Monday, June 14, 2004

Fundamental Skills in Science: Observation. Many of our students are scientifically illiterate. They believe in astrology, UFO abduction stories, crop circles, etc. The problem is that students lack an undertsanding of how science works. (They also forget to turn on, as the late Carl Sagan described it, "their bull-shit detectors.") The skills used in good scientific observation closely parallel the skills used in information literacy.

From the site:

Long before our ancestors invented writing, they created art representing their observations, and detailed observations of the night sky were being systematically recorded nearly 3,000 years ago (Kavassalis, 2000). Though the early Greeks recognized the importance of our senses in constructing knowledge, the primacy of observations was formally put to the test by Galileo who faced charges of heresy for supporting the heliocentric theory of the universe. Risking his life for the sake of ideas, Galileo not only believed in what he observed through the newly invented telescope, he believed in the newly emerging views of scientific knowledge based on reasoning and observations.

De Duve (2002) has characterized science as being "based on observation and experiment, guided by reason" (p. 285), and this combination is what distinguishes science from other paths to knowledge. Derry (1999) makes the same point by saying that "well constructed scientific arguments, defending a scientific conclusion, generally rests on two foundations: reliable empirical evidence and sound logical reasoning" (p. 89). Martin (1972) was more explicit:

"Scientific theories are primarily tested against observation and accepted, rejected, or modified mainly because of observational data. Observation is thus generally considered to be the touchstone of objectivity in science; it seems to be primarily observation that provides an independent standard for the evaluation of theories and hypotheses. If it were not for observation, there would be little reason for choosing between scientific theories and fictional accounts, between science and pseudoscience, between warranted assertions and fanciful hopes. "

He goes on to caution, though, that "observation clearly cannot be maintained as infallible or certain. The existence of perceptual illusion, hallucinations, and other less dramatic perceptual errors proves that people can be deceived by their senses" (pp. 112-113).

No comments: