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Nature of Science Portrayals in Historical Accounts within a Sample of

Canadian Biology Textbooks


Athanasios Seliotis

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements

for the degree of Master of Arts

Department of Curriculum Teaching and Learning

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the

University of Toronto

© Copyright by Athanasios Seliotis (2007)

Nature of Science Portrayals in Historical Accounts within a Sample of
Canadian Biology Textbooks
Master of Arts 2007
Athanasios Seliotis
Department of Curriculum Teaching and Learning
University of Toronto

The nature of science portrayed in history of science narratives/vignettes within biology

textbooks were analyzed to examine the nature of science portrayed in history of science

narratives/vignettes within them. This was carried out through a qualitative analysis and content

analysis of topics within fourteen secondary school biology textbooks used in Canadian high

schools covering a majority of Canadian jurisdictions. Criteria for inclusion in this study were

based on the recommendation of the various provincial ministries of education. Provincially

approved or authorized list of resources for use in the classroom or recommended resources were

consulted and a list of textbooks was derived. Qualitative analysis and content analysis indicated

a heroic, ideal and rationalist and realist view of the nature of science within historical vignettes.

Recommendations for more authentic nature of science are discussed.


I acknowledge the assistance and guidance of Dr. Larry Bencze and Dr. Earl Woodruff for
assistance and comments regarding my thesis. I thank my parents, Dimitrios and Basiliki Seliotis
for their support of my studies and to Robin Coyle for her patience in reading my drafts and
listening to my rants.


ABSTRACT.................................................................................................................................... ii
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS........................................................................................................... iii
CHAPTER 1 ................................................................................................................................... 1
INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................................... 1
BIOLOGY EDUCATION IN NORTH AMERICA SINCE 1957 ............................................. 5
Scientific Literacy....................................................................................................................... 8
Nature of Science (NOS) .......................................................................................................... 11
NOS and Biology...................................................................................................................... 16
Epistemology and Ontology of Biological Topics.................................................................... 18
Role of the History of Science (HOS) in Science Education.................................................... 22
The Textbook ............................................................................................................................ 25
CHAPTER 2 ................................................................................................................................. 28
METHODOLOGY ................................................................................................................... 28
Research Questions............................................................................................................... 28
Choice of Textbooks ............................................................................................................. 28
Constant Comparative Method of Qualitative Analysis ....................................................... 31
Content Analysis................................................................................................................... 32
Intercoder Reliability ............................................................................................................ 33
CHAPTER 3 ................................................................................................................................. 35
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION ............................................................................................... 35
BIOLOGY TEXTBOOKS.................................................................................................... 35
Topic: Biochemistry.............................................................................................................. 35
Topic: Cytology .................................................................................................................... 38
Topic: Evolution ................................................................................................................... 44
Topic: Genetics ..................................................................................................................... 47
Topic: Physiology ................................................................................................................. 54
Summary of HOS units......................................................................................................... 58
HISTORY OF SCIENCE IN BIOLOGY TEXTBOOKS .................................................... 61
............................................................................................................................................... 71
CORPOROPHILIC SCHOOL SCIENCE ............................................................................ 73
CHAPTER 4 ................................................................................................................................. 76
CONCLUSIONS....................................................................................................................... 76
Study Limitations.................................................................................................................. 77
Suggestions for Further Study .............................................................................................. 77
Educational Implications ...................................................................................................... 78
REFERENCES ............................................................................................................................. 79
Appendix A:.................................................................................................................................. 87
Appendix B ................................................................................................................................... 88
Appendix D:.................................................................................................................................. 90


Science education, according to a liberal tradition, is not about training students who will

become scientists but for all students, regardless of their destination. So there must be training

about science as well as training in science (Hodson, 1998). Training strictly in science without

examination of the diversity of the methodological and philosophical variety in science presents

an unproblematic and sterile view of the sciences. It is important not only to know science but to

know how we know in science.

Very often, the way in which how we know what we know in science is presented through little

historical vignettes. Within these vignettes can often be found stories of scientific heroism

(Milne, 1998). Donald Metz, in discussing how the historical development of conceptual models

influences how students understand the nature of science, writes, “while seemingly trite, and

often untrue, these vignettes of history suit certain pedagogical needs as we try to initially attract

students’ attention. Some of these vignettes provide interesting narratives, and we can also use

them in textbooks to promote specific issues such as women in science, or environmental

concerns” (Metz, 2002, p. 162). The author, himself, has collaborated in using historical

vignettes to expose students to the interplay of social, political and gender issues within the

nature of science (Ahmed, Ianuzzi, Malekan, and Seliotis, 2003). However, there is a very real

danger of mischaracterizing the nature of science using historical vignettes, producing what

Allchin (2003) calls ‘myth-conceptions’; not as in myth as in a false belief, but as the Greeks

used it to mean a narrative, style or genre. Allchin’s (2003) concern is that mischaracterizations

within rhetorical devices that shape historical narratives can “…distort history and foster

unwarranted stereotypes about the nature of science—all for the sake of telling a good story” (p.

329). Despite misgivings, vignettes can offer students insights into processes used in the sciences

because how students view the world can be mirrored in how scientists viewed the world in the

past. Also, how philosophers and sociologists see science, its processes and professional

activities, may also be useful to students.

Stinner and Williams (1993) point out how many researchers in science education find that

students, in their alternate conceptions of science, mirror certain historical views. The author,

himself, in teaching about Galileo would give a student a golf ball and a baseball and ask which

would fall faster. The student inevitably would say the baseball because it felt heavier. Such an

Platonic (rational rather than empirical) interpretation served as the basis for showing students

that when dropped, both the baseball and the golf ball fell at the same time and the same rate.

Students almost always looked surprised that their rational prediction was not borne out when

they attempted the experiment. Of course, as Stinner and Williams (1993) point out, the student

is unlikely to start thinking like Galileo to explain why but students’ views were analogous to

those held by historical scientific figures.

These historically analogous views should not be seen as misconceptions but as alternate

conceptions. They may not be what are accepted today as scientific but they are honest attempts

of students to make sense of the world around them using pre-existing concepts. These Concepts

form links with other concepts and the entire network becomes a conceptual ecology (Toulmin,

1972). No concept exists alone within the mind and therefore concepts cannot be altered in

isolation (Posner et al., 1982). New conceptions are accepted only if they are found to be

intelligible, plausible, and more fruitful than the existing conception. The existing ecology can

only accept new conceptions that either leaves the existing network intact or only minimally

altered or the fruitfulness of the new conception outweighs the restructuring of the existing

ecology. Usually, it is the job of the teacher to facilitate that restructuring.

One way of facilitating conceptual change is through use of the history of science within science

education. By far the most common way of including the history of science in science education

is through the addition of historical vignettes within textbooks. These can be in the main text or

marginal notes or in special sections. Other forms have also been suggested. Lisa Fernandes

(2002) proposed using primary scientific literature in workshops with students to promote

scientific literacy. Stinner and Williams (1993) advocated the ‘story-line’ approach and Ahmed

et al. (2003) recommended the use of either teacher or student-created narratives about historical

events in science.

Whichever framework is used to add historical vignettes to science education it must be kept in

mind that what is included (and by extension, excluded) is framed by the authors’ discourse

(either consciously or unconsciously) and in turn influences the discourse within the classroom.

Catherine Milne (1998) identified four types of stories within science textbooks: heroic,

discovery, declarative, and politically correct. Curiously, there is no mention of villains to offset

the heroes in heroic stories. Any story in a science text that differs from the original primary

source will be an interpretation. In many cases, this cannot be helped. It would impractical to

publish an excerpt from Newton’s Principia in the original Latin in the hope that students would

garner an insight into how Newton thought. So, of necessity, authors paraphrase and interpret

historical events. In doing so, the values of the interpreters may be passed on in addition to or

instead the original figures.

There has been a “failure of orthodox, technical, noncontextual science education to engage

students or promote knowledge and appreciation of science in the population” (Matthews, 1994,

p. 5). One way of ameliorating this is to provide a context with historical narratives (Brush,

1989; Stuewer, 1998) and “science stories” (Stinner & Williams, 1993), both of which have been

widely used, informally, to illustrate scientific concepts. Some of these historical vignettes may

have no existence in the actual historical record (Newton was not hit on the head by an apple and

Galileo did not drop objects from the leaning tower of Pisa).

Formally or not, the inclusion of history of science within a curriculum and science textbooks

has not been without controversy. Brush (1974, 1989) commented on the dangers of interpreting

incidents in the history of science through the lens of the present. For example, Allchin (2004)

examined how Harvey’s work on circulation could be re-interpreted to support a hypothetico-

deductive framework that might be at odds with Harvey’s own views at the time of publication.

Despite this and other similar examples, most educators of science see the value of including the

history of science in the curriculum. Knowing something about the history of science contributes

to an individual’s overall scientific literacy. The phrase ‘scientific literacy’ has meant different

things to different cultures and different nations. The way in which the phrase is used points to

its operational definition which may be at odds with it’s more abstract and academic definitions.

In English speaking countries, the idea that everyone should have some scientific knowledge

goes back to the beginning of the 20th century (Shamos, 1995; Laugksch, 2000) and it is well

known that in the mid to late 19th century, some scientists such as T.H. Huxley delighted in

giving lectures to miners and other working men about the wonders of science (Knight, 2002;

Ruse, 1979).

But where Huxley used science as a way to enlighten the ‘working man’, others like John Dewey

saw 'the scientific method' as the best way to solve social problems (Frankel, 1977). Scientific

literacy in the latter half of the 20th century acquired a more severe importance as the launch of

the first artificial satellite by the Soviet Union, Sputnik, led to an almost nation-wide anxiety

attack with respect to the state of American science and technology (Blades, 1997). The launch

of Sputnik I and Sputnik II marks the beginning of the space race and added fuel to the growing

feeling that American science education was ‘soft.’ What was needed was a science education

that promoted the best and brightest to enter fields of science and technology to ward off what

was thought to be imminent threat from Soviet space craft. Such a view of scientific literacy

appears extreme today and is not way the phrase is treated here.


Although the purpose of this study is, ultimately, to examine aspects of science education in

Canada; the history of science education in Canada is bound to the history of science education

in the United States. Canada and other countries seemed content to follow the lead of the U.S.

and Britain in constructing and reforming science curricula (Tomkins, 1977; Blades, 1997).

In 1959, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study met to discuss strategies for taking biological

education in a new direction. The primary concern centred on the content of biology courses

offered. The content was out of date and courses were built using a taxonomic or phylogenetic

approach (Hurd, 1970). Courses also contained, in response to calls for more relevance in

biology courses, a great deal of “technological applications in health, agriculture, and

conservation, often giving little if any attention to the underlying scientific principles (DeBoer,

1991, p. 150).

Along with the content of biology courses, there was a concern about how the content was

presented. “Biology was not being presented as a coherent, integrated, conceptual whole but

rather as unconnected fragments, bits and pieces that could be learned without developing a

sense of the relationships between groups of concepts” (DeBoer, 1991, p. 151). There was too

much memorization and not enough emphasis on the deeper understanding of biological

concepts. Although an attempt to incorporate the relevance of biology to everyday life was

present in courses these same courses did not pursue the principles upon which these applications

were based.

A third concern of the committee was how biology courses portrayed the nature of biology as a

scientific activity:

There was a failure both of textbook presentations and of laboratory work. Textbooks tended
to treat biology as a set of stable facts and principles without giving adequate attention to the

historical development of the subject, the changing nature of scientific knowledge or the
human side of scientific investigations. (DeBoer, 1991, p. 151)

Attempts to include inquiry into laboratory work ended up being descriptive activities, ‘bell-

ringer’ labs, and memorization of structures and functions.

The recommendations of the BSCS were to make available to schools a set of curriculum

materials consisting of textbooks, student laboratory guides, and films to help teachers provide

activities to teach biological concepts. The difference between the old and the new materials was

that the new was a move away from technology and everyday applications and a move towards

the structure of the discipline itself (DeBoer, 1991).

By the late 1970’s, concern with keeping up with the Soviet Union was being replaced with a

concern for equity in education. This new concern was at odds with curricula, whose purpose

was to train students in the ways of scientific disciplines. Critics of the reforms pointed to the

lack of relevance of the discipline-based curricula and pushed for increased sensitivity to

individual differences between students. In other words, there was a call for a curriculum that

harkened the ‘good ole days’ of science education of the early 20th century that was so severely

criticized by the BSCS in the late 1950’s. Diane Ravitch (1983) referred to this ‘new’ emphasis

as the ‘new progressivism’ to separate from the progressive movement of the early part of the

20th century.

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983) published A Nation at Risk

and concluded mediocrity threatened the future of the U.S. Of particular concern was the

appalling condition of scientific knowledge of American students. The solution was scientific

and technology literacy for all. It was this idea that the Council of Ministers of Education of

Canada chose to guide their vision for science education for all students.

Scientific Literacy

The phrase ‘scientific literacy’ has become almost a slogan, a phrase interchangeable with the

goals of science education. The purpose of a science education is to create a scientifically literate

person, just as the purpose of education in general is to create a literate person. And it is just that

fuzzy definition that leads to controversy over just what constitutes scientific literacy. The only

thing that is quite clear is the claim that society does not want people to be scientifically

illiterate. Hodson (1998), in describing the multiple dimensions authors have infused into the

term scientific literacy crystallized them into three major elements: learning science; learning

about science, and doing science. Learning science refers to the science-as-a-body-of-facts

concepts (i.e. water boils at 0 oC at sea level; the species name of humans is Homo sapiens, and

so on). Doing science refers to laboratory and experimental skills associated with carrying out

scientific investigations. The middle phrase, learning about science, refers to the nature science

and the habits of mind required for carrying out science.

