"Unteachable, to a first approximation"

1 minute read

This PLoS Genetics interview with David Botstein is really interesting (via GNXP). Especially his current moves to improve undergraduate biology education:

What we did was we had eight senior faculty, a sort of Noah's ark of science, sit every Monday at lunch for two to three hours and simply ask the following question for all of these fields at the most introductory level: Is this problem or this idea or this concept fundamental, or merely traditional? We collected all the fundamentals and did the best we could to make them into a coherent sequence.
We tell the students, "This is not the low-energy path to medical school."

On the subject of graduate study:

We have one such course called Method and Logic in Quantitative Biology, and we teach the classic papers, many of which are forgotten because they can't be taught now because people don't understand the math. You may remember reading Luria and Delbruck, and you may remember that nobody understood Luria and Delbruck because they didn't have the math--and these were MIT graduate students! Poisson distribution--don't bother me.

I worry sometimes that the same thing is happening to math that happened to Latin -- nobody remembers why it is useful, and it's a self-reinforcing deterioration. It's like a forgotten language, yet it makes everything so clear when you can read it.