Nature schooling

When Keith Betton interviewed the late, great Phil Hollom in Behind the Binoculars, Hollom said that when he was at school at Cockfosters in the 1920s he had looked out of the window during a school exam and seen a Red-backed Shrike.  This would have been regarded as a mere distraction, though a pleasant one, in those days, but if Mary Colwell gets her way, and I hope she does, then it might be seen as inspiration for one’s studies.

In the latest eminently supportable e-petition on the Westminster government website Mary Colwell proposes that Natural History should be a GCSE subject.

This is a theme that Mary developed in a Guest Blog here in November 2012 and the idea still seems a good one to me.  In fact, I think it must stand a chance of catching the attention of our politicians for at least three reasons: it’s a good idea, it’s not a very contentious idea and it would be good to show that the petition system sometimes delivers change in the world otherwise people will lose interest in it.

Of course this will only happen if the petition gets a reasonable amount of public support, and that’s up to you (because I’ve already signed it – I was the 41st person to sign it yesterday).  Sign here.

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36 Replies to “Nature schooling”

  1. I signed the petition yesterday, and blogged about it, as I feel strongly that environmental studies/natural history can be built into all subjects across both primary and secondary education. It would be great to see Mary's e-petition get the debate it so badly needs in parliament.

  2. And then immediately, it will draw in many other subjects.
    Philosophy: How does the observer affect the observation? Is it true, is it interesting?
    English: Darwin was good at it. The Origin of Species is read more by students of literature than by students of biology (according to Prof Steve Jones.)
    History: Plant distribution depends partly on the history of the landscape. That in turn depends on who held power and the laws of property down the ages.
    Geology: Underpins everything. ‘We eat the landscape’.
    Sociology: The cityscape and the countryside and how they depend on each other.
    Maths: Number and probability theory. Is it true, is it interesting again? Patterns.
    Record keeping: Looking back at all the old recorders. E.g. Gilbert White, how he got it right but also how he got it wrong and sometimes missed out essential ancillary information. (Again, literature comes in.)
    Climate change and phenology. Do we need to track and record other stuff?
    Field craft: Last but first. Tracking and logical thinking. They are a pretty good double act.
    This and the elementary introductions to all the above subjects can be taught outside.
    And the outside, most days is not a bad classroom.

  3. Great idea. You would think all the conservation NGOs will be getting firmly behind this and encouraging their memberships to support this.

  4. I'd certainly like to see natural history taking a bigger part in school life in schools across the country including those in inner cities. I feel it needs to begin much sooner than at GCSE/O level which students usually begin working on when they are 13 or 14. A parliamentary debate on this would be great and amongst other aspects could discuss exactly how the subject could be best fitted in to the 5 - 18 school years.
    Some people will argue that the curriculum is already overcrowded and that there is no room to fit in another subject but we can surely reappraise our priorities and make the space.

    1. It depends on what the goal of this is.

      I don't think lexical knowledge does that much to promote love and care for the natural world. Rather it is something more emotional and intuitive, probably develops much earlier than GCSE.

      I think kids need to get exposed to the natural world at under ten while their empathetic capacities are being moulded.

      But it would be a start, at least.

  5. It's a great idea. In principle. But there is a very significant and practical flaw in the proposal that requires a solution for it to have a reasonable chance of working, in my opinion

    I'm in my 40s and I can remember (just about) when I was at infants school (Year 1 & Year 2 in today's parlance) having a nature table. I also recall my Year 3 (Junior School) teacher, Mr. Overall, taking the whole class on impromptu walks in to the neighbouring fields for an amble to see what we could see. I owe a huge debt to Mr. Overall as if it weren't for him (and my parents; and David Attenborough), I'd probably not be an ecologist.

    My eldest daughter is now in Year 3; i.e. the generation has come full circle. She is not taken on impromptu walks in to the countryside, which is possible, even in suburban Leeds. She also points stuff out to the teachers (not the other way round) in this respect. This reflects my own experience when I did A-level Biology; which included ecology as a module. My A-level teacher was quite happy to tell me and perhaps the class, that I probably knew more than she did on the subject. Not very helpful or encouraging but also, when we did the practical element, truthful. She, and it was a she, couldn't identify much. And if you can't identify much, how can you teach Natural History? There is now a plethora of evidence that taxonomy is a dying skill...literally.

