Comment »Posted on Wednesday 18 February 2009 at 12:13 pm by Jacob Aron
In Education, Getting It Right

The University of California, Berkeley has launched a new website, Understanding Science, as a resource for teachers and the public about science and the scientific method. Roy Caldwell, one of the leaders of the project and a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, hopes that new site will show how science “really works”:

“The Web site presents, not the rigid scientific method, but how science really works, including its creative and often unpredictable nature, which is more engaging to students and far less intimidating to those teachers who are less secure in their science.”

The “science is AMAZING!” tone of the site is a bit too much at times, even for me, but there are a few nice areas. I particularly liked the science checklist, which can assist in sorting the science from the psuedo:

Is it science? Check the checklist.
Is it science? Check the checklist.

As well as working through the site in a linear fashion, visitors can take “sidetrips” for more information. For example, whilst reading about the requirement for science to be evidence-based, I took a small diversion to find out about scientific funding. It’s a nice way of providing additional information for those who want it, whilst also avoiding an overload. These sidetrips also examine what isn’t science by measuring intelligent design and astrology against the checklist.

Other topics covered include a more realistic view of how science works than the typical textbook model of question, hypothesis, experiment, data and conclusion (including an info box on the phrase “just a theory”), what science has done for you, and how to evaluate scientific messages in the media.

Overall, I think the site is a really good resource. There are a few more “coming soon” notices than I normally like to see, but there is already enough content up there to make this only a small issue. Whilst it probably is best used in the classroom, there’s no harm in having a read even if your school days are far behind you. It’s also an improvement on the British government’s recent effort, Science: [So What? So Everything], which as I’ve said before seems to be mostly style over substance. Perhaps DIUS should take a look across the pond in order to understanding understanding science?

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