Other views of scientific literacy exist. Laugksch (2000) examined history of the term and then

placed in context within a ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ view. The macro view had to do with the

importance of scientific literacy to the economic status of a nation. A citizen’s scientific literacy

was related to how well a nation would perform on a global scale by producing appropriately

trained personnel. The micro view referred to how confident and competent a scientifically

literate person could deal with science- and technology-related issues.

Roth and Barton (2004), in their book, Rethinking Scientific Literacy, examine not only the what

of scientific literacy but the how and when of scientific literacy. Scientific literacy is also an

emergent property of collective praxis, a choreography enacted by interested parties in social,

cultural issues. “No longer is it a decontextualized and decontextualizing science that can only

exist is the isolation of the citadel, but it is a science that actually lives and can survive in

everyday ordinary society” (Roth & Barton, 2004, p. 71).

But such a view of scientific literacy cannot be examined within textbooks. So a version of

scientific literacy that incorporates many of the views already expressed in the literature is

required, preferably one that is supposed to guide the formation of curriculum on a national

level. The view of scientific literacy in use here is taken from The Pan-Canadian Protocol for

Collaboration on School Curriculum: Common Framework of Science Learning Outcomes:

“Scientific literacy is an evolving combination of the science-related attitudes, skills, and

knowledge students need to develop inquiry, problem-solving, and decision-making abilities, to

become lifelong learners, and to maintain a sense of wonder about the world around them.”

(CMEC, 1997 p. 5)

This document was chosen because the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada adopted this

protocol and so was to be the common framework from which curricula in science could be

developed in Canada. Scientific literacy is here defined as “an evolving combination of the

science-related attitudes, skills, and knowledge students need to develop inquiry, problem-

solving, and decision-making abilities, to become lifelong learners, and to maintain a sense of

wonder about the world around them” (CMEC, 1997, p. 4). In addition, one of the foundations

for producing this scientific literacy is a goal that students develop “an understanding of the

nature of science and technology, of the relationships between science and technology, and the

social and environmental contexts of science and technology” (1997 p. 6)

So a balanced view of science according to this view of scientific literacy requires not only that a

student (and by extension, a citizen) knows ‘scientific’ concepts but be able to use scientific

processes and know something about how science has come to the state it is in now. In other

words, being scientifically literate requires knowledge about the nature of science (NOS) and

about the history of science (HOS). The nature of science defined within the Pan-Canadian

Protocol is given below and illustrates the rather inclusive definition of science that is to be the

basis of NOS within the curriculum:

Science is a human and social activity with unique characteristics and a long history that has
involved many men and women from many societies. Science is also a way of learning about
the universe based on curiosity, creativity, imagination, intuition, exploration, observation,
replication of experiments, interpretation of evidence, and debate over the evidence and its
interpretations. Scientific activity provides a conceptual and theoretical base that is used in
predicting, interpreting, and explaining natural and human-made phenomena. Many
historians, sociologists, and philosophers of science argue that there is no set procedure for
conducting a scientific investigation. Rather, they see science as driven by a combination of
theories, knowledge, experimentation, and processes anchored in the physical world.
Theories of science are continually being tested, modified, and improved as new knowledge
and theories supersede existing ones. Scientific debate on new observations and hypotheses
that challenge accepted knowledge involves many participants with diverse backgrounds.

This highly complex interplay, which has occurred throughout history, is fuelled by
theoretical discussions, experimentation, social, cultural, economic, and political influences,
personal biases, and the need for peer recognition and acceptance. (CMEC, 1997 p. 9)

Nature of Science (NOS)

Both the concern over what teachers know about the nature of science and whether this translates

to their teaching has precedence within the literature. Kimball (1967-1968) compared

knowledge of NOS between scientists and qualified teachers with majors in science and found,

in 7 of the 8 groups studied, that science teachers scored higher than the scientists. “The

problem lies in two areas; the use of unqualified teachers to teach science, and the relatively poor

understanding of the nature of science by science majors in general” (Kimball, 1967-1968, p.

115). Science teachers teach students science but are taught science in university and colleges by

scientists. So the danger, according to Kimball, lies in science teachers not being exposed to

NOS when they were undergraduates. Martin (1974) uses this as the argument for promoting the

teaching of philosophies of science in high school programs, for potential scientists. The problem

lies in the assumption that scientists always have a better grasp of the nature of science.

In recent years, high school science textbooks have updated their definitions of science

somewhat. Wolfe, Clancy, Jasper, Lindenberg, Lynn, Mustoe, and Smythe (1999) define science

as a “way of knowing about nature that values knowledge for its own sake and depends on

observation and experiment, logical argument, and skeptical review” (p. IS-1). The standard

view has been that science is an activity carried out by disinterested individuals that perform

experiments to make observations from which theories are created to explain the phenomena

observed. Further, these individuals transmit these observations and theories to others because

such knowledge is public ownership.

In the west, these principles are usually traced back to the writings of Francis Bacon (1996, orig.

1620). In Novum Organon, Bacon speaks of induction as the best way of overcoming confusion

in words and symbols. But Bacon was not as strict an inductivist as he’s presented. Often these

assignations are made without reading Bacon himself but reading his commentators. Other

commentators such as Case (1906) argue that Bacon did not limit knowledge to only what could

be directly sensed. Faith and inspiration were also valid sources for knowledge of the

supernatural and God. It is not surprising that scientists would tend to acknowledge the

empirical sentiments of Bacon and ignore the metaphysical writings.

Other authors have had a very different view of how science is conducted. The sociological

underpinnings about how scientific ideas change can be found in writings of Thomas Kuhn

(1970) who described science as progressing through alternating periods of normal science with

scientific revolutions. Science did not progress through slow accumulation of data and theories

were not replaced because new theories were better but because the old theory begins to

accumulate more and more counter-examples. A new theory is proposed that explains the

counter-examples. What made this controversial was Kuhn’s idea that paradigms were dropped

or accepted because of consensus rather than logic. In other words, old theories were not only

unable to deal with counter-examples but became unfashionable as well.

Karl Popper’s ideas (2002) were a critique of logical positivism. He argued that science should

proceed in stages (formal stage, semiformal stage, comparison stage, and empirical testing

stage). Popper was not an instrumentalist but he emphasized verifiability. But verifiability with a

twist: it was not to results consistent to a theory but results inconsistent with theory. It was this

notion of falsifiability (at least in principle) that was different. Assertions such as “all barbers are

bald” could easily be falsified by finding a barber with a healthy head of hair. In practical terms,

Popper came up with a modification of positivist claims that science gives us truth. Falsifiability

criteria demonstrate that hypotheses that survive are less false than those that are falsified.

Science does not give us truth but provides a way from distinguishing between scientific claims

(which are falsifiable) and philosophy or religion.

A way of reconciling the ideas of Kuhn’s revolutionary science and Popper’s falsifications was

Imre Lakatos’ philosophy of ‘research programmes’. Kuhn used the history of science as

evidence for his views and Popper used falsification to deal with the problem of induction and

separate the non-scientific from the scientific. Popper’s views pointed to smooth transitions as

hypotheses were falsified that Kuhn clearly refuted. Lakatos suggested that science progressed

through the establishment of research programmes in which the core is protected but the

periphery can undergo falsification. The success of these research programmes was based on

their ability to produce new knowledge and the ability to refute challenges.

A third and decidedly more anarchistic view of science and associated methodology is that of

Paul Feyerabend (2001). Feyerabend’s views are usually seen as extreme. Essentially, he denies

that it is possible to devise a method that can discriminate between science and non-science. He

showed how supposed ‘postcard’ examples from the progress of science such as the Copernican

revolution could be revisualized as counter examples to show how rules of science were violated.

Feyerabend, Lakatos, Popper, and Kuhn showed how the history of science was critical not only

to understanding what has happened in science but how it can be re-interpreted to illustrate

aspects of the nature of science.

Lauden (1986) found the claim that there are certain kinds of empirical support that make

theories true untenable. He believed that rationalist rules could be used to judge whether or not

theories were useful or not but not true or false. He saw science not as a hierarchy but as a

network of justification. Aims and methods of science were interconnected and justified each

other. What worked and what was successful was all that mattered.

Ronald Giere (1988, 1999) saw scientific theories as representing aspects of the real world. He

does concede that theories vary in how well they concord to reality. His judgment of theories is

based on cognitive science. Giere’s views on science emphasize the contexts individual

scientists work within as they do science. What separates Giere’s ideas from Kuhn’s view is that

Giere acknowledges the real progress science makes whereas Kuhn’s ideas seem to suggest that

today’s science is no better than yesterday’s science.

There is diversity in the views of philosophers and scientists on the nature of science that can be

daunting to the uninitiated. Ronald Giere (1988) tried to organize much of this diversity based

on the ideas of representation and judgment. Loving (1990, 1991, and 1998) used this to devise

a depiction of views on the nature of science using what appears, at first, to be a Cartesian plane

on which views on the nature of science by various philosophers of science are plotted. The

representation consists of two orthogonal axes representing an epistemological continuum and an

ontological continuum. The x-axis represents a continuum from a purely rationalist view to a

purely naturalist view of the epistemology of science. The y-axis represents a continuum from a

purely realist to a purely anti-realist view of the ontology of science. Philosophers of science

were then placed within quadrants based on their writings. Loving’s (1991) Scientific Theory

Profile (STP) provides a visual summary approach to what is a complicated field of inquiry and

is used here to analyze statements about NOS within biology textbooks.

Loving (1991) began with an examination of Giere’s (1988) representation and judgment of

scientific theories. The term representation was just that, a representation. “To put it baldly, they

are ‘internal maps’ of the external world” (Giere, 1988, p. 6). Judgment (as specifically used by

Giere in this context) referred to a hypothetical or instrumental rationality that came in degrees.

These concepts were modified by Loving to show the spectrum of views regarding scientific

theories. So two orthogonal axes represented two continua: epistemological representation and

ontological judgment. Where Giere used these ideas to create a table of bins into which scientific

theories could be placed Loving saw them as continua that represented qualitatively measurable

differences between the views of philosophers of science. So the more distant a philosopher of

science was from the origin the more extreme his views. Loving’s (1991) placement of Paul

Feyerabend as furthest away from the origin in the natural-anti-realist quadrant is indicative of

his extreme position with regard to epistemology and ontology of science. Giere’s bins were

preserved as Loving quadrants; rational-realism, rational-antirealist, natural-realist, natural-


NOS and Biology

The way in which each discipline within science chooses what is considered evidence and how

research takes place is not universal. Loving (1990, 1991) placed the philosophers of science

mentioned thus far, Popper, Lakatos (both in the rational-realist quadrant of the STP), and Kuhn,

Feyerabend (both placed in the naturalist-anti-realist quadrant by Loving (1991)), tended to

concentrate on physics and chemistry for their examples. Biological examples have not been as

numerous. It may be assumed that epistemological concerns of biology would match those of

chemistry and physics. But that may not be the case. Magnus (2000) discusses competing

epistemologies in early 20th century biology. Magnus suggests that the biology community had

split in the period between 1890 and 1910 producing a ‘modern’ biology and natural history. The

difference can be ascribed to the influence of philosophies, methodologies and epistemologies of

physics and chemistry on biology (Hopkins, 1936). Magnus (2000 p. 91) describes the

differences between modern and biology and natural history thusly:

Natural History Modern Biology

a) Descriptive a) Experimental

b) Qualitative b) Quantitative

c) Speculative c) Narrower focus in topic

d) Concerned with grand d) Concerned with micro-

evolutionary or taxonomic organisms and physical

questions mechanisms

Natural historians emphasized the variety of lines of evidence leading to a consilience of

induction (Ruse, 1979). The concept was developed by William Whewell (1840) to take the

place of Baconian induction. For Whewell, a good theory has many different types of evidence

supporting it. This would eventually lead to conflict with those that felt only experimental

evidence counted (Magnus, 2000).

In contrast to natural history, the new modern biology emphasized experimental control. This is

not surprising considering the influence of the experimental epistemology of chemistry. It was

that biology was lacking thoroughness and the experimental rigor that made physics and

chemistry successful. Successful evidence was seen to lack subjectivity and used repeatable

experiments. Such differences were reflected in their papers and how they argued the merits of

evidence with natural historians describing how their theories are supported by a multitude of

evidence and modern biologists tried to reduce the “variety of lines of evidence with one

privileged line” (Magnus, 2000, p. 115). Such differences in rules of evidence would likely

manifest themselves in how research is presented in papers.

Epistemology and Ontology of Biological Topics

Delving within specific subdisciplines of biology we can see epistemological differences in the

importance placed on experimentation, observation, and theorizing. There is certainly a belief

that biochemistry, like chemistry in general, has no special philosophy that guides it. Indeed

there is a general belief that chemistry can be reduced to physics as there is a belief that biology

can be reduced to chemistry. Unfortunately, such a reduction is problematic at best (Schummer,

1997). So biochemistry requires an examination of the peculiarities that separate it from other

scientific endeavours. Ontologically, Schummer writes, “[t]he one and only ontological criterion

fro an epistemology of empirical investigation, or for being an object of empirical investigation,

is the capacity to be empirically investigated, and this can easily be proven by investigation

itself” (1997, p. 309). Epistemologically, material properties in chemistry are classified

according to experimental conditions producing context dependent dynamic properties

(Schummer, 1997, 1998). This points to a rational and realistic view for results of biochemical

work as well. Like chemistry as a whole there is no separation of properties due to scale

(molecular, microscopic and macroscopic numbers react the same). Roger Strand (1999) takes

this further by pointing out that biochemists study the chemicals of living things but in an

environment removed from the organisms from which they were derived. For Strand it is an in

vivo-in vitro problem. He writes,

What makes biochemistry somewhat special, I think, is the particular centrality of

the in vivo–in vitro problem, for the following reasons:

(1) Biochemists want to identify biomolecules, i.e., molecules within living

organisms. But a great many biomolecules are thermodynamically unstable and will
often decompose during the isolation procedure. For instance, there are highly

unstable molecules that are stabilized within the cell by specific proteins.
Conversely, the disruption of the cell releases specific enzymes that rapidly degrade
otherwise only slowly decomposing molecules.

