Hasok Chang (Sci Educ 20:317–341, 2011) shows how the recovery of past experimental knowledge, the physical replication of historical experiments, and the extension of recovered knowledge can increase scientific understanding. These activities can also play an important role in both science and history and philosophy of science education. In this paper I describe the implementation of an integrated learning project that I initiated, organized, and structured to complement a course in history and philosophy of the life sciences (HPLS). The project focuses on the study and use of descriptions, observations, experiments, and recording techniques used by early microscopists to classify various species of water flea. The first published illustrations and descriptions of the water flea were included in the Dutch naturalist Jan Swammerdam’s, Historia Insectorum Generalis (1669) (Algemeene verhandeling van de bloedeloose dierkens. t’Utrrecht, Meinardus van Dreunen, ordinaris Drucker van d’Academie). After studying these, we first used the descriptions, techniques, and nomenclature recovered to observe, record, and classify the specimens collected from our university ponds. We then used updated recording techniques and image-based keys to observe and identify the specimens. The implementation of these newer techniques was guided in part by the observations and records that resulted from our use of the recovered historical methods of investigation. The series of HPLS labs constructed as part of this interdisciplinary project provided a space for students to consider and wrestle with the many philosophical issues that arise in the process of identifying an unknown organism and offered unique learning opportunities that engaged students’ curiosity and critical thinking skills.
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Wilkins (2011) suggests that these 27 different species concepts could ultimately be sorted into seven different types of definitions of “species”: asexual species, reproductively isolated sexual species, ecological niche occupying species, species lineage, genetic or gene pool species, morphological species, and taxonomic species concepts. Monists argue that there is actually just one real concept of species, whereas pluralists argue that there must be at least two, and eliminitivists (see Hey 2006) argue that there are none.
Critical observation is a central feature of biological investigations focussing on classification (Mayr 1997). Depictions and descriptions of the observed object of research serve as the basis for understanding the categories or kinds of things that are considered to be the subject matter of that discipline (see later discussion contrasting Mayr’s (1997) distinction between “what?” questions and “how?” and “why?” questions in Sect. 6: How can HPLS observations and investigations augment science education and scientific knowledge? Because the project focussed on classification based on observation, Chang’s complementary science approach required substantial modification from one that fit the discipline of chemistry and historical experimentation to one that fit the disciplinary interests and knowledge-producing investigative techniques of biological classification. But because microscopic investigations, although not experiments, play an analogous role in biology that experiments play within chemistry—generating specific knowledge about that which is being observed (whether in terms of morphology, behavioural reactions, external or internal structural organization), a complementary approach modelled on Chang’s was possible.
In the role of complementary scientist, the HPLS students were directed to observation as the key investigative technique used in knowledge acquisition and generation by the early naturalists. In this way, the aim of the current project was not for them to rely on molecular phylogenetic investigations using current taxonomic techniques that they had used in upper-level university biology courses such as Genetics or Plant Systematics. Within these courses, students use biochemical techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) as well as the Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) to find regions of similarity between genetic sequences. Instead, the aim was to rely on earlier techniques of depiction and description set out within the context of the history and philosophy of the natural sciences and focussing on the investigations of the early microscopists.
The enrolment for the Spring 2011 term included a broad range of subject majors including biology, chemistry, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, and computer science. I set a prerequisite for the course of the completion of 2 lab sciences.
See Forro et al. (2008) for discussion of the origins of the assumption of cosmopolitanism in Cladoceran species.
For example, the 12S mitochondrial marker was used to delimit D. lacustris from other D. longispina complex (for discussion of the use of this and the ITS molecular marker see Nisslen et al. 2007).
Although current techniques used in classification include observations of morphology of water fleas, these tend to be trumped when used in conjunction with genetic techniques. Genetic techniques are frequently used to make final distinctions necessary to resolve taxonomies (for discussion of the use of genetic investigations see Adamowicz, Hebert and Marinone 2004).
An English translation was published posthumously in 1758 as The Book of Nature.
