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NSTA Position Statement:
The Nature of Science
All those involved with science teaching and learning should have a common, accurate view of the nature of science. Science is characterized by the systematic gathering of information through various forms of direct and indirect observations and the testing of this information by methods including, but not limited to, experimentation. The principal product of science is knowledge in the form of naturalistic concepts and the laws and theories related to those concepts.
The National Science Teachers Association endorses the proposition that science, along with its methods, explanations and generalizations, must be the sole focus of instruction in science classes to the exclusion of all non-scientific or pseudoscientific methods, explanations, generalizations and products.
The following premises are important to understanding the nature of science.
- Scientific knowledge is simultaneously reliable and tentative. Having confidence in scientific knowledge is reasonable while realizing that such knowledge may be abandoned or modified in light of new evidence or reconceptualization of prior evidence and knowledge.
- Although no single universal step-by-step scientific method captures the complexity of doing science, a number of shared values and perspectives characterize a scientific approach to understanding nature. Among these are a demand for naturalistic explanations supported by empirical evidence that are, at least in principle, testable against the natural world. Other shared elements include observations, rational argument, inference, skepticism, peer review and replicability of work.
- Creativity is a vital, yet personal, ingredient in the production of scientific knowledge.
- Science, by definition, is limited to naturalistic methods and explanations and, as such, is precluded from using supernatural elements in the production of scientific knowledge.
- A primary goal of science is the formation of theories and laws, which are terms with very specific meanings.
- Laws are generalizations or universal relationships related to the way that some aspect of the natural world behaves under certain conditions.
- Theories are inferred explanations of some aspect of the natural world. Theories do not become laws even with additional evidence; they explain laws. However, not all scientific laws have accompanying explanatory theories.
- Well-established laws and theories must
- be internally consistent and compatible with the best available evidence;
- be successfully tested against a wide range of applicable phenomena and evidence;
- possess appropriately broad and demonstrable effectiveness in further research.
- Contributions to science can be made and have been made by people the world over.
- The scientific questions asked, the observations made, and the conclusions in science are to some extent influenced by the existing state of scientific knowledge, the social and cultural context of the researcher and the observer's experiences and expectations.
- The history of science reveals both evolutionary and revolutionary changes. With new evidence and interpretation, old ideas are replaced or supplemented by newer ones.
- While science and technology do impact each other, basic scientific research is not directly concerned with practical outcomes, but rather with gaining an understanding of the natural world for its own sake.
Moore, J. 1993. Science as a Way of Knowing: The Foundation of Modern Biology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (1993). Benchmarks for Science Literacy: Project 2061. New York: Oxford University Press.
National Science Teachers Association (1997). The Teaching of Evolution—A Position Statement of NSTA. Washington, DC.
National Academy of Sciences (1998). Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
McComas, W., Clough, M., & Almazroa, H. (1998). The role and character of the nature of science in W. F. McComas (Ed.) The Nature of Science in Science Education: Rationales and Strategies (pp. 3–39) Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
National Association of Biology Teachers. (1987) Scientific Integrity—A Position Statement.
—Adopted by the NSTA Board of Directors