Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Where's the Evidence?

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Where's the Evidence?

Article excerpt

"What evidence do you have for that idea?" It is a simple question, but one asked far less than it should be. Too often, we hear justifications such as, "Everybody knows that... ," "It's what I've heard," or "It's just what I believe."

Formulating explanations based on evidence is a distinguishing characteristic of scientific inquiry. The National Science Education Standards emphasize the importance of evidence-based reasoning, calling for learners to "give priority to evidence... formulate explanations from evidence...[and] communicate and justify their proposed explanations" (NRC 2000, p. 25). And yet, from news media to politics to the internet, so much of public discourse fails to provide significant evidence for its claims. For example, in a recent study from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 76% of scientists questioned said it is a "major problem" that news reports fail to distinguish between well-founded findings and those that are not (2009).

To be sure, for many issues--perhaps most--evidence is limited or insufficient. Much of life, even in science, requires making decisions based on imperfect evidence. Nonscientific ways of thinking--in art, literature, and religion, for example--can offer different and important perspectives.

The core of scientific reasoning is evidence-based critical thinking, which requires us to question everything, treat all conclusions as tentative, and set aside interpretations that are not supported by evidence. This type of thinking is hard work, and yet teaching it is perhaps the most important thing we do as educators. The ability to use evidence to construct explanations is at the core of scientific enterprise and the main defense against misconception and pseudoscience. …

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