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Posts Tagged ‘scientific

One of my pet peeves is how some people confuse correlation with causation. Sometimes I cannot blame them because they were taught to think that way.


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The SciShow video above highlights one common example. As a former biology student (and teacher), I was taught (and taught others) wrongly that aching muscles are due to lactic acid buildup.

Not only is the buildup due to lactate — a base that accepts protons — aches are only correlated to the buildup. The lactate might build up, but it does not seem to cause the aches; the actual cause is not yet known for sure.

This video is not just useful for highlighting how scientific facts change, but also how scientific thinking takes place. It is the latter that creates content and changes it. It is the thinking that needs to be modelled and taught, not just the content.

At face value the opinions expressed in the newspaper clipping below meet the basics of logic.

But lay logic is not enough if it is not informed by science.

Basic scientific literacy contributes to logical thinking. Critical elements include:

  • Not linking assumptions
  • Testing observations rigorously
  • Filling knowledge gaps with established theory and research

It takes confidence to share one’s thoughts. It takes competence to share them convincingly.

 
When I read the STcom article Chocolate may be good for your heart, I recalled an expose by John Bohannon last month.

The expose was long but nicely summed up by this io9 article which stated how Bohannon blew the lid on:

faulty experimental design, gimmicky statistics, predatory open-access publishers, unreliable peer review, a hyped press release, and the uncritical parroting of that press release by media outlets.

io9 cited the media watchdog, Science Media Centre, which analyzed the original article and the university press release. io9 critiqued the popular press articles.

Long story made short:

  • The more recent chocolate article was better designed and was careful to indicate that links and correlation were not the same as causation.
  • The press was responsible for giving readers false hope and bad information.

When I last checked, the STcom article was shared on Facebook 525 times and tweeted 206 times. That is a lot of uncritical thinking and sharing.

Very few (if any) of the Facebook and Twitter sharers are likely to read the io9 article. io9 is an international site, and as the same time I checked STcom, the io9 article was liked just 68 times on Facebook.

Laypersons making uninformed decisions about their diets off popular press articles is not a good thing. If the press is not going to stop writing or redistributing such articles, then we must teach our kids to think more critically. One way is to promote better scientific literacy from everyday articles like the ones above.

There is no real need to wait for digital citizenship curricula or materials. Wait and it will be too late. Any teacher who cares about the sanctity of their area of expertise and about how their students think should be able and willing to incorporate such articles into their lessons.

This is the bottomline: It is not about content because this is easily forgotten. It is about nurturing critical thinkers in any and every domain. Real educators understand this and need not be bribed with chocolate.


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