scores in math and science from lack of effort. \n\nThere are things schools are doing wrong. Teachers are under pressure to grade inflate. Here in Fort Worth, TX students are given for two sets of 6 weeks a 60 even if they don't do anything. The school administration says they don't want the students to get discouraged. Students know they will get a 60 so it is difficult for teachers to get students motivated to do anything. Students don't turn in their homework and try openly to cheat on tests. I was so tired and stressed out I quit teaching.

April 11, 2008

Blame the corporate state that prefers the ignorant and easily dominated.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

April 11, 2008

Blaming the media is of no help. We should be happy that people have enough of an interest in science to tune in to this programming. Do we expect Scifi writers to keep physics, biology, astronomy, etc. PhDs on staff to edit their content for accuracy? The content simply reflects the poor science education and literacy endemic in the US. It is imparative that science education evolves past memorizing definitions towards truly teaching an understanding of scientific concepts and an appreciation for inquiry into the natural world. There is already a vast divide between scientific advancement and what the average person can understand with their current scientific literacy. And what that has bred is at least indifference and at worst outright fear that is reflected by our current funding levels. As we, the scientific community, continue to advance our understanding of the natural world, all as education stagnates, that divide is widening. Science education needs drastic changes immediately so that ALL of society can reap the rewards of our research.
Avatar of: null null

null null

Posts: 4

April 14, 2008

The survey picked on genetics and did not compare this to knowledge of any other subject. If one was to ask a comparable question from physics, would there be a difference? \n\nGenetics is complicated, controversial and in its infancy, thus even the beliefs of experts may be misconceptions. Psychiatrists for instance, have only just started adjusting to the fact that mental disorder is the result of many, rather than few genes. Can we expect schoolchildren to do better? The children's opinions appear simply to be a little outdated, and refelct what was being espoused by experts not so long ago.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 16

April 14, 2008

I'm not a teacher, but I do take issue with the posts that focus the blame squarely on teachers. Even great science teachers are often constrained by educational standards and rigid guidelines. Look at the controversy in so many states over whether to teach intelligent design alongside evolution. Kids aren't even learning science basics. Is it any wonder that by the time they reach high school they are completely unprepared to understand complex scientific issues like genetics? \n\nEducation in general, and scientific education in particular, has been sorely neglected in this country for decades. A misunderstanding of genetics is only the tip of the iceberg.

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