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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 • EurekALert.org • 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: LaserStars.org 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 • http://laserstars.org/ • http://amasci.com/amateur/holo1.html • http://www.water4gas.com/2books.htm • http://nutra-smart.net/fish.htm • http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/print/24991 • http://www.nationalautismassociation.org/thimerosal.php • http://www.frozenclock.com/aging-forces/index.php

  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?