Scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes. ‘Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to identify questions and to draw evidence-based conclusions’ (OECD, 2003). This means that a person can ask, find, or come to a conclusion on answers to questions that come from curiosity about everyday experiences relating to science. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict scientific occurrences. Scientific literacy includes the skill of being able to read, with understanding, articles about science in everyday reading such as articles on the internet and news stories. Scientific literacy also means that a person can identify scientific issues that impact national and local decisions. What is also achieved is the ability to express opinions that are scientifically informed. A scientifically literate individual should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information based on its source and the methods used to create it. (National Research Council, 1996, page 22)
In the 1990s the scare of vaccines and autism being related took off. Due to a report being realised about how the MMR vaccine was related to autism in children. This resulted in a massive scare and many parents did not want to take the risk of being the reason their child developed autism. Therefore, many children did not receive the vaccine putting them at risk of developing measles, mumps and rubella. The horrendous factor in this is that the researcher – Andrew Wakefield lied about some of the conditions of the children when he did his sample group and all the testing. The overall outcome of this paper being published with fake results has put many children and adults at risk of becoming seriously ill. Even with papers being published and doctors encouraging all children to get the vaccine there are still some parents who are scared so will not get the vaccine or allow their children to.
The major reason as to why the terror surrounding the MMR vaccine spread so quickly was down to the media coverage. There was a lack of understanding around the research Wakefield had conducted (Goldacre, 2009). Take the sample size Wakefield decided on – 12 children. Having a large sample size is important to have more reliable data and to include a variety of people to represent the population. Having 12 people is too small of a sample size to prove the idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism. However, this point was overlooked by the media who subsequently focused on the shocking nature of Wakefield’s research. The Mail as an example; “Scientists fear MMR link to autism” (Beck, 2006). By not focusing on the scientific aspect of Wakefield’s published research, the media helped create a false image of the vaccine and led to a severe decrease in people taking the vaccine.
When teaching a science lesson, it is key that the children learn and understand the importance of fair testing. Fair testing can be conducted by ensuring that only one factor is changed while all other variables stay the same. Fair testing is one of the most important elements when carrying out an experiment. The reason for this is the fact it creates a scientifically valuable outcome allowing the children to draw reliable and accurate data from the results.
The exploration within the topic of fair testing can help children show a basic understanding of their scientific knowledge and literacy of scientific concepts. Giving children the opportunity to participate in science experiments that require the process of fair testing will allow them to explore and challenge their scientific literacy.
- Beck, S. (2006) ‘Scientists fear MMR link to autism’, The Mail, Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-388051/Scientists-fear-MMR-link-autism.html
- Goldacre, B. Bad Science (London: Fourth Estate, 2009)
- National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
- OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] (2003) The PISA 2003 Assessment Framework – Mathematics, Reading, Science and Problem-Solving Knowledge and Skills. Paris: OECD.
- Science Buddies. (2018). Doing a Fair Test: Variables for Beginners. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/science-fair/doing-a-fair-test-variables-for-beginners [Accessed 9th Feb. 2018].
(Claire Campbell, Amy Johnston, Amy Laing, Elise Clark and Emily Lloyd)