Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Teaching Microbiology in the Era of #Fakenews

Wanted to briefly post about an interesting situation I'm encountering right now in my Microbial Genetics class. We just had a quiz exercise where I effectively asked this True/False question:

True/False During bacterial transcription, RHO-DEPENDENT terminators utilize a hairpin loop

To me, and my understanding of transcriptional termination, the answer is clearly false as far as science knows right now. I went over factor dependent and independent terminators and focused on how factor independent terminators can be identified by hairpin loops in the DNA/RNA sequence (usually followed by something like a run of Poly-Us) and contrasted this with how there was only a sketchy signal for rut sites in terms of rho-dependent termination.

It sucks to be wrong, and especially to make mistakes when lecturing to a class of undergrads, but there is a part of me that loves it when I get challenged by what I've said with actual data. It's a learning opportunity and I enjoy when students go above and beyond to find other sources of info.
My standing agreement with students is that if they can present me with primary literature that demonstrates their argument, I'll give them points regardless of how the quiz was originally marked. I think that's only fair...

However, a couple of times I've run into a situation this semester where students cite non-primary lit sources to demonstrate their point. In the case of the quiz question above, they've cited a couple of YouTube videos about Rho-dependent terminators (here and here) that AFAIK incorrectly state that rho uses hairpins.

I see this as a very small battle in the larger world of #fakenews where we are constantly barraged with other peoples digested opinions and views rather than read the original undigested words. Regardless it's troubling. I'm going to mention this in class example in class today, and point out that "when in doubt find a primary source and look at the original data" is a great go to for deciding what's "real" in these situations.

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