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Book Review: Biotechnology/Cloning and Stem Cells

7 September 2015
Appeared in BioNews 818


Edited by Cara Acred

Published by Independence Educational Publishers

ISBN-10: 1861687095, ISBN-13: 978-1861687098

Buy this book from Amazon UK

Cloning and Stem Cells

Edited by Cara Acred

Published by Independence Educational Publishers

ISBN-10: 1861687109, ISBN-13: 978-1861687104

Buy this book from Amazon UK

'What is Ethics?'

A seemingly innocent question asked by a 14-year-old student in my first year as a teacher. I struggled for a reply. I mentioned something about rights and wrongs, but I realised I didn't really know the answer.

Since then, I have been on the lookout for any resource that clarifies this question – any text or activity that can help students develop their own understanding.

The Issues series 'explores contemporary social issues, stimulating debate and critical thinking among readers of all levels.' Aimed at 14–18-year-olds, the books contain a wide variety of sources, from newspaper and journal articles to government reports. At the end of each volume is a glossary of key terms, a key facts page, a selection of assignments and an index.

So is the series effective?

I certainly finished both volumes feeling more informed than I did when I started. The viewpoints were diverse and provided a balanced view of the debates. 'Biotechnology' included the science behind genetically modifying mosquitos to prevent the spread of dengue fever, and the deliberation behind creating 'three-person babies' (see BioNews 788). 'Cloning and Stem Cells' presented the ethical issues around cloning champion racehorses and the future of stem-cell therapies.

Both books expose students to a wide range of views and styles they would not necessarily come across in their day-to-day schoolwork. Sources include The Conversation, Friends of the Earth, the Medical Research Council and even BioNews. Many of the articles – particularly extracts from government reports and journal articles – are challenging to read and will extend the literacy skills of all readers.

But I also think this limits the utility of the texts. Lower ability and younger readers will struggle to comprehend the sophisticated language and sentence structure used by many of the sources.

I have other reservations.

While it is useful to have a collection of various viewpoints, almost all of the articles used in the books are freely available in the public domain. The assignments at the end of the volumes are uninspired: make a poster, make a leaflet, research something that interests you, discuss in pairs/groups. This whole section feels a little half-hearted. Posters rarely lead to engaged students.

The 'Key Facts' page, however, is useful and helps to clarify the difficult sections of articles. This would be even better if deployed as a key facts box on the page of the article itself, rather than tucked away next to the glossary.

My main criticism of the books is that they just instruct the reader to 'critically evaluate the sources' without explicitly showing them how to do this. I would like to have seen a few worked examples illustrating this and some specific assignments aimed at improving students' critical-thinking skills. There was a lot more that could have been done, for example, the early articles could have flagged up key information needed to correctly reference the article, or highlighted where information was from a blog or opinion piece. At least I would expect this in a book aimed solely at A-level students. Those starting out on their GCSEs need more help. For many 14 year olds, this will be the first time they will ever be asked to think about bias, the origin of reports, or to identify (let alone discuss) the difference between facts and opinions.

Overall, I would recommend these books as an addition to a school library for independent research tasks or to stretch more able students. I believe they would be most useful for A-level projects, rather than supporting the GCSE curriculum. The sophisticated language, self-contained explanation and lists of further resources are perfect for older students. These students are more practised readers and thinkers, and are more used to digging down into a resource, making the assignments section – particularly the discussions – more relevant.

Buy Biotechnology from Amazon UK, and buy Cloning and Stem Cells from Amazon UK.

28 September 2015 - by Brendan Foht 
Compared to the frenzy over human cloning a decade ago, in recent years the issue has received very little political attention. But as the ongoing fights over CRISPR and mitochondrial replacement show, some of the underlying debates are still with us...
16 February 2015 - by Philippa Taylor 
In a recent Progress Educational Trust debate, 'Mitochondrial Donation: Is It Safe? Is It Ethical?', I spoke about the ethical issues raised by techniques to avoid the passing on of inherited mitochondrial disorders...
9 February 2015 - by Dr Rachel Montgomery 
Held at the Houses of Parliament, and organised by the Progress Educational Trust (the charity that publishes BioNews), this public debate was well attended. With all the chairs taken and many more people standing, people clearly felt it was important to discuss these issues...
4 August 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
The UK Government has been accused of deliberately misleading the public in order to win approval over its plans to implement mitochondrial replacement techniques in IVF...
5 August 2013 - by Marco Narajos 
Fertility and Reproduction is extremely up-to-date on current issues, discussing saviour sibling treatment, eugenics as well as mitochondrial replacement, all of which have been extremely topical in bioethics...
1 August 2011 - by Dr Amy Strange 
'Biotechnology and Cloning' is part of a series of educational books for teenagers addressing 'contemporary social issues'. It is an unusual concept, being neither a textbook nor a revision guide. It does not directly explain the underlying science, but outlines and encourages the reader to think around the topics....
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