Sunday, October 31, 2010

What do I want in a genetics textbook?

I'm trying to complete a questionnaire about a genetics textbook (for its publisher), but it's hard because my objections to it (and all the other genetics texts on the market) are so cosmic in scale.  I started trying to write a few paragraphs that summarize what I think is wrong and what should be done.  But now I think I should write a more substantial article, that I would submit to Genetics or to Nature Reviews Genetics.  Below are some sentences:

Genetics textbooks teach students to manipulate meaningless symbols and numbers according to what appear to them to be an arbitrary set of rules.

It's pure wishful thinking to believe that most students in an introductory genetics course can come to understand how inheritance works by walking in the footsteps of Mendel and Morgan.

Nor will they learn how genes affect phenotypes by following genetic symbols through crosses that obey apparently arbitrary rules.

Nor does the ability to manipulate genetic symbols according to a set of rules show that they understand anything about how inheritance works or genes affect phenotypes.

Nor des the ability to apply technical terms to pattern-recognition images show that they understand anything about what meiosis accomplishes or how it does it.

The ability to put genotype symbols into a Punnett square doesn't mean students understand meiosis and mating.

The ability to decide whether to use an uppercase or lower case letter for an allele doesn't mean students understand anything about how allele combinations determine phenotypes.

Students naturally (wisely) treat meiosis as a pattern-recognition challenge, and think dominance is an intrinsic property of certain alleles, perhaps caused by some mysterious kind of epigenetic modification.

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