Scientific literacy is a term that is used to describe someone who can understand science. A more elaborate explanation of that is someone whom has the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to be able to identify questions about science and to draw evidence-based conclusions from science experiments (OECD, 2003). The European Commission (1995) elaborated further ‘Clearly this does not mean turning everyone into a scientific expert, but enabling them to fulfil an enlightened role in making choices.’ This means that scientific literacy is not about everyone being able to understand everything to do with science, it is more about being able to understand a little bit of science to question and develop the world around you. Scientific literacy is having the ability to describe, explain and predict natural phenomena. It means that you can read, with understanding, articles about science and engage in social conversations about the validity of the conclusions to experiments that are written about (National Science Education Standards, page 22).
There are four types of scientific literacy and these are nominal scientific literacy, functional scientific literacy, conceptual scientific literacy and multidimensional scientific literacy. These all show a different kind of understanding towards science. Nominal scientific literacy is where the person recognises the vocabulary but does not have a clear understanding of it or they have misconceptions. Functional scientific literacy is where a person can describe the concepts of science but they cannot use the correct vocabulary and they do not understand fully what they are saying. Conceptual scientific literacy is where the person has a greater understanding or a concept and they can explain it. This person will also have a better understanding of enquiry and design in science. Lastly, there is multidimensional scientific literacy which is when the person fully understands concepts in a wider context. They can also make connections between science philosophy, history and practical applications of science.
According to Jarman and McClune (2007) without scientific literacy there would be an increase in inaccurate or misleading information, which can often result in media scares. Cases in which this has been apparent include the swine flu epidemic, and quite possibly the most known being the MMR vaccination scare.
Deer (2011) states in 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a medical researcher published that the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination was linked to colitis and autism spectrum disorders. Despite this being false, it was credited as a reliable source, and people became reluctant to allow their child the vaccine and it wasn’t long before controversial articles were published in newspapers, further damaging the reputation of this vaccination.
Deer (2011) also highlighted, that it was later in 2004 that an investigation into Wakefield’s research paper was put in place and it was found that the original paper was fraudulent. The scientific consensus is that MMR is in no way linked to the development of autism. Due to this media scare, there was a great decrease in the amount of children receiving this vaccination, and therefore a rise in cases of measles. Many still refrain from this vaccination despite it being proven that its benefits hugely outweigh its risks.
Fair testing in school science links to scientific literacy as it involves recognising and communicating questions that can be investigated scientifically and knowing what is involved in such investigations. It also includes identifying or recognising evidence needed in a scientific investigation. For example, what things should be compared, what valuables should be changed or controlled, or what action should be taken so that relevant data can be collected. This is essential for ensuring that the data collected is accurate. For example, taking the example that is used on the PowerPoint. The children should be able to recognise that it is going to be an unfair test as one driver involves a man on a motorbike, whilst the other driver is a small child on a go-kart. The children will therefore identify that the man on the motorbike will have no problem in winning the race. Children should also be able to recognise what should be altered so that the race would be deemed as fair. In this case, both the vehicle and age of the person leads to an unfair test. This skill is key to a child’s scientific literacy and is therefore pivotal to teach. The children can also learn from their mistakes. If the experiment does not go the way that they had predicted, this gives them an opportunity to communicate and understand how the experiment went wrong and how they would be able to correct these mistakes. This in itself is scientific literacy.
European Commission (1995) White Paper on Education and Training
http://www.literacynet.org/science/scientificliteracy.html. Assessed 15th February 2016.
Deer, B. (2011) Exposed: Andrew Wakefield and The MMR-Autism Fraud. Available at: http://briandeer.com/mmr/lancet-summary.htm (Accessed: 15th Feb 2016).
Jarman, R. and McClune, B. (2007) Developing Scientific Literacy. England: Open University 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.
Johnny, Abi, Leah, Rebecca