Research Papers: epistemic cognition

Public Understanding of Science: Policy and Educational Implications

By Gale M. Sinatra, Barbara K. Hofer

Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences


The need for public understanding of science is especially critical in today’s society when citizens frequently confront complex, conflicting information on challenging topics. This article presents research on challenges for public understanding of science: In addition to increased scientific literacy (knowledge), people may need to shift epistemic cognition (beliefs about the nature of knowledge) and epistemic trust (beliefs about source credibility) to accept scientific perspectives. The article suggests how educators, media specialists, and scientists who communicate about their work might help address these challenges. Educational implications include (a) teach scientific processes, (b) teach for deeper understanding, (c) promote epistemic cognition, and (d) use instructional scaffolds. Policy recommendations include (a) fund educational research on thinking, (b) emphasize how to think over what to think, (c) support malleable psychological skills and dispositions, (d) avoid presenting “balanced perspectives” when there is scientific consensus, and (e) demand more rigorous teacher preparation standards. All these develop an informed citizenry.

Plausibility Reappraisals and Shifts in Middle School Students’ Climate Change Conceptions

By Doug Lombardi, Gale M.Sinatra, E. Michael Nussbaum

Learning and Instruction, 27


Plausibility is a central but under-examined topic in conceptual change research. Climate change is an important socio-scientific topic; however, many view human-induced climate change as implausible. When learning about climate change, students need to make plausibility judgments but they may not be sufficiently critical or reflective. The purpose of this study was to examine how students’ plausibility judgments and knowledge about human-induced climate change transform during instruction promoting critical evaluation. The results revealed that treatment group participants who engaged in critical evaluation experienced a significant shift in their plausibility judgments toward the scientifically accepted model of human-induced climate change. This shift was accompanied by significant conceptual change postinstruction that was maintained after a six-month delay. A comparison group who experienced a climate change activity that is part of their normal curriculum did not experience statistically significant changes.

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