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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Define "science"

OK, continuing my riffs begun by "define 'evidence'" and "define 'expert'"--do we all mean the same thing by the word "science?"

Physicians are usually quick to point out that the word "cancer" actually denotes a host of diseases that share not only core etiologic similarities but also significant clinical differences. Similarly, when we say "science" are we really alluding to many "sciences" that differ materially (and range from heuristically "soft" to algorithmically "hard")?

Dr. Rudolph's book has thus far got me off down a number of interesting rabbit holes.

...[W]hen I began studying to be a science teacher in college, I was surprised to learn that there was no such thing as the scientific method. That was certainly the message my science-teaching methods professor instilled in us. He taught that the focus of our teaching instead should be on something called “scientific inquiry,” the details and complexities of which we learned about from an early 1960s essay by a University of Chicago professor by the name of Joseph Schwab.

Rudolph, John L. (2019-05-31T23:58:59). How We Teach Science. Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.
Schwab, 'eh?
...Joseph Schwab (1909–1988), a contributor to the innovative Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) high school biology course materials, who advanced our understanding of inquiry-based instruc- tion. He enrolled in the university at age 15, earning undergraduate degrees in English and physics and later a doctorate in genetics (Westbury and Wilkof 1978). Schwab worked at the University of Chicago for over 50 years, where John Dewey had set up the Lab School and where educator Ralph Tyler (1902–1994) became well-known for his work in curriculum development. 

The phrase “teaching science as enquiry” is conspicuous in a 1962 lecture by Schwab at Harvard University titled “The Teaching of Science as Enquiry.” Schwab preferred the use of enquiry to inquiry, because he disagreed with the ideas surrounding inquiry then being promoted, especially by psycholo- gists. His idea of enquiry instruction was to teach students about the major paradigms of science, that is, the manner in which a certain community of scientists view a major idea and the way they investigate it. In his lecture, Schwab urged science educators to stress the conceptions of science and how they change over time. He placed a premium on how scientists view the ideas (content) they are developing and how these ideas shape what scientists do and say about the data they collect. Science should not be viewed as dogma, he said, but as revisionary and fluid. Teachers misrepresent science when they present it as a rhetoric of conclusion or as a finished product..
. "Historical development of teaching science as inquiry."
"Inquiry" vs "enquiry?" Any substantive connotative difference there, or just "you say 'tomato' I say 'tomahto?'
BTW, regarding "educate," my grad school program director and mentor, the late Dr. Craig Walton, was fond of asserting that the etymology of the term is "e-ducere,"--to elicit, draw out, which requires of the learner both persistent, wide-ranging curiosity and a "critical thinking" mindset. Differs fundamentally from "instruction" and training.
 Back to John Rudolph (apropos of my KHIT-related interests):
Discussions of scientific methodology typically erupt publicly when the authority or the legitimate scope of science is in conflict with other social or cultural norms, knowledge systems, or local claims. The sociologist Thomas Gieryn has referred to these moments as boundary disputes. In debates over what does and does not count as science, what gets ruled in (as science) is allowed the authority to decide what counts as true. While a boundary dispute centers on the question of where the line between science and non-science is drawn, the decision about where to make that demarcation almost always hinges on an interpretation of process or methodology...
"Climate change," anyone? We know what Donald Trump "thinks."


Dr. Rudolph also makes considerable note of this:

You can buy the Kindle version for $9.99 or read for free it online.


Over the course of human history, people have developed many interconnected and validated ideas about the physical, biological, psychological, and social worlds. Those ideas have enabled successive generations to achieve an increasingly comprehensive and reliable understanding of the human species and its environment. The means used to develop these ideas are particular ways of observing, thinking, experimenting, and validating. These ways represent a fundamental aspect of the nature of science and reflect how science tends to differ from other modes of knowing.