(2) Biochemists want to establish the molecular structure of biomolecules,

especially the three-dimensional structure of macromolecules such as proteins,
nucleic acids and polysaccharide structures. In many cases there is, however, no
such thing as the structure of a macromolecule. Typically, the spatial structure is
heavily determined by both intra- and intermolecular weak forces such as hydrogen
bonds and van der Waals contacts; thus the structure in vivo might be quite different
from the one, or rather many structures observed in vitro under various conditions.

(3) Biochemists want to study the chemical processes within the organism and the
biological functions of the various biomolecules. But in all except quite rare cases
such studies will have to be done in vitro, in a test tube with an aqueous, saline
medium containing isolated macromolecules, organelles or single cells. The
experimental conditions are always subject to a trade-off between reductionistic
certainty and biological relevance: If the environment is too similar to the in vivo
conditions, it will typically be too complex to allow any unique interpretation, as
referred to by the well-known biochemical proverb “Do not waste clean thoughts on
dirty enzymes”. On the other hand, if the test tube environment is too simple, the
macromolecule will typically not react, and there will be no biochemical
phenomenon to observe. Or even worse, the biomolecule might display an activity
that is even qualitatively different from what it does inside the intact organism.
Accordingly, the word ‘artifact’ is central in any biochemical discussion, in which it
is used in a quite specific sense. A biochemical artefact is a chemical reaction that
occurs between biomolecules in vitro, but not in vivo. (Strand, 1999, p 274)

We can extend this concept further when we compare the epistemological underpinnings of what

a biochemist does with what a physiologist would do. Where a biochemist depends on

experimental intervention of biological entities outside an organism a physiologist is involved in

experimental intervention of biological entities within an organism.

Physiology cannot be considered the opposite to biochemistry despite it being on the other side

of the in vivo-in vitro problem. It would be better to consider it and biochemistry as opposite

sides of the same coin; that coin being a mechanistic materialist view of biology. Agutter,

Malone and Wheatley (2000) maintain that a mechanistic materialism was thought to be required

for “exorcising from all biological discourse of anything implying ‘vital forces’” (p. 77). In this

sense, too, physiology is seen as a rational and real endeavour.

Epistemology and ontology in cytology is best seen in how its core theory, the cell theory, was

formed. Philosophically, one may argue whether or not you actually ‘see’ cells when you look

through a microscope but nowhere in the literature is there any hint that a researcher did not

think the cells he observed through the lenses were anything less than real. Ontologically, there

must be a realist viewpoint that has to be adopted if one wishes to work with cells. It may be

philosophically honest to claim an instrumentalist position but it would be useless to do so.

Epistemologically, the cell theory appears to be naturalistic, using Giere’s (1988) view of

naturalism, “that theories come to be accepted (or not) through a natural process involving both

individual judgment and social interactions” to describe how the cell theory developed and was

accepted. This is seen, obliquely, in Gerould (1922a, 1922b) and Wolpert (1995). The obliquity

lies in the fact that although the cell theory is attributed, primarily, to the works of Schleiden and

Schwann, many authors mention how the cell theory predated the published works of Schleiden

and Schwann. Consider, “[i]t seems to have escaped the notice of writers of text books on

biology and history of science, even in France, that the cell theory in broad outlines was taught in

Paris at the very opening of the nineteenth century, forty years before Schleiden and Schwann

published their famous epoch-making work” (Gerould, 1922b, p. 421). Gerould then goes on to

show that Lamarck essentially made the statement that all living things were composed of cells

and nothing living was without them. Even more curious is the space devoted to arguing against

Dutrochet getting the credit for the cell theory even though he published in 1824. Wilson (1947)

and Wolpert (1995) use technical details to show why Dutrochet should not get the credit (his

microscopes weren’t good enough, and his drawings didn’t show nuclei). But missing from these

discussion is why Lamarck or Dutrochet were not recognized in their time, namely the scientific

community were not ready to accept the cell theory at that time. By the time Schleiden and

Schwann published their papers the scientific community was more amenable to the cell theory.

There are examples that less than scientific reasons are at the core of what theories are accepted

or denied (Jacyna, 2003)

The epistemology underlying evolutionary research can, of course, be traced to Darwin’s 1859

work (Darwin, 1979 (orig. 1859). Darwin seemed to follow a natural epistemology using

observations based on nature and artificial selection (Ruse, 1979). It is well known that Darwin

took a long time to publish The Origin of Species but he was already convinced of the mutability

of species within 2 years of returning from the voyage of the Beagle (Darwin, 1958). Darwin

also favoured consilience as a means of theory confirmation when his empiricism was under fire.

(Ruse, 1979). Ontologically, evolution is treated more instrumentally rather than realist. The

reason lies in the historical nature of evolutionary research. Unlike stellar evolution where

individual differences do not alter the destiny of a star of a particular mass or temperature,

biological evolution is historical with individual conditions being very important and the

stochastic nature of mutation makes evolutionary outcomes impossible to predict (Burian, 2005)

Genetics has always been associated with experimentation and scientific empiricism (Burian,

2005). Ontologically, both early Mendelian genetics and later molecular genetics have always

been realist, especially with regard to modeling genetic processes but even when the gene was a

function without a physical reality there was little doubt as to its reality.

Role of the History of Science (HOS) in Science Education

The history of science is also not unproblematic. Knowing who did what and when is only part

of the history. It is only a part of the story because science is more than a body of knowledge. It

provides insights into nature and interpretation of the universe. You may know the name of every

soldier in every battle on any date of World War II and you still would not understand how the

conflicts arose and, more importantly, how the consequences still affect us today. Similarly, the

history of science provides a context for the science learned today by students and done by

scientists. But the use of the history of science as a method of humanizing science is by no

means new. In the first decade of the 20th century, Brasch (1915), in arguing for the inclusion of

the history of science within undergraduate programs, wrote:

During the last decade of our scientific progress there has come about a development
and reaction from the extreme and powerful method of specialization, both in methods
of research and in teaching, whereby stress is laid upon the cultural and broadening

effects in scientific study—the learning of principles and not mere fact. One factor in
this development, though not seemingly important in the past, is now demanding its full
recognition, the teaching of science from the historical point of view, not entirely from
the economic or problem-solving reasons—the historical development of the principles,
the evolution of science itself, showing correlation and inter-relation between the most
simple and the most complex concepts (Brasch, 1915, p. 746. Italics in original)

In the first decade of the 21st century, we appear to be in the same place. The difference lies in

the fact that, in 1915, Brasch was suggesting the teaching the history of science to university

undergraduates and those seeking careers in science and we argue today for history of science be

available to high school students. Michael Matthews (1994) outlines 7 reasons to include the

history of science within science programs:

1. History promotes the better comprehension of scientific concepts and methods.

2. Historical approaches connect the development of individual thinking with the
development of scientific ideas.
3. History of science is intrinsically worthwhile. Important episodes in the history
of science and culture—the Scientific Revolution, Darwinism, the discovery of
penicillin and so on—should be familiar to all students.
4. History is necessary to understand the nature of science.
5. History counteracts the scientism and dogmatism that are commonly found in
science texts and classes.
6. History, by examining the life and times of individual scientists, humanizes the
subject matter of science, making it less abstract and more engaging for students.
7. History allows connections to be made within topics and disciplines of science, as
well as with other academic disciplines; history displays the integrative and
interdependent nature of human achievements
( p. 50)

The use of the history of science has had positive effects in teaching physics and chemistry

(Seroglou et al., 1998; Allchin et al. 1999; Galili and Hazan, 2001; Solbes & Traver, 2003;

Stinner, 2003), biology (Rudolph and Stewart, 1998), intermediate science (grades 7 and 8) (Lin,

Hung & Hung, 2002) and high school (Irwin, 2000). So, with such evidence that use of the

history of science within science courses is beneficial to improving scientific literacy, why is

there still such a gap between policy and implementation? It certainly is in the Pan Canadian

Protocol for Collaboration on School Curriculum (CMEC, 1997) and NOS goals have been

advocated for over 40 years in science education literature (Lederman, 1992). “Arguably the

greatest achievement of Western civilization, and that which has undoubtedly been responsible

in large part for the shape of Western history, is usually not dealt with in school (or university)

history departments because it is thought too technical or difficult; and it is not dealt with in

science departments because it is thought irrelevant” (Matthews, 1994, p. 43). The question of

what aspects of the nature of science and what parts of the history of science is to be used in the

classroom is open to debate (Alters, 1997). Without explicit statements as to how the ‘habits of

mind’ referred to in the Pan-Canadian Protocol (CMEC, 1997) are to be addressed, it appears

that it is up to the teacher or perhaps textbook author to decide how that is to be portrayed.

Historians of science can be forgiven for seeing some of the HOS taught in school as belonging

to a “Whig” view of the history of science (Brush 1989). In other words, the history of science

only discusses the ‘winners’ and scientific discoveries appear inevitable. There has been,

recently, a better understanding among scientists and historians regarding the contribution of

both groups. Scientists have a deeper appreciation for the diversifying views that historians

uncover in their studies and historians appreciate the simplifying scientists do to achieve their

ends (Brush, 1989). There also is an appreciation for the simplification teachers have to make

scientific concepts comprehensible to their classes. But in simplifying there is always the danger

of oversimplifying. Oversimplification can mislead students into believing science and its

processes are different from what they are. It is important, therefore, that such

oversimplification and ambiguity is uncovered in materials teachers use in their classroom.

The Textbook

The most common material a science teacher is likely to use in a classroom is not glassware or

other laboratory equipment but a textbook. Findings from the third International Mathematics

and Science Study (TIMMS) indicated that science teachers based around 50 percent of their

teaching on textbooks (Scmidt et al., 1997). A good textbook is required to cover the large range

of content involved, especially in general science courses with overviews of biology, chemistry

and physics,. But content, although important, is not the only thing a textbook imparts to

students who read them. Students are socialized into science through interactions with each

other, the teacher and the textbook. If students cannot place themselves within a social context

that includes science they may, in fact, be alienated from science (Aikenhead 1996). Textbooks

are indicative of a particular ideology that decides what goes in to the books and what is omitted

from textbooks. That ideology can also extend to how material is presented within the textbook.

The textbook can serve to further socialize students into science or push them away. The

textbook can prejudice a student to a particular viewpoint of how science works (Knain, 2001).

Textbooks are not merely delivery systems of facts, although it seems that science textbooks are

beginning to look more and more like illustrated dictionaries (Matthew, 1994). Although rarely

does the science teacher choose the textbook to be used in the class; they have great influence

over what is taught and how it is delivered in the classroom (Wang & Schmidt, 2001).

Textbooks are the result of political, economic and cultural views of all involved. Authors have

real interests, as do publishers. Neutrality, if possible, is still a position. Apple and Christian-

Smith (1991) ask the question of “whose knowledge is of most worth” (p.1), and what counts as

legitimate? Their response to the latter is “…what counts as legitimate knowledge is the result of

complex power relations and struggle among identifiable class, race, gender/sex, and religious

groups” (p. 2). I agree with Rudolph (2002) that in the case of science textbooks, the scientific

community constitutes still another group exerting power over the process.

Analysis of the content of textbooks is not new. There have been analyses of biology, chemistry

and physics textbooks looking for various content presented or contexts portrayed. This includes

examination of how the history of science is portrayed within textbooks. But these analyses

examine how much history of science is found in science textbooks or how well the histories of

science within textbooks match what is suggested in curriculum documents. Allchin (2004)

argues that pseudohistory can be as misleading as pseudoscience in that it promotes a misleading

view of how science works as much as pseudoscience misleads in what science entails.

Analysis of the history of science within textbooks has been conducted recently by Wang (1998),

Narguizian (2002) Leite (2002). Wang’s study of four contemporary secondary school physics

textbooks was done to test if these textbooks follow the national content standards found in

Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993). She found the foci of the HOS passages within

the four textbooks she studied aligned with those of the standards documents. There were a

significant number of HOS units that could allow students to master scientific concepts. But she

found that they lacked in-depth elaboration - and were rather shallow. Wang suggested that “our

current textbooks need major ‘surgery’ to keep the essential content for effective science

instruction and learning” (Wang, 1998 p. xiv). The surgery was as much to add a more global

perspective to the processes and histories told as it was to remove what was not needed.

Paul Naruguizian (2002) performed a similar study of seven secondary school biology textbooks.

He examined what HOS is found in these biology textbooks and what degree of alignment does

the HOS in the textbook have with the standards documents. His findings indicated that “the

standards documents have not sufficiently influenced the content included in the science

textbooks examined and the understanding of the processes of science is unlikely when standards

documents along with contemporary science textbooks focus mostly on science content

knowledge through the history of science; the process and application of science should also be

emphasized” (Narguizian, 2002 p. xii). Both the history of science and nature of science seem to

be lacking from textbooks.


