Fact or Fallacy?

The scientific process is the most powerful tool available for generating knowledge about the world. It uses evidence and measurement to find truth and highlight misinterpretations and misrepresentations. Science as a human endeavour is subject to human failings, which can contribute to fallacies, misinterpretations and, on occasion, fraud. For this reason, scientific processes attempt to compensate for human failings by questioning evidence, re-testing ideas, replicating results and engaging with peer review in order to evaluate research.

Students investigate claims through conducting practical and secondary-sourced investigations and evaluate these based on scientific evidence. They explore examples of scientific claims made in the media and investigate the benefits of peer review.

Investigating Science Stage 6 Syllabus p.54

 
 

Testing Claims

HOW can a claim be tested?

 

plan and conduct an investigation based on testing a claim, and consider:

– validity of the experimental design

– reliability of the data obtained

– accuracy of the procedure, including random and systematic error

 

using examples, evaluate the impact that sample selection and sample sizes can have on the results of an investigation

 

compare emotive advertising with evidence-based claims, including but not limited to:

– health claims on food packaging

– claims about the efficacy of a product

 

Impacts on Investigations

What factors can affect the way data can be interpreted, analysed and understood??

 

using examples, justify the use of placebos, double-blind trials and control groups in order to draw valid conclusions

 

evaluate the impact of societal and economic influences on the collection and interpretation of data, including but not limited to:

– predicting variations in climate
– suggesting remedies for health conditions
– manipulating statistical data

 

evaluate how evidence of a correlation can be misinterpreted as causation, including but not limited to:

 the Hawthorne effect
 1991 study that linked hormone replacement therapy to coronary heart disease
 the Mozart Effect on child development

 

Reading Between the Lines

How does the reporting of science influence the general public’s understanding of the subject?

 

examine a contemporary scientific debate and how it is portrayed in the mainstream media, including but not limited to:

– accuracy of information
– validity of data
– reliability of information sources

 

evaluate the use and interpretation of the terms ‘theory’, ‘hypothesis’, ‘belief’ and ‘law’ in relation to media reporting of scientific developments

 

compare the difference in reporting between a peer-reviewed journal article and a scientific article published in popular media

 

analyse how conflicts of interest can result in scientific evidence being suppressed, misinterpreted or misrepresented and discuss measures to counteract such conflicts, including but not limited to:

– tobacco industry and lung cancer
– fossil fuel industry and climate change
– commercial industries researching products for market
– asbestos mining and lung cancer

 

describe the halo effect and, using examples, explain how the influence of positive perceptions can result in the rejection of valid alternative perspectives, including but not limited to:

– celebrities endorsing products or viewpoints
– popular brand companies making misleading advertising claims

 

using examples, analyse a pseudo-scientific claim and how scientific language and processes can be manipulated to sway public opinion, including but not limited to:

– astrology
– numerology
– iridology

 

Science as Self-correcting - the Issues

Can the scientific community and process of peer review find ‘the truth’?

 

conduct an investigation using secondary sources to research a scientist who has falsified their scientific experimental results, and discuss the process used to uncover the fraudulent research

 

analyse the scientific debate surrounding ‘publication’ and discuss the implications of scientists’ need to ‘publish or perish’

 

evaluate the increasing volume of scientific papers being published and assess the feasibility of science to effectively manage, review, replicate and validate investigations, for example:

– Pons and Fleischmann's cold fusion announcement in 1989
– Alex Smolyanitsky’s falsified scientific paper using the pseudonyms Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabapple, accepted for publication in 2014
– Tom Spears’ nonsense journal submission accepted for publication in 2013

 

analyse the benefits of peer review in relation to the advancement of science

 

discuss the impact of fake science journals on the public perception of science