Swammerdam drew his own illustrations in the original 1669. Although utilizing the English translation for the text, we relied on Swammerdam’s original illustrations for our studies and investigations in the lab. We noted slight but distinct differences in the illustrations posthumously published in the English edition in 1758. Interestingly, the publisher did not include Swammerdam’s original 1669 drawings in the English edition but instead hired an illustrator to redraw Swammerdam’s original illustrations. These redrawings modified Swammerdam’s original illustrations making them arguably less accurate and more stylized (for and interesting discussion of the differences in the illustrations of the 1669 and 1758 editions see Geoffroy Fryer 2008). In Fryer’s (2008) discussion, he focuses on the comparative method employed by Schäffer to explain Daphnia feeding mechanisms. Fryer includes a short paragraph Fryer (2008: 170–71) describing Swammerdam’s contribution to Schäffer’s research on water flea feeding that explains that these stylized illustrations were in part due to later illustrators attempts to capture what they thought were a more accurate depiction of Swammerdam’s (incorrect) description that water fleas had beak-like structures and that their feeding mechanism was akin to an insect’s proboscis. The result is that the original 1669 illustrations, drawn from life by Swammerdam, are a truer representation of the water flea than the later corrected version in 1758.
Schäffer most likely used a Culpeper type microscope (Fryer 2008).
Schäffer’s illustrations were drawn by a professional artist which was common practice at the time (Fryer 2008). Curiously, after Swammerdam’s Historia Insectorum Generalis and Schäffer’s Die Grünen Armpolypen, many naturalists did not continue to use microscopic investigations as the basis of their illustrations but instead simply used Swammerdam’s and Schäffer’s illustrations as reference guides, often re-drawing Swammerdam’s original illustrations (Fryer 2008).
A month before I brought the students to the ponds to collect specimens, I went with a colleague in the biology department to collect samples to make sure that there were indeed Daphnia present in these ponds. Later, I went with the students to collect samples for the project. We used plankton nets to collect samples. For each pond we collected one sample from the top and one from the bottom.
Students were using equipment properly and abiding by the rules of acceptable and appropriate lab behaviour so strictly speaking were still working within the paradigm of normal science, but insofar as they were invited to think beyond the “cook-book” type experiments and observations sometimes performed as pedagogical exercises in science labs, they were striving to act as-if they were outside normal science. Although these “cook-book” type experiments are extremely effective in allowing students to grasp key concepts in science courses, this type of investigation was not my aim. Instead, it was to allow them to do much more exploratory work. I admit that the use of the Kuhnian language here may be overreaching but it was useful in explaining to the students what I wanted them to consider when coming into the lab and what they were at liberty to do once they were in the lab that they were not permitted to do in the context of their other labs.
We produced a total of 15 illustrations.
Current identification of water fleas entails more than simply using photographic keys. The choice to use a image key for the present project was in part due to its ease of use for students unfamiliar with more complex taxonomic techniques. To be sure, their use in the project was not intended to indicate a replication of the process of classification currently in use but instead was used as a quick examination that aids in research in the initial stages prior to more detailed analyses. The use of the image-based key rather than the use of keybooks traditionally used by specialists to distinguish species using diagnostic characters (see for instance Benzie 2005) provided a structure to the project that allowed adequate time to each of the central stages of HPLS research necessary for the project—a close reading of the primary source materials and arguments, philosophical analyses of these, and the requisite historical research that was prerequisite to the study based on Swammerdam and Schäffer’s observations, the lab observations and drawings inspired by Swammerdam’s techniques, and an evaluation using recent techniques of classification. Combining the use of DNA sequencing, modern taxonomic drawings, scanning electron microscopy, as well as photographic evidence would have been a desirable extended project that would have contributed to a more accurate representation of the specialists’ techniques of the classificatory process. However doing so would have required a much more lengthy project and one that would not have been possible within the confines of the present course but could be appropriate for an advanced philosophy of biology course or an interdisciplinary project within an advanced systematics course. Integrating these varied tools of observation and analysis within such an extended project one could rely on recent studies such as those which use illustrations for understanding functional morphology such as Fryer (1991) and Kotov and Taylor (2010).
The key we used was the UNH Center for Freshwater Biology’s Image-based key to the zooplankton (Haney et al. 2010).
We found that we had 3 Daphnia rosea, 3 Simocephalus serrulatus, 1 Daphnia schødleri, 2 Daphnia catawba, 1 Daphnia ambigua, 1 Simocephalus vetulus, and 1 unknown. Rather than trying to replicate the methodology of current Daphnia specialists, students were advised to use the image-based key as a rough field guide resource for initial investigation.
