August 15, 1998-July 31, 2000
Level of Access
The objective of this project is to create an exciting interdisciplinary laboratory experience for a course promoting science as an objective tool for understanding the natural world. Establishing in the minds of the students a level playing field on which true science competes successfully with pseudoscience is central. The core of the project is biology, but many disciplines are introduced, providing a focused introduction to the scientific method. The primary goal is not scientific literacy per se. It is, instead, an introduction to the methodology of science. A select set of connected subjects were chosen for general interest, potential for exciting laboratories, and social relevance. Each is in an area in which pseudoscience or media sensationalism is active. We demonstrate the practical utility of critical thinking, experimental design, careful data collection, and objective analysis. Since most students are not very excited by a tube of colorless liquid, though told it is RNA, a high degree of showmanship is necessary and appropriate. Subjects introduced include: the age of the earth, origin of life, nature of light, photobiology, molecular biology, genetics and reproduction, and biological diversity. In the spring of 1995, the New York Academy of Sciences sponsored a symposium entitled The Flight From Science and Reason. Its alarming theme was that objective science is increasingly perceived as "just one alternative" for understanding the natural world, and that many equally (or more) valid alternatives exist (magic, crystal power, shamanism, astrology, etc.). This course demonstrates in a convincing way that the scientific method is the most objective, self-correcting way of knowing.
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Dowse, Howard B., "A New Course Promoting Science as a Way of Knowing" (2000). University of Maine Office of Research Administration: Grant Reports. 245.