test questions-old topic

From: bivalve (bivalve@mail.davidson.alumlink.com)
Date: Tue Mar 11 2003 - 16:29:52 EST

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    Having just finished preparing talks for upcoming meetings, I am catching up on a few old topics.

    >Would anyone on this list use these questions on any of your tests? Why? Why not? <

    The first question (questioning Dawkin's reasoning) looked reasonably good, but the rest generally had significant problems of various sorts.

    Some problems are more pragmatic. Many of the questions are talking about a rather detailed point, and seem inappropriate for any test except an open book, take home exam. Also, the wording could often be improved for test purposes. Some questions request only yes or no, and would be improved by a request for supporting evidence. Some questions can be interpreted in more than one way and need rewording to be unambiguous. For example, "Are scientists able to determine..." is impossible to answer without omniscience regarding all future scientific discoveries. "Have scientists explained...?" would be better.

    Other problems have to do with the content. Many questions incorporate inaccurate information or misrepresentations. For example, "26. Nebraska Man ... the tooth came from a pig. A report in Nature (August 17, 1995) states that analysis of an incomplete shin bone from a creature dubbed Australopithecus anamensis suggests it walked upright "between 3.9 and 4.2 million years ago." How should we treat discoveries which have not yet faced the rigors of scientific validation?"

    This question has several inaccuracies. Nebraska man was based on a peccary tooth, not a pig tooth. It was never widely accepted among paleontologists. However, humans, peccaries, and pigs all have fairly similar teeth, being omnivores. Thus, the initial guess was not unreasonable; the problem was that Osborne overplayed his initial guess. Likewise, the interpretation of a shin bone as coming from an upright walker is very well-validated. Whether it came from something that properly belongs in Australopithecus or another genus is less certain.

    It would be a good point to call into question the many antievolutionary claims that lack scientific validation and to call attention to the extensive scientific validation for evolution and an old earth. However, it does not seem as though the questioner intends for students to consider that issue.

    Other questions, such as the questions about Archaeopteryx, while not necessarily unsuitable in themselves, lend themselves to popular antievolutionary misuses (in that case, promoting semantic confusion regarding transitional forms).

        Dr. David Campbell
        Old Seashells
        University of Alabama
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