Missing core of science

August 14, 2014

Tim Birkhead and Bob Montgomerie mostly blame school science teaching for an increase in scientific fraud (“School for scandal”, Features, 7 August). They correctly determine that fact-based teaching and a tick-box mentality in the science curriculum fails to provide a good education. But there are many factors at work that prevent a rounded science education.

While it may be the case that short cuts are taken in schools with results ignored or fabricated, this is more likely due to the nature of school science being a filtered form of “real science”. Teachers and students work towards an expected result rather than an actual result. Moreover, there is a lack of understanding of the processes of science and the history and philosophy of science shown by those teaching.

My own research (“It’s just a theory: trainee science teachers’ misunderstandings of key scientific terminology”, published in Evolution: Education and Outreach) reveals that graduates have naive views. For many, responses to questions on “the scientific method” yield answers often equating it to experimental design. While no one scientific method exists, confusion is also apparent in responses to inductive versus deductive methods. Add to this confusion over definitions of key terms such as “theory”, “law” or “hypothesis”, then no wonder we have a problem.

Few of the 189 science graduates surveyed for my research had ever studied aspects of the history or philosophy of science. Key philosophers were unknown to them and while some had notions of the idea of falsifiability none had anything like a developed understanding of the nature of science. The situation will not change unless and until we have a better appreciation of the process of science as well as developing key skills in experimentation and understanding. This should begin in schools but must be carried on at university with undergraduate courses in the history and philosophy of science as a core module.

James D. Williams
Lecturer in science education
University of Sussex

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Researcher in Fluid Dynamics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Analyst

Greenwich School Of Management Ltd

PhD Research Fellow in Medical Physics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Postdoctoral position in Atmospheric and Space Physics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

PhD Fellow in Machine Learning

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu
See all jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework

people dressed in game of thrones costume

Old Germanic languages are back in vogue, but what value are they to a modern-day graduate? Alice Durrans writes