Being Scientific


This is a collaborative list. Feel free to add your own ideas (click the "edit" button at the top or bottom of the page), but do not delete anything! If you disagree, place a comment in the forum at the bottom of the page.

The importance of this section is that a) it colours they way we lay out the whole course and b) it describes the process of science which we will apply in this wiki to be able to make it "evidence-based".

Objectives for this section

(This section builds on the definition in "What is Science" and covers those objectives set out in "Aims of a Science Education" which are not covered by the content sections.)

  • to excite and enthuse children with a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world.
  • That "science" should be seen as a "normal" activity, one which applies ordinary standards of evidence to explain real-life observations.
    • Science is NOT a collection of facts and figures. It is an evidence-based approach to finding out information / knowledge / "truth" about the world and how it works. This approach is significantly different to other approaches.
    • to cause children to understand the importance of evidence when making decisions and to be able to judge whether the claims of the media, advertisers, politicians, journalists, etc, are evidence-based and reliable.
    • to equip students with the idea that a scientific approach can be applied to everyday life, not just to the "special" cases presented to them in textbooks etc. So, for example, they can use their knowledge of science when making decisions about beauty / health products.
    • to understand the term "pseudoscience" and the misuse of "science" by advertisers and others who hijack the terminology of science to validate their opinions or products.
  • That science has wider implications
    • to demonstrate that the fruits of science have ethical, political, cultural and social implications.
    • to develop an appreciation of how science has contributed to the historical and cultural development of our society.
  • To know how to use the science method
    • give practical experience of how scientists make observations of the natural world, come up with hypotheses and do experiments to obtain evidence to support or disprove these hypotheses.
    • how to obtain reliable results via controlling variables, fair testing etc
    • to appreciate that scientific findings are sometimes presented in statistical form; to understand the term "statistically significant"
    • to understand the importance of sample sizes, control groups, placebos etc. when the experimenter cannot control all the variables.
    • to be able to assess risk

Science as "critical thinking".

Critical Thinking is a method applied to any claim to see whether we can rely on it.

  • is it "just an opinion"?
  • is it biased?
  • does the proposer have a vested interest?
  • are there errors in the reasoning?

The method of science can be seen as a special use of critical thinking which is applied to explaining natural phenomena.

  • it is based on evidence, not opinion, hearsay, tradition or authority.
  • it applies tests to the evidence: "were the experiments valid?" (did the experimenter control the variables, make it a "fair test")
  • if controlled conditions are not available (as in biological systems) was the sample size large enough?
  • are the results reliable? ( do they fit in with other results? is this a meta-study? are they statistically significant?
  • has a causal link been found, or is this simply an unexplained correlation?

Levels of answer which science can provide.

Science cannot provide definitive answers to all questions. They can be divided into 3 broad groups:

Where variables can be controlled and definite answers given

This applies to questions of fact such as "what is the tensile strength of this alloy?" or "are Sainsbury's carrier bags stranger than Tesco's?" "does antibiotic Z kills these bacteria?".

Where control of variables is not possible

Experiments with biological or social systems are too complex to control all variables. here experimental design needs to try to exclude the variation between individuals by using large sample sizes, double-blind experiments and statistical analysis.

Where the evidence is in statistical form

"The likelihood of rain tomorrow is 80%" "The chances of getting pregnant while using a condom is 1 in 1000." "smokers chances of getting lung cancer are 200x the chances of a non-smoker." "86% more patients showed a beneficial effect compared to the placebo"

Where science can advise, but not decide

Questions such as "should we develop nuclear power?" allow science only an advisory role. Political or moral dimensions can only be informed by science. Science can give definitive answers to the physics of the process and the strength of the materials, can give statistical answers to the likelihood of an accident and predict likely outcomes from an accident, but it cannot take the decision.

Proposals for "Thinking scientifically" to replace HSW

How you can use science methods in everyday life

familiar contexts
everyday experiences
not just experiments

How mainstream science is carried out in the modern world

  • Most science is carried out by individuals working in organisations such as universities, research centres and private companies.
  • Different ways in which science is funded - from taxpayer money to private enterprise
  • The role of peer review in establishing the validity of research.
  • The need to carry out a "research review" before embarking on a new piece of research
  • Newly emerging methods of scientific publication - in particular developments in web-publishing
  • An understanding and appreciation of new technologies / equipment which are transforming how science is done - from particle accelerators to genome decoders.

History and Philosophy of Science

  • Example

Important ideas/concepts/observations/"facts"

Anything else that you'd like to mention?

  • Example

These may not be "theories", but are nevertheless vital aspects of a study of this area:

  • Example

Other things

These may not be "theories", but are nevertheless vital aspects of a study of this area:

  • Example

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