Jan 9, 2022
Science & Education

Science includes the fundamental attributes of durability and uncertainty; hence, we teach about the “tentative yet durable” nature of science. Public discourse can be different, where one hears both confidence about “settled science” and doubts about “just theories.” The latter observation gives rise to the possibility that emphasis on learning the tentative nature of science offers some people the actionable option of declining to accept canonical science. Our paper reports the findings from initial and replication exploratory studies involving about 500 preservice, elementary/middle school teacher education students at a large Midwestern public university. Using a survey method that included opportunities for student comments, the study tested hypotheses about confidence in the veracity, durability, tentativeness, and trustworthiness of science. We found that most students embrace noncontroversial science as correct, and that almost all embraced the tentative nature of science regardless of what they thought about controversial topics. However, when asked about the trustworthiness of science, many students were not willing to say that they trust scientific knowledge. Even students strongly supportive of science, including controversial science, responded similarly. And why did they say that science is not trustworthy? The explanation echoed by many students was that scientific knowledge is tentative. Our paper concludes with implications for instruction and research. Our findings suggest that it would be prudent for science educators to increase instructional focus on the relationship between data and evidence that leads to the durability of scientific knowledge. Future research needs to thoroughly investigate the public interpretation of what we teach about the nature and characteristics of science, and for the implications it might have on how scientific knowledge is or is not incorporated in the development and implementation of public policy.

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