It is the union of science, mathematics, and technology that forms the scientific endeavor and that makes it so successful. Although each of these human enterprises has a character and history of its own, each is dependent on and reinforces the others. Accordingly, the first three chapters of recommendations draw portraits of science, mathematics, and technology that emphasize their roles in the scientific endeavor and reveal some of the similarities and connections among them...
OK, that publication is necessary and good, but 25 years old. What have we accomplished? Where are we of late in terms of "science cred?" From "Research!America"-
From natural disasters to an opioid epidemic that prompted a public health emergency declaration, science was at the forefront of events that shaped our nation in 2017. National public opinion surveys commissioned by Research!America throughout the year revealed that a majority of Americans agree that public and private sector research is critical to better health, economic growth, global competitiveness and more. While the perception of science and scientists is positive, based on survey findings, scientists and our nation’s scientific enterprise remain largely invisible to the public.
The public overwhelmingly (82%) considers scientists trustworthy spokespersons for science, far above elected officials and the media. This level of trust includes an expectation that scientists will be the primary messengers for scientific issues, even those with policy implications. More than half of Americans agree that scientists should play a major role in shaping public policy in many areas, not only in medical and health research, but also in education (58%), infrastructure (55%) and national defense (51%). Americans recognize that science plays a role in their well-being, where they live, work and play. Yet many are unaware of the science community and those responsible for scientific advances. A strong majority of Americans (81%) cannot name a living scientist, more than two-thirds (67%) cannot name an institution, company or organization where medical or health research is conducted, and less than a quarter (21%) know that medical research is conducted in all 50 states. The findings have been consistent over the past decade, indicating the need for stronger engagement between scientists and the public.
A strong majority of Americans (71%) say they have confidence in scientific institutions compared to only 31% for Congress and 46% for the Presidency. When asked if great strides in science and innovation will continue while Donald Trump is President, opinions were divided (46% agree, 33% disagree and 22% not sure), with more Republicans (74%) than Independents (44%) and Democrats (22%) agreeing. Furthermore, a significant number of Americans (79%), including strong majorities across the political spectrum, agree that it is important for President Trump to assign a high priority to putting health research and innovation to work to assure continued medical progress (85% of Democrats, 79% of Republicans and 72% of Independents). As we pivot towards midterm elections in 2018, it is important for scientists and science advocates to ask candidates about their level of commitment to research and innovation to ensure a healthier and more prosperous future for our nation.
OK, back to the top. Define "science." See "Our Definition of Science" by the UK Science Council.
Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.
 Ahhh... "evidence." That which makes a true conclusion more likely (or "proves" it, best case).
I searched "Science for all Americans" from beginning to end. The word "evidence" appears 57 times. Not once is there any definition of what the word means. It is simply assumed that we all have the same understanding. Is that OK? No biggie? BTW, the word "evident" shows up eight times, again with the assumption that we all know what is meant.
Chapter 9: Project 2061 and the Nature of Science

If the period from the mid-1950s through the 1960s was the golden age of science education, with its unprecedented levels of federal funding and involvement of bill laureates and other top scientists, the decade of the 1970s into the first half of the 1980s represented an era of comparative neglect. Attention to academic subjects in schools declined with the new political emphasis on urban poverty and concerns about the regressive nature of formal education that arose in the late 1960s with the more liberal views of the rule of schooling in American society. At the same time, the image of science in public favor in these years as a result of his association with environmental degradation, on one hand, and with militarization and the Vietnam War, on the other. This shift in educational priorities along with the new critical views of science led to conditions of general decline in science education that raised alarms among the scientific elite.

Those worries were felt acutely by the leadership of the American Association for the advancement of science, prompting its executive director, William Carey, to recruit Jim Rutherford in 1981 to lead a new effort to rebuild science education across the nation. Rutherford came to the AAAS from his stint as assistant director for education at the National Science Foundation the position as assistant secretary for research and improvement at the newly established Department of Education. He was someone earlier with the levers of change, such as they were, in the American educational system Rutherford's immediate task was to move education to the top of the AAAS agenda, and specifically to enact elements of a January 1981 resolution passed by the Association's Board of Directors quote to reverse the damaging decline of science and engineering education in the United States."

The challenge Rutherford-based was profitable. Since the mid-1970s, science education had been pushed to the margins of public consciousness, and the crushing recession along with the education version of the newly installed Reagan administration made prospects for any federal initiatives bleak. "It is easy enough to say that business and industry, the scientific and engineering societies, and the foundations are to pick up the slack," Rutherford wrote to a friend. But it wasn't clear to him at the time what those institutions could do to really make a difference. What was obvious to Rutherford was that a long-term plan was needed rather than some fixed. As he saw it, his job was to develop something that quote the Association can stick with the decade or longer that it takes for anything to have a lasting impact on our complex educational system."