Research Questions

Given the apparent dearth of studies with regard to the nature of science within historical

accounts in science textbooks, despite the literature promoting both NOS and HOS and the

inclusion of both within curriculum and policy statements, three research questions came to


1. What nature of science is portrayed in history of science narratives/vignettes

within biology textbooks?
2. To what extent do subdisciplines of biology have different epistemic and
ontological underpinnings, and are these differences reflected in biology
3. How can these results be explained?

Choice of Textbooks

The subjects under study were a selection of topics within fourteen secondary school biology

textbooks used in Canadian high schools (see Table 1). In almost all jurisdictions of Canada,

high school biology exists as two courses, a junior and senior level. Some provinces, such as

Ontario further stream courses so there are two grade 11 biology courses, a “university “ course

and a “college” course; but there is only one senior biology course. The textbooks chosen for

this study cover the majority of jurisdictions in Canada. Each province in Canada maintains a

website where students, teachers, and the general public have access to resources, including a list

of approved or authorized biology textbooks. These lists were consulted and a provisional list of

textbooks was derived. The list was further reduced using the following criteria: only books in

print were eligible. The final list consisted of 14 textbooks covering every provincial jurisdiction

in Canada.

Books that were used in more than one province were given priority over those that were used in

only one province. This was done in the assumption that books in use in more than one province

would be used by more students than books used in a single province. The exceptions to this

were the case of Alberta and Ontario. In these provinces only textbooks specifically mentioned

in provincial documents could be used in the classroom. Further, publishers tailored these

textbooks to match the curricula of these provinces. Only one in print textbook is recommended

in Alberta and used nowhere else. There are more choices of in print textbooks in Ontario but

they too are used nowhere else. In both cases textbooks used in this study are currently in use

within classrooms.

Textbooks are divided into chapters and each chapter divided into individual topics. What may

be a single “topic” within one chapter of one textbook may be an entire chapter within another

textbook. There are, however, some broad topics that serve as starting points: cytology,

molecular biology, evolution, biochemistry, and physiology. These topics were chosen because

they represent the levels of organization present in biology textbooks and for their universality

among the textbooks chosen. Other topics, such as taxonomy, might be present in one textbook

but be absent in others. It must be admitted that although the topics were universal, the existence

of HOS units were not universal within them.

A gross analysis of the number and size of HOS units within the fourteen textbooks was

accomplished; the number of HOS units tabulated for each textbook and compared with the

number of words within each HOS unit. This was done to ensure that the size of HOS units were

consistent across the textbooks. The number of HOS units, themselves were compared to see if

any topic or topics were under-represented within the textbooks.

Each of these topics was examined for aspects of the history of science and for aspects of the

nature of science they portray. The textbooks first underwent an examination in which HOS units

were identified. This was based on the HOS codebook created by Wang (1998) in her study of

physics textbooks and then used by Narguizian (2002) in his content analysis of biology

textbooks. Narguizian’s study examined biology textbooks for examining how many HOS units

and what form they took within 7 biology textbooks. The current study differs from Narguizian’s

(2002) study in that the unit of inquiry is not the textbook but the topic and what NOS statements

can be gleaned from the HOS units. So, although use was made of the HOS unit codebook

(Wang, 1998), it was used only to identify the HOS units within the topics examined. The

qualitative coding was accomplished using constant comparative methods based on grounded

theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1999) and content analysis for epistemological and ontological coding

for nature of science (NOS) within HOS units was based on Loving’s STP (Loving, 1990, 1991)

(see appendix B). If a unit resisted coding, meaning no position on the two continua could be

ascertained, they were left blank and not included in the final analysis.

Constant Comparative Method of Qualitative Analysis

The textbooks were read and sections corresponding to historical vignettes were scanned into a

Microsoft Access database (see Appendix A). Along with pertinent information (page number,

location of vignette, topic, and textbook) there were 883 separate entries from all 14 textbooks.

These entries were separated into separate topics and exported into Microsoft Word. These

documents were then analyzed using Constant Comparative Method of Qualitative Analysis

(Glaser & Strauss, 1999). The “purpose of the constant comparative method of joint coding and

analysis is to generate theory more systematically … by using explicit coding and analytic

procedures” (Glaser & Strauss, 1999, p. 102, italics in original). So the entries were read and

while read a series of categories and properties emerge from the text. This is a method of theory

generation more than a method of theory testing.

The defining rule of the constant comparison method is the constant comparison: “while coding

an incident for a category, compare it to with the previous incidents in the same and different

groups coded in the same category” (Glaser & Strauss, 1999, p. 106). In this way theoretical

properties of the categories emerge. These theoretical properties would then be compared with

the results of the content analysis.

Content Analysis

The texts underwent a content analysis, described in Krippendorf (2004) as “empirically

grounded method, exploratory in process, and predictive or inferential in intent” (p. xvii). This

particular study is a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods. Each of the 14 textbooks

was read from cover to cover and portions of text illustrating the history of science were isolated.

These portions were termed HOS units through the application of HsingChi Wang’s codebook

(Wang, 1998). In her study, Wang prepared the HOS unit codebook in which she established

rules for selecting a coding unit, rules for defining whether a unit is perceived as an HOS unit,

examples of HOS units and exercises in identifying whether a unit is a HOS unit. A more robust

statement of how HOS units were established can be found in Appendix A below.

Of the possible forms of analysis: rhetorical, narrative, discourse, and normative, and others,

content analysis was chosen because textbooks lend themselves most easily to a content analysis

given the time constraints of the current project. A semiotic analysis of the whole textbooks

concerning both the history of science and nature of science was possible but would be a job

bigger than a single individual could undertake in the time allotted. The design chosen was a

priori in that the HOS codebook of Wang (1998) was chosen before the study began and HOS

units became the unit of analysis and the NOS coding relied on Loving (1990). This codebook

served only as a method of identifying HOS vignettes within textbooks. As Neuendorf (2002)

points out, this a priori approach might be self-limiting, but the result can lead to creative and

innovative results. Finally a quantification of the categories in the study was used in the final


Intercoder Reliability

In any content analysis or qualitative study there is always the question of coding reliability but

what counts as an acceptable level of reliability is difficult to identify (Neuendorf, 2002).

Arbitrary criteria (such as .8 to .9 in almost any index) must be balanced against the type of study

and the implications of the study. Krippendorf (2004, p. 242) writes, “The choice of reliability

standards should always be related to the validity requirements imposed on the research results,

specifically to the costs of drawing the wrong conclusions. If the outcome of a content analysis

will affect someone’s life—such as in court proceedings—the analyst should not rely on data

whose probability of leading to a wrong decision is less that what is commonly accepted.

Krippendorf’s alpha is a measurement to compare agreement relative to chance selection. The

index itself must be seen within the context of the study itself. He writes, the “choice of

reliability standards should always be related to the validity requirements imposed on the

research results, specifically to the costs of drawing wrong conclusions. If the outcome of a

content analysis will affect someone’s life—such as in court proceedings—the analyst should not

rely on data whose probability of leading to a wrong decision is less than what is commonly

accepted” (Krippendorf, 2004:242). An index of 0.8 would be fine for the current study but a

study involving medical treatment would require a higher index for reliability.

Another view of reliability depends not on mathematical indices but on transparency,

communicability, and coherence (Auerbach and Silverstein, 2003). Under these criteria a study is

transparent if other researchers can follow the steps taken to reach interpretations. Other

researchers do not necessarily have to agree with the interpretation, only how researcher arrived

at that interpretation. Communicability refers to other researchers understanding the themes and

constructs within a study and that they make sense. Finally, coherence in this context refers to

how well theoretical constructs fit together to tell a story. It need not be the only story but that

story helps to organize data (Auerbach & Silverstein, 2003). Given the small study described

here the first two criteria are easily met, the third will be discussed below.

Table 1: List of Textbooks used

ISBN Publisher Author Year Title
007088708 McGraw-Hill Galbraith et al. 2001 Biology 11
070887136 McGraw-Hill Blake et al. 2002 Biology 12
070916764 McGraw-Hill Bullard et al. 2003 Biology (Atlantic Edition)
72421975 McGraw-Hill Sylvia S. Mader 2006 Inquiry into Life
78299004 McGraw-Hill Biggs et al. 2004 BIOLOGY: THE DYNAMICS OF
Glencoe LIFE
176038604 Nelson Canada Ritter et al. 1993 Nelson Biology Alberta Edition
176038701 Nelson Canada Ritter et al. 1993 Nelson Biology National edition
176049770 Nelson Canada Ritter et al. 1996 Nelson Biology B.C. Edition
176121005 Nelson Canada Ritter et al. 2002 Nelson Biology 11 Ontario edition
179121447 Nelson Canada Ritter et al. 2003 Nelson 12 Biology Ontario edition
201221292 Addison Wesley Kormondy and 1988 Biology: A Systems Approach
201257610 Addison-Wesley Essenfeld, Gontang 1994 Biology
and Moore
201708027 Addison Wesley Bowers, et al. 2002 Biology 11
471795267 John Wiley and Berry, Gordon, S., 1990 Biology of Ourselves: Second
Sons Canada David C. Lynn Edition




The purpose of this study was to examine the nature of science presented within historical

vignettes (HOS units) in biology textbooks and provide a possible explanation for these views.

To that end the first analysis involved a coding using constant comparison methods of all the

HOS units from all the textbooks. HOS units were coded by textbook and by topic (i.e. all HOS

units within a textbook were examined and then all HOS units within each topic were examined

across textbooks).

Topic: Biochemistry
Publisher: McGraw-Hill

The textbooks within this group show a nature of science that is based on discovery and

empiricism. Very often work is merely described as ‘discoveries’ or ‘studies’ with little or no

detail as to how these discoveries were made or what form the studies took. Examples of this


In the mid-1980s, researchers discovered the enzyme kinesin, a motor protein that converts
the energy of ATP into mechanical work. Kinesin and other motor proteins that have been
identified are found in most eukaryotes (Blake et al., 2002, p. 57)


Recent studies on synthetic oligosaccharides (carbohydrates composed of a relatively small
number of monosaccharides) indicate they have great potential as therapeutic agents. (Blacke
et al., 2002, p. 57)


According to Dr. Richard Rivkin of Memorial's Ocean Sciences Centre, tiny micro-
organisms floating in the upper ocean can help us understand how oceans respond to global
climate changes. He has been studying the importance of food-web processes as they control
oceanic biogenic carbon cycles and ocean-atmosphere carbon dioxide exchanges, and
Science, a highly prestigious U.S.-based science journal, featured his research in its March
2001 edition. (Bullard et al., 2003), p. 89)

There is little real explanation of what is actually taking place in these vignettes. Along with the

vague empiricism this projects there is an idealization of what scientists accomplish. Two

McGraw-Hill books, Mader (2006) and Galbraith et. al (1999) had no HOS units within the topic

of biochemistry. With regard to placement on Loving’ STP all HOS units within these textbooks

coded into the rational-real quadrant.

Publisher: Nelson Canada

The textbooks within the Nelson group also show an emphasis on observation but emphasize

observations made during experiments. There was also a tendency to dramatize discoveries,

“Watson and Crick might not have been credited as the co-discoverers of DNA were it not for

politics” (Ritter et al. 1993a, p. 521; Ritter et al. 1993b p. 623; Ritter et al., 1996 p. 613) and

emphasize the epic nature of some of them, “James Watson and Francis Crick were awarded the

Nobel Prize for physiology/medicine in 1962 for what many people believe to be he most

significant discovery of the twentieth century.” (Ritter et al., 1993a, p. 521; Ritter et al., 1993b,

p. 613; Ritter et al., 1996, p. 613). Other topics within this unit also emphasized the epic and the

scientists mentioned appeared almost heroic in this light, “Ingram’s investigation showed that a

gene specifies the kind and location of each amino acid in of a given polypeptide chain. The

significance of Ingram’s findings is that he linked a human hereditary abnormality to a single

alteration in the amino acid sequence of a protein. Many hereditary diseases, such as hemophilia

and cystic fibrosis, have been traced to alterations in a single gene.” (Ritter et al., 2003, p. 235)

Many HOS units illustrated a positivist stance with comments such as “After Ingenhousz proved

that it was the green part of a plant that carried out photosynthesis, scientists began to purify and

experiment with the green material they called chlorophyll.” (Ritter et al. 2003, p. 151) and

“Having proven that the soil was not responsible for the tree’s increase in mass, he incorrectly

concluded that the absorption of water was responsible” (Ritter et al. 2003, p. 149).

The great majority of HOS units within biochemistry were coded into the rational-real quadrant

of the STP (24 out of 27 HOS units). The remaining HOS units coded within the Rational-

Instrumental quadrant.

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

The HOS units within textbooks of this publisher emphasized the technology used to arrive at

knowledge. There is still mention of experimentation and observation but the focus is on the

technology used. For example, Essenfeld, Gontag and Moore (1994), in describing the work of

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin on the structure wrote more of her work with microcomputers in

analyzing her results than in her use of x-rays in generating the data. This was the one and only

HOS unit within the biochemistry topic for this textbook. Bowers et al. (2002) also emphasizes

technology in the HOS units within biochemistry. All biochemistry HOS units coded into the

Rational-Real quadrant of the STP.


With the exceptions mentioned under the specific publishers the nature of science exhibited by

biochemistry is an empiricist and realist view of science where experiments serve primarily as

theory testers and the purpose of the science described is to serve society or industry. By far the

great majority of HOS units in biochemistry coded into the Rational-Realist quadrant of the STP.

