Friday, January 3, 2014

Khan Academy and Evolution

A slightly more egregious example of Khan Academy creating a misconception (3:40, and referenced later and throughout the series):

I discovered that their website has a feature to suggest mistakes (a good thing!).  Here's what I wrote:

3:40 Sal says "What evolution is - and I prefer this word - is natural selection." 
This is flatly incorrect!! Evolution is more properly defined as the change in a phenotype expressed/displayed in a given population of organisms as measured over multiple generations. Natural selection is ONE and only ONE of multiple paths to achieve such a change. Even if Sal does not want to discuss them in detail, the fact that other forces besides natural selection exist should be mentioned. These include drift, horizontal gene transfer, and others (really just look at wikipedia!).
Summary: Khan Academy is leaving its viewers with the misconception that evolution = natural selection when, in fact, natural selection is merely one of several classes of mechanisms by which evolution can occur.

Will the video get re-done?  I doubt it.**  But this is really a fundamental error.  No introductory biology course would neglect A) clearly defining evolution or B) mentioning that natural selection is only one of several ways evolution can occur.

Food for thought - what percentage of high school teachers who might be using Khan Academy software/videos in their classroom would notice this mistake?

**The strikethrough text is there because the day after my last post catching an error discussing the purpose of myelination, they took down the video with the error and reuploaded a new video that corrects their mistake.  So there's hope!

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