Ideas About the Nature of Science Held by Undergraduate Atmospheric Science Students

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Learning about the nature of science involves learning about science, its goals, methods, products, and practitioners. As university students progress through their studies, what are they learning about science? Several studies have attempted to answer this question, but none have examined the ideas of atmospheric science students. We discuss the results of a single study that explores introductory undergraduate atmospheric science students' ideas about the nature of science, and examines relationships between these ideas and students' previous university science coursework. We focus on the ideas about the definition of science, about scientific knowledge, about the scientific process, and about the scientific enterprise held by a group of undergraduate atmospheric science students. Unlike previous university students studied, the majority of these students viewed science as an enterprise that requires creativity and imagination. They also believed science to be a discipline that “proves” its assertions by subjecting them to a series of confirming “tests” through which scientific knowledge travels upward in a hierarchy of proof from the status of “theory” to “law.” This understanding about the nature of science is divergent from the nature of science as described by many philosophers, scientists, and science educators. We discuss the possible implications of these results for scientists and science educators, and urge them to open dialogs about the nature of science with their own students, as well as the general public.

College of Education, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

College of Education, and College of Science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

College of Science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

A supplement to this article is available online (10.1175/2008BAMS2349.2)

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Loran Carleton Parker, Purdue University, 550 Stadium Mall Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2051, E-mail: carleton@purdue.edu

Learning about the nature of science involves learning about science, its goals, methods, products, and practitioners. As university students progress through their studies, what are they learning about science? Several studies have attempted to answer this question, but none have examined the ideas of atmospheric science students. We discuss the results of a single study that explores introductory undergraduate atmospheric science students' ideas about the nature of science, and examines relationships between these ideas and students' previous university science coursework. We focus on the ideas about the definition of science, about scientific knowledge, about the scientific process, and about the scientific enterprise held by a group of undergraduate atmospheric science students. Unlike previous university students studied, the majority of these students viewed science as an enterprise that requires creativity and imagination. They also believed science to be a discipline that “proves” its assertions by subjecting them to a series of confirming “tests” through which scientific knowledge travels upward in a hierarchy of proof from the status of “theory” to “law.” This understanding about the nature of science is divergent from the nature of science as described by many philosophers, scientists, and science educators. We discuss the possible implications of these results for scientists and science educators, and urge them to open dialogs about the nature of science with their own students, as well as the general public.

College of Education, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

College of Education, and College of Science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

College of Science, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana

A supplement to this article is available online (10.1175/2008BAMS2349.2)

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Loran Carleton Parker, Purdue University, 550 Stadium Mall Drive, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2051, E-mail: carleton@purdue.edu
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