Science and the Scientific Method

Why are we teaching “science” to students from pre-college to graduate courses that doesn’t reflect good science practices, science methods, or the nature of the scientific inquiry? Because despite calls for reform (at least in the US) for the past few decades and quite thorough treatments of the problems and possible solutions in publications like the National Research Council’s National Science Education Standards, the 19th century epistemology still seems to have a death grip on educational practices. First, a large number of science teachers have no background in research. Second, it is very easy to introduce The Scientific Method as it existed a century ago through experiments done before that, but very difficult to explain pre-college students debates about underdetermination of theory by data and in general the nuanced ways in which hypotheses emerge from the theories they “test” not to mention have students go out and review the current state of research before planning a pilot study that will lead to their actual experiments. The necessary middle ground is not unexplored, but no particular approach has been particularly successful. Third, because most of pre-college education (at least in the later years) is no geared towards getting students into universities, they are taught the language of the sciences (mathematics) through rote application of memorized rules and are taught little to nothing of the foundations of the sciences (analytic reasoning, logic, argumentation, etc.). Fourth, it took several centuries for scientists to reach the point at which two simple results of simple experiments yielded incompatible results (the work on light by Young and Einstein), thus showing that perhaps the oldest and most venerated of the sciences had failed to realize how theory-laden hypotheses are and so had advanced a view of reality for some 200+ years that garnered ever more evidence for an ever more nuanced and developed account of reality only to find the foundations ripped out from underneath. While reeling from the aftermath of a new physics that referred to mathematical functions as physical systems, Lorentz was kind enough to show how even simple systems could be exhibit incredibly complex behavior, adding epistemological indeterminism to the ontological indeterminacy of quantum physics.

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