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The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Understanding Science, on the web

Posted by Melissa on March 7, 2009

I recently discovered the website Understanding Science, which is targeted at teachers and the general public and is one of the best presentations I’ve seen about what science is and how it gets done. Two aspects of the website stood out for me: its emphasis that there is more to doing science than following the cookie-cutter scientific method used in grade school science fairs and its discussion of the role of community in doing science.

The website has a wonderful visual representation of the scientific process that highlights the varied approaches and constituencies that contribute to the construction of scientific understanding and helps visitors recognize that science does not happen in a linear manner. I think the public’s view of an imagined rigidity to the scientific process often hinders the ability of scientists to effectively interact with the public, both in describing research results and in explaining how science can and cannot inform policy and impact society.

Although most scientists recognize the importance of community and interpersonal relations in doing science, they don’t always talk about the social side of the scientific endeavor, either amongst themselves or with the public, but this website does. The social side of science is one of the reasons why I think consideration of climate issues for underrepresented groups in the sciences is particularly important.  Because of the integrative and interactive way that science is done, a scientist who doesn’t feel comfortable in the science community simply can’t contribute as effectively as someone who is an insider, regardless of the level of personal talent.

Resources like this website often fly under the radar screen, which is why I’m sharing.


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