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Dinosaurs in Science Education

Judith NuŮo

USC Rossier School of Education

CTSE 507:Issues, History, and Rationale of Science Education

November 13, 1997

History of Science Education:

Select a recent important development in science and chart its inclusion in textbooks through time


Dinosaurs: fascinating to young and old, actors in science fiction films and monster movies but known only from fossil bones and imprints and unknown in physiology and biology. What did they look like, how did they behave, were they cold-blooded like lizards and snakes, and why did they become extinct?

Barbara B. DeWolfe, professor of biology at UC Santa Barbara, expert on the white-crowned sparrow, and teacher of a graduate course in vertebrate physiology seemed to think that the dinosaurs became extinct because of the temperature effects of global warming trends on dinosaur sperm production. I was a graduate research assistant in her class, and I competently helped students capture, observe, expose to high temperatures, and sacrifice lizards. I helped remove testes, prepare and stain slides, and perform sperm counts, all in the name of trying to determine if exposure to high temperature would decrease the sperm counts in lizards. Decreased sperm counts in lizards exposed to high temperatures for varying time periods would support the climate change hypothesis for dinosaur extinction. I donít actually remember the results of those experiments, but I do remember the announcement of the Alvarez asteroid impact theory for dinosaur extinction in the summer of 1980 (Alvarez, et al 1980). I, of course, ever loyal to Dr. DeWolfe and my personal experience, skimmed through the article with suspicion, even though it was published in Science. Of course, I was pretty much occupied in parenting at the time (my daughter was two and a half and my son but 6 months old) and really had no time to actually read anything but the articleís abstract in depth. The theory was obviously intriguing to paleontologists, and evidence in support of the theory gradually accumulated. The climatic change theory was not replaced, however; it was either incorporated into the theory (Archibald, 1996; Fastovsky, 1996) or maintained as an alternative dinosaur extinction theory (McGowan, 1991). The asteroid impact theory has been discarded by some palentologists/ geologists as an example of "pathological science" (Officer & Page, 1996). A sister dinosaur theory about dinosaur metabolism and warm-bloodedness had been around for a long time but had been revived by Baker in the early 1970's (McGowan, 1991). This theory seemed to contradict the main points of the climatic change theory, since ectotherms would be most affected by climatic changes. Obviously the lizard experiment referred to above could only provide support for the climatic change theory if ectothermic dinosaurs, like lizards, were susceptible to decreases in sperm count with increases in temperature. And further complication the issue is the theory that dinosaurs actually didnít become extinct but are alive and well today with feathers instead of scales.

The dinosaur "establishment" has proposed and studied and argued about reasons for dinosaur extinctions probably since the first dinosaur fossils were unearthed and will continue to do so. It is not only an interesting subject in itself but is also one full of controversy and creativity. What do the textbooks, the repositories of current paradigm and theory, say about the matter; and how soon after the proposal of the asteroid impact and warm-blooded theories did the textbook publishers decide to include them; and how much evidence, if any, in support of the theories is provided in the textbook. A survey of two middle school earth and life science textbooks, 13 high school biology textbooks, 6 college or high school advanced placement textbooks and 6 college level zoology textbooks showed that most textbooks published after 1985 included some form of information on the warm-bloodedness, the climatic change, and the asteroid impact theories, although the middle school textbooks did not treat dinosaurs at all. One group of high school and college textbooks (Starr, 1994; Starr, 1997; Starr & Taggart, 1995) also included information on volcanic plumes and global broiling hypotheses. One high school biology textbook published in 1992 (Kaskel) and one college textbook published in 1995 (Postlethwaite & Hopson) make no mention of either theory, one high school biology textbook published in 1991 (Miller and Levine) did not mention the asteroid-impact theory. An inquiry-based high school biology textbook published in 1998 ( Leonard et al) provides no direct information on either theory but instructs students to research the information.

Interestingly, when I asked my students about why they think the dinosaurs became extinct, students in the regular class volunteered the Jurassic Park-inspired lesbian hypothesis while those in the honors class responded with the asteroid theory. The lesbian hypothesis inspired a lively class discussion about the effects of movies on scientific knowledge and on discrepancies. The students actually didnít put much credence in their hypothesis, but had actually suggested the hypothesis because they didnít understand how dinosaurs could breed if they were only female. Students in the honors class responded to the question with a version of the asteroid impact theory. When pushed as to whether or not they "believed" the hypothesis, several said "No, but the book says it, so that must be the answer you want." Another student defended the hypothesis based on evidence he remembered from a dinosaur special on television. This led to an interesting discussion on nature of science, coupled with my anecdotes from the lizard experiments. This class actually ended with a poster-making session on what the students knew about dinosaurs and what they wanted to know. It actually turned out to be a good way of getting at background knowledge, misconceptions, and ideas on how the textbook should be used. Ah, the teachable moment.