Topic: Cytology
Publisher: McGraw-Hill

There is an emphasis in these textbooks on observation as theory generators and experiments as

theory testers. What is curious is how some contradictory messages are presented within

cytology HOS units. For example, “scientists and thinkers of the seventeenth century debate the

nature of reproduction as they seek answers to the question, ‘Where does life come from?’ Some

say that the appearance of mushrooms on logs and maggots in unsalted meat supports Aristotle's

idea of spontaneous generation. Others, such as the English physician William Harvey (1578-

1657), challenge strongly held beliefs about the origin and workings of life. He suggests that

maggots hatch from eggs that are too small to be seen.” (Bullard et al., 2003, p. 8). Aristotle is

presented as an adversary to Harvey but it must be seen that Harvey was proposing a non-

empirical speculation. If the maggots are too small to be seen how can Harvey suggest their

existence, especially since this was done before microscopes were commonplace? Harvey’s ideas

are presented because they appear to match current views. Aristotle is further vilified a couple of

pages later, “In the late 1830s, many scientists still reject the conclusions of Brown, Schleiden,

and Schwann, even though these conclusions are based on repeated observations. Aristotle's

influence, and the scientific and public support for spontaneous generation, was still strong.

Some scientists argue that if plants are inferior to animals, as Aristotle taught, how could they

have such similar structures?” (Bullard et al., 2003, p. 10). Aristotle acts as adversary to the

heroic scientists who tried to show the errors of an authoritarian view of biology. Further, the

importance of observation is shown in the same quote illustrating that observations are presented

as conclusive in their own right.

The importance of observation as theory generator can be seen in excerpts such as: “In the

1600s, Anton van Leeuwenhoek was the first person to view living organisms through a

microscope. Another scientist, Robert Hooke, named the structures cells. Two hundred years

later, several scientists, including Matthias Schleiden, Theodor Schwann, and Rudolf Virchow

continued to study animal and plant tissues under the microscope. Conclusions from many

scientists were combined to form the cell theory: 1. All organisms are composed of one or more

cells. 2. The cell is the basic unit of organization of organisms. 3. All cells come from

preexisting cells.” (Biggs et al., 2004, p. 244).

All HOS units in cytology in all textbooks by this publisher coded within the Rational-Realist


Publisher: Nelson Canada

With a few exceptions all the books published by Nelson were written by the same people. In

fact many of the HOS units were word-for-word identical in different textbooks. For this reason,

many of the themes derived from one textbook are applicable to the others as well. The emphasis

among the cytology HOS units is also observation as theory generator and experiment as theory

tester. The major theme is one of empiricism and positivism. Only the observable can lead to

knowledge and testing of that knowledge also requires observation. Although theorizing is

present throughout (as in the development of the cell theory) it is presented as unproblematic and

contrary views are presented so to show their inadequacy rather than serious scientific


There is a rational-realist approach that borders on whiggism or inevitablism. In discussing the

experiments of Needham and Redi the authors treat Needham’s methodology as flawed because

he arrived at ‘wrong’ conclusion and accept the very same methodology of Pasteur because his

results agree with what is believed today. Consider:

Needham boiled flasks containing nutrient meat broth in loosely sealed flasks for a few
minutes in order to kill the microbes. The solutions appeared 1? clear after boiling. The
flasks were then left for a few days and the murky contents were examined under a
microscope. The broth was teeming with microorganisms. Could this mean that the broth had
spontaneously created microbes? Needham rushed to retest the experiment, using different
nutrient solutions. Despite the boiling, the microbes reappeared a few days later. Needham
concluded that the microbes had come from nonliving things in the nutrient broth. Needham's

conclusions sent many scientists down the wrong pathway. Let us re-examine his experiment
to understand why. One of the difficulties arose from the fact that the flasks were not sealed
properly-the tiny microbes could have entered the flasks after boiling. Another difficulty
resulted from the design of his I experiment. The fact that the flasks appeared clear
immediately after boiling did not mean that all the microorganisms were destroyed. If only a
few of the tiny microbes had survived, they would be able to multiply to millions within a
few days. Needham did not check the flasks for microbes immediately after boiling. Even if
he had checked the flasks, it is unlikely that he would have found any of the remaining
microbes. Each drop of the nutrient would have to be examined, and such an examination
might even infect the flask. (Ritter et al. 1993b, p. 27)

Compare how Ritter et al. (1993b) then describe Pasteur’s work on the very same page: “In

1864, Pasteur had a glassworker develop a pedal swan-necked flask. Broth was placed in the

flask and subsequently boiled to destroy the microbes. Air passed from the flask during boiling.

Fresh air entered the flask as the flask cooled. However, the microbes were trapped in the curve

of the flask and were not carried into the broth from the surrounding air. Because the broth

remained clear, Pasteur predicted that microbes were not present. A microscopic examination of

the nutrient broth confirmed his prediction.” (p. 27). The microscopic examination that would

have not proven anything if Needham had done it suddenly becomes proof positive when Pasteur

does it. This also illustrates the heroic or epic nature of science that is given as examples

throughout these textbooks. Those scientists whose works agree with much of what we believe

today are painted with a very sympathetic brush; their errors either brushed out or erased

altogether. Those scientists whose work has since been superseded or discredited serve as bad

examples or at worst adversaries that heroic scientists have to overcome.

All but one of the HOS units in cytology within this group of texts coded within the Rational-

Real quadrant of the STP.

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

There is direct evidence in these books, despite being written by different authors of the same

empiricist leanings that were found in the previous books. The emphasis is on observation

leading to theory in a straightforward, unproblematic, and inductive manner. In fact, in

Essenfeld, Gontag and Moore (1994) we see, “in 1838, German botanist Matthias Schleiden

studied a variety of plants and concluded that all plants "are aggregates of fully individualized,

independent, separate beings, namely the cells themselves." This was a brilliant case of inductive

reasoning. Inductive reasoning is an important skill in which the scientist makes generalizations

based on specific observations” (p. 65). Similar statements are made in Mader (2006), “the

German microscopes Matthias Schleiden said that plants are composed of cells; his counterpart,

Theodor Schwann, said that animals are also made up of living units called cells. This was quite

a feat, because aside from their own exhausting examination of tissues, both had to take into

consideration the studies of many other microscopes” (p. 46). Again, an unproblematic extension

from observation to theory. It would be impossible to study every organism on the planet to

absolutely conclude that cells form the basis of all living things so there must have come a point

where the induction was compromised and conclusions reached. But that is not mentioned and a

naïve intuitivism results.

Essenfeld, Gontag and Moore (year) also offer this curious statement: “Science is a search for

truth. Although truth is not affected by politics, the business of science often is.” (p. 101). The

authors then go on to report how Heinrich Warburg was removed from his post for being half

Jewish; clearly showing the impact of the local societal context in scientific work. This is

mentioned not because it was a recurrent theme but because it stands out as the only statement of

the textbooks studied that shows any societal context within HOS units in cytology.


There are omissions that get repeated in every book from every publisher studied. For example,

the cell theory is ascribed to many people but primarily to Schleiden, Schwann, and Virchow.

There were many people involved in the formation of the cell theory but the most glaring

omission is that of Rene-Joachim-Henri Dutrochet (Rich, 1926). Dutrochet published a paper

that, in 1824, made many of the same points that Schleiden made in 1838, and Schwann, in 1839.

This is not without some controversy as Gerould (1922) and Wilson (1947) doubt Dutrochet

could have seen nuclei given the equipment he had at his disposal. Regardless, the history of the

cell theory and cytology is misrepresented when Dutrochet’s work is ignored.

All textbooks examined emphasized empiricism and rationalism. Realism was promoted in the

statements made regarding how the results of cytological research are used, mainly industry and


Topic: Evolution
Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Evolution HOS units within these textbooks almost all contain some mention of observation. For

the most part observation plays the role of theory generator and, in rare cases, even theory tester.

Experimentation, when mentioned, is also used as theory tester. There is also mixture of

induction and consiliences. These seem to be the major ways these HOS units describe how

stable knowledge is arrived at: induction, for example, “Darwin spent hours on shore observing

and collecting thousands of specimens in the diverse environments that the ship visited, from the

towering Andes Mountains to the Brazilian jungle. Darwin gathered evidence and made many

important observations that led him to realize how life forms change over time and vary from

place to place.” (Blake et al., 2002, p. 342; Bullard et al., 2003, p. 652) and consilience, “Charles

Darwin assembled a group of facts that had previously seemed unrelated in The Origin of

Species. However, before and after publication of this book, biologists, geologists, geographers,

paleontologists, and other scientists provided a wealth of information that supported and

strengthened the theory of evolution. Evidence in support of evolution has come from the fossil

record, the sciences of genetics and molecular biology, the geographic distribution of organisms

on Earth, and studies comparing the anatomy of adult and embryonic animals.” (Blake et al.,

2002, p. 349).

Although a rational and realist view is found in the majority of HOS units (as seen in discussion

about experiments testing theories) there were a noticeable number of HOS units that point to an

instrumentalist view, including a few HOS units that seem to discuss theories based on pure

speculation without mention of observation or experimentation. In Bullard et al. (2003), HOS

units discuss, very briefly, Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, panspermia and the next page,

‘intelligent design’. All these theories provide no explanation of how these theories were derived

but mention only names of people who believe these theories.

Publisher: Nelson Canada.

HOS units within these texts showed a reliance on observation and reason. Just as the McGraw-

Hill textbooks, observation serves as theory generator but these texts also mention the use of

reason in synthesizing theories. Ritter et al. (1993b) has a table outlining, explicitly, the

characteristics of scientific theories:

ƒ Theories try to explain observed events in a manner that shows cause-and-effect

ƒ Theories are developed through the imagination of scientists, and are often based on
experimental results.
ƒ Theories allow scientists to make predictions about future events.
ƒ Theories are based on several assumptions, many of which are also theories.
ƒ Theories will be changed if they can no longer explain observed events.
(Ritter et al., 1993b, p. 690)

These points seem reasonable but not all of them are addressed in the HOS units in evolution.

The third point, that theories are used to predict future events, is not found in these HOS units (or

may not even be possible in evolution). Also the great majority of HOS units emphasize the first

point, sometimes to the exclusion of all the others. The end result is an unproblematic link

between observation and theory.

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

The HOS units of these textbooks emphasize empiricism and do discuss how observations can

lead to differing interpretations as theories. Punctuated equilibria is a case in point. The same

observations are used to promote both phyletic gradualism and punctuated equilibria (Kormondy

and Essenfeld, 1988; Essenfeld, Gontag, & Moore, 1994). Overall, there is a positivist tone to the

HOS units despite the inclusion of scientific debate.


There is a tendency, in all the textbooks that mention Lamarck, to portray Darwin in a heroic

light by comparing his ideas in a more favourable way than the ideas of Lamarck. Lamarck’s

inheritance of acquired characteristics is compared unflatteringly with natural selection.

Unfortunately, that neglects Darwin’s use of ‘gemmules’. Darwin (1883), before the concept of

the gene was established, favoured postulated particles, gemmules, which are collected from all

parts of the body to form the heritable material. Use and disuse influences the number of

gemmules produced and past on to the next generation, in other words, inheritance of acquired

characteristics. Yet this is the same mechanism that is used to distinguish Lamarck’s evolution

from Darwin’s evolution.

The NOS promoted in evolution is one of empiricism and rationalism. Observations are collected

and plausible explanations are constructed that purport to show how the phenomena observed

came to be. Unlike cytology and biochemistry, evolutionary theories do not lend themselves to

predictive experimentation. So what experimentation is described is usually done on a very small

scale and it is assumed that the results could be scaled up to species level and above. When

examined using Loving’s STP about three quarters of the HOS units coded rational-real. That

being said there are more instrumentalist views in these HOS units than in any other topic, as

borne out by the evolution HOS units accounting for half of all the instrumentalist views of all

the HOS units and a quarter of the HOS units in evolution.

Topic: Genetics
Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Genetics HOS units in these textbooks treats experimentation as both theory generator and

theory tester, specifically, Mendel’s experiments. In almost all cases the HOS units present a

logical positivist view of science and a realism that is never in doubt. Galbraith et al. (2001)

describe the contribution of Mendel thusly:

Knowledge of the mechanisms controlling inheritance came as a result of careful

experiments. This work was begun in 1853 by a monk in the monastery of St. Thomas in
Brunn (now Brno, in the Czech Republic) named Gregor Mendel (see Figure 4.5). Before his
work at the monastery, Mendel attended the University of Vienna, where his studies included
mathematics and botany. This training became especially important during Mendel’s study of
heredity. He conducted a series of experiments on plants over an eight-year period (1853–
1861). Following his experiments, Mendel published a paper outlining his conclusions. Why
did Mendel succeed in discovering the basis of inheritance when others before him had
failed? There are three key points to any successful experiment in biology: 1. choosing the

appropriate organism to study, 2. designing and performing the experiment correctly, and 3.
analyzing the data properly. (Galbraith et al., 2001, p. 123; Bullard et al., 2003, p. 527)

A realist view of genetics can be seen in the following excerpt from Bullard et al. (2003):

Mendel realized that a ratio of 9:3:3:1 could be explained if the alleles from one trait were
inherited independently of the alleles for another trait. This led Mendel to propose the law of
Independent assortment. This second law of inheritance states that the inheritance of alleles
for one trait does not affect the inheritance of alleles for another trait. According to the law of
independent assortment, different pairs of alleles are passed to the offspring independently of
each other. This means that offspring may have new combinations of alleles that are not
present in either parent. A pea plant's ability to produce white flowers instead of purple ones
does not influence the same pea plant's ability to produce a round pea shape rather than a
wrinkled pea shape. (Galbraith et al., 2001, p. 137; Bullard et al., 2003, p. 537)

There is no hint that any work performed by Mendel produces a model of nature. Instead, the

results are presented as laws and reflect reality. It is no surprise, then, that all HOS units but one

coded in the rational-realist quadrant.

