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Can We Teach People What Science Is Really Like?

Abstract

"Before the middle of the Twentieth century, science was mainly thought about in terms of the logic of the articulation of theory and experiment: Theorists build models, and experimentalists or observers produced data that confirmed or falsified the models. Data were fixed and durable--like bits of rock collected on a geological field trip. What happened in real laboratories was thought of as a more sophisticated version of what happened in school science laboratories; school students were thought to be doing miniature bits of science. Given the right circumstances--apparatus arranged just so--they could pick up the same bits of rock that the original discoverers had found; the same bits of rock were scattered everywhere if one knew how to look. Scientific knowledge was universal. The net result of teaching science this way was that the citizen could have great confidence in science; they had obtained scientific results with their own hands so it could not be too difficult, and if very clever and very experienced scientists were producing results then they must be doing better still. Scientists, in those golden days after the Second World War, were thought to speak authoritatively on all matters to do with the natural world--certainly it was almost inconceivable that anyone could speak with more authority and disagreement among scientists was rare and anomalous."

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