Digression aside, I think that the inclusion of both the warm-blooded and asteroid-impact theories was relatively soon after the initial interest and controversy in the scientific community, possibly due to the "romantic" and intrinsically interesting nature of dinosaur theories and lore. This may not be the case with other controversial or more asbtract theories.

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Text, Author

and Date

Target Grade Level

Text Type

Homeothermy
Hypothesis

Climatic Change
Hypothesis

Asteroid Event
Hypothesis

Exploring Life Sciece

Maton et al. 1995

Middle School

Life Science

no treatment of dinosaurs or extinction

no treatment of dinosaurs or extinction

no treatment of dinosaurs or extinction

General Science

Hurd et al 1992

Middle School

Earth Science

extinction defined; no treatment of dinosaurs

extinction defined; no treatment of dinosaurs

extinction defined; no treatment of dinosaurs

BSCSBiology Green

Durst et al (4th Ed.) 1978

High School-Regular

Biology

yes

no

no

BSCS Biology Green

Haynes, N. L. (2nd Ed.) 1968

High School-Regular

Biology

no

no

"perhaps we will never know..."

No

Biology: Visualizing Life

Johnson & Brusca 1994

High School-Regular

Biology

no

yes

evidence provided

yes

evidence provided

Biology: Everyday

Kaskel et al 1992

High School-Regular

Biology

no mention

no mention

no mention

Biology: Community

Leonard et al 1998

High School-Regular

Biology

inquiry format, no direct information: students requested to research

inquiry format, no direct information: students requested to research

inquiry format, no direct information: students requested to research

Biology

McLaren & Rotundo 1985

High School-Regular

Biology

yes

states that controversy exists; provides no explanations

states that controversy exists; provides no explanations

BSCS Biology (Blue)

Milani et al 1990

High School-Regular

Biology

no

yes

yes

pro and con evidence provided

Biology

Miller and Levine 1991

High School-Regular

Biology

yes

evidence provided

yes

extinction related to changes in climate and ectothermy

no

Biology: Concepts

Starr 1994

High School-Regular

Biology

yes

evidence provided

yes, related to lava plumes and changes in carbon dioxide levels

yes

presented as fact

evidence also provided

multiple bombardment hypothesis

Biology: Concepts

Starr 1997

HIGH School-Regular

Biology

Yes

evidence provided.

yes, related to lava plumes and changes in carbon dioxide levels

also global broiling hypothesis

yes

presented as fact

evidence also provided

multiple bombardment hypothesis

Modern Biology

Towle 1989

High School-Regular

Biology

yes

evidence provided

yes

evidence provided

yes

evidence provided

Modern Biology

Towle 1993

High School-Regular

Biology

yes

yes

evidence provided

yes

evidence provided

Biology: Concepts

Campbell et al 1997

High School AP

College Survey

Majors

Biology

yes

yes

evidence provided

also volcanic hypothesis

yes

evidence provided

Biology

Curtis 1983

High School AP

College Survey

Majors

Biology

yes

yes

no

Biology: Principles

Johnson and Raven 1996

High School AP

College Survey

Majors

Biology

yes

yes

evidence provided

yes

evidence provided

Biological Science

Keeton 1980

High School AP

College Survey

Majors

Biology

yes

science has no explanation

science has no explanation

The Nature of Life

Postlethwaite and Hopson 1995

High School AP

College Survey

Non-Majors

Biology

no

no

general discussion of mass extinctions only

no

general discussion of mass extinctions only

Biology: Unity

Starr and Taggart 1995

High School AP

College Survey

Majors

Biology

Yes

evidence provided.

yes, related to lava plumes and changes in carbon dioxide levels

also global broiling hypothesis

yes

presented as fact

evidence also provided

multiple bombardment hypothesis

Biology

Solomon et al 1993

High School AP

College Survey

Majors

Biology

yes

yes

yes

evidence provided

College Zoology

Boolootian 1981

College Survey

Zoology

yes

no

no

Animal Diversity

Fingerman 1981

College Survey

Non-Majors

Zoology

yes

evidence provided

"many, if not most, paleontologists have concluded that this hypothesis is incorrect."

yes

also swamp and lake drainage, parasites, anatomical and metabolic disorders

no

Zoology: Integrated

Hickman et al 1979

College Survey

Zoology

no

yes

no

Chordate Structure

Waterman 1971

College

Vertebrate Morphology

no

yes: drying up of swamps and exposure to sunlight

no evidence

no

Anatomy of Chordates

Weichert 1965

College

Vertebrate Morphology

no

yes

no

Physical Anthropology

Jurmain & Nelson 1994

College

Anthropology Survey

Majors

yes

yes

yes

Dinosaur Extinction

Archibald 1996

Intended for science literate lay person

"interested nonspecialists"

