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Science Communication LOLO.00.037 Session 2 The Nature of Science. Jack Holbrook University of Tartu. The Overall Goal. Developing an understanding of : What science is and what it is not. What science can do and what it cannot do. How science contributes to culture.

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science communication lolo 00 037 www ut ee bg scom session 2 the nature of science

Science 2The Nature of Science

Jack Holbrook

University of Tartu

the overall goal
The Overall Goal

Developing an understanding of :

  • What science is and what it is not.
  • What science can do and what it cannot do.
  • How science contributes to culture.
some assumptions about scientific knowledge
Some Assumptions aboutScientific Knowledge


In other words, the physical universe really does exists, apart from oursensory perception of it.

another assumption
Another Assumption


In other words, we can learn about how the natural world (as opposed to the supernatural world) works andoperates.

a third assumption
A Third Assumption

NATURAL PROCESSES are SUFFICIENTto explain, or account for natural phenomena or events.

In other words, scientists mustexplain the natural in terms of the natural.

last assumption
Last Assumption


in both spaceand time

(unless we have evidence to the contrary).

This is known as the


the scientific process
The Scientific Process

Would you support the idea that ‘scientific’ means involvement of -

Observations followed by Inferences ?

Observations are important as they lead us on the path to being a successful scientist, or to gain an understanding of the real world.

Observations followed by Inferences

Comment on observations made in the natural world.
  • Would you be willing to accept that scientific observations are unambiguous and give the ‘real’ picture?
  • If so, take a look at the following -

Does A or B form the straight line extension of line C ?

Could we make a mistake in our observations without realising it ?

are the lines at the top of the trapezia of different lengths
Are the lines at the top of the trapezia of different lengths ?

Could we inadvertently give false information ?

how many f s a nswer within 5 seconds
How many f’s ?Answer within 5 seconds

Finished files are the resultof years of scientific studycombined with the experienceof years...

Are we good at making complete observations ?

observing scientifically
Observing scientifically

You may have difficulty in observing correctly, but scientists have no problem.

Or do they ??

Let us observe more.

an illusion
An Illusion
  • Do you see a face?
  • Or an Eskimo?

Can you see the three faces?

Can you see3 faces ?


How many hidden faces?

Can you find the 13 hidden faces? Buy a poster!


What do you see – man or woman?

May I invite everyone to leave their seat and observe from closer to the screen.Then move to the back of the room.

  • Scientific observation needs to be objective.
  • But is this always possible ?
  • It would seem there is a human element that interferes with absolute objectivity.
  • Could it be that scientific observations are subjective ?
observation and inference

Observation and Inference

Science isbased on both observation and inference.

Observationsare gathered through human senses or extensions of thosesenses.

Inferences are interpretations of those observations.

But is there more to being ‘scientific’?

For example, what about being inquisitive?

(Inquisitiveness may be shown by asking questions)

examining a cube
Examining a cube

Create a group of 3/4 persons.

Sit around a table facing each other in the group.

Examine (but do not touch/move) a cube which is placed on top of a plastic cup on the table.

Being inquisitive !

  • Can you (individually) put forward a question to ask about the cube ?
  • Please record the diversity of questions coming from the persons in the group.
what is written on the bottom i e on the hidden side of the cube
What is written on the bottom, i.e. on the hidden sideof the cube?
  • In your group, discuss this question.
  • Record your group prediction(s).
  • If you feel it is useful, your group may give more than one justification.

Now – try to justify your predictions.

And, if you have more than one prediction, identify the one your group considers to be dominant.

examining another cube
Examining another cube

The previous exercise was (I hope) simple. (school students find it easy)

  • NOW, in your groups, examine (but do not touch/move) a new cube placed on the plastic cup.
  • AGAIN put forward your predicted response to what is on the hidden, bottom face of the cube.
  • AGAIN record your prediction(s).
cube 3 a further stage
Cube 3 - A further stage
  • Carefully raise one corner of the cube so that, with the use of a mirror, you can see the number recorded in the top right corner, OR the bottom left corner (but not both !!)
  • Modify (add to) your prediction as to what is written on the bottom of the cube.
cube 3 and degree of observation
Cube 3 and degree of observation

Does cube 3 give us any insight into the scientific approach ?

Does it suggest that we do not necessarily need to observe everything and that we can make calculated guesses from other observations ?

Make inferences on incomplete observations .

  • If a gas is colourless and lighter than air, can we infer it is probably hydrogen ?
  • Or if a gas is known to be hydrogen, then can we infer a balloon containing hydrogen will …..

The Importance of Inference

Try reading the passage below

acting the scientific way
Acting the scientific way

If inference skill is a key to being ‘scientific’,

even if observation is incomplete,

what about making predictions ?


Observe what does actually happen.

What explanation do you have for what happened? You should be able to put forward at least one explanation. Explanations from the group may not all be the same.

Select one explanation which you like. Now based on that possible explanation, predict what will happen when the second hole is uncovered.


Observe what actually did happen.

Did the result match your prediction ?

If so, do you feel your prediction is good?

If NOT, it seems your prediction is not good.

Can you put forward another Prediction?

Now we have one more hole. Let us again make a prediction about the outcome if we uncover all 3 holes.

  • Science is limited to operations within certain boundaries (assumptions).
  • Observations are scientific, but not always easy.
  • Inferences are scientific and often can be made with incomplete observation.
  • Making predictions is an important scientific attribute, as are putting forward explanations.
  • So why is school (university) science so much about knowing facts ?
session 3
Session 3

Individual presentation

Taking whatever optical illusion you wish, please present this to the group (from powerpoint or from the internet, or as a live demonstration).

The challenge

In doing this, please pay attention to the need to present to the audience (not the screen or the ceiling/floor) and please note the audience needs to understand the point of your presentation.