Publisher: Nelson Canada

These HOS units also show a logical positivist stance with experimentation being both the source

of theories and how theories are tested. Just as in the McGraw-Hill texts, discussion of Mendel’s

work has a very realist slant, for example, “Mendel came to the correct conclusion, despite the

fact that he did not know the mechanism of meiosis. The principles of sex cell formation were

not discovered until 25 years after Mendel had completed his experiments.” (Ritter et al., 1993a,

p. 471; Ritter et al., 1993b, p. 573; Ritter et al., 1996, p. 143). But unlike the McGraw-Hill texts

some of the senior level textbooks took pains to illustrate societal influences, as in the political

influence of the Lamarckian Lysenko leading to the death of the mendelian Vavilov:

Despite an overwhelming flood of evidence that opposed Lysenko's theories, political

pressure ensured that his views dominated Soviet genetics. An academic argument between
Lysenko and the noted Soviet geneticist, Nikolai Vavilov, became political when Stalin sided
with Lysenko. On August 6, 1940, Vavilov was arrested and subsequently sentenced to death
for subversive acts. By his opposition to the theory of the inheritance of acquired
characteristics, Vavilov became a threat to communist economic and social philosophy. His
sentence was later reduced to ten years' imprisonment (Ritter et al., 1993a, p.480; Ritter et
al., 1993b, p.582; Ritter et al., 1996, p.152).

A particular HOS unit can serve as a warning against using scientific findings to justify social

interference. Here is the entire HOS unit that describes work done on prison inmates that led to

the belief that XYY males, or ‘supermales’, were more prone to violent behaviour:

In 1965, Patricia Jacobs, a well-respected geneticist, published an article on XYY males that
rocked the scientific community and fueled discussions for years to come. Jacobs suggested
that XYY males were prone to aggressive behavior. Drawing from a survey of 196 men from
a high-security hospital in Scotland, Jacobs linked the XYY condition with subnormal
intelligence and tendencies for violence and crime. Testing indicated that 3.5% of the violent
men had the XYY condition--a frequency 20 times greater than that found in the normal
population. Jacobs noted that the XYY men also tended to be somewhat taller than the
general population. Jacob's results were supported by other researchers who confirmed the
disproportionate numbers of XYY men in prison. By the late 1960s, the belief that criminals
were being driven by some sinister genes had gained wide acceptance. The linking of a
genetic condition to violent behavior was quickly embraced by those who believed that
criminals are born, not made. Some lawyers even suggested that their clients were not guilty
of wrongdoings because of their genetic predisposition to crime. Sensationalized trials and

misreported scientific data led to a flood of paranoia. Some scientists and political leaders
even called for public screening to protect against genetic criminals, and Canada did allow
mass testing of male infants for XYY. By the mid-1970s, however, scientists began to
question the scientific basis for linking the double Y condition with crime. It is now accepted
that most XYY people show no greater tendency toward violence that the normal population.
The higher incidence of people with XYY in prison and mental institutions has been
explained by learning difficulties that may have contributed to frustration and antisocial
behavior. In addition, some XYY children may have been victims of a tragic self-fulfilling
prophecy. Today, a tendency toward tallness is the only characteristic of the XYY condition
accepted by scientists. (Ritter et al., 1993a, p.460; Ritter et al., 1993b, p.539; Ritter et al.,
1996, p.133).

Despite the danger of misrepresenting and misusing science there seems to be no other way that

the nature of science is projected. Science is a rational and realistic venture. What is theorized

represents the world as it really is despite the danger to members of society as a result of

misinterpreting data.

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

Textbooks within this group emphasize both the rational and realist aspects of genetics. The

rational can be seen in the importance placed on the mathematical analysis by Mendel of his

results. Bowers (2002, p. 155), writes, “Mendel's success in demonstrating the basis of heredity

is not surprising. He was armed with some of the most advanced scientific and mathematical

knowledge of the day. He knew that duplicating his experimental crosses thousands of times

would lend validity to his results and his explanations as well. Mendel’s applications of

mathematics, and in particular of probability, were rare in the field of science in the mid 1800s”.

Similar comments are made in Kormondy and Essenfeld (1988, p. 532), “Mendel made hundreds

of crosses using contrasting expressions of the same trait. He recorded the number and

appearance of the offspring of each cross. By applying mathematical principles to his careful

observations, Mendel figured out three principles of heredity that have become the basic laws of

genetics”. The fact that Mendel threw out 15 traits and studied only data from the 7 that gave

him mathematically consistent results is never mentioned (Mendel, 1865). Realism is seen in

how the gene was accepted as reality even before the material of heredity was identified.

Essenfeld, Gontag and Moore (1994, p. 168) write of the search for the structure of the gene, that

“once DNA was shown to be the genetic material, a race among scientists was on to work out its

structure”. Not only was the gene real but it consisted of DNA and the structure would lead to

understanding the function of genes.

Genetics is described in two ways within these texts, as a lone activity (typified by descriptions

of Mendel’s work) or cooperative affairs in which discoveries are made by teams. Kormondy

and Essenfeld explicitly state this when they write, “Progress in science requires cooperation.

Scientists cooperate by publishing their findings and forming teams to work together on the same

problem. Scientists loan one another equipment and sometimes even trained personnel”

(Kormondy & Essenfeld, 1988, p. 456). It should be pointed out that publication, in this case, is

meant to only to assist other scientists. The dictum of ‘publish or perish’ is not found in any

these textbooks, nor of the others in this study.


Genetics, perhaps more so than any other topic discussed in these textbooks is the most

experimental. Experiments yield theories which are then tested in new experiments. Except for a

single textbook, all the rest contained the most HOS units within the genetics topic. What is

expressed appears very positivistic and it should not be a surprise that when examined using

Loving STP the vast majority of the HOS units coded within the rational-real quadrant (227 out

of 237 HOS units).

Perhaps more telling might be how scientists are described within these HOS units. Mendel is

almost iconic in these descriptions. Take, for example, this question and answer from Galbratih

et al. (2001, p. 132), “Why did Mendel succeed in discovering the basis of inheritance when

others before him had failed? There are three key points to any successful experiment in biology:

1. choosing the appropriate organism to study, 2. designing and performing the experiment

correctly, and 3. analyzing the data properly”, and from Ritter et al. (1996, p. 144), “Mendel was

one of the first biologists to perform careful experiments, and to record and interpret quantitative

data. He often repeated procedures many times to support his conclusions. Prior to Mendel, the

application of mathematical concepts to biology was not common. Gregor Mendel is considered

to be the father of genetics. Even today, biologists refer to the study of a particular type of

inheritance as Mendelian genetics”. It would appear that Mendel did no wrong. Add to this the

story of his work languishing forgotten until 3 scientists independently discovering Mendel’s

paper in 1900 and you have a story of drama, scientific virtue and final vindication. Not to take

anything from Mendel’s work or influence, for his work was seminal, there is real history that is

overlooked in these HOS units. Mendel’s original 1865 paper (found in Peters, 1959) contains,

basically, the same thing as written up in the HOS units but the details are different. For

example, Mendel did use 7 traits but he started with 34 varieties, whittled them down to 22, and

then dropped 15 of them because crosses among them were confusing:

In all, thirty–four more or less distinct varieties of Peas were obtained from several seedsmen
and subjected to a two year’s trial. In the case of one variety there were noticed, among a
larger number of plants all alike, a few forms which were markedly different. These,
however, did not vary in the following year, and agreed entirely with another variety
obtained from the same seedsman; the seeds were therefore doubtless merely accidentally
mixed. All the other varieties yielded perfectly constant and similar offspring; at any rate, no
essential difference was observed during two trial years. For fertilization twenty–two of these
were selected and cultivated during the whole period of the experiments. They remained
constant without any exception. Their systematic classification is difficult and uncertain. If
we adopt the strictest definition of a species, according to which only those individuals
belong to a species which under precisely the same circumstances display precisely similar
characters, no two of these varieties could be referred to one species…The various forms of
Peas selected for crossing showed differences in length and color of the stem; in the size and
form of the leaves; in the position, color, size of the flowers; in the length of the flower stalk;
in the color, form, and size of the pods; in the form and size of the seeds; and in the color of
the seed–coats and of the albumen (endosperm). Some of the characters noted do not permit
of a sharp and certain separation, since the difference is of a “more or less” nature, which is
often difficult to define. Such characters could not be utilized for the separate experiments;
these could only be applied to characters which stand out clearly and definitely in the plants.
Lastly, the result must show whether they, in their entirety, observe a regular behavior in
their hybrid unions, and whether from these facts any conclusion can be reached regarding
those characters which possess a subordinate significance in the type. (Mendel, 1865, quoted
in Peters, 1959, pp. 3-4)

Also, there seems to be no mention of the Mendel’s second law in Mendel’s paper. That appears

to have been a later interpretation of his work. Also, Mendel did not use the standard symbols we

use today to describe homozygous genotypes. We are used to seeing AA and aa but in Mendel’s

own paper we see:

If A be taken as denoting one of the two constant characters, for instance the dominant, a, the
recessive, and Aa the hybrid form in which both are conjoined, the expression
A + 2Aa + a
shows the terms in the series for the progeny of the hybrids of two differentiating characters.
(Mendel, 1865, quoted in Peters, 1959, p. 10)

There is no mention of diploid AA for homozygous dominant or aa for homozygous recessive.

As Allchin (2003) points out, Mendel wasn’t as Mendelian as first thought.

But this topic, containing the most HOS units, also contains the most intriguing of scenarios.

From the point of view of NOS we have the political interference of Lysenko, we have the tragic

drama of Rosalind Franklin, the atypical work of Watson and Crick garnering results and awards,

the standard empiricism and experimentation of T.H. Morgan, to name but a few. This topic,

more than any other, shows the range of human activity involved in biology. The overall

distribution of HOS units still support a view of rationalism and realism but there are HOS units

that point to other, successful, ways of carrying out science.

Topic: Physiology
Publisher: McGraw-Hill

Like the HOS units of the genetics unit these HOS units portray experimentation as the source of

theories. This is not to say that observation of nature is not important but the HOS units in these

textbooks start most discussions at the point where the researcher did the experiment. Where no

experiment is mentioned theory is treated as pure speculation. In fact, the only time the words

‘believe’ or ‘belief’ are mentioned is in the form of speculation. For example, Galbraith et al.

(2001, p. 288), “In the second century, the Greek physician, Galen, proposed that blood ebbed

and flowed within the body like the tides of the ocean, causing the heart to enlarge suddenly and

rhythmically. He also believed that the arterial and venous systems were largely separate, and

that blood flowed out of both vessels to be absorbed by the flesh. This theory held sway for

over a thousand years. It was not until the seventeenth century that an Englishman named

William Harvey established that mammals have a cyclic circulatory system” (also in Bullard et

al., 2003, p304). Harvey established this with experimentation (as expressed in other HOS units

within these textbooks), we are not told what Galen used as the basis of his beliefs. But Galen,

perhaps the most prolific and least read of the ancient Greeks (Singer, 1997), did not arrive at his

conclusion through pure speculation. Being, at one time, physician to gladiators, Galen would

have observed the workings of the human body, especially when injured. William Harvey,

himself, describes experiments Galen did in his book on the circulation of blood (Harvey, 1923,

orig. 1628).

HOS units in these textbooks exhibit a severely positivist view is present in almost every HOS

unit imagined. There is complete acceptance that science, through experimentation, can provide

answers as to how organisms function and the realist viewpoint is maintained in any HOS unit

where medical techniques or technology is described. There is no instrumentalist statements

which cast doubt on the results of experiments. The scientists portrayed in these HOS units are

often portrayed as heroic (Milne, 1998). One HOS unit explicitly refers to Banting and Best as

“global heroes” (Bullard et al., 2003, p. 739). The other HOS units use the Nobel prize as

indicative of the larger than life aspect of these scientists.

Publisher: Nelson-Canada

As in the HOS units found in the McGraw-Hill textbooks the HOS units in these textbooks also

portray experimentation as the source and tester of theories. Here, too, Galen is presented as the

authority figure of the past that more modern scientists ‘fought’ against to find the truth.

Consider, “Although he provided many enlightening theories, Galen is best known for steering

scientists in the wrong direction” (Ritter et al. 1993a, p. 245; Ritter et al. 1993b, p. 139; Ritter et

al. 1996, p. 729). Galen is the authority and adversary that scientists had to fight to arrive at the

correct answer. This is yet another example of the drama Allchin (2003) writes about.

In these texts, the HOS units present a rational, real, and positivist viewpoint. There is no doubt

placed on the results of experiments. The experiments are definitive and their interpretation

straightforward. The methodology is sometimes explicit and in one case in particular, perhaps

too explicit. Ritter et al. (1996), write:

In the 1880s Wilhelm Kuhne, a German physiologist, performed a series of bizarre

experiments that underscored the similarities between the actions of the retina and
photographic emulsion. Kuhne placed a rabbit in a dark room and fixed its vision on a barred
window, the only source of light in the room. Using a dark cloth, Kuhne covered the rabbit's
eyes for 10 minutes and then once again fixed them on the window for 2 min. Immediately,
Kuhne decapitated the rabbit and placed its eyes in an alum solution, which fixed the image.
The following day, Kuhne examined the eye and found an imprint of the window on the
animal's retina. Kuhne repeated the experiments, using progressively more complicated
images. Although he was certain that the human retina would behave in much the same
manner, he had no experimental proof. In November 1880, Kuhne was presented with the
opportunity to test his theory: he was able to secure the head of a criminal who had been

beheaded. Following the same procedure as he had with the rabbit, Kuhne was able to fix the
criminal's final image (Ritter et al., 1996, p. 874).

