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"The key to taking the measure of biodiversity lies in a downward adjustment of scale. The smaller the organism, the broader the frontier and the deeper the unmapped terrain...... A lifetime can be spent in a Magellanic voyage around the trunk of a single tree." (E. O. Wilson, 1995)

This kind of scientific exploration may have been a part of your biology class work, however, engaging students in authentic work, exploring the natural world, is a difficult task. New technologies and frankly, new attitudes are making this much easier than ever before. Student Scientist Partnerships, like this one, are one example of how biology classrooms are making this transition from learning about science, to doing science. One area of research by the KanCRN community involves the use of lichen and tardigrades as bioindicators. Research indicates that lichens and the tardigrades living on them can be used to assess atmospheric levels of sulphur dioxide, SO2. Lichens are unique organisms composed of either an algae or a cyanobacteria living in a symbiotic relationship with a fungus. When they are exposed to some kinds of air pollutants, especially to sulphur dioxide, lichens are injured and die. The coverage of lichens on trees may make a good indicator of air pollution. The effect of these pollutants may also be observed on the distribution and diversity of a simple community living on the lichens, the tardigrades. A second area of research on KanCRN is truly a "measure of biodiversity" that explores a phylum on which we have little information. Tardigrade Biodiversity undertakes to identify what species of tardigrades live in a given area and to relate habitat information to the tardigrades. Tardigrade Biodiversity is building a system that relates the tardigrades to vegetation, weather, geological, altitudinal, moisture, pollution, or other environmental factors that can effect the diversity, distribution, and density of the tardigrades.

The question now becomes one for all of us. What do we do now that we have this knowledge about tardigardes. It seems like every time you turn on the news or pick up a newspaper or magazine to read, there is another story about the latest pending global disaster. Often based on current research, these stories speculate on global warming, decreasing ozone, too much ozone, increasing levels of ultraviolet light, acid rain, habitat loss, loss of biodiversity (organisms like tardigrades), decreasing water quality and the effect of increasing human population. All these stories create such a jumble of information that the knowledge can get lost. Instead, for most people, a simple message emerges; these problems are difficult to work on and appear to be overwhelming us.

It is easy, facing this jumbled mess of information to have a dark view of the future. People tend to be problem-solvers who want to fix things. In this case we cannot help but wonder, what can one person do to fix these overwhelming, difficult, global issues? Faced with such problems many people have chosen to become environmental activists. Starting with the original Earth Day in 1970, they look to social action to cause change in the way human beings behave toward the planet. After all, who does not want clean water and clean air? The Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act were passed and the Environmental Protection Agency was founded.

Looking back we realize that while this activism was very important, it is not enough as we approach global issues. It is necessary to take a step beyond being an activist and become a decision-maker. A decision-maker collects information, analyzes that information and then develops an action plan based on that information.

This becomes an ongoing cycle that the science problem solving cycle drives the social problem-solving cycle. Each cycle in turn, continues to drive the other. Decisions are based on knowledge. If we believe our research has produced something of significance, something that has social value, our report should state our value claims as well as our knowledge. We should, of course, be explicit in making a distinction between the two cycles. The social value usually derive from knowledge claims but they are determined by a social group and are not the same thing. "The practice of science supposes the existence of a real and a common world, and assumes that its impact on each individual who is part of it is modified by him in a way which constitutes his/her personal experience. We do not construct the world from our experiences; we are aware of the world in our experiences. Science is a language for talking not about experience but about the world."

Values are determined by social groups. We have found that there are five kinds of value questions that are helpful in starting the social problem-solving cycle. Instrumental value claims take the form, Is X good for Y? Intrinsic value claims take t he form, Is X good? or is X something society values? Comparative value claims take the form, Is X better than Y? Decision value claims take the form, Is X right Idealized value claims take the form, Is X as good as it can be.

These value claims are useful to begin discussion under classical and personal values in the cycle above. These should take the form of reflections and begin the brainstorming for possible social solutions to social problems. Within KanCRN, this discussion takes place in the discussion forum. Discussions continue at the annual research forum where an action plan is generated. This action plan is implemented and evaluated over the course of the next year.

  1999, KanCRN Collaborative Research Network