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Thursday, February 23, 2017

‘Citizen science’ is the way to encourage critical thinking | Irish Times

Photo: Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain
"Meaningful dialogue about the nature and importance of science and research has already begun." summarizes Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, assistant professor in the UCD school of mathematics and statistics.

Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique: members of the public use webcams to detail the wildlife captured throughout the park.
Photo: Getty Images
In an age where information is readily available at one’s fingertips, it can be difficult to interpret what material is trustworthy and what facts may be distorted. Peer-reviewed research, and the quality thereof, has become increasingly important and a healthy criticality is required in reading news about research and statistics related to our everyday lives. It is one of the aims of the EU to increase the scientific literacy of citizens in order to support each person in making informed decisions about changes in, for example, society, politics, environment and education. Our new Junior Cycle science curriculum has paralleled this goal in aiming to support students “to make informed decisions about many of the local, national and global challenges and opportunities they will be presented with”.

An important part of scientific literacy is a familiarity with the nature of science – appreciating how scientists work and how scientific ideas are modified over time. In finding out what constituted the smallest building blocks of nature, JJ Thomson had proposed the pudding model of the atom and it was not until 1911 that Rutherford established that the atom was, in fact, mostly empty space. From the 17th century, Newton’s laws of gravity were upheld as fundamental laws of nature until Einstein’s theory of relativity demonstrated their limitations. Contrary to commonly-held views on science, science is not a pre-ordained structure of ready-made facts but rather a collective body of knowledge which is constantly being refined and reviewed. One way of developing an understanding of the nature of science is through participation in “citizen science”.

Source: Irish Times