Teaching the Scientific Method

As the country continues to look towards reforming complex systems from healthcare to taxes to education, there is still some low-hanging fruit that can be picked at low cost to produce high returns. Some of these opportunities are at local and state levels with education curriculum changes (especially for high school students) where I believe some cost-neutral and relatively small changes could have huge long-term impacts. I intended to share several of these curriculum changes in one post, but realized I had a lot more to say, so I will split the posts up into a series, with each post focusing on one change. First up is a greater emphasis on the scientific method:

Scientific literacy in this country (and generally in the world) is still quite low. As scientific fields become more complex and specialized, a higher level of understanding is needed to keep up with even the basics. Too many people still do not understand even the basic procedure through which scientific progress is made, making it quite difficult for them to understand the complex answers that result from that process. And despite that, we are all encouraged to make informed and rational choices. Without understanding science, it is hard to do that in many aspects of life from dealing with one’s healthcare to voting based on the facts. When people cannot differentiate between the thought processes of science and belief, it leads to an electorate that cannot differentiate between fact and fiction. We already see it today with the evolution deniers, climate change skeptics, etc.

Having spent all of my formal education years (minus pre-kindergarten schooling) in public schools in New York and Maryland and having had many scientific discussions in my personal (both formally in school and outside it) and online lives, I can safely say that a lot of people still do not grasp the essence of science. This is not a criticism of teachers though- it was some of my high school teachers that inspired me to pursue a career in a scientific field and who helped shape me to be the person I am today. This is a greater criticism of the system in general; in particular, a system that might have students memorize the various generalized aspects of the scientific method (hypothesis, methods, results, analysis, conclusion, etc.) without actually making sure they understand it. It is a system that insists on memorizing a lot of scientific facts without making sure the student has even the slightest clue as to how those facts were established.

Teaching the scientific method and the stringent process through which science is conducted could have a tremendous boost in the long-term intellect and understanding of the electorate. It might even lead to more students choosing STEM career paths, something that the United States could really use. And best of all, it does not take much, if any, money to implement this change.

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  • Miraj Patel is a pharmacy student at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore School of Pharmacy. He blogs about a wide variety of issues in healthcare, economics, and science.
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