Research Papers: science literacy

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.

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