Division C Public Understanding of Science
Division C Public Understanding of Science

Public Understanding of Science: The Educational Challenges of Scientific “Uncertainty”

The public understanding of science is critical in a democratic society, yet many citizens lack knowledge of basic scientific tenets. Why is it that 96% of scientists agree that global warming is occurring, yet only 59% of U.S. citizens think there is solid evidence to support such a claim (Pew Research Center, 2011)? Why do only 48% of U.S. citizens think the theory of evolution is widely accepted in the scientific community and well supported by evidence (Newsweek, 2007)?

Research suggests that the absence of complete certainty in science leads many people to dismiss scientific claims of critical importance on which the vast majority of scientists agree. In this symposium, five research teams from the United States and Germany presented empirical studies that address common misperceptions about scientific uncertainty. Representing diverse backgrounds in cognitive, educational, and developmental psychology, the researchers discussed recent findings and their implications for the learning and teaching of science. They recommended, for example, that (a) science should be taught as process rather than simply as knowledge, in ways that go well beyond traditional approaches to the scientific method and include the epistemology of science; and (b) the meaning of “theory” should be clarified when used in contexts such as “the theory of evolution,” where it refers to an accepted explanation of a scientific phenomenon with substantial supporting evidence.

Time: Sunday, April 15, 10:35 a.m.–12:05 p.m.  

Building/Room: Sheraton Wall Centre, Grand Ballroom Level - North Grand Ballroom A

Session Participants:

Chair: William A. Sandoval (University of California - Los Angeles)

Problems in the Public Understanding of the Uncertainty of Science: Introduction to the Symposium Barbara K. Hofer (Middlebury College)

Some Like It Hot: How Emotions Tinge Laypeople’s Understanding of Scientific Controversies Rainer F. Bromme (University of Münster), Dorothe Kienhues (University of Münster)

Students’ Interpretation of Uncertainty in Health News Articles Anne Britt (Northern Illinois University), Amanda Marie Durik (Northern Illinois University), Brent Steffens (Northern Illinois University), Kayley Bloss (Northern Illinois University), John Baker (Northern Illinois University)

How Learners Deal With Uncertainty in Controversial Science-Related Texts Johanna Maier (University of Kassel), Tobias Richter (University of Kassel)

Elementary Students’ Abilities to Evaluate Uncertain Data Presented as Contingency Tables: Basic Understanding, the Influence of Context and Numerical Data Integration Anke Lindmeier (TU München), Kristina M. Reiss (TU München), Petra Barchfield (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), Beate Sodian (University of Munich)

Discussant: Jonathan F. Osborne (Stanford University)

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