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Saturday, June 23, 2012

My New Favorite Website

This website is so terrific: Understanding Science: How Science Really Works, from the University of California Museum of Paleontology along with professors from Michigan and Berkeley, and a small gaggle of science teachers and grad students.

My favorite part? The list of Misconceptions about Science. Not misconceptions about biology, or physics, or other content areas - about the nature of science and how science as a whole works. This is what my dissertation is about, and reading this list it's like someone out there just gets me and my work.

I was especially pleased to see some often-overlooked misconceptions that even scientists themselves might hold, such as:

MISCONCEPTION: "Hard" sciences are more rigorous and scientific than "soft" sciences.

CORRECTION: Some scientists and philosophers have tried to draw a line between "hard" sciences (e.g., chemistry and physics) and "soft" ones (e.g., psychology and sociology). The thinking was that hard science used more rigorous, quantitative methods than soft science did and so were more trustworthy. In fact, the rigor of a scientific study has much more to do with the investigator's approach than with the discipline. Many psychology studies, for example, are carefully controlled, rely on large sample sizes, and are highly quantitative. To learn more about how rigorous and fair tests are designed, regardless of discipline, check out our side trip Fair tests: A do-it-yourself guide.

Is there a social scientist alive that hasn't been bothered by this? The myth that psychology is still largely a Freudian affair that relies heavily on introspection is still prevalent in society and the media. I've seen computer science undergraduates dismiss ethnographic studies as "social sciences bullshit" while readily accepting quantitative studies, seemingly unaware that they're every bit a part of social science.

So it's nice to see that misconception on there, but the entire list is stellar. I hope this site helps a few parents and educators communicate more clearly with learners about how science really works!