That there is no mention of the ethics of such experiments points to the apparent dispassionate

nature of science portrayed within these HOS units. But what is really intriguing is the number of

HOS units in physiology within these textbooks (all the textbooks studied, not just the Nelson

textbooks) that portray an almost recipe-like explanation of methodology. Compare this to the

biochemistry HOS units where almost no explanation of methodology is present.

Publisher: Addison-Wesley

HOS units in these texts, just as the previous texts all contain an emphasis on the rational, real,

and positivist views of science. The one thing that appears to stand out is the emphasis on

medicine within all the HOS units. Other than that, there is no difference between these books

and those of the previously mentioned publishers.

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons

This publisher is represented by a single textbook, Berry and Lynn (1990), and by a single HOS

unit in the entire text seen below, in it’s entirety:

Dr. Wilder Penfield, a foremost authority on the human brain, pioneered the mapping of
much of the human brain. He determined the areas of the brain responsible for many
functions previously not known. One of his particular achievements was isolating the portion
of the brain responsible for epilepsy. In people with epileptic seizures, certain regions of the
cortex of the brain are damaged. As a result, the electrical charges increase and produce

violent reactions or seizures. In addition to mapping the cortex of the brain, and establishing
the motor, sensory, and psychological areas present, Dr. Penfield discovered how to remove
the cells that caused these violent electrical "storms" within the brain and freed many patients
from the distress of epilepsy. Dr. Penfield received worldwide recognition for his
contributions to medical science. He was a Companion of the Order of Canada and received
the British Order of Merit, an honour conferred on only 25 people, including such individuals
as Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Lester B. Pearson (Berry & Lynn, 1990, p.

Despite the single HOS unit we can see empiricism and a narrative ‘larger than life’ aspect given

to Dr. Wilder Penfield. Although Penfield’s work was indeed important, it is granted extra

weight by the association with other history-makers and the rarity of the award received. There

is not much that points specifically to whether this HOS unit is epistemologically rational or

natural but one might argue that poking around in people’s brains does suggest a realistic stance.

Summary of HOS units

There is no topic in biology that can be said to have less history than another topic. One might

argue that the older topics might have a richer history but then physiology and cytology would

have been represented by more HOS units than genetics and evolution but that was not seen in

the study here (see Figure 1). We see here a dearth of historical vignettes within the topic of


N u m b e r o f H O S u n it s p e r U n it

3 5 0

Number of HOS units 3 0 0

2 5 0

2 0 0

1 5 0

1 0 0

5 0

B io c h e m is t r y c y t o lo g y E v o lu t io n G e n e t ic s P h y s io lo g y

U n it

Figure 1 Distribution of HOS units among all textbooks studied

Taken together the HOS units are definitely concentrated in the rational-real quadrant of the

STP. When the ends of the continua are tabulated separately there were 543 HOS units that were

coded rational, 513 that were coded real, 13 were coded naturalistic and 43 were coded

instrumental. Given the literature in recent years about the nature of science and the different

philosophies of how science is done the low numbers of HOS units showing a naturalistic

viewpoint could not have been predicted (See table 2). A more telling image is that presented in

figure 2, below. Here, the numbers of HOS units are plotted within Loving’s STP according to

how they were coded. There is a uniformity of epistemology and ontology that is not in keeping

with statements made by philosophers and historians of science.

Table 2
Rational- Natural- Rational- Natural-
Topic Real Real Instrumental Instrumental
Biochemistry 35 3
Cytology 69 2 4
Evolution 55 3 19 2
Genetics 227 1 4 5
Physiology 121 5 2
Total 507 6 35 9

Intercoder reliability was measured using Krippendorf’s alpha reliability index (Krippendorf,

2004). Two separate indices were calculated, one for the epistemological coding and one for the

ontological coding. Krippendorf’s alpha for epistemological coding was 0.83 and for ontological

coding was 0.70. This was close to the raw percentage of agree/disagree with regard to coding,

0.8 for both epistemological and ontological coding.


It is unlikely a particular topic should have randomly more HOS units than another. Even the

youngest of science would still have a rich history. It is also unlikely that this same topic should

have randomly more HOS text in the majority of texts under study. There should be a reason or

reasons; therefore, that genetics has more HOS units than all other topics. There also should also

be a reason why biochemistry has such a low number of HOS units in the texts under study. If

random chance is not considered then possible explanations can be examined. The first is that

textbooks tell the same stories as other textbooks and so their similarity is due to a lack of

imagination on the part of the authors or that there is something within the topics themselves that

lend themselves to this treatment. In other words, genetics contains more HOS units because

genetics itself makes use of its own history to explain and justify itself.

It may be that the sheer complexity of biological entities requires more for explication than is

comparably required in chemistry or physics. One concept that physicists and chemists have that

biologists cannot depend on is interchangeability. “Biologists study objects that have (and vary

in) information content and whose history matters, whereas chemists typically study inanimate

objects such as atoms and molecules that are essentially interchangeable” (Fisher, Wandersee, &

Moody, 2000). The fact that living things replicate and change over time in a manner that cannot

be governed by a strictly mathematical algorithm means that discussions about evolution,

genetics, and developmental biology require a narrative to be understood (Moore, 1993).

Figure 2: Comparison of the number of HOS units within each quadrant of the STP.

It may be that the distribution of HOS units reflects how the scientists who work within these

subdomains write about their subjects. But before this is interpreted as a scenario describing

things as they should be, it should be pointed out there is no good reason why more HOS units in

biochemistry should not be included. Often the only HOS within biochemical sections refers to

the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, a topic that is also woven into the

history of genetics. Why there should be no discussion of how Krebs arrived at the first cellular

biochemical cycle in any textbook I have seen (I am speaking of many more textbooks than the

sample I discuss in this study) is frustrating. The Krebs cycle is found in most secondary school

biology textbooks but how we know what we claim to know about it is missing in all of them.

Michel Morange (1998) contends that genetics maintained its separation from other biological

sub disciplines by the nature of its birth:

Genetics rapidly developed into a separate discipline that had little contact with other
branches of biology. Far from being a handicap, this institutionalized isolation benefited the
new science. Genetics made its greatest steps forward where it developed its own particular
character as a new subject—in particular in the United States. In those countries where
genetics was not recognized as an independent discipline (for example, in Germany), genetic
research was done in departments of physiology or biology, and did not develop to the same
extent. (Morange, 1998, p. 17)

In retelling the story of Mendel and his pea plants genetics re-establishes its separation from

other sub disciplines. The beginning of a science is often lost to history. Physics, astronomy, and

chemistry have a rich history going back thousands of years with even more thousands of men

and women involved in that history. But the exact moment these sciences were born are lost.

That is not so with genetics or evolution, or cytology. Separation is maintained by telling these

scientific birth stories. It can make the subject more explicable to the student if he or she can

follow the evidence presented by the originators of the science. This also requires a teacher

cognizant of how this evidence was gleaned (Bartholomew, Osborne & Ratcliffe, 2004)

Magnus (2000) argues that sciences such as evolution and genetics come from the tradition of

natural history which valued the incorporation of many lines of evidence in the creation of new

theories. Biochemistry, a science based almost solely on experimental evidence would therefore

not require as much space as evolution or genetics. Indeed, evolution is described in almost all

textbooks as resulting from work done in breeding, palaeontology, embryology and natural

history. No single piece of evidence was enough to act as a sole deciding factor.

A side effect of including more historical narrative with biological content knowledge should be

a presentation of the nature of science as well. After all, if you are presenting what a scientist

actually did to arrive at the theory or knowledge then you are also presenting the nature of

science as well. That would be the case if the original author of the biological concept or theory

was the same as the textbook’s author. Otherwise there is always interpretation and perhaps bias

in the retelling. This will be dealt with more below.

Ian Hacking (1981) describes an ‘image of science’ that Thomas Kuhn’s (1962) The Structure of

Scientific Revolutions was about to change. That image, according to Hacking, was a

combination of 9 points:

1. Realism. Science is an attempt to find out about one real world. Truths about the world
are true regardless of what people think, and there is a unique best description of any
chosen aspect of the world.
2. Demarcation. There is a pretty sharp distinction between scientific theories and other
kinds of belief.
3. Science is cumulative. Although false starts are common enough, science by and large
builds on what is already known. Even Einstein is a generalization of Newton.
4. Observation-theory distinction. There is a fairly sharp contrast between reports of
observations and statements of theory.
5. Foundations. Observations and experiment provide the foundations for and justification
of hypotheses and theories.
6. Theories have a deductive structure and tests of theories proceed by deducting
observation-reports from theoretical postulates.
7. Scientific concepts are rather precise, and the terms used in science have fixed meanings.
8. There is a context of justification and a context of discovery. We should distinguish (a)
the psychological or social circumstances in which a discovery is made from (b) the logical
basis for justifying belief in the facts that have been discovered.
9. The unity of science. There should be just one science about the one real world. Less
profound sciences are reducible to more profound ones. Sociology is reducible to
psychology, psychology to biology, biology to chemistry, and chemistry to physics.
(Hacking, 1981, p. 1, italics in original)

The alternative picture that Kuhn provided was summarized by Hacking thusly:

A. Normal Science and revolution. Normal science is conservative but anomalies can get out
of hand and lead to crisis. A complete rethinking of the material will do and the result is
B. Paradigms. A normal science is characterized by a ‘paradigm’. Kuhn used the term in
two ways, paradigm-as-achievement (accepted way of solving problems and model for
researchers), and paradigm-as-set-of-shared-values (methods and generalizations shared by
a group of researchers that decide what problems are worth solving).

C. Crisis. Paradigms shift when crisis occurs and the current paradigm can no longer
accommodate anomalies.
D. Incommensurability. Workers in a new paradigm may not be able to express what an
earlier science was about. Mass in a Newtonian universe may not mean the same thing in
Einstein’s relativistic universe.
E. Noncumulative science. Science cannot be considered cumulative because old questions
may not be considered important under a new paradigm.
F. Gestalt switch. New paradigms can lead to a suddenly new way of seeing the world.
(Hacking, 1981)

The differences between the two images of science may, ultimately, be linked to how scientists

view the historicity of science. The former views science as essentially ahistoric, the latter sees

the history of science bound to the creation of scientific ideas. In comparing these two views

with Loving’s STP we would find that former image of science would be placed in the rational-

real quadrant and the latter image in the natural-anti-real quadrant. If we compare the results of

this study shown graphically in Figures 2, and 3 we clearly see that the great majority of HOS

units taken from the sample textbooks fall within the rational-real quadrant. Compare these

figures with that from Loving (1998).

Figure 3: Distribution of HOS units within the STP framework. The area of each circle represents the relative
number of HOS units within each quadrant.

Figure 4: The scientific theory profile illustrating the postions of various philosophers and sociologists of
sciencc. (Loving, 1998:138)

There is a variety of views expressed by various philosophers and sociologists of science as seen

in Loving’s STP. In comparison, the findings of this study of HOS units in this study show very

little outside the rational-realist quadrant. Every topic has the majority of HOS units within

rational-realist quadrant. The only topic that reached double digits outside this quadrant is

evolution which had 19 HOS units that coded rational-instrumental. This may be due to the lack

of predictability within evolutionary biology so that some historical vignettes portray knowledge

creation in evolution as instrumental rather than real. The low number of HOS units within the

natural-realist quadrant does seem to reflect Loving’s placement of a single philosopher (Ronald

Giere) in the same placement. But on closer examination it appears that there are more HOS

units within this quadrant than would be suggested by Loving’s work. Nonetheless there does

appear to be a lack of diversity among philosophical positions concerning NOS within these

HOS units.

Why is the diversity seen in the STP not represented in the textbooks of this study? No

curriculum maintains such a homogeneous view of science. Indeed the Pan-Canadian Protocol

maintains the very opposite, a more balanced view that incorporates all four quadrants.

Publishers and authors could be forgiven if the texts were written before the Pan-Canadian

Protocol was published in 1997 but 8 of the 14 texts were published in 2001 and later. Indeed the

most recent textbook, published in 2006, had all HOS units within the rational-realist quadrant.

Most discussions about the nature of science have dealt with the nature of physics (Bartley,

1987). In trying to reduce biology to chemistry and chemistry to physics biology has suffered

from physics envy. The reduction is imperfect because the ultimate reducibility would have to

reduced even further to mathematics. Biology does not lend itself that easily to reduction. So

instead, a view of biology that emphasizes the rational over the natural and the real over the

instrumental preserves a mistakenly unified view of science that is then presented to students

without mention of the controversial nature of science as it is actually done and science as it is

interpreted by philosophers and even other scientists (DeBoer, 1991; Rudolph, 2002).

It is a view that is not unique to biology. Analyses of textbooks in physics (Koliopoulos and

Constantinou, 2005) and chemistry (Niaz & Rodriguez, 2005) also show the shortcomings of

presenting an unproblematic view of science. Granted, presenting an unproblematic view of the

nature is easier than the diverse voices that are actually out there. If you maintain that

observations are pure, experiments are conclusive and the resulting theories actually tell us what

reality is like then there is less to explain to a student. But this is more than oversimplification

for the sake of clarity. This is a case of portraying a history of science that never actually

happened (Kuhn, 1962). Allchin (2004) refers to this as ‘pseudohistory’ and likens it (and its

effect) to pseudoscience. Students should learn how scientist reasoned, not how they might have

reasoned. “Pseudohistory conveys false ideas about the historical process of science and the

nature of scientific knowledge, even if based on acknowledged facts” (Allchin, 2004 p. 186).

