The Crucial Piece Missing from Today’s Society

By Amy Hefner

In the ever-evolving nature of humanity and its progress, is our current education curriculum obsolete? As the world becomes increasingly technologically advanced and reliant, are we not putting enough emphasis on sciences? Although the average individual might not use chemistry or trigonometry in their everyday lives, the educational curriculum has overlooked a vital component of the scientific field: the use of scientific argument and reasoning. In the United States, there is a clash between the scientific community and the public, often due to misunderstanding or a lack of knowledge on various subjects. This has created public distrust in science and has caused a rift between logical arguments and reasoning. Too often bias and current ingrained beliefs do not allow the process of questioning what is known and why, whether it is reliable and supported, and considering multiple possibilities and sides. Teaching and re-enforcing proper methods of research, logic, and understanding of arguments is what is needed to combat this separation of belief and truth. Being able to apply scientific argument and reasoning allows the individual to think critically and completely analyze situations and topics, both simple and complex. Doing so will broaden the viewpoints and understanding of everyday problems, leading to the growth of thorough thought and consideration on more controversial topics. Maurizio Iaccarino put it simply: “Scientific progress, the driving force for the majority of the changes witnessed the 20th century, requires a critical mind, free of prejudice and open to new ways of thinking” (748). American society needs to emphasize and re-learn how to use scientific logic and argument correctly to avoid misconceptions and misunderstandings to improve the livelihood of the average American, to better address and tackle modern issues and controversies, and to re-evaluate current views and conceptions so to learn from mistakes and avoid corruption.

Learning and practicing scientific thinking and logic not only challenges our pre-conceived views and beliefs to encourage intellectual growth, but also leads to more economic growth on a micro and macro scale. The National Center Education Statistics states that among American young adults ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), 48% are employed in a specialized occupation, with STEM fields showing an increasing demand due to the fast expansion of technology and research. The NCES continues to display data for annual earnings and employment rates based on educational levels, but more specifically the employment of STEM college graduates. The two fields with the highest employment percent shows that in 2012, 21% of the graduates were employed as medical professionals and 19% as business workers and managers (“The Condition of Education At a Glance”. If people learn how to approach problems differently and think critically then they develop skills that not only apply to schooling/academics but also to daily obstacles. This cultivates better teamwork and cohesiveness in the workplace, individuals who will seek to improve current procedures and standards, and an overall more logical and planned approach to life as a whole. Educators have strived for years to improve the way they teach so that their students are well-prepared to tackle adulthood and all of its challenges, especially intellectually. Instructors from Science Scope had this to say[1]:

            To an increasing degree, goals for K-12 science education reflect the need for all citizens to understand and be able to use science in decision making… children in school today will need to act as informed citizens in both public roles (e.g., voter, advocate) and private roles (e.g., consumer worker, learner). Thus, as science educators, we need to prepare students for the decisions they will make in those roles… this does not imply advocating a particular political position, but it does mean that citizen should be able to understand and evaluate scientific arguments about environmental issues and use scientific understanding to inform their decisions. Scientific knowledge alone is not sufficient for making informed decisions about these issues, which also have political, economic, and ethical dimensions (Covitt et al.).

Individuals with critical thinking skills have already shown to be more likely to be independent, hard-working, natural leaders and good communication, and generally more successful in both work and home life.

Emphasizing the importance of scientific argument allows review and re-evaluation of current practices to ensure that there are no sources of error or corruption, and can also stimulate the ability to learn from mistakes and grow overall. The most prevalent obstacle in the progress of science is the continual question of ethics and how they intertwine. Although very important for regulation and avoiding wrongful practices, it also shouldn’t hinder scientific progress. One good example of reflecting upon present social conceptions involves using historical scientific controversies to teach students how to properly learn through historical events, giving the opportunity for students to dismantle inaccuracies, recognizing “bad science”, and effectively debating in a scientific setting. Additionally they add that “Some researchers maintain that argument-rich discourse about academic content can promote deep and meaningful learning” and “Unlike modern issues that are heavily politicized, historical controversies allow students to assemble information, consider its value, and effectively argue a scientific position without the added baggage of modern controversies, in which the public is bombarded with information that may not be scientific” (Clary and Wandersee). It is required to continually scrutinize and challenge science to remain uncorrupted by these. Learning from past mistakes, controversies, failures and successes, and the darker side of scientific growth cultivates the ability to identify common errors and hopefully make bigger steps to benefit humanity.

Being able to approach modern issues, problems, and controversies with a more logical and argumentative mindset allows a more informed conclusion and opinion to be made. The old, yet still controversial, topics that include genetically modified organisms (GMOs), climate change, vaccinations, and many more are often victims of false and corrupted research that clouds the truth and leads to misunderstanding and distrust of the scientific community. A lack of understanding of these topics can severely hinder progress and muddy the conceptions of the actual truth. To tackle issues without bias, the American people require the ability to set aside emotional or religious beliefs. This is why it is vital for the American public to learn and practice daily the skills of scientific argument and logic to accurately process the world around them.

