Inferences and Generalisation

Scientific inquiry follows on from humans making inferences and generalisations from commonly held understandings. Such inferences and generalisations have led to a wide range of investigations being performed throughout history, culminating in breakthroughs in scientific understanding. Many hypotheses, when found to be correct, have generated further inquiry and created the need to develop new technologies for further observation.

Students consider primary and secondary-sourced data and its influence on scientific investigations. In this module, students engage in gathering primary and secondary-sourced data to assist them in conducting and reporting on investigations, and to further develop their understanding of the central roles of scientific questioning and collaboration in the pursuit of scientific truth.

Investigating Science Syllabus Stage 6 p.38


Observations and Inferences

What inferences can be drawn from observations?

investigate the practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples that relate to observations and inferences, including but not limited to:

– leaching of toxins in bush tucker
– locating sources of freshwater within bodies of salt water


"Indigenous Australians have been developing complex knowledge systems for tens of thousands of years. These knowledge systems - which seek to understand, explain, and predict nature - are passed to successive generations through oral tradition."

Source: The Conversation - Stories from the Sky



"Astronomy didn't start with the Greeks. Thousands of years earlier Aboriginal people scanned the night sky, using its secrets to survive the Australian landscape."

Maryke Steffens - Australia's First Astronomers


conduct a collaborative practical investigation and collect a range of qualitative and quantitative primary data from one of the following:

– growth of plants
– reactions of calcium carbonate
– the ‘life’ of different batteries under different circumstances – water quality of a pond or local stream

Water quality testing sites in the Lake Macquarie Region

Water quality testing sites in the Lake Macquarie Region


"Council's Community Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CEMP) measures the health of our city's natural areas through long-term monitoring. Council has over 50 terrestrial sites in the program, which are surveyed by staff and community volunteers. Each site is given a score based on the health of its ecosystem."

Source: Community Ecosystem Monitoring - Lake Macquarie City Council.


make inferences and conclusions derived from the primary data collected in this collaborative practical investigation


Using Secondary-sourced Data

how is secondary sourced data used in practical investigations?

● collect qualitative and quantitative secondary-sourced data to validate the inferences and conclusions drawn from the practical investigation carried out above, based on one or more of the following:

– the effect of soil salinity on plant growth
– chemical reactions in cave formation
– energy storage – methods of water monitoring

● discuss how secondary-sourced data adds to the inferences and conclusions drawn from primary data

● evaluate the usefulness of considering secondary-sourced research before undertaking an investigation to collect primary data, in order to:
– make inferences
– develop inquiry questions
– construct suitable hypotheses
– plan suitable investigations
– avoid unnecessary investigation


Observing Patterns

how does humans ability to recognise patterns affect the way they interpret data?

● describe patterns that have been observed over time throughout the Universe and in nature using, for example:

– animal migration
– movement of comets
– formation and shape of snow crystals
– elements exhibiting certain properties


Edmund Halley whom Halley’s comet is named after did not name the comet, he merely noticed it was the same comet that had come in 1456, 1531, 1607, and 1682 were of the same comet, which he predicted would return in 1758.


formation and shape of snow crystals - Michael Peres

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 9.46.55 pm.png

elements exhibiting certain properties


● interpret data in order to propose a hypothesis based on an irregular pattern observed over time in the Universe and in nature using, for example:

– the Aurora Australis
– fractals in nature
– the behaviour of unstable isotopes

the Aurora Australis with mark gee


fractals in nature

Great introductory video into the world of fractals.

the behaviour of unstable isotopes


● examine the human tendency to observe patterns and misinterpret information, for example:

– pareidolia
– optical illusions

The face on Mars, click on the image to visit the NASA page.

The face on Mars, click on the image to visit the NASA page.


● discuss how the tendency to recognise patterns, even when they may not exist, can lead to misinterpretation of data


● discuss the role and significance of outliers in data

Click on the title to go to the article.

Click on the title to go to the article.

Developing Inquiry Questions

how can hypotheses and assumptions be tested?

● gather secondary-sourced data describing historical instances of long-standing assumptions that have been updated by scientific investigation, including but not limited to:

– spontaneous generation and the investigations that led to the proposal of the germ theory
– radioactivity: including the work of Henri Becquerel and Marie Curie
– phlogiston theory
– human influences on atmospheric pollution

Click on the picture above to go to the PDF document on The Chemical Revolution and Phlogiston Theory.

Click on the picture above to go to the PDF document on The Chemical Revolution and Phlogiston Theory.

Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier - CHEMIST

Phlogiston theory and the Chemical revolution

Lavoisier was one of the most important Chemists throughout history. He discovered and named many elements including Oxygen and revolutionised chemistry by creating systematic nomenclature (naming system) for chemical compounds.



● propose an inquiry question, construct a hypothesis and conduct an investigation that tests a common assumption, for example:

– washing with antibacterial soap kills more germs than washing with normal soap
– the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West
– what goes up must come down


● use appropriate representations to analyse the data


Generalisations in Science

what generalisations and assumptions are made from observed data?

● make generalisations to describe any trends found in the data ● draw conclusion based on generalisations

Peer Review

what role do peers play in scientific investigation?

● assess the input that collaborative teams and alternative perspectives have had on the development of hypotheses and research questions that have contributed to the development of, for example:

– particle accelerators
– periodic table
– study of bioastronomy
– geological uniformitarianism

Particle Accelerators

"This is the Large Hadron Collider. It's 27 kilometers in circumference. It's the biggest scientific experiment ever attempted. Over 10,000 physicists and engineers from 85 countries around the world have come together over several decades to build this machine." 

"Rock-star physicist" Brian Cox talks about his work on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Discussing the biggest of big science in an engaging, accessible way, Cox brings us along on a tour of the massive project. Brian Cox TED 2008


The International Space Station

"The International Space Station is roughly the size of a six-bedroom house and weighs more than 320 cars -- it's so large that no single rocket could have lifted it into orbit. Instead, it was assembled piece by piece while hurtling through space at 28,000 kilometers per hour, lapping the Earth once every 90 minutes. Tien Nguyen explains how." 

The incredible collaboration behind the International Space Station - Tien Nguyen - YouTube


Feynmanium - The largest possible element.

"Calculations are fuzzy on exactly how much larger the periodic table can get. Physicist Richard Feynman predicted element 137 to be the limit. ‘The calculation is simply based on Einstein’s theory of relativity,’ says Scerri. When atomic nuclei get larger and larger the electrons have to go faster and faster. Once you reach a certain size calculations predict that the electrons have to go faster than the speed a light – a physical impossibility."

Source: Chemistry World: Beyond Element 118: The Next Row of the Periodic Table

The calculation of Hubble's Constant by plotting a line of best fit onto a graph of the Recessional Velocity vs. the Distance to the Galaxy.

The calculation of Hubble's Constant by plotting a line of best fit onto a graph of the Recessional Velocity vs. the Distance to the Galaxy.

the expanding Universe and Hubble constant

"One of the unsolved problems in early twentieth century astronomy was the question of what were nebulae? These gaseous, fuzzy clouds were thought by some astronomers to be embryonic solar systems forming while others thought that they were "island universe" like our own Milky Way galaxy. The advent of spectroscopy and photography in that late nineteenth century when used on the latest generation of large reflecting telescopes in the early twentieth century provided astronomers with the tools to study these objects."

Source: CSIRO: Edwin Hubble and the Expanding Universe