Missing contexts cannot lead to accurate portrayals. Accidents are minimized, single individuals

or even groups of individuals have their offerings overly emphasized the process become


This is not to say that all the HOS units that find themselves in rational-realist quadrant are

misplaced. The issue is the lack of examples in the other quadrants giving a false view of the

nature of science. This study provides further evidence that biology textbooks, along with

physics and chemistry textbooks promote a mythological science that is at odds with the nature

of science as expressed in literature and undertaken by scientists but more in keeping with the

myth of scientisim (Nadeau & Desautels, 1984, cited in Cobern & Loving, 2001). Further,

educational thought has been dominated recently by constructivist ideas which value knowledge

for its usefulness and its reality is irrelevant. Cobern and Loving contend “that professional

educators have been all altogether too facile in their rejection of epistemological realism. If time

is taken to carefully examine the logical consequences of anti-realism, we think that most would

agree that what ‘works’ is knowledge about a real world shared by all” (2001 p.17). They do not

see an excessive realism as the cause of epistemological imperialism but scientism as the culprit.

People take medicine because they believe that the disease is real and so is the pill.


Perhaps the most compelling explanation for the uniformity of the NOS with the historical

vignettes studied here lies in the ideas of Thomas Gilovich (1987, 1991). Textbooks, at best,

offer information at least once removed from the original source. Even if a textbook is written by

the same authors as the primary literature it would refer to the primary literature making the

textbook, by definition, secondhand knowledge. At worst, textbooks can be so far removed as to

quote what has been written in other textbooks without checking the original sources. The first

case, that of secondhand information will be dealt with here. The second case is merely bad

scholarship and will not be addressed in this study.

It is assumed that second hand information is less accurate because firsthand information

contains more information and is more reliable. Gilovich accepts this initial assumption but goes

on to say that secondhand information differs from firsthand information in a systematic way.

Secondhand information may be more extreme than those based on firsthand knowledge.

“Learning about another person’s actions secondhand may lead to a simpler and ‘cleaner’

impression of that person. Such impressions may be relatively unaffected by considerations of

how the person’s actions may have been elicited or constrained by various situational

determinants” (Gilovich, 1987, p. 60). The main point of the story is ‘sharpened’ and parts of the

story, deemed by the teller as less important, are ‘levelled’. Gilovich goes on to say, “when

social information—or information about people and their actions—is transmitted, the speaker

tends to emphasize information about the action and the actor and to downplay information about

the context in which the action took place” (op. cit).

This, I believe, is a possible explanation for the uniformity of NOS within the HOS units of this

study and why scientists are often portrayed as heroic, virtuous, and persistent. The detailed

contexts of the original literature are, understandably, absent from discussions of the history of

science within textbooks. The result is a discussion of the actions of individuals that stem from

their character rather than a confluence of environmental context as well as character. An

analogy would be for one person to describe to another a third person who became a doctor. In

describing the doctor words such as ‘smart’ and ‘compassionate’ might be used. One might get

the impression that the third person became a doctor because that person was smart and

compassionate. That may be a factor but there are myriad of environmental factors that could

have played a role but were missing from the description because the first person either did not

know them or thought that being smart and compassionate were the most important factors.

In presenting historical vignettes as the authors of the textbooks of this study did, they presented

a view of NOS that they think is most important, namely a rational, realistic, and positivistic

view. It would fall to a different study to find if the authors held these view themselves or merely

thought that presenting science in this way made it more understandable to students by removing

more complicated factors. I do not believe as Allchin (1999) states, that school science lies, but

not because I believe that school science tells the truth. I do not believe that school science lies

because I do not believe that we present, knowingly, falsehoods about science. But I do believe

we hold back some aspects of the process of science. We hold back because we know that some

students do not have the background to handle what may be very confusing philosophical

discussions. Sometimes, it feels like I am presenting the scientific equivalent of ‘there is no

Santa’ when I point out errors in the history of science to my class.

Many students that go on to scientific studies in university and beyond do come in contact with

these differing views and see the larger contexts of the nature of science but those that do not are

left with a mistakenly uniform view of science that is not reflective of the bigger picture of

science. One way to counteract this is to have textbooks reviewed, not just by teachers and

scientists, but by historians and philosophers as well. The list of reviewers in some textbooks can

top over 30 people. Surely there is room for historian and philosopher. Another way is for the

authors to be more conscientious of their background research, to be more cognizant of messages

they project when they write these historical vignettes.


Despite documents from various jurisdictions purporting to provide science education for the

purpose of empowering individuals’ lives through the acquisition of scientific literacy (CMEC,

1997; Alberta Learning, 2004; MOE, Province of British Columbia, 2006) There are also

statements that indicate that the rationale for teaching students science lies more with

employability and economic competition on the world stage (Bencze, 2001a, 2001b). Consider,

for example, the rationale within British Columbia’s curriculum document for biology:

“The science curriculum of British Columbia provides a foundation for the scientific literacy of

citizens, for the development of a highly skilled and adaptable workforce, and for the

development of new technologies” (MOE, Province of British Columbia, 2006, p. 3) or from

Ontario where the science curriculum “establishes high, internationally competitive standards of

education for secondary school students across the province. The curriculum has been designed

with the goal of ensuring that graduates from Ontario secondary schools are well prepared to

lead satisfying and productive lives as both citizens and individuals, and to compete successfully

in a global economy and a rapidly changing world. (MoET, 2000, p. 3).

The transmission of economically important skills may be conducive to self-actualization but

when they are not it appears the economically important skills take precedence (Bencze, 2001a).

The result is a science that is corporophilic rather that sociophilic, one that promotes the interest

of the corporate citizen rather than the individual citizen. School science becomes a filter and

funnel that actively prevents some students from being part of the discourse altogether and others

are directed down predetermined paths.

Bencze (2001a, p. 2; 2001b) discusses six precepts that promote corporaphilic science education:

9 Elitism via Abstraction

9 Conformity via Standardization
9 Consumerism via Saturation
9 Confusion via Intensification
9 Reverence via Idealization
9 Dependence via Regulation

The results of the current study can be seen in light of some, if not most, of these precepts. The

idealization of many of the works in the history of biology examined here does produce a

reverence within the textbooks. Allchin (2003) points out, real scientists become mythologized

and their stories idealized so that very few students could see themselves accomplishing similar

tasks. Only those students who already have a keen insight are able to get past this barrier. Even

then, authentic science is rarely done in the science classroom.

Experiments in the science classroom are rare. More often they are recipes, and like all recipes,

have a predictable outcome. If these outcomes are not produced the assumption is that students

did something wrong (Hodson, 1990, 1992). So those that get the right result continue to revere

the ideal, those that do not must depend on others to provide the benefits of science and

technology. Those students who fit the curriculum become the elite, those for whom the abstract

concepts and conformity of message are untroubling. Those who do not fit the curriculum will

stay play a role, that of consumer (Noble, 1998).

Far fewer students become scientists than do not. That is obvious. To misrepresent the nature of

science and the history of science to the majority with the understanding that the few that

become scientists will eventually be exposed to a more balanced view is to risk a population that

does not understand the nature of science and these people will make decisions that affect how

future science is done. According to a liberal tradition, science education should be for all

students, not for the few that will become scientists. That science education should portray a

view of science in keeping with the larger contexts of science and not with a single view.



The textbooks used in this study showed a decidedly uniform portrayal of NOS. This view is

one of rational realism. It is a view of science that may have been dominated the beginning of

the 20th century but has since had to share with competing epistemologies and ontologies. This

could be forgiven if the historical vignettes reflected the original view of the scientists in

question and reflected science of the eartly 20th century. But they do not. The historical vignettes

stretch back at least two millennia and the most recent are only a few years ago. What is seen

are interpretations on the part of the textbook authors that paint a uniform picture of NOS that is

not only in conflict with what philosophers of science have written but, in some cases, with the

primary literature in which these ideas were originally published.

Publishers of textbooks are, almost by definition, purveyors of secondhand knowledge. It is the

author or authors that determine how far removed information presented in textbooks are from

the primary literature. It is for this reason that leveling and sharpening as described by Gilovich

(1987, 1991) can promote what textbook authors think are the important ideas to the detriment of

context and historical accuracy. The end result of such leveling and sharpening is a cleaner view

of the history of science and NOS. The decontextualized historical vignettes present a view of

science that is rational, realist and positivist because the results presented in textbooks (key

experiments/theories/observations) are sharpened at the same time as the context (the social

milieu, current scientific debates, etc.) are leveled. Scientific progress appears inevitable

unproblematic. The result is an artificially positivist view of science.

A positivist view of science also makes it more corporophilic. A view of science that is devoid

of context (indeed context is deemed irrelevant) produces a false objectivity. This false

objectivity can then be used to justify science programs to be used as filters and funnels in

curricula. Those that already possess a rational and realist outlook can at least become part of

the science education discourse if not part of the science discourse at large. Those that do not can

still play the role of consumer.

Study Limitations

There are several limits to this study. The current study dealt only with biology textbooks in use

within Canadian jurisdictions. No effort was made to examine biology textbooks used in other

countries. No effort was made to check if results gleaned from examination of Canadian biology

textbooks would also be found in Canadian physics or chemistry textbooks.

The current study was performed by a single individual. It is probable that many coders would

have improved the reliability of the results. Nonetheless, the current study has striven to maintain

transparency, communicability and coherence.

Suggestions for Further Study

From the section above it is obvious that extension of this study into examinations of historical

vignettes with Canadian physics and chemistry textbooks would establish whether or not the

results of this study are isolated to biology textbooks or indicative of all science textbooks in use

in senior secondary schools. Further, examination of authors’ views on NOS would be a useful

endeavour to establish whether NOS presented in the historical vignettes are the authors’ or have

another source.

Educational Implications

If biology textbooks offer an overly uniform view of NOS within historical vignettes then it is up

to the teacher to balance this with discussions of context, both historical and scientific. This can

only happen if the teacher goes beyond the textbook. This can only happen if the teacher is

confident that he or she has the background to do so and that confidence can come from

exposure to various views of NOS during teacher education. A teacher who feels comfortable in

scientific educational discourse is more likely to use it in the classroom to offset a deficiency in

the textbook than a teacher who has not had that exposure.


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Appendix A:


The purpose of this Code Book is to define rules to select a coding unit from a science
textbook, and to identify what counts as an history of science (HOS) unit. This Code Book
contains four parts:

1. Rules for selecting a coding unit

2. Rules for defining whether a unit is perceived as an HOS unit
3. Examples of a HOS unit
4. Exercises in identifying whether a unit is an HOS unit

I. Coding Unit

A coding unit is defined as:

A complete paragraph in the main texts, or

A complete paragraph in a "boxed-in" section of the main text, or
An exercise or question in the main text, or
A footnote with complete sentence(s), or
A marginal note with complete sentence(s), or
A figure/table/chart with complete sentence(s).

A coding unit is not:

A chapter or section title, or

A complete paragraph in the chapter review section, or
An answer to the exercise question in the main text, or
An exercise or question at the end of each chapter.

Appendix B

Coding rationale using Loving’s (1990, 1991) Scientific Theory Profile (STP)
The following definitions were used in deciding where each HOS unit fell on the epistemological
and ontological continua:

Epistemological (or theory judging) line

¾ Statements that promote logic, especially mathematical
¾ Assume experiments are conclusive and the results of experiments are unproblematic
¾ Scientists of different cultures or times would arrive at the same theories given the same

¾ Acknowledge the constructed nature of knowledge within social, cultural and temporal
¾ HOS units can be deemed naturalist if it can be shown as relativist in comparison to other
HOS units (i.e. The HOS unit itself may make no mention of relativism but indicated
relativism when compared to other HOS units)

Ontological line
It was deemed unlikely that any textbook would make a claim that scientific knowledge had no
basis in reality so a less extreme, or instrumental, viewpoint was looked for.

Faith in the scientific method. A strict adherence to the truth with claims that there can be a
direct correspondence between claims and evidence.

Reaching truth is not possible. The best that can be achieved is consensus with imperfect
correspondence between claims and evidence.
Idealists would claim that human mental constructs determine what is called reality

Appendix C
Sample HOS unit evaluation form:
HOS Units
Subto Pag Epistemological Ontological
ID Topic ISBN Quote
pic e code code
89 Physiol Nerves 418 0179121447 In the late 18th century, the Italian scientist Luigi Galvani
ogy discovered that the leg muscle of a dead frog could be made to
twitch under electrical stimulation. Galvani concluded that the
“animal electricity” was produced by the muscle. Although
Galvani’s conclusion was incorrect, it spawned a flood of research
that led to the development of theories about how electrical
current is generated in the body. In 1840, Emil DuBois-Reymond
of the University of Berlin set about refining instruments that
would detect the passage of currents in nerves and muscles. By
1906, the Dutch physiologist Willem Einthoven began recording
the transmission of electrical impulses in heart muscle. The
electrocardiogram (ECG) has been refined many times since then
and is still used today to diagnose heart problems (Figure 1). In
1929, German psychiatrist Hans Berger placed electrodes on the
skull of a subject and measured electrical changes that accompany
brain activity. The electroencephalograph (EEG) is used to
measure brain-wave activity.

Appendix D:

Provincial websites for ministries of education

British Columbia:

Nova Scotia:
Prince Edward Island: