The Basics of Biology (Basics of the Hard Sciences)
This book will describe what the living things on our world are like today, how they became what they are, and how their characteristics are passed from one generation to the next. It will also show how living things interact with each other and with their nonliving surroundings.
Never has the need for biology education been greater. We are continually bombarded with new information about environmental problems, bacteriology, genetic engineering, drugs, health, and other biology-related topics. Yet few of us retain enough knowledge about basic biology to make informed decisions or even to read newspaper science articles intelligently.
It is no longer possible—if it ever was—to provide a comprehensive survey of biology, but the material that follows will enable readers to read and evaluate articles and books written for the general public. In addition, the investigations, suggestions for further reading, and list of Web sites can lead readers beyond this basic introduction.
Readers will not become instant experts on biology, of course. This book is designed mainly as a reference work, to be used as needed for understanding the biological articles, books, and news programs that surround us. Readers should achieve at least a level of understanding that will enable them to read biology articles in the New York Times or Scientific American without becoming confused. Chapter 1 gives an overview of ecology, providing a general picture of the biosphere and its inhabitants. In Chapter 2, evolution is presented as the process that has resulted in the biosphere of today. Chapter 3 discusses genetics, the molecular basis of variations that are the substrate for evolution. Body systems, especially human systems, are the subject of Chapter 4. In Chapter 5, the major classes of living organisms are surveyed. Completing the cycle, Chapter 6 returns to ecology, with emphasis on human ecology. The investigations or experiments in Chapter 7 have several purposes. Some provide additional concrete examples of ideas in the text; some help readers plan and carry out biological experiments; and some link the information in this book to events in the environment. Rather than being “cookbook” types of investigations, they are open-ended, encouraging readers to ask their own questions, set up experiments, and explore new worlds of information. When definite answers to questions are called for, they are provided (on pages 211–213). Scientists are introduced throughout the text as part of the history of each field, rather than being relegated to a separate section. Dates of birth and death are given at the first mention of scientists no longer living. The Landmarks in Biology section (pp. 221–226) also provides a timeline showing when individuals made their important contributions to biology.
The appendixes have resources for further reference. They include (1) Investigating Biology on the Internet, a list of the best Web sites for learning more about biology, keyed to the chapter in this book to which they most refer; (2) the Units of Measurements section, which provides conversions for the metric system, the universally used system in science and outside of most of the English-speaking world; and (3) Landmarks in Biology, a timeline of important events in the history of the study of biology.
To maximize the book’s usefulness as a reference work, a large glossary and index are provided. Any boldface terms in the text appear in the glossary, as do many other terms. Bold words are usually those whose definitions would slow down some readers but may be needed by others. Finally, a selected bibliography lists some of the printed resources used in researching this book and good books and articles that provide even more suggestions for further study of the topics in biology discussed herein. Hundreds of sources were used for collecting and verifying the information given here. In addition to biology books and articles, the World Wide Web has been a very useful source of information.
Concepts are presented as the first two parts of the “learning cycle” often used in science education: An example is given first, followed by the general concept. The third part of the cycle (application of the concept to a new example) is up to the reader. It is hoped that readers will recognize the principles given here as they encounter new examples while carrying out investigations, visiting museums, or watching television. More than recognition should result: Readers should also be better able to analyze information about biology, synthesize information from different sources, and evaluate arguments involving biology.
Though this is a reference book and not a textbook, a creative teacher may wish to use it as the basis of a biology curriculum. The outline was carefully developed in accordance with the National Science Education Standards for high school biology. Obviously, this book is shorter than most modern biology textbooks; if it is used in classrooms, students may carry out independent projects to supplement the basic ideas given here.
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