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Peer Review

Sense About Science: Promoting an evidence-based approach to scientific issues

by Ellen Raphael


Overall Numeric Rating:

4 stars
Content Quality: 4.25 stars
Effectiveness: 3.25 stars
Ease of Use: 4.75 stars
Reviewed: Jan 17, 2009 by Teacher Education
Overview: It appears that this website is designed to keep the public at large alerted to the misconceptions that exist in society. These misconceptions are rebutted from a scientific, or data-driven point of view. This website is based in the United Kingdom.
Type of Material: Primarily lecture/presentation with elements of case studies, tutorial and reference material. Collaboration is facilitated both online and by telephone.
Recommended Uses: Sense About Science could be used to supplement a course on Science, Technology and Society at any grade level. It could be used as a primary source document for information on the nature of science and how scientific evidence is validated and incorporated into known theories and models. Although Sense About Science is specific about products and events in the UK it could be used to demonstrate how to distinguish between scientific claims and non-scientific claims of various products being sold in the USA. There are many quotations from recognized experts in a variety of scientific disciplines. These could introduce students and the general public to their work.
Technical Requirements: An Internet browser, ability to download and print pdf files and plug-in for downloading and listening to pod casts.
Identify Major Learning Goals: Learners will be able to distinguish between conjecture in scientific claims and identify flaws in research practice from a scientist’s point of view. Learners will construct an understanding of what science is. Learners will be able to apply an understanding of the nature of science to concerns in the public domain. Learners will be able to identify respected scientists in many fields. Learners will obtain specific knowledge of many important concepts in chemistry, biochemistry, physics, human biology and practical medicine.
Target Student Population: Middle school, high school and college (undergrad and graduate) students, teachers of science for these students, and the general public
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Although there is no specific prerequisites to use the information in this material, a good general knowledge of science particularly chemistry and biology would be extremely beneficial. For teachers, we would strongly recommend reading articles published in recent years in the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) journals on the teaching of the nature of science (NOS) to K-College students.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.25 stars
Strengths: Explains effectively how scientific research is conducted, validated and incorporated into existing or new models and theories. Tallis’s lecture and pod cast give an informative, entertaining and personal view of a way a scientist thinks. A conceptual change model is used to help readers to make sense of chemical stories. In “There goes the science bit” scientists model what kind of questions a consumer needs to ask about scientific claims of specific UK products. In “Food Additives” complex and confusing information about chemicals added to our food are eloquently and simply explained by a variety of respected scientists. The site provides "uncommon" points of view on relatively common and appropriate topics. Interactive capabilities include professional feedback from users.
Concerns: There is no discussion on how scientists’ ethical concerns prohibit doing the classical randomized controlled variable studies the site lauds as the hallmark of science. The site does not acknowledge the limitations of science as a way of knowing. There are a few but important examples of incorrect information or misrepresentation of the meaning of scientific information. We have some concerns about propaganda and bias. Users must be educated in information literacy as they research on the web.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 3.25 stars
Strengths: Users of the site will have an enormous amount of valuable scientific information from which to address a variety of concerns in society. The site provides an excellent model of how science works outside the laboratory. Visitors to the site will be introduced to John Emsley: an internationally known scientist and author who effectively explains many misconceptions about concepts in science. The site engages its readers and causes them to think and explore their questions/topics further.
Concerns: This site only tells one side of the story, particularly in the "There goes the science" section. We are concerned about the ethics of recording the conversations in this section.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: The site is easy to navigate and feedback is achieved via phone if needed. The content reads like a newspaper article and this makes it very familiar. The content is appropriate and relevant to the current economic and environmental situations. It certainly hypes ideas and ideals that are very near and dear to the upcoming generation (18-25 yrs). The Reading Room has direct links out to for necessary purchases.
Concerns: None.

Other Issues and Comments: The site reflects a decidedly British point of view and does not attempt to be more global. The site shows the general public to scientists think about the world. It provides many ways for an individual to evaluate "scientific claims" made in the media about events and products. However, the limitations of science are not discussed. The National Science Education Standards exhort that students and teachers of science know what science is and what it is not, what it can and cannot do. The site ignores what science is not and what it cannot do. Only the empirical side of science is presented. Imagination, which is so essential in discovering new science is not discussed.