    And there inlies my point. Who is going to teach the Natural History GCSE? Today's teachers were my peers at school or ten years behind me. Those aged 40+ may just about recall nature tables etc. Those under 40 probably won't. There is a professional skills gap and experience that is getting wider by the year.

    It is true that with AFON, and social media, there is perhaps, a (perceived) growing/ resurgence in Natural History. So may be some of these are the future Natural History GCSE teachers of the future; providing of course, when they do A-levels and degrees, the Natural History elements are retained. Yet how many undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are there in the UK that focus on botany, ornithology, entomology etc? How many MSc students studying biodiversity, ecology or similar themed subjects are capable of identifying even common, widespread fauna and flora?

    So to sum up, the idea is great; and a syllabus can easily be developed. But who will teach it? Competently.

    Finally, the following link may be of relevance:

    The whole system since around 2015 is undergoing reform and a number of 'niche' environmental based subjects at GCSE level, arguably broader than Natural History, were discontinued. This is the policy environment the petition has been launched in.

    1. Yes, that issue did occur to me too. However, the longer we leave it the more intractable the problem will become as more and more retiring Mr Overalls are replaced by newly qualified Ms/Mr Nintendos with little or no knowledge or experience of the outdoor world.
      Some imaginative solutions will be necessary to what is definitely a real problem but one possibility perhaps would be to draft in external expertise on a part time basis.

    2. You raise some very pertinent issues. I've long argued that the basics of natural history, ecology and environmental science should be a core curriculum subject. I've also argued that there should be general certificates of competence in this at adult level, for anyone having to make decisions regarding the natural environment.

      However, I've argued this knowing full well that there aren't enough competent teachers, or knowledgeable people to deliver it. In fact this lies behind my advocacy of this. You need a certain level of knowledge, insight and engagement to understand how little you know. There is so little natural history knowledge not just among children, or the wider public, but even those with advanced qualifications in subjects like ecology, zoology, biology etc, that there is little grasp of how little knowledge there is about this subject.

      In other words in attempting to deliver this objective, there would come a real understanding of just how little knowledge there really was amongst the whole population of the natural world, and natural history.

      There is a general tendency to greatly overestimate how much knowledge of natural history there is. I remember in the 1990s, that in the then RSNC magazine, the then name for the umbrella organization of the Wildlife Trusts, that there was a lot of discussion after Sir David Attenborough said in an interview that there were 10,000 naturalists more knowledgeable than him in the UK. The general feeling was that Sir David had grossly overestimated this, and there was nowhere near this figure. This is the thing, no one really knows. To my knowledge there is no criteria or generally accepted way of measuring this.

      This is a real tragedy, that no one really has any idea of the general level of natural history competence in the UK or anywhere else for that matter. I'm aware of the practical difficulties in assessing this. Natural History is probably the most complex subject known to humankind. The scope of it is vast like nothing else. The potential of what could be known is immense. Most real experts are specialists in some parts of it, but are likely to have only a sketchy knowledge of other components of it.

      However, coming back to the point about this proposed GCSE, which doesn't need the highest level of expertise to deliver it. I think the aim should be to deliver the basics so people can learn more themselves. This is the main obstacle with learning more about the subject. I meet many general members of the public who have an innate interest in the natural world, and who would love to learn more, but they have no idea where to start. Most don't have even a basic grasp of what taxonomy is, how species are classified, or even an idea of approximately how many species there are in various groups in the UK.

      Even amongst more competent naturalists and academically qualified people, there can be little idea of how much others know. I remember going out with a local natural history group when I was at Uni. I was impressed with their knowledge of natural history. When we sat down to eat our sandwiches I mentioned that many of them were more knowledgeable about natural history than many of the lecturers delivering the ecology degree I was studying. They were astounded by this, as they expected that they would be far better than them. Of course some of them where very good with natural history, but quite a few weren't and had little interest in it.

      There is also great bias against natural history in academia. When I was a student we were always being told that our projects, dissertations etc, must be more than mere natural history. That natural history was just a random collection of facts and knowledge lacking in explanation. Personally I always felt this dismissive attitude to natural history skills, was because so many academics had such a poor grasp of it.

    3. Speaking as someone who has (relatively) recently completed an undergrad in Environmental Sciences (leaning heavily into Ecology), and an MSc in Conservation I would say that the ID skills of students are really variable. A-Level and GCSE Biology don't really cover Ecology or Taxonomy in particular detail.