Rutherford told the possibilities in the summer of 1982. The scientists of the 1950s had had the shock of Sputnik and the military threat from the Soviet Union to help usher reforms into the schools. The biggest threat of the 1980s, however, was economic — from Japanese automobile imports, for example. Grasping for something bold and symbolic, Rutherford latched onto Halley's comet — a satellite of a different sort. It seemed to fit the bill. The famous comet, he noted, was due to appear that October, the same month as the 25th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, and it would be 75 years before it would return again. What sort of changes might take place in our civilization between those visits? Used Rutherford. Looking at the dramatic changes that had occurred between prior flybys, he concluded that "we cannot accurately describe the world as it will be when Halley's comet next returns." However, he asserted, we do know that "the changes that will be brought about in our culture, in our way of life, will have more to do with the utilization of science and technology than with anything else."
What was needed, and Rutherford's view, was an entirely new approach to science education, one that would prepare children born in 1986 — the year of the comet would make its closest pass by Earth — to live in the scientific and technological 2, when those students would grow up to work, have children, eventually retire, and live to see the comment return in the year 2061. The length of time between sightings gave Rutherford the Longview he and AAAS were looking for to avoid yet another crisis driven crash program that was unlikely to produce meaningful and enduring change. Project 2061, as he named it, was bold and imaginative, clearly something outside the typical educational reform box. Its central goal was to articulate "what understanding of science and technology will be important for everyone in tomorrow's world" and then to work towards realizing that goal in a systematic way... [How we teach science, pp 180-182]
I encourage everyone to read the entirety of Project 2061 material. And buy and read John Rudolph's book. And join AAAS.


I've previously cited this fine book:


Another important historical read. Lots of overlap with "How We Teach Science."

What's my point here? Go back to my "Is there a 'science of deliberation'?" What do we mean by "deliberation?"
When you encounter the word "deliberation," what typically comes right to mind? Jury service, yes? I'm looking into the psychology of that as well. (Excellent book.) Also, in my grad school program, deep and thorough "moral deliberation" was our constant focus ("Ethics & Policy Studies").
Finally for now, is there really such a thing as "Data Science?" Or that mostly another Bright Shiny Thing marketing hook for expensive, institutionally lucrative graduate school programs?

Stay tuned, Not done by any stretch. Juggling a lot of bowling pins this week.


Science Based Medicine rocks.
Media Literacy Is Key
Media literacy is an important component to teaching science and critical thinking. We’ll add that to our to-do list.

Educating the public about medical myths and misconceptions has various challenges. The psychological deck seems to be stacked against us. It’s easier to scare people with possible risks than to reassure them with facts. People tend to be more compelled by emotional anecdotes than dry data. There is something inherently compelling about conspiracy theories that attract many people. People are good at remembering dramatic details, but poor at remembering whether or not they are true and what the source of the information is.
But perhaps the most profound factor making our job difficult is that once an idea has taken root in someone’s mind, it is remarkably difficult to change. Humans are instinctively good at motivated reasoning and confirmation bias. We see what we want to see, remember the bits that support our narrative, and can rationalize away pesky things like logic and evidence. The result can be a powerful, even overwhelming, illusion of confident knowledge, even in notions that are patently absurd. We can then erect elaborate defenses around these beliefs to protect them from reality…

There are basically three types of preventive education that are likely to reduce susceptibility to pseudoscience. The first is scientific literacy. There is some controversy over how effective this is, however. A few decades ago the “knowledge deficit model” was dominant, and the prescription for belief in pseudoscience was to teach people science. However, recent research has not been kind to the knowledge deficit model. You cannot usually change someone’s mind about an emotionally held belief with just information…

…You can move the needle a bit with public education about certain topics. Sometimes beliefs are based more on misinformation than emotion or identity, and if you correct that misinformation you can change beliefs. This is very topic specific, and also is affected by the kind of information you give and how it is presented. For example, global warming denial is strongly predicted by political ideology, and not at all by scientific literacy. However, vaccine denial does correlate with low scientific literacy, which implies that science education can be a mitigating factor…

The second type of education is critical thinking. This relates more directly to the point about narratives. Critical thinking is about metacognition, knowing how to think with a valid process that is self-reflective and therefore potentially self-corrective. If someone understands exactly how conspiracy thinking is a cognitive trap, they are less likely to fall into that trap. Critical thinking and scientific literacy is a powerful combination – this is essentially what we mean by scientific skepticism, which is exactly what we are doing here (in the realm of medicine)…
'eh? Read all of it. This is why SBM is a requisite daily stop for me. As is The NeuroLogica Blog.

apropos, see my prior post "Selling science: effective communication with decision makers."


