Is the evolution of biochemistry texts decreasing fitness? A case study of pedagogical error in bioenergetics

Jo-ann Marie Larkins, Jennifer Mosse, Brian Chapman


The initial impetus for this research was the discovery by the authors of a variety of common and consistent errors and misconceptions in pedagogical literature on the topic of thermodynamics in Biochemistry. A systematic survey was undertaken of material on thermodynamics in Biochemistry textbooks commonly used in Australian Universities over the period from the 1920s up to 2010. Four common areas of error and misconception were identified, and a number of factors associated with the initiation and propagation of troublesome pedagogical material through successive editions of Biochemistry textbooks were recognised. These factors included the introduction of multiple authors and also often the departure of the original author of a particular textbook. The very nature of Biochemistry as a rapidly expanding discipline leads to the constant introduction of new material in textbooks and the contraction of older material such as thermodynamics. Material is also often fragmented into a number of smaller sections in modern textbooks. Moreover, less development is likely to be applied to this older material, with considerable reuse of material from previous editions. The lessons learned from charting these particular errors in thermodynamics in Biochemistry textbooks may provide insight into how troublesome pedagogical material evolves in other disciplines.

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