5th May 2000 at 01:00
SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE AND THE ENVIRONMENT. By Michael Littledyke, Keith Ross and Liz Lakin. David Fulton, pound;15.

The idea behind this book is wonderfully ambitious. It is also deceptively simple. The central project of today's science is the environment, how we think about it and how we should care for it. Unlike physics and chemistry environmental studies are growing in popularity.

Caring progressively for animals, for the countryside, and for the planet is how our youngest children develop and learn about this kind of science. So, thought the authors, why not write a book about science, its history, philosophy and issues of public concern through environmental spectacles? The aim was to make these otherwise rather arcane subjects acceptable to primary teachers and those in training. It was a splendid, but not an easy, scheme to follow.

First, the authors had to fit it all into a short 159 pages. Every teacher knows that cramming ideas on to a page without allowing room to expand an exemplify makes for very hard reading. Feedback, positive and negative, requires examples for the novice to understand what is being said. Who could instantly appreciate the difference between the phenotype and genotype, or get the hang of Piaget's genetic theory of development in a couple of lines?

The history of science is used to introduce modern environmental studies. Unfortunately, the reader is treated to the usual account of the development of Arabic chemistry and Newtonian physics, some of which is incorrect. There are references galore, yet no mention of how ecology developed from the management of woodlands, to the consumer metaphor of predator and consumer, to an understanding of the interdependence of species.

Some of the chapters are better, some equally poor, but if brave authors attempt such a demanding task, it is surely the job of a helpful publisher to check the text for errors?

Joan Solomon is professor of science education at the Open University

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