More than ever, the mention of the seven letters – SCIENCE as support for a point of discussion can bring up some truly gut-wrenching reactions. These reactions can vary greatly depending on the person and their experience, ranging from the glazed look of boredom right through to the energy of rampant heated exchanges, the full range is there.
Regardless of what emotion is involved, it will certainly colour how information associated with the notion of science is digested or applied by the person feeling them. Therefore, approaching science as an emotional concept is worth a moment of thought.
What is science anyway? Essentially science is one way of exploring our observations of the world around us. Through our observations and our explanations of these observations, we are able to make predictions about the future which can ,in turn, help us to survive.
Caine and Caine(2010) in their book Natural Learning stated that “Every single human being is born with the ability and desire to make predictions about the world, to test hypothesis, to work things out and to make sense of things.” If you think about it, from the moment we are born we are all undertaking scientific experiments and making predictions every single day! This is just one of the amazing things that our brains can do by default.
Science is a process as well as a continually growing body of knowledge. Science involves explanations that make predictions. These explanations are tested over and over again, the conclusions are not set-in-stone, they must represent the evidence that has been collected in an unbiased manner where variables are closely monitored and controlled.
A quote that really resonates with scientific understanding is that by the Australian National Curriculum, where they state that scientific understanding, “is not rigid at all, but is contestable and is revised, refined and extended as new evidence arises.”
Science is about exploration and making observations without emotion. To be honest, the scientific community have not done a great deal to make this clear. Scientists often lack the communication skills to describe what they are doing in a language that is available to everyone and in this way don’t really share how the process of science can enrich us, both as individuals and as a society.
The language that is used in the media around, “truth” and ”proof” This, along with the experiences with test scores in classrooms have given so many a negative perception of science. For many people this perception is that “science is boring,” or, “Science is hard” all the way through to, “Science is dangerous”. A recent CSIRO report states that people’s’ attitudes towards science are generally positive…although this is not generally accepted across the board.
“There have been several significant polls into public attitudes towards science or technology undertaken in Australia over the past few years, which when taken together, provide an increased understanding of the complexity of getting a simple answer to this question” (1)
There are a few studies linked below that look at community attitudes towards science. These studies also give us a good insight into how people’s’ perceptions and attitudes towards have evolved over time as it becomes more accessible.
My own personal journey of what it means to me to be a scientist has led me to question whether science is still a valuable tool, even when the community it aims to inform may have little understanding of it. To me, science is such an important tool we have available to allow us to make informed decisions throughout our lives. This is why I believe that communication is the key to understanding here.
In conclusion, I believe that if we truly understand what science is, and what its goal is, then it doesn’t need to be emotional. We may need to challenge any negative or false perceptions based on our previous experiences with it. If we are willing to question how a conclusion has been made, then science can become an important tool for informed choices in our lives. And once we are open to the nature of the process and the refining it invites, science really can be exciting and fun.