An extension of the present project could focus on plasticity, ecotoxicology, and homology studies by working in tandem with an ecologist and biochemist. Such a project could explore ways of manipulating the environment of the Daphnia using chemicals that are structurally similar to kairomones. Because this would require a more substantial amount of time, it is in the process of being planned as part of a summer research project. Students will record changes in the morphology and behaviour of the Daphnia and use these to interrogate past classifications based on a variety of different polyphenisms. These investigations would focus on the neckteeth and other defensive mechanisms of D. pulex developed in response to the presence of predatory planktivorous Dipteran insect larvae of the genus Chaoborus (which were also found to be present in the university ponds). This project will use combined methods of investigation in ecology and biochemistry. The hope will be to isolate the ecological polyphenisms and induced defensive morphologies of various species of Daphnia and go on to compare them to find possible phenotypic and genetic homologues (in D. magna).
This phrase comes from the famous quote attributed to Ernest Rutherford, that “all science is either physics or stamp-collecting.”
One of the topics covered within the HPLS course is natural kinds and their relationship to biological taxa. The lab, in some ways, is an attempt to bridge the philosophical discussion of natural kinds and the practice of classification using various notions of biologically construed kinds. It does so by focusing on the notion of kind-hood and how this has changed and been shaped by observation, description, and tools of investigation and recording.
The suggestion here is that the use of these historically informed observations and drawings could be effectively integrated into both biology labs as well as HPLS labs. While the project was completed within a state university in the U.S., it could be replicated in any institution.
This requires some qualification. Whilst detailed drawings may be retained within the toolkit used by some specialists studying Daphnia, the use of these plays a much more minor role in current research than they did in Swammerdam’s or Schäffer’s. The claim here is that the epistemological use of drawings, and more pointedly the process of drawing and observation that was key to Swammerdam’s initial investigations, was a knowledge-producing technique that was lost. Other knowledge producing techniques (i.e. the use of scanning electron microscopy, genetic and molecular data analysis) now often trump, if not replace, these in distinguishing one species from another.
This was shown to be of significant pedagogical value within a history and philosophy of the life sciences course. This value was not affected by the skillfulness or illustrative talent of the students or by their skills in photographing the Daphnia. Students engaging in illustrating and then photographing the Daphnia all benefitted from performing these techniques within the context of the historical study and in the later evaluative stages. Evaluative reports following the completion of this project showed that the entire cohort found that the study of Swammerdam and replicating the low magnification observations and illustrations provided an understanding of the structure of the organism that was useful in later investigations using the stereomicroscope and imaging software to capture images of the anatomical structures relevant to classification. This may not be generalizable to other potential cohorts but it was reported universally within the present one.
During the project we found that once daphnids die they change colour and their muscles begin to disintegrate. This change and disintegration compromises one’s ability to make fine discriminations between similar specimens. This could be used to suggest that if dead daphnids are routinely used and photographed for the purposes of representing a particular species in image-based morphological classification keys that these might not be the best representations of Daphnia and may perhaps affect classifications based on these.
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Thanks go to Bruce Bradley, Cindy Rogers, William B. Ashworth, Jr., and Nancy Officer of the Linda Hall Library of Science, Technology, & Engineering, Kansas City, MO for their help and assistance. Access to the original texts of Jan Swammerdam’s (1669) Historia insectorum generalis and Jacob Christian Schäffer (1755) Die grünen Armpolypen were essential to the project. Thanks also go to Hasok Chang. His encouragement in the early stages of the project was invaluable. Special thanks go to Melissa Daggett for her collaboration and generous assistance in the lab. Without her help and that of two particularly clever and enthusiastic students, Joshua Swindler and Austin Anderson, the project would not have been possible. This project was supported by a 2011 Summer Research Institute Grant from Missouri Western State University.
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Kendig, C. Integrating History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences in Practice to Enhance Science Education: Swammerdam’s Historia Insectorum Generalis and the Case of the Water Flea. Sci & Educ 22, 1939–1961 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-013-9596-3
- Science Education
- Historical Experiment
- Diel Vertical Migration
- Normal Science
- Complementary Experiment