I continue to plumb "How we teach science" (while finishing up two Game Theory books).

My path here thus far has been cut-to-the-chase circuitous (an expedient MO I employ when I trust an author and the book lends itself to a non-linear read): Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 10, Conclusion, Chapter 4, Chapter 6, Chapter 7.

Final words:
The continued focus on students mastering scientific practice—doing science—in the hopes that some of these larger, contextual understandings will come along for free seems misguided. Perhaps the last word on this is best left to Schwab. During the Golden age of science curriculum reform, he warned that many science classrooms were "being converted into research microcosms in which every high school student, regardless of interest and competence, is supposed to act, on a small scale, like a scientist." This, unfortunately, seems to be where the current emphasis lies as well (when it isn't on the technical content of science itself). And Schwab noted to that such an approach was poorly suited to accomplishing if a understanding of the nature of scientific work. Given the choice between teaching about scientific inquiry and having students engage in the actual process of inquiry, "it is the former which should be given first priority," as Schwab said. Understanding what science is and how it works in the social context of our time is the necessary end for which we need to strive if, in Schwab's words, "we are to develop the informed public which our national need urgently demands." [How we teach science, pp. 230-231]


I forgot to cite my earlier post "Is there a science of success?"


All of the foregoing brings me back to my initial core KHIT concern--science-based, optimally effective health care, aided by technology where appropriate. Today I reflected on a book I bought in hardcopy back some time ago. It's now available in Apple iBook format, which I rarely use.

Well, lookeee who shows up right off.

Foreword by Harlan M. Krumholz, MD, MS 
Medicine is an information science. In an earlier era, medicine moved from religion to science via laboratory work on the mechanism of disease. Doctors improved their results by reflecting on the likely cause of disease and the likely response of an individual to a treatment based on that understanding of disease. Although many benefitted from that approach, others were harmed because assumptions were not sufficiently tested empirically. There was a recognition that advances in the lab needed to be supplemented with more rigorous studies in patients, especially when the benefit was modest and not easily demonstrated. Moreover, as these studies grew, the need for doctors to be able to manage the information, understand it, and apply it wisely also grew. 

Today, the expert clinician must have a command of information and know how to apply it. There is more attention than ever on the quality of treatment decisions and the assumptions that underlie them. The key to knowing how best to synthesize the available information and produce the best recommendations and decisions requires an appreciation of cognitive science...


Medical education tends to focus on medical content. We teach the facts and emphasize what is known. We often assume that if we apply the facts and rules, as an engineer applies principles and equations, we can solve most medical problems. But clinical medicine is not engineering—there are simply too many missing pieces, too much uncertainty. When faced with uncertainty, we inevitably use reasoning. But medical education gives the process of medical reasoning short shrift and rarely teaches it explicitly. We diligently teach the “what” but students often learn the “how” on their own...

This book does not present any great discoveries but, instead, synthesizes ideas that have been hiding in plain sight for years. During the past three decades, the field of cognitive psychology has developed a substantial literature on decision making but somehow hasn’t had much influence on doctors, who make tough, nuanced decisions every day. I am not a cognitive psychologist, but I have learned a great deal from Herbert Simon, Gerd Gigerenzer, Daniel Kahneman, Gary Klein, and others whose work on intuition and heuristics is directly relevant to medical decision making. Influenced by the work of Ian Hacking, I have included some introductory ideas about probability, logic, and statistical inference. I am also steeped in the literature on clinical reasoning by authors such as Alvin Feinstein, Larry Weed, Jerry Kassirer, Harold Sox, David Sackett, Pat Croskerry, Donald Redelmeier, Jerome Groopman, and Kathryn Montgomery. I continue to learn about medical reasoning from many colleagues, too numerous to list, and I hope that this book accurately reflects their teaching…
Pretty cool, I have to say. BTW: See my 2014 riff on "The Art of Medicine."

More to come...

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