Field of Science


Science teaching: real and imagined problems

Teaching science is one of those things the Phactor knows more than a little about, and no question about it, science can be taught very badly or very well. Unfortunately science is more often taught badly, and this is a serious educational problem that no small number of people have been trying to fix, but it remains difficult. Yet science can be taught effectively, and relatively easily, if teachers can just learn how science is done and teach it accordingly.
No worse critic of science teaching and textbooks exists than the Phactor. Crap abounds. But here is a criticism of science teaching that is a huge load of steaming manure that only serves to demonstrate 1. that the author, Dr. Larry Dossey, presumably a physician, has never done science and has no idea how the teach science, and 2. the Huffington Post continues its love affair with alternative medicine.

His description of science is quite at odds with my experience, and no surprise because he quotes Jeremy Rifkin, whose dislike of science is well known, "The scientific method is at odds with virtually everything we know about our own nature and the nature of the world.” And silly me thought science was our one reliable means of learning and knowing about the nature of nature! Now what is missing is what exactly tells Rifkin and Dossey that science is so mistaken, so at odds with what it tells us? What more reliable method of knowing and learning should be substituted for science? Hmm, well, maybe it’s premonitions or prayer, both common topics in articles and books written by Dossey. In other words quesses and coincidences loom large in his magical thinking. No wonder science, based as it is on evidence, seems at odds with his world view.
Dossey employs an old rhetorial device; set up a straw man and knock him down. Provide an unflattering and inaccurate description of the scientific method and then criticize this description. In only one very tiny sense is the argument against science accurate; people do not innately think scientifically, so the application of the scientific method to learning, must be learned. The vast majority of people never learn this, and they only learn about science. Science is a process as well as a body of knowledge, so very few people understand science well enough to practice science. Most of us learned to do science by apprenticing with other scientists, and part of the science education problem, the real one, not the one Dossey had a premonition about, is that most teachers of science have never done science. And even a lot of the people who do science are not good at teaching science because they haven’t learned enough about this educational problem. So where do Rifken and Dossey get the idea that “an increasing number of scientists” have a disconnect between how they view the world and the scientific method? We clearly are not reading the same scientific literature, and here the Phactor ventures to guess that, oh, yes, clearly this is feeling true, they do not read the scientific literature at all. It just came to me. Wow! This premonition stuff is great!
Bottom line, Dr. Dossey is not a credible critic of science, and others agree, even when he sticks with medical science.

HT to Mike the Mad Biologist.

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