Dinosaurs

yes: full details and story of the Baker (1971) -endothermy hypothesis. Preceded by detailed discussion of gradations, advantages, limitations of endothermy, heterothermy, and ectothermy

yes

yes: full details and story of the Alvarez (1980)-asteroid hypothesis. Focus on limitations of fossil evidence for meteorite hypothesis

Evolution and Extinction

Fastovsky and Weishampel 1996

Intended for science literate lay person

"Interested nonspecialist"

Dinosaurs

yes: full details and story of the Baker (1971) -endothermy hypothesis. Preceded by detailed discussion of gradations, advantages, limitations of endothermy, heterothermy, and ectothermy

yes

yes: full details and story of the Alvarez (1980)-asteroid hypothesis

Dinosaurs, Spitfires..

McGowan 1991

Intended for science literate lay person

"Interested nonspecialist"

Dinosaurs

yes: full details and story of the Baker (1971) -endothermy hypothesis. Preceded by detailed discussion of gradations, advantages, limitations of endothermy, heterothermy, and ectothermy

yes

yes: full details and story of the Alvarez (1980)-asteroid hypothesis

Great Dinosaur Controversy

Officer and Page 1996

Intended for science literate lay person

"Interested nonspecialist"

Dinosaurs

yes: ectothermy

yes

yes, but opposes meteoroid-impact theory.

calls the whole episode a case of "pathological science"

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Bibliography


Archibald, D. J. (1996). Dinosaur extinction and the end of an era: What the fossils say. New York: Columbia University Press.

Boolootian, R. A. & Stiles, K. A. (1981). College zoology. (10th Ed.). New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.

Campbell, N., Mitchell, L. & Reece, J. (1997). Biology: Concepts and connections. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin Cummings.

Curtis, H. (1983). Biology (4th Ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.

Durst, H. et al. (1968). Biology (BSCS Green) (2nd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Fastovsky, D. E. & Weishampel, D. B. (1996). The Evolution and Extinction of the Dinosaurs. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Fingerman, M. (1981). Animal diversity (3rd Ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Saunders College Publishing.

Haynes, N. L . et al. (1978). Biology (BSCS Green) (4th Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Hickman, C. P. Sr., Hickman, C. P., Jr. & Hickman, F. M. (1979). Integrated Principles of Zoology. St. Louis, MO: The C. V. Mosby Company.

Hurd, D., Matthias, G. F., Johnson, S. M., Snyder, E. B., & Wright, J. D. (1992). General science: A voyage of exploration (3rd Ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Johnson, G. B. & Brusca, G. J. (1994). Biology: Visualizing life. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

Johnson, G. B. & Raven, P. H. (1996). Biology: Principles and explorations. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Jurmain, R. & Nelson, H. (1994). Introduction to physical anthropology (6th Ed.). Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Company.

Kaskel, A., Hummer, Jr., P. J. & Daniel, L. (1981). Biology: An everyday experience. New York: Glencoe-McGraw-Hill.

Keeton, W. T. (1980). Biological science (3rd Ed.). New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Leonard, W. H. & Penick, J. E. (1998). Biology: A community context. Cincinnati, OH: South-Western Educational Publishing.

Maton, A., LaHart, D., Hopkins, J., Warner, M. Q., Johnson, S., & Wright, J. D. (1995). Exploring life science. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

McGowan, C. (1991). Dinosaurs, spitfires, and sea dragons. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McLaren, J. E. & Rotundo, L. (1985). Biology. Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath and Company.

Milani, J. P., Bradshaw, W. S., Storey, R. D., Swartzendruber, D., Taylor, M. R., Tolman, R. R., & Winternitz, K. A. (1990). Biological science: A molecular approach (BSCS Blue) (6th Ed.). Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath and Company.

Miller, K. R. & Levine, J. (1991). Biology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Officer, C. & Page, J. (1996). The Great Dinosaur Extinction Controversy. New York: Addison Wesley.

Postlewaite, J. H. & Hopson, J. L. (1995). The nature of life (3rd Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Solomon, E. P., Berg, L, R., Martin, D. W. & Villee, C. (1993). Biology (3rd Ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Saunders College Publishing.

Starr, C. (1994). Biology: Concepts and applications. (2nd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Starr, C. (1997). Biology: Concepts and applications (3rd Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Starr, C. & Taggart, R. (1995). Biology: The unity and diversity of life (7th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Towle, a. (1989). Modern biology. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Towle, A. (1993). Modern biology. Austin, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Waterman, A. J. (1971). Chordate structure and function. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Weichert, C. K. (1965). Anatomy of the Ccordates (3rd Ed.). New York: McGraw Hill Book Company.

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