Scientific Literacy

Scientific literacy and fair testing – Áine O’Neill, Gillian Daly, Iain Thomson

“Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to identify questions and to draw evidence based-conclusions.” (OECD, 2003) It allows us to expand our knowledge on science and allows us to learn about new things. It is very important to teach children about scientific literacy at a young age so they can start questioning scientific knowledge from a young age and gets them into the habit of questioning and understanding scientific literacy from a young age. Although scientific literacy is helpful with acquiring new scientific knowledge, not all scientific literature is true. A lot of scientific literature on the internet is false due to scientists lying about their results or falsifying evidence. Therefore, it is important to carefully read scientific literacy found online to make sure it is true. It is important to teach children that not everything they read on the internet is true.

A lack of scientific literacy could lead to inaccurate media reporting. An example of this is the ‘Changing diet could stop cancer’ theory.

In 1924, Otto Warburg suggested that an acidic diet could affect and be the cause of cancerous cells, after he discovered that cancer is caused by low oxygen and an acidic PH. His suggestion to patients was to change their diet to be less acidic and more alkaline by eating more of a green diet.

This suggestion caused fear within the public as it was new information released about cancer, and caused a great deal of hype within the media. However, after various investigations scientists concluded that cancer cells can not live in an overly alkaline environment, concluding that Otto’s theory was wrong. Scientists provided closure to Otto’s theory by discovering that blood is slightly alkaline, and is tightly regulated by kidneys and cannot be changed by what you consume. Due to this any extra acid or alkali that isn’t needed in the body is released from the body in urine.

Developing understanding of scientific concepts and language is a very time consuming activity. The scope of science is enormous and varied, so basic knowledge of scientific practice and language should be taught at a young age. This can be as a foundation for more skills, knowledge, and scientific inquiry required in the sciences.

Bybee (1997: cited Dunn and Peacock, 2015) suggested that scientific literacy followed a hierarchy, from knowledge of some scientific terms with no deep understanding of them, to multidimensional scientific literacy, where learners can apply concepts and theories to the world around them. There is much learning and teaching to go from the initial stage to the latter, so the introduction of science in the classroom at an early age is important.

The teaching of fair testing in schools gives children an idea of scientific practice, an introduction to scientific vocabulary, and the beginning of understanding how scientific evidence is used and interpreted. Without these skills, young people will struggle to understand the difference between scientific theories that have been verified through experimentation, and false scientific claims built on faulty, or fictional, scientific evidence (as above).


Dunne, M. and Peacock, A. (2015), Primary Teaching: A Guide to Teaching Practice, 2nd ed., Croydon,sage.

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 9Accessed: 8/2/2017)




1 thought on “Scientific Literacy

  1. Richard Holme

    Thanks for this post. You address some interesting points here. I wasn’t aware of the Otto Warburg example so will do some reading around it. I think it also illustrates how scientific understanding evolves over time. Without a scientifically literate population advancements may be slower. Thanks for working on this and posting it.


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