When I was in seventh grade, we began our first “real” physical sciences class with a discussion of the scientific method. It made science seem pretty straightforward: make an observation, develop a hypothesis, test the hypothesis with an experiment, and draw conclusions as to whether the hypothesis was right or wrong. It wasn’t until I got to college that I found out real science is a lot messier than that. The research I tackled for my senior thesis wasn’t a simple linear path from single observation to definitive conclusion – it was iterative and filled with dead end trials, revised assumptions, and conflicting data. I loved every frustrating, confusing minute of it, and it hammered into my head the knowledge that science isn’t a fixed body of facts; it’s a method for exploring and understanding the world.
Years later, I was teaching introductory biology to college freshmen – and they entered my classroom with the exact same misconceptions about science and how it works as I’d had a decade before. Elementary and secondary schools were still trotting out the same old oversimplified model for the way it works. And students arrived in my class ready to memorize instead of question.
Now the The University of California Museum of Paleontology has jumped in to address the problem with an engaging new website called Understanding Science. It’s still in Beta, but it already contains articles outlining the real, complex process of science: from the basics of gathering evidence, to the process of building an argument and the importance of peer review. There’s also lesson plans for teachers and plenty of articles that describe how science crops up in everyday life -- for all those people who ask “but what is it good for?” Like its predecessor, Understanding Evolution, the site is a work in progress and will continue to grow – you can sign up for emailed updates, or just click back frequently!