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COASTAL ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION
ZEYNEP ALTINAY, PAIGE BROWN
What is Science?
What do you think science is? Describe it in a sentence.
The Process of Science
The process of science is a creative way of uncovering knowledge and
interpreting the meaning of new discoveries.
“A scientific way of thinking can help you weed through conflicting reports about
nutrition and make better choices about healthy eating. Advances in chemistry,
physics, and materials science have led to faster computers and smaller cell phones
– letting you take pictures with your phone and send them to your friends. And
advances in modeling and meteorology have helped us better predict and plan for
natural disasters like floods and hurricanes.”
Positivist Approach to Science
Information about the world is derived from logical and mathematical
treatments and reports of sensory experience
The senses: Sight, Touch, Hearing, Smell, Taste
Scientific instruments extend human senses to gather information
◦ Microscope – extends human sight
Verified data received from the senses are known as empirical evidence
Introspection and intuition are rejected as sources of scientific knowledge.
In the ‘hard’ sciences, the scientific method often takes a hypothetico-deductive
1. Use your experience: Consider the problem and try to make sense of it.
Gather data and look for previous explanations. If this is a new problem to you,
then move to step 2.
2. Form a conjecture (hypothesis): When nothing else is yet known, try to state
an explanation, to someone else, or to your notebook.
3. Deduce predictions from the hypothesis: if you assume 2 is true, what
4. Test (or Experiment): Look for evidence (observations) that conflict with
these predictions in order to disprove 2.
*We can never “prove” our hypothesis. Our hypothesis must be falsifiable.
Hypothesis: From the Greek word hypothesis meaning assumption or the
basis of an argument, a hypothesis is a proposal intended to explain
certain observations or phenomenon. In science, hypotheses represent
the basis of scientific research, which is pursued to objectively determine
whether or not a hypothesis is correct.
Theory: an explanation inferred from multiple lines of evidence for some
broad aspect of the natural world and is logical, testable, and predictive.
◦ Some familiar theories: Gravity, Evolution, global warming
Inductive reasoning can also be used to draw generalized conclusions
based on finite observations.
The grass outside my window is green.
Using inductive reasoning I can conclude:
All grass is green.
This conclusion is valid in inductive reasoning so long as all observations
support it. However, in science, we can rarely make every possible
observation (i.e. look at every piece of grass). Thus, we can rarely
conclusively prove theories.
Science, especially environmental science, is
collaborative and interdisciplinary.
“Biologists, chemists, geologists, physicists, and all other scientists
objectively gather data about the natural world using multiple research
methods, employ similar techniques to analyze these data, form
hypotheses based on the data, and work within a global community of
individuals and organizations contributing to science.”
Types of Science
Basic Science: seeking knowledge for its own sake
Applied science: exploring solutions to immediate problems and
Science and Science Writing
“’Science’ comprises not only the biological, life, and physical sciences but
also the social and behavioral science and such applied fields as medicine,
environmental sciences, technology, and engineering.” – Friedman,
Dunwoody, Rogers (1986)
Science writing includes coverage of these fields as well as political,
economic and social aspects of science.
◦ (Yes, science often has political, economic and social implications)
Myths about Science
Science is infallible. In fact, science is subject to human bias and error. We
can reduce individual bias by working as a scientific community, using
peer-review of each others’ work, etc.
Science is completely objective. In fact, the scientific questions we pursue
are often colored by our societies and our cultures.
Scientific controversy is bad. This is not true. Controversies are found in all
scientific fields and often lead to progress in science.
Similar to the controversy over offshore drilling, scientists
appeal to evidence to support their claims, and the nature of
the debate changes as new evidence comes to light. But a
controversy in science often creates progress because it spurs
Scientific controversy often inspires scientists to
begin more research
Scientific controversies are resolved when the
evidence overwhelmingly favors one argument.
However, public debate may still continue after
scientists have generally accepted building
evidence (as in evidence for climate change).
Scientific controversies are distinct from political,
ethical, and personal controversies, though
sometimes they overlap or can have complex
Myths about science
Science is the work of lone geniuses. In fact, science is
incredibly collaborative. “The real drive of human
creativity isn’t the lone genius, but the partnership.”
Today, scientists are even crowd-sourcing information.
“After struggling for years trying to develop his special theory of
relativity, Einstein got his old classmate Michele Besso a job at the
Swiss patent office — and after ‘a lot of discussions with him,’ Einstein
said, ‘I could suddenly comprehend the matter.’”
Scientists make their research available to the community by publishing it
in scientific journals.
Articles are peer-reviewed (reviewed and accepted or rejected by a group
of peer scientists in the same or a similar field).
Terms to know:
article = a nonfiction piece of writing that is published in a journal
findings (plural noun) = research results
present (verb) = to describe, show, or introduce new information, such as
publish = to produce a work in printed form, such as in a journal, book, or
Anatomy of a scientific journal article
(the unit of primary literature)
Authors / Title: Title accurately summarizes the research, and should not
sensationalize it. Pay attention to the authors and their affiliations. Are they from
universities? Other institutions?
Abstract: Be sure to read this. It briefly describes the research question, methods and
major findings. The abstract should not be relied on solely, though, because the
abstract can sometimes overstate the research implications.
Introduction: describes the significance of the research, the major questions and
Literature review: Describes the past research that this study builds upon. Sets the
stage for the formation of hypotheses.
Methods: describes how the researchers went about testing their hypotheses, in such
a way that other researchers could reproduce the study.
Results / conclusions: An analysis of the data, and interpretations of what the data
mean in the context of previous research.
Finding scientific articles
Your university library
Google Scholar (good place to start)
Reading a scientific paper
“Reading a scientific paper is a completely different process from reading an
article about science in a blog or newspaper. Not only do you read the
sections in a different order than they're presented, but you also have to
take notes, read it multiple times, and probably go look up other papers in
order to understand some of the details.”
What is the research approach (experiment? Observation? Case Study?)
What is the primary finding? Is it expected, or surprising? Are the results
significant? Do the interpretations make sense given the methods used?
What does previous research say?
Things to look for:
-Buzzfeedism of headlines
-No link(s) to peer-reviewed literature
-Conflicts of interest (who is funding the
-Speculative words and sensationalized
words like “prove” and “cure”
-Lack of context for single (new)
research studies. What does previous
research say? Are there alternative
-Small, unrepresentative samples;
claiming causation for correlation
-Source of information: A scientific
article? Or a press release? A scientific
Covering scientific research
Much of science news and science blogging involves covering new (single)
Ensuring quality coverage:
◦ Read the entire paper. If there are aspects you don’t understand, find experts to help
you interpret the paper. (Twitter is now great for this).
◦ Put the research in context. Pull other papers on the topic to see where this
paper/study fits in with similar research. Look at the other papers cited in the
references section. Is this paper extending previous results? Proposing a new theory /
mechanism? We should be more cautious with preliminary results or results based on
small sample sizes.
◦ Get outside comment. Don’t rely on just the authors of the study or press release
materials. Find relevant independent experts who will be forthcoming about their
interpretation of the study.
◦ Think of appropriate analogies that will help non-experts understand the results and
implications of the research.
◦ Read other science blogs or credible news articles that talk about the paper. Are they
missing important aspects of the paper, such as limitations or alternative
• WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THIS PODCAST?
• DOES THIS CHANGE YOUR VIEW OF THE PROCESS OF SCIENCE?
• HOW MIGHT NEWS REPORTS OF SCIENCE WARP FINDINGS?
“THAT'S THE POINT OF SCIENCE, TO RECOGNIZE THAT BENEATH WHAT WE
THINK WE KNOW THERE ARE LAYERS AND NUANCES THAT ARE WAITING TO