I am the P.I. for an NSF funded project to enhance the quantitative component of undergrad
life science programs. As part of this, we have been evaluating a wide variety of software here,
including SimEarth and SimLife. A number of reviews on various programs are available through the
gopher or ftp to matharchives.math.utk.edu and look under life sciences.
For those interested in coupling software with the curriculum, I am running a Workshop here
in MAy on these issues, as well as other dealing with quantitative training. Info on the Workshop is
also available at the gopher site.
Regarding SimLife and Earth: I have archived a long discussion on SimEarth which came over
ECOLOG-L - my general impression (biased by my own experience with the program) is that
it too often produces non-sensical results to be useful as a major driving component of a basic
biology course. All the SIM programs are potentially tremendously useful in educational
contexts, but probably too complicated right now to be easily used without devoting either
alot of class time to explaining the basics, or else making up highly structured labs that constrain
the student from wandering off in numerous directions (mainly due to time limitations in courses
not due to pedagogy). I do use these as adjuncts to a course - mainly as extra credit projects for students.
In particular, I think SIMANT is a great program for taking an Ant's eye view of the world,
but I'm sure an entomologist could tear it's assumptions to pieces.
If you haven't yet looked at it, consider the BioQuest package - I think it serves as a marvelous
starting point for a variety of key biological areas, and doesn't have the game emphasis that
the SIM programs do.
Professor of Mathematics and Ecology
University of Tennessee