      I know that both the Ecology and Biology degrees where I was (UEA) required students to take a module in what basically amounts to Taxonomy, which is probably a step in the right direction, and I know that this is the case at some other universities as well. In addition, some of our modules focused on practical ID skills (like using a dichotomous key, or perfecting your transect walking) which helps a bit, although doesn't actually teach you what a blue tit looks like!

      To be honest I think that a part of the problem is that these skills, which are regularly cited as being in high demand, almost never appear as requirements in job descriptions. Speaking from personal experience, it is really tough to get a job in conservation or ecology, and the skills that get asked for are the ones that you have to prioritise getting. If the demand that everyone talks about was reflected better in the job market then there would be much greater pressure on universities to provide that experience from the students themselves.

      Finally, (and this may well prove an unpopular position to take) sometimes the natural history community can seem pretty hostile to newcomers. For example, whilst the vast majority of birders are very friendly, and more than happy to tell you what that little brown job is, and why they are so excited, there can (happily quite rarely) be a bit of snobbery about it. I have, more than once, been witness to people with no natural history experience being met with derisory comments when they asked for some help ID something common. Everyone has to start somewhere, and I feel like some people forget that, and thus put up unnecessarily barriers to entry. I would stress that this is very rarely professionals (county recorders for example are, in my experience, a very friendly bunch) but amateur naturalists who give off an air of superiority because they can identify a Mediterranean gull from a black-headed.

      1. Ezra - I can confirm all your experiences from my own, and I also fully agree with the other points you make.

        I'm not really a birder, but an all round generalist naturalist, jack of all trades, master of none. I've been trying to brush up on my birding skills, but I'm nowhere near as good as many birders, especially when it comes to birdsong, and the finer detail of the lbjs. As regards birding it can be a bit competitive, and occasionally cliquey.

        As regards general natural historians. They are individuals. To me naturalists are the salt of the earth, and many expert naturalists who have made huge contributions to our understanding of species receive no financial rewards, honours or recognition outside a small band of fellow experts. You need to be very single minded to do and achieve what they have. I excuse any personal failings of real expert naturalists, because without their often unpaid and unrewarded dedication we would know much less about the natural world. I have actually met some very helpful naturalists, probably far more than the ones who can be a bit more difficult.

        I feel it is essential that natural history skills are more valued. I've never considered myself a particularly brilliant naturalist, often feeling a bit inadequate in the company of real specialists. Although I have managed to get a reasonable amount of county first records, firsts for sites and areas. My strength is more of an all rounder.

      2. "...modules focused on practical ID skills (like using a dichotomous key, or perfecting your transect walking) which helps a bit, although doesn't actually teach you what a blue tit looks like!"

        But when it comes to available ID skills, I would suggest that we are much better endowed with reasonably competent ornithologists than we are with people who can navigate their way around other groups such as invertebrates, flowering plants, fungi, mosses etc. Learning to use a dichotomous key may seem dull and 'academic' but is an essential skill for getting to grips with these ecologically important groups.

        1. I couldn't agree more! My point was less that it was boring (which it isn't), and more that having the skills doesn't mean you can ID common species by sight (something mentioned by Richard as another skill he was worried people might be losing).

          On the subject of dichotomous keys, another barrier to entry for some taxonomic groups is that good (and by this I mean accessible/user friendly) keys don't exist! That said, there are some really fantastic tools out there, and given that you mention fungi I feel like I should point to MycoKeys as being a really great example of a user friendly key:

          I am part of a generation which, for better or for worse, feels as at home with IT based resources as we do with books, and keys like MycoKey are a really great way to take advantage of that!

          1. On-line resources are undoubtedly a great boon! I agree with your point about accessible/user friendly keys. These are often expensive as well as hard to obtain and if the www can help make the information cheaply and readily accessible to more people that is entirely to be welcomed.

  6. I really hope this happens (I've signed the petition) and then perhaps we can change the way nature is perceived. At the moment much time and effort is spent getting children interested in nature. Why? They are already interested in nature! Too often on television nature is portrayed as something for children, especially primary school children. We then wonder where our future conservationists are. Would you, as a teenager, pursue something that is marketed as a young childs activity? This idea that we get children interested in nature and then they will grow up helping to save the planet is patently not working. We need a different approach and perhaps by making natural history a GCSE we will move towards it being seen as a subject to be taken seriously.

