Ambiguous, circular and polysemous: students' definitions of the “balance of nature” metaphor

  title={Ambiguous, circular and polysemous: students' definitions of the “balance of nature” metaphor},
  author={Corinne Zimmerman and Kim Cuddington},
  journal={Public Understanding of Science},
  pages={393 - 406}
The “balance of nature” metaphor has been used to explain the functioning of natural systems from ancient times and continues to be invoked in popular culture, in spite of controversy regarding its use in the scientific community. We demonstrate that undergraduate students in the United States believe this term is descriptive of real ecological systems, and continue to do so after instruction in ecological science. A content analysis of students' definitions of the “balance of nature” and its… 

Tables from this paper

Towards a Critical Re-Appraisal of Ecology Education: Scheduling an Educational Intervention to Revisit the ‘Balance of Nature’ Metaphor
The ‘Balance of Nature’ metaphor is a pervasive idea in ecology. However, the scientific community acknowledged during the last decades that equilibrium conditions are rare, while disturbance events
Teleology’s long shadow
The ubiquity of teleological language and thinking throughout biology is described, as a context for understanding how students think about evolution, as well as advocating explicit learning about teleological dispositions and their cultural consequences as an essential countermeasures.
Arguing from Nature: The role of ‘nature’ in students’ argumentations on a socio-scientific issue
This paper explores how students invoked different conceptions of ‘nature’ in eight socio-scientific group discussions about human gene therapy. The paper illustrates and discusses how the students
ABSTRACTThis study explored environmental worldviews of selected undergraduate students in Taiwan and located the associations of these worldviews with science. The “environment” is represented as
Students’ Reasoning about the Future of Disturbed or Protected Ecosystems & the Idea of the ‘Balance of Nature’
This paper is part of a larger study that aims at highlighting students’ interpretations of the idea of the ‘Balance of Nature’, as well as its use in their reasoning about the future of an
Unravelling the holistic nature of ecosystems: biology teachers’ conceptions of ecosystem balance and self-regulation
ABSTRACT The present study explores how in-service secondary education Greek biology teachers understand aspects of the concept of ecosystem under the assumption that the ecosystem is an ill-defined
Transforming “Ecosystem” from a Scientific Concept into a Teachable Topic: Philosophy and History of Ecology Informs Science Textbook Analysis
This study conducts a textbook analysis in the frame of the following working hypothesis: The transformation of scientific knowledge into school knowledge is expected to reproduce the problems
The Suffocating Embrace of Landscape and the Picturesque Conditioning of Ecology
What are natural landscapes? Are they “out there,” separate from people, or are they creations of our own perception? An exploration of artistic visions of landscape on the one hand and the
Visualizing pre-service biology teachers´ conceptions about population dynamics in ecosystems
The Balance of Nature (BoN) metaphor leads to various naïve conceptions about ecosystem dynamics that do not address current scientific theories adequately. An appropriate alternative is the Flux of
Adolescents' Beliefs about the Wolf: Investigating the Potential of Human–Wolf Coexistence in the European South
Previous research revealed a rural–urban divide in the acceptance of the wolf. We investigated adolescents’ beliefs about the wolf in rural and urban areas of Greece and Italy. By using a


The “Balance of Nature” Metaphor and Equilibrium in Population Ecology
It is demonstrated that “balance of nature” has constricted the meaning ofmathematical equilibrium in population ecology, and suggests that themetaphor was and continues to be a constitutive part of ecological theories.
Changing Concepts of the Balance of Nature
  • F. Egerton
  • Environmental Science
    The Quarterly Review of Biology
  • 1973
Balance-of-nature concepts apparently have receded in importance with the rise of ecological specialization, probably because ecologists have developed more precise concepts of productivity and ecosystem can serve about the same explanatory functions.
Metaphor and Thought: Metaphor and theory change: What is “metaphor” a metaphor for?
Introduction In the now classic essay “Metaphor” (Black, 1962b), Max Black considers and rejects various formulations of the “substitution view” of metaphor, according to which every metaphorical
The development of biological explanation: are children vitalists?
It is concluded that children's thinking about biology is not necessarily more vitalistic than adults' and that the changeability of biological and psychological characteristics and the causal mechanisms underlying biological, psychological, and mechanical phenomena change with development.
Cognitive Illusions as Hindrances to Learning Complex Environmental Issues
Teaching and learning complex issues is often confounded by the presence of simplistic mental models that are held by students. These simplistic models can be described as “cognitive illusions” which
Metaphor and Thought
Preface to first edition Preface List of contributors 1. Metaphor, language and thought ANDREW ORTONY Part I. Metaphor and Meaning: 2. More about metaphor Max Black Figurative speech and linguistics
Must There Be a Balance of Nature?
This paper focuses on population ecology, where controversy surrounding the balance of nature takes the form of perennial debates over the significance of density dependence, population regulation, and species interactions such as competition.
From Balance of Nature to Hierarchical Patch Dynamics: A Paradigm Shift in Ecology
A common assumption historically in ecology is evident in the term "balance of nature." The phrase usually implies that undisturbed nature is ordered and harmonius, and that ecological systems return
Big Questions in Ecology. (Book Reviews: The Balance of Nature? Ecological Issues in the Conservation of Species and Communities.)
Stuart L. Pimm addresses five kinds of ecological stability--stability in the strict sense, resilience, variability, persistence, and resistance--and shows how they provide ways of comparing natural populations and communities as well as theories about them.
How does grasping the underlying causal structures of ecosystems impact students' understanding?
Students have difficulty understanding ecosystem concepts. This article argues that the difficulty stems partly from not grasping the underlying causality that structures the concepts. We report on