There is a mismatch between how the public feels about science and how they treat science. On the one hand, one of the most popular and shared feeds on Facebook is I F**cking love Science, which includes updates, news and interesting facts on some of the most provocative aspects of science and scientists Neil Tyson Degrasse and Bill Nye are some of the most popular twitter feeds. Yet, on the other hand, despite these seemingly positive feelings that people have towards science, most news reports cover the scandals, and the lack of public investment facing academic research. While much of the public enjoys the fruits of scientific endeavors, public support is generally tenuous at best. The issues in the relationship between science and society can be traced back to both scientists and society. At their most basic function, scientists produce new knowledge. For centuries, the traditional form of science communication has been the scholarly manuscript, an article that has been assessed and verified by fellow scholars as making an important contribution to the academic community and published for fellow scholars to read. It wasn’t until the 19th century that these findings started to be communicated to the public at large by journalists and other scientific communicators. Their job was to distil the scientific findings to a level that could be consumed by the public. With this new responsibility to communicate findings to both fellow scholars and the public, we began to see the issue of “public understanding of science” be raised. This is where the public’s role in this relationship is brought to the forefront. What is the minimum level of scientific knowledge or understanding is expected of someone from the “general public?” Is it a high school level of understanding and if so, what does that mean? It is our opinion that members of the public are not expected to be experts on all areas of science, but rather should be able to parse through and critically analyze any fact, finding, claim or opinion brought to their attention.
These conditions bring us to today, where we, an Introductory Psychology class at Haverford College in the fall of 2015, co-created this book for students and adults to learn about how to become more science literate. In this book, we will explore concepts in science that are poorly explained by the scientific community and that are often misunderstood by the public in order to better communicate the actual practice of science. “Science” is often presented as an ethical pursuit of knowledge that is governed by the scientific method in the search for “truth.” However, in practice, science becomes much more murky, complicated and altogether much less “holy” than depicted. This discrepancy between the depiction and practice of science causes a number of problems when findings in science are presented to the public. So by compiling this book of concepts and practices of science, explained both as they normally are understood and in their more complicated version, we hope that we can increase public understanding of the practice of science. By revealing the more complicated version of these concepts/practices the public should be able to more critically approach scientific findings and claims.
The Class Was Provided These Instructions
As a class, we will create a web-based resource for students and adults to learn about science literacy. While much of the public enjoys the fruits of scientific endeavors, public support is generally tenuous at best. The issues in the relationship between science and society can be traced back to both scientists and society. In our book we will explore concepts and activities in science that are poorly explained by science and misunderstood by the public in order to better communicate the actual practice of science.
Through your chapter, you will have the opportunity to explore a topic of your interest in science in general in greater depth. I want you to be able to explore an area that you are interested in, so I am giving you some freedom in selecting your topics.
Things to include in your chapter:
- 1) Background information – how is your topic generally presented to the public
- 2) The complication – how is your topic generally viewed in the community of science
- 3) Examples or discussion of where the misunderstanding has occurred (this could include figures/pictures)
- 4) Suggestions for how the public should approach the issue/topic as they are faced with scientific information or discoveries in the future
Chapters should be supported with scientific research using a minimum of 6 scientific sources to support your conclusions. Avoid simply stating what each source contributes individually, rather discuss how the article helps answer your topic, how the sources agree or disagree with one another, and how they agree or disagree with your own initial response. Additionally, for the complication you may need to visit blogs, forums and other sources of anecdotal information. Parsing these for quality information will be necessary. Make sure to also include a reference section in APA format.
I will not assign a minimum nor a maximum length for your chapter. However, while your goal is to be as comprehensive as possible, you should aim to do so as succinctly as possible. In practice this likely means that you will spend less time on your background information than your complications, examples and suggestions.
How to Proceed
Ahead you’ll find topics that include experimentation, statistical analysis, interpretation of results publishing and broader issues. This book is not meant to make you skeptic (as thought of in today’s terms where someone refuses to believe anything), but rather it is meant to make you a more informed and critical consumer of scientific knowledge. After reading this book you should be able to have a more informed and thoughtful discussion of popular and divisive topics in science. As you see in the instructions, authors were supposed to take a topic and provide information on the more complicated way that the topic is approached in science. Each chapter should end with suggestions for how you should approach the topic in the future. This book and each individual chapter are not meant to be the end of the discussion, but rather the beginning. Take the information and go out and find out more for yourself. Talk to others, reach out to scientists and try to demystify the enterprise of science.
Finally a Note
These chapters are provided unedited and in the condition that they were submitted for a grade. So what does that mean? That means that they may not have included all “scientific sources” or that they may not have written their chapter in APA format/style or that they may have mis-attributed or improperly cited their sources. In other words, these are chapter/projects largely written by first-year college students in the fall of their first year and they are not perfect. However, I believe that they still have a lot to offer people. This project and book was the first time that I have attempted a project and thought it to be an amazing first step, but it also taught me a lot about students, their progress through the psychology curriculum and pedagogy. A second edition of this book will likely be attempted with senior psychology majors sometime in the future that allows students to more critically explore these issues, in particular, how they connect to the students’ own experiences.