  7. When we even have the chair of HOT calling us eco-zealots i would be very surprised if many people didn't find this a 'very contentious idea' because ignorance of wildlife and their ecosytems allows it's degradation.
    So obviously it follows that education on this subject is a brilliant and essential idea.
    Ignorance of wildlife especially in the younger generation is, i would say, pretty obviously the case. University challenge is probably a reasonable indicator. Lasts week a hornbill was given in answer to a question about a UK duck. Even after at least monthly questions about common UK birds, they rarely get questions right. A quick look at the Observer book of Birds would often be enough.

  8. From my experience of 15 years teaching Biology at GCSE & A level this will be virtually impossible to implement as there are practically no biology teachers out there with the relevant expertise; most biology teachers have a background in biochemistry or microbiology and are woefully incapable of identifying even the commonest of local species. I know, I tried!! My attempts to initiate a project to provide relevant material for teachers was killed at birth by complacency. (Although I DO think it is a great Idea!! ) One of the key issues is that modern pedagogy is wedded to something called BLOOMS Taxonomy. which is a hierarchy of cognitive skills. Identification and recognizing things is about the lowest level in Blooms and is consequently seen as of little value or relevance by those who never even consider why it is important to know what something is ( think appropriate response to a bacterial infection and you will see why this is madness). I did manage to instigate field work for Yr7 pupils both at home in Kent and also in France (and even some simple dissection) and I know that kids really respond to it favourably, but they need a good, knowledgeable, enthusiastic teacher

  9. This sounds like the best way to put people off natural history.
    How do you teach rapture, excitement, personal discovery, fulfilment, joy and all the other stuff that comes with your own personal journey of engaging with the natural world?

    1. Would you say the same about poetry, music, dance, art, science, maths.... well everything actually? If you are correct what is left to teach?
      Teaching something shouldn't automatically 'put people off' or cause a loss of wonder?
      Of course it is often not the case but teaching ideally should create a sense of wonder in whatever subject it is (except religion). Any failure isn't because of the subject.
      I also believe that that our whole society including the education system has been unconsciously designed to drum any sense of wonder and questioning spirit out of us but that is a huge socio-economic-and-more issue which isn't confined to any one school subject and it's solution would be utopian. I do dream though.

      1. Yes I think teaching does a fairly good job at putting people off a host of subjects.
        In the case of natural history I think naturalists have already done a lot of the ground work already. What could be more dull than tick boxes and recording, so that everything is reduced (in Latin!) to a dot on a map or an entry on a database?

        1. 'What could be more dull than tick boxes and recording, so that everything is reduced (in Latin!) to a dot on a map or an entry on a database?'
          Yes, in our present climate that would probably be the case but it needn't be.
          Getting primary school kids out in nature and having fun would be a win, win, win, win. It wouldn't need much teacher expertise. They could learn with the kids. It is actually very easy.
          Those that enjoy it can go on to choose it as a GCSE some of whom are bound to want to go on and teach it. The circle is unbroken, by and by.

    2. That is always a possibility if it was delivered in the wrong way. My own personal vision would be to deliver it not at least initially as a heavy academic subject, but to facilitate further personal discovery i.e. where kids could be pointed in the right direction to find out more themselves. I think this would be best done by creating safe areas of semi-natural habitat where kids could be kids. You don't need high quality habitat of the type found in many nature reserves for there to be plenty of biodiversity to explore. These areas needn't be that big. In other words small enough to be supervised.

  10. Great idea....and start with primary teaching, I still remember the shock of my 6 year old daughter coming home from school upset because her teacher had told her to stop eating "poisonous" berries, which were actually brambles [blackberries to english readers] during an outdoor class.[Central Edinburgh around 1990]. As regards secondary school teaching of natural history, we seem to have gone back to the situation I faced in Glasgow in the 1960s, when my school had no biology department - reasonably common back then. I ended up getting a degree in Ecology and a "career" in conservation by "winging it" without even a basic biology O level/GCSE.

  11. I'm all in favour of a GCSE in Natural History and immediately signed the petition. I think it essential we develop natural history as an academic subject, and would like to see it at higher levels i.e. degree level. I also think natural history would be an ideal bridge subject between the arts and science.