As with most aspects of humanity, despite good intentions and grand ambitions, even the most ‘pure’ or noble pursuits can become tainted and warped into a manipulative tool. However, this is not a fault of scientific thinking itself, but of the insidious way that society and its governments have allowed standards to deteriorate. The privatizing and politicizing of science, development, and research is not only purposefully limiting access to data and truth, but also uses what is left of public regard for scientific authority and authenticity to benefit specific parties. Health care is one such historic and modern example, wherein businesses and legislation have actively tampered and hindered the validity of research to make profit. As a result, the health care system is still vastly undeveloped, leaving many individuals either confused on what is and isn’t accurate and what is best for them and their families. The editors of the PLOS Medicine Journal have written upon the fact that this corruption combined with a lack of clear communication is the main issue: “the conflict appears to be less about the quality of the evidence than about how – and even whether – scientists are able to communicate evidence on politically volatile topics to the public” (“Science”). The article continues to affirm that this change cannot be done alone, but will require the combined efforts of the scientific community, the government, and of politicians in general. Sometimes, however, those advocating on the behalf of science can often be the very source of dissent and cultivate a toxic view of scientific consensus. As pointed out in The Conversation, “Open dialogue between scientists and the societies in which they live and work is, of course, an essential ingredient of democracy. But insisting that science operate under a mandate of consensus…is not. Faux unanimity in science actually underexposes policy-relevent scientific and political dissent” (Saltelli, Giampietro, and Gomiero). Essentially, falsely grouping or generalizing the findings of a broad and controversial topic can lead to inaccurate conclusions and resounding inaction due to disagreement. Climate change, as an example, is generally supported and proven by the scientific community; however there is a large variation on proposed strategy and responses, which makes progress come to a halt all the same. This misconception leads to an even larger and dangerous belief that once a scientific authority has spoken, all other non-scientific sources are deemed illegitimate. Yuval Levin addressed this thoroughly in his article, “The Moral Challenge of Modern Science”, even quoting two legislators making this mistake:

            Once science has spoken, (Eleanor Homes) Norton suggests, there is no longer any room for “personal beliefs” drawing on non-scientific sources like philosophy, history, religion, or morality to guide policy…Representative Ted Strickland…spoke for many when… in 2001 he said that when it comes to issues that touch science, “we should not allow theology, philosophy, or politics to interfere with the decision we make.” Not even politics can interfere in politics when science is involved.

These issues ultimately lead to the conclusion, one that many others have proclaimed, that science has an obligation and responsibility to society and the public individuals to continually strive to be unbiased and truthful, ever critical and challenging itself to improve, and to actively work with and communicate so that we as a people can make these vital changes to improve the lives of all (Iaccarino; Ingram; Levin; Lucus; “Science”).

Proficiency in scientific argument and reasoning needs to be emphasized and taught to the U.S. public to provide any and all individuals with the ability to think critically and determine logical credibility. Doing this will benefit the individual and economy, lead to better abilities to address and problem solve modern issues and controversies, and create improving standards and monitoring to eliminate corruption. Perhaps if society can practice these skills general livelihood and lifestyles could be improved, science and politics can be actively separated, and allow the general public to effectively communicate with the scientific community on common, equal ground.

 

Works Cited

Brodsky, Lauren, et al. “Helping students evaluate the strength of evidence in scientific arguments: thinking about the inferential distance between evidence and claims.” Science Scope, Summer 2013, pp. 22+. Science in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A503273155/SCIC?u=nclivewtee&xid=6d2a02f3.

Clary, Renee, and James Wandersee. “Arguing history: SSSS teaching historical scientific controversies to engage students in discourse and the nature of science.” The Science Teacher, Summer 2013, pp. 39+. Science in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A503309566/SCIC?u=nclivewtcc&xid=554e082.

Covitt, Beth A., et al. “Evaluating scientific arguments with slow thinking.” Science Scope, Nov. 2013, pp. 44+. Science in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A497271547/SCIC?u=nclivewtcc&xid=500c54444.

Iaccarino, Maurizio. “Science and ethics.” European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) reports, vol. 2, no. 9, 2001, pp. 747-750., EMBO reports, doi:10.1093/embo-reports/kvel191.

Ingram, Jay. “Belief is biased: it’s vital to know how our values trump logic.” Alternatives Journal, vol. 38, no. 5, 2012, pp. 30+. Science in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A302664077/SCIC?u=nclivewtcc&xid=455de459.

Levin, Yuval. “The Moral Challenge of Modern Science,” The New Atlantis, Number 14, Fall 2006, pp. 32-46.

Lucas, Stephen. “The responsibility of scientists to society.” University College London, www.ucl.ac.uk/~zcapf71/The%20responsibility%20of%20scientists%20to%20society.pdf

Saltelli, Andrea, Mario Giampietro, and Tiziano Gomiero. “Forcing consensus is bad for science and society.” The Conversation US, 12 May 2017, theconversation.com/forcing-consensus-is-bad-for-science-and-society-77079.

“Science Must Be Responsible to Society, Not to Politics.” PLOS Medicine, 26 Jan. 2010, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000222.

 “The Condition of Education At a Glance.” National Center for Education Statistics, 2017, nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/ataglance.asp.

“The Condition of Education – Population Characteristics – Economic Outcomes – Employment of STEM College Graduates.” National Center for Education Statistics, Nov. 2015, nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_sba.asp.

 

 

[1] For additional reading on educators’ lesson plans and research, See Brodsky et al and Covitt et al.