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As a science obsessed homeschooling mom, I am so frustrated with our culture’s lack of scientific literacy. I could go on and on, from the “one study said” (spoiler— one study doesn’t make a consensus) to the little understood difference between correlation and causation. Well, I want to start by asking why do our schools only teach half of the scientific method (and completely ignore the engineering method and reading method!)?
That’s right! Schools only teach HALF of the scientific method. The research, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion flowchart we all learn in sixth grade is not where science stops.
What are our kids missing?
Arguably the half our kids aren’t learning about is the most important: Peer Review. Once a study is finished, a researcher must then publish their findings. Once published, the real science begins. Other experts criticize each finding. Looking for holes in methodology, bad data, weak conclusions, or outright mistakes and then going on to publish those criticisms. Some repeat experiments to test their reliability, and others take it to the next step.
The process of peer review is a long drawn out one that makes or breaks careers (and one’s self esteem)! Not to mention that it is how we build a consensus, defined as a large body of LITERATURE that supports a conclusion as valid. Notice a consensus is not about people’s opinions. It’s about much data supporting a conclusion.
How can we help our kids learn about peer review?
How can we teach this to our kids? Incorporate the history of scientific debate into our lessons! Paleontology offers a perfect case study in the importance of debate. Since data is sparse, it relies more on debate than other fields. There are plenty of articles talking about whether Tyrannosaurus rex was a hunter or scavenger, exactly how pterosaurs flew, etc. One could even trace debates through history! For much of the 1700s and 1800s, specialists argued whether pterosaurs were even reptiles, whether they flew, or swam, etc.
Why is this important?
Because people see headlines like “link between pooping and cancer found” and start assuming pooping causes cancer. Ok, ok, my example is obviously fictitious, but you get the idea.
Don’t forget to teach that this peer review (debate) is the most important part of science. And the heart of debate is learning about cognitive biases and logical fallacies, neither of which are in most schools' curricula.
Cognitive biases are patterns of thinking in our mind that lead us to cling to certain ideas even when all evidence provided to us supports the opposite. For example, the bandwagon effect is the willingness for one to accept something as truth because many others believe it to be true. You know on infomercials when the narrator is like "250,000 satisfied customers can't be wrong"? Yes, yes, they can. They often are. For example, Galileo was imprisoned under house arrest because he believed the earth to revolve around the sun instead of the opposite, which was the prevailing belief of the time.
Logical fallacies are patterns of reasoning that are inherently misleading. For example, when someone tries to convince you that apples will cure cancer and sends you a link of an article that a doctor wrote. The doctor's claims are meant to support the assumption that apples can cure cancer because the doctor is an expert in health. This is called "appeal to authority". The doctor knows more about food, health, and cancer than lay people do; therefore, the doctor must be correct. Yet, this is inherently problematic because they doctor may not be an expert in cancer.
This absence of knowledge leads people to make life threatening decisions, not to mention change daily habits unnecessarily. I see way, way too many logical fallacies on social media, especially within debates on certain issues like vaccination and gender debates that impact people's daily lives, y'all.
I truly believe that the absence of education about cognitive biases and logical fallacies is a blemish on the American education system that needs to be corrected to save lives, put us on a more equal footing with the rest of the world, and just plainly to make out society better.
Would you like me to prepare a curriculum that would cover cognitive biases, logically fallacies, and the importance of debate within science? Leave me a comment if so!