    Personally I think the lack of natural history skills and knowledge is one of the most serious problems facing our society. It really is surprising how little knowledge of natural history there is. I often feel a bit of a fraud when people are impressed with my knowledge because I know what gaps there are in it.

    The reason for what may appear hyperbole to some in my above statement that it is one of the biggest problems facing our society, is that without the ability to see and recognise the components of the natural world, it's species and habitats, we are blind to the natural environment. Without the ability to recognise species, at least the most common ones, the countryside is just a green mush. People do not recognise the difference between the ecological deserts of improved grassland and monoculture, and species rich grassland and proper natural habitat.

    In my lifetime I've seen the shocking declines in our biodiversity described in the State of Nature reports with my own 2 eyes. I remember a time when Cuckoos were widespread, where Grey Partridges were common, when Water Voles were really numerous and widespread, and when the sound of Skylarks and Yellow Hammers were everywhere during the Summer. Yet this is the thing, most people never noticed these declines, because they never recognised what was around them in the first place. As long as the countryside is green, it looks much the same to most people.

    Sorry for getting my environmentalist hat on, but our society is facing serious threats from climate change and other environmental impacts, and there is no serious policy in place to address these problems, because irrationally people mistakenly think the economy is more important. There is no society wide understanding that the whole of our economy and food supply system is wholly reliant on the natural environment, and natural ecosystem services. I believe the primary reason we are not responding rationally to climate change and other environmental problems is this disconnection from the natural world. Climate change is real to me because I saw the spread northwards of dragonfly species, which never previously existed that far north. But you can only see this movement of species and changes in the natural world, if you can recognise them.

    It's right to point to how children have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world. However, it is entirely mistaken to think this is a new phenomenon. Yes, children may be more disconnected from the natural world, than say 50 years ago. But it is entirely mistaken to think that 50 years ago children were all naturalists. I know, I was a child 50 years ago, and interested in natural history, or rather the natural world as I had no one to guide me, from when I was a toddler. And I can state for a fact than in my village, which was quite a big one, I only knew 3 other children really interested in natural history. Well over 90% of kids back in the 1960s and 1970s, even the children of farmers etc, could not recognise all but the most common species.

    There is a serious under-estimation of how little knowledge there is about the natural world amongst the general public. After the Ash dieback was found in the UK there was a citizen science project launched to map the disease and to map tree species. In comments on the Guardian I warned this was hopelessly unrealistic because tree identification is harder than is generally thought.

    This was confirmed by a survey published in the Independent on 11 July 2013. Only 17% of those surveyed could recognise an Ash leaf, and 57% of those surveyed could not recognise an Oak tree leaf. There seems to be no acknowledgement and understanding at all of just how disconnected people have become from the natural world - adults, not just children. Most grossly under-estimate this ignorance. Those with an interest in natural history, birding etc, tend to mix with others who have similar interests. This is why the problem is not seen.

    Below a certain level of knowledge and people do not realise how little they know about a subject. Very few underestimate how complex and hard mathematics is, because most had some experience of it at school. But most grossly underestimate the complexity of the natural world and it's relevance to their lives, because they have never been exposed to systematic knowledge about it, and they have no idea that it is far more complex than the maths they struggled with.

    This is the real problem. There is no understanding of how little people know themselves about the natural world, the natural environment, how it sustains us, and the relevance to our lives.

  12. I would be very happy to see Natural History become a GCSE option but how many schools would offer it? There are already many GCSE subject options that are not available in the majority of state schools. Even if it were an option, surely only the few children who still had an interest intact at age 13 would choose it? It wouldn't CREATE an interest. Children are actually able to choose very few of their GCSE subjects.

    I really wish that teenagers could be given the message that nature conservation, saving the planet, whatever you want to call it, really NEEDS the right kinds of engineers, chemists, statisticians, computer programmers, lawyers, language interpretters, journalists, farmers, teachers, parents..... and not just ecologists and taxonomists (although some of those are needed too!). Almost everything that I know about nature I learnt outside the classroom and lecture theatre, and children today who have an interest will learn in the same way. I think that bright schoolchilden (presumably the ones who we hope will save nature in the future) at the GCSE stage really should concentrate on doing well in the core academic subjects and then considering with that solid base how they can best make differences in the world.

