Specified Links To Science For All Americans

The list of specific "values and assumptions" inherent to science and scientific knowledge comprise the topics central to the course and are the basis of the course design (see course description). The second list of 16 items in the course description consists of those characteristics of science and contentious issues regarding science (as elucidated from readings). These items are considered to be incidental topics because, although they are likely to arise within class discussions, they are not the focus of the course, as are the items in the first list.

Although the course described here was developed before the publication of Science for All Americans (SFAA), the focus of the course embodies much of what is contained within various sections of SFAA. In particular, the following Chapters and parenthetically identified Sections of SFAA are specifically addressed by the course described here: Chapter 1: The Nature of Science (The Scientific World View, Scientific Inquiry, and The Scientific Enterprise), Chapter 3: The Nature of Technology (Technology and Science), Chapter 11: Common Themes (Models, Constancy and Change), and Chapter 12: Habits of Mind (Values and Attitudes, Manipulation and Observation, Communication, Critical-Response Skills). Although not a focal point of the described course, the following aspects of SFAA are considered to some degree, Chapter 7: Human Society (Cultural Effects on Behavior, Social Change, Social Trade-Offs, Global Interdependence).

Explanation Of Science For All Americans Section Links

Although the primary links between the described course and SFAA exist within Chapters 1, 3, 11, and 12, there is much overlap among these chapters. Chapter 1, it can be argued, embodies to the highest degree the focus of the course. Consequently, a specific discussion of the linkages between the SFAA sections in Chapter 1 and the described course should also provide the reasoning behind the linkages that can be found between the described course and Chapters 3, 11, and 12.

The Scientific World View. This section of SFAA contains the following sequence of topics: an understandable world; modifiability of science; durability of science; incompleteness of scientific answers. Further, it is stated that the four central beliefs of scientists are: the world is understandable, scientific ideas are subject to change, scientific knowledge is durable, and science cannot provide complete answers to all questions. The topics and beliefs of scientists specified in this section of SFAA are addressed to some degree throughout the course. However, specific course attention to the topics of the empirical basis of science, tentativeness, use of creative imagination, the influence of paradigms, scientific theory and scientific law, and the relationship of observation and inference are particularly relevant to the ideas identified in this section of Science for All Americans.

Throughout the course students are expected to read various texts and historical excerpts from the history of science. For example, class discussions surrounding Kuhn's description of the "discovery" of oxygen immediately illustrate the importance of observation as well as creative interpretation to the development of scientific knowledge. Students clearly see how science can increase our understanding of the world even though the knowledge it produces is likely to change with the future data collection and the differing perspectives of other scientists. And, throughout these historical periods of change it is also clear that there is some stability as opposed to chaos in the knowledge base of the sciences.

In a similar manner, the students are asked to reflect upon the historical account of research related to the physical structure of the interior of the earth provided by Stephen Brush. Again, in-depth discussions of this historical account clearly illustrate the inherent tentativeness of scientific theories and ideas, the critical influence of theoretical paradigms on research questions and data interpretation, and the ultimately incomplete (although highly useful and powerful) nature of scientific knowledge. It is through periodic assigned readings in the history and philosophy of science (taken from the reading list provided in the section on assignments) and focused questions on the ideas of tentativeness and the development of knowledge that students come to understand the beliefs of scientists specified in the Scientific World View section of SFAA.

In addition to such readings, students participate in a variety of "hands-on" activities that involve them in making observations and constructing inferred models to explain their observations. One such activity involves a short section of cardboard tubing (similar to the type in which a map is packaged) with four sections of rope visibly extended. In a demonstration, the ropes are pulled randomly and the students are asked to note the actions of the other visible portions of rope, if any. Students are then asked to speculate about the inside of the tube in an effort to explain the actions of the rope that was visible. Students construct a hypothetical model and it is "tested" by having the teacher perform designated manipulations on the demonstration tube. This is followed by students constructing their own tube models to see if they can create the same effects as the ones originally viewed. This activity is presented as an analogy to science. What is stressed during this activity is the relationship of observation and inference, the tentative nature of scientific knowledge, the role and necessity of theoretical models, the importance of empirical evidence, and the influence of paradigms on how data is collected and interpreted. Finally, students spend much time considering the idea that even if their models reproduce the observed actions of the original exactly, they can not know absolutely if the two tubes are constructed in an identical manner. This activity is then related to specific scientific examples of models in the area of molecular genetics and global climate change.

Scientific Inquiry. This section of SFAA contains the following sequence of topics: centrality of evidence; blend of logic and imagination; explanation and prediction; identifying and avoiding bias; expertise versus authority. These are critical ideas and they are addressed throughout the described course. Again, teachers and students need to understand that scientific knowledge is tentative, partly because it necessarily involves human creativity and because it is also influenced by human subjectivity. However, the overriding arbiter of scientific is the empirical world. Overall, attention to the ideas comprising the sections on The Scientific World View and Scientific Inquiry are given serious attention because most individuals operate with a relatively absolutist mindset. That is, knowledge is considered to be correct or incorrect in an absolute sense. Scientific knowledge is more accurately conceived of as probabilistic. Although we know nothing for sure, we do appear to know more about some things than others. Consequently, much of the effort focusing on these first two sections of SFAA is to bring teachers to a more relativistic and instrumental view of knowledge. This view of knowledge is more consistent with the scientific enterprise and it is a view which should alleviate the negative perceptions developed by the public when they consistently notice scientists changing their minds on a variety of topics.

Instructional efforts facilitating students' understanding of the concepts stressed in the Scientific Inquiry section are the very same ones used in the previous section. In particular, similar activities to the cardboard tube model are used effectively to address the necessity of evidence, importance of logic and imagination, the nature of scientific explanations and predictions, and avoidance of bias and authoritarianism.

The Scientific Enterprise. This section of SFAA has the following sequence of topics: science as diverse, social activity; blurred boundaries between fields; funding of research; ethics; expert testimony and its limits. The public is often of the opinion that science and scientists operate in isolation from society or that they should operate in a vacuum. These views are clearly inaccurate, but current science instruction and available textbooks do little to alleviate the problem. The described course's attention to the interactions of science with technology and society attempts to elucidate the actual activities of science within a complex system of individuals, institutions, political groups, and various and sundry constituencies.

Specific assignments used to address this section of SFAA involve the use of readings (primarily from newspaper articles) concerned with locally relevant science-based issues. For example, the debate between those advocating efforts to save the spotted owl and those individuals more concerned with the economic needs of the logging community, the development of hatchery salmon and its possible impact on genetic diversity and viability of the species, and the issues surrounding field burning are used as focal points to illustrate the major tenets of this SFAA section. Discussion of these scientifically-based issues clearly illustrates that science does not occur in a vacuum. Scientists are clearly viewed as community members with varying levels of priorities, many of which may not be science related. Students participate in class discussions of current media and periodically participate in "role play" activities so that they can get a feel for the complexity of science and its influence as it operates within the context of our society.

The formal reading assignment associated with the portion of the course addressing this section of SFAA is Science and Human Values (Bronowski). As well as in any other text, Bronowski portrays the complex relationship between science, technology, and society. This text is further supplemented by videotapes of Richard Feynman speaking about his experiences in the development of the atomic bomb.