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Preparing Non Science Majors for a Future of Evaluating Science

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  1. Preparing Non Science Majors for a Future of Evaluating Science ILA/ACRL April 17, 2009 Presented by Mary Iber

  2. Thanks to Derin Sherman Cornell College Physics professor & designer of the course Science through Film and Fiction & the instigator of this system of evaluation to help non science majors get comfortable evaluating science even when they don’t have background in that subject.

  3. Learning objectives Skills to: Think about technologies Ask the right questions Utilize tools to research more in depth Practice the roles the scientific community plays

  4. Movie models the process • How does the jury evaluate conflicting pieces of evidence? • How do they construct theories explaining the evidence? • How do they reach consensus? • Twelve Angry Men – Examining the evidence3:06 • Twelve Angry Men – Trailer2:13 • Twelve Angry Men – Dealing with prejudice3:20 • Twelve Angry Men – Voting1:57

  5. Steering students • Physics 125: Library Course Web Page • What do the experts say? • Who is doing the research? • Recommend reputable sources for non science majors: • Physics Today • Science News • American Scientist • Nature • • Professional societies’ web sites

  6. Traditional – web sites accuracy authority objectivity currency coverage Consensus – science valid speculation controversial uninformed misrepresentation invalid Evaluation criteria

  7. Levels of evaluation assignment • Evaluate each site on own; comment on site, categorize and give reasons • In groups, debate their assessments, come to consensus • As a class, report group conclusions, debate assessments and come to a larger consensus

  8. Six categories • Valid: most scientists would agree with the thesis, data and conclusions • Speculation: Most scientists would agree with the paper’s thesis, but the thesis statement lacks strong experimental evidence. (e.g. wormholes: predicted by well-established theory, but never experimentally observed)

  9. Six Categories … 3. Controversial: (scientifically not socially) More than one scientific theory exists to explain the evidence. Usually a lack of consensus within the scientific community on the subject. 4. Uninformed: The author is often not an expert in the field. Reporting only a part. Omissions usually due to ignorance rather than malice.

  10. Six categories… 5. Misrepresentation: Statement may be correct, but out of context or misapplied. Often deliberately trying to mislead by ignoring important evidence. 6. Invalid: Most scientists would disagree with the paper’s thesis.

  11. Example: Does the site reflect current scientific knowledge? Unique terms for verification: • “laser action” • “Wolf-Rayet” Google: “wolf-rayet” and later add “laser action”

  12. Lasers stars site Physics professor author Comments on the site are mostly 30-40 years old Probably started as speculative Now controversial at best, likely misrepresentation. Authors should be aware of opposing viewpoints.

  13. Practice sites • • • • • • •

  14. No background? No problem! Using critical thinking Practicing peer review Joining consensus building Observing bias influencing decisions Experiencing discussion and investigation broadening understanding

  15. Librarian’s dream result Student comment after the exercise: “Doing this makes me think I’ve probably used really bad sites in my past research.”

  16. Collaboration results Mary Iber (Consulting Librarian for the Sciences) and Derin Sherman (Physics) co-authored an article “A Physics Professor and a Science Librarian Challenge Non-Majors to Evaluate Science” which was published in Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, No. 56. Winter 2009.

  17. Your experiences?