  13. This is one of the most inspiring proposals I have heard for a while - I wish I had thought of it. Having tried, and failed, to enthuse teaching staff to take an interest in webcams in Swift boxes that we have installed on schools, it needs something like this to change the curriculum. One thing teachers will kowtow to is targets, the ever changing curriculum and random inspections. Bringing natural history into the curriculum is a great idea.

  14. Late as usual, but I have read all the comments about this excellent proposal and all have missed one glaring point.
    Who's was the first comment?? Findlay.
    He is our future guys. Ok, so his influence was probably more family than teacher, but he is not unique.
    Kids want to learn, and as Anand said (3.39 post), how much expertise do teachers really need anyway? Enthusiasm has always won over dry knowledge. A teacher that says, ' I've no idea, let's go out and find out together' gains respect whilst instilling their enthusiasm on others.

    There is more help now for teachers than at any time in the past. Not only can you learn anything you wish from the web, but most schools will now have access to sites run by others that will do the teaching for them.
    I've often heard complaints that NGOs spend too much on educational facilities which are underused. Well, here's our chance to get our monies worth.
    Teachers take note, the help is out there and you don't even have to do the teaching!

    We have the facilities to make this proposal work, we just need to find the will.

    Mary, as much as I think Curlews are important, this time you've hit the big one.
    I feel another walk coming on. How many schools did you pass on your way to Boston?

    Please sign.

  15. It's a good idea, one worthy of discussion, and for that reason I have signed the petition. However I share many of Richard Wilson's concerns.

    There is currently a substantial and ongoing problem in schools where there are too few qualified subject-specialist teachers available. This means much gets taught by non-specialists that are teaching a curriculum, but not necessarily with passion or understanding. Getting a curriculum that was right and didn't put people off, and was taught well withy knowledge and enthusiasm, may be an insurmountable challenge.

    Schools are reducing the range they offer in many cases due to the government focus on certain subjects within Progress 8 and the EBacc. So again, there is a risk this would be relegated to afterthought.

    My other concern would be that this could diminish the embedding of natural history into other subjects, as there could be a temptation to take a view the subject was now covered. So the only beneficiaries would be the students already engaged and interested.

    That said, it remains something worthy of discussion.

  16. I do a picture quiz for school groups from Yr3 to A-level to name the Top 10 most common British birds. Very few get more than four right, the most often correct answers are robin and pheasant. The teachers are in the same league as the pupils. The general lack of knowledge about what is outside the front door is very worrying.
    The upshot of the quiz is to encourage the schools to go out and find out what's living close by and let me know, send pictures, get feedback, engage with their local wildlife, report their findings on local websites/school blogs...the more they learn the more they know they don't know and want to find out even more.
    Ideally by the end of Yr 6 all children should be able to a basic version of a Phase 1 habitat survey around their local area and identify a good number of common and 'speciality' species local to their area to include a wide variety of plants, invertebrates and vertebrates and know something of the interactions between them.
    In secondary schools this basic ecology and taxonomy should be studied in more detail and over larger geographic areas to cover local, regional, national, continental and international areas as many species cross international boundaries either in their static range or on migration.
    The scope of a GSCE syllabus all the way to A level is almost endless but definitely needed so that even those that don't take it as one of their exam subject options in Yr 10 have a good grounding in natural history and ecology. This would mean that everyone from plumbers, mechanics, nurses, planners, developers, farmers, etc etc would have at least a little more than basic knowledge of the world around them and hopefully some of the ecocide we currently see could be avoided

    1. David - thank you. I'm pretty sure I would get more than four but also pretty sure I'd get fewer than 10! Wren, Blackbird and Chaffinch are, I hope, in there with Robin and Pheasant?

  17. Not convinced about making it a GCSE subject, in fact I'm not sure exams are a good idea for any subject but that's another matter. I certainly would be worried about exam stress and natural history. The two shouldn't, indeed don't go together. There are far better, progressive and imaginative ways to get children involved in natural history in school I think than through the formal GCSE route but I'm willing to be proved wrong.

  18. Of course being an adept naturalist does not preclude one from being a great biologist. Many years ago I worked for Professor John Thoday, Balfour Professor of Genetics at the University of Cambridge and himself a keen enthusiast for alpine plants. He told me of a conversation he had once had with John Krebs ( of Krebs cycle fame and himself a good naturalist) about the great Hans Kornberg, one of the leading biologists of the20th century. Krebs had remarked "Kornberg! He only knows two organisms...E.coli and Rat liver!".


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