Scientific Literacy

Scientific literacy (National Science Education Standards, 1996, p. 22) is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in community and national affairs and economic productivity.

A scientifically literate person can ask, find or determine answers to questions, derived from curiosity about every day experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain and predict natural occurrences. Scientific literacy entails being able to read articles in the press, with understanding, about science and engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions. A literate person should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.

A lack of scientific literacy can lead to inaccurate media reporting, this inaccuracy can have a detrimental impact on the lives of many people. In 1998 Dr Andrew Wakefield announced that he believed the MMR jag was directly linked to autism in children. However, there was no evidence or proof of this link. (Daily Mail, 2006) Many parents decided against their children receiving the MMR jag, ‘in 2003/4 fewer than 8 in 10 children received the jag’ (BBC, 2013). In 2008 the NHS reported that there was no link between MMR and autism (NHS, 2008). The BBC (2013) interviewed parents about their decision to not have their child vaccinated, Craig Thomas disclosed “It’s been devastating and I feel terrible guilt. My daughter lost half a stone in weight. My son’s face was swollen, he had unbelievable spots and a rash. They were pretty much bedridden for three weeks.” Whereas another parent disclosed “With the recent measles outbreak, I am relieved that he is now protected. But if it happened again I’d make the same choices,” after her son decided to get the vaccination aged 14. Dr Andrew Wakefield’s ‘work has since been completely discredited and he has been struck off as a doctor in the UK’ (NHS, no date).

When conducting an experiment in science it is important to test it fairly. It is highly important to use fair testing in order to make the experiment results reliable. To conduct a fair test you must consider changing one factor at a time while the rest are kept the exact same. An example of teaching children about fair testing may include an experiment questioning if heating a cup of water allows it to dissolve more sugar. For this you must have various cups of water all heated at different temperatures. However, to test this fairly the teacher must use the same type and size of cup, the exact same amount and brand of sugar each time along with the exact same amount of water. Doing this is demonstrating to the pupils how fair testing allows them to get a more dependable result out of an experiment. Teaching fair testing in schools links to scientific literacy as it assists the child with understanding scientific concepts and has them questioning the best ways in order to conduct different experiments. Fair testing also allows the children to develop an evidence based conclusion as they

have gathered reliable information through conducting the experiment fairly and thoroughly.

BBC. (2008) MMR: How parents feel now about avoiding jags. Available at: (Accessed: 5 February 2016).

Daily Mail. (2006) Scientists fear MMR link to autism. Available at: (Accessed: 5 February 2016).

National Science Education Standards (1996) Scientific literacy. Available at: (Accessed: 6 February 2016)

NHS. (no date) MMR Vaccine. Available at: (Accessed: 5 February 2016).

NHS. (2008) MMR Vaccine ‘does not cause autism’. Available at: (Accessed: 5 February 2016).

Science Buddies (2002) Variables for Beginners. Available at: (Accessed: 11 February 2016) Turner, J. (2012) It’s Not Fair. Available at: (Accessed: 11 February 2016)

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