“Real Scientific Literacy” for TOK

(by Eileen Dombrowski, from OUP blog) What an excellent summary of how science works! You’ll be missing out on a splendid resource if you don’t read these two articles on “Real Scientific Literacy” offered just last week (free, on his blog) by neurologist and science writer Dr. Steven Novella:

Real Scientific Literacy, The Ness, Neurologicablog, January 12, 2016.

Real Scientific Literacy, Part II, The Ness, Neurologicablog, January 14, 2016.

In his conclusion, Dr. Novella makes a simple assertion that underscores what we teach in IB science courses and IB Theory of Knowledge: “Scientific literacy means not only having a working understanding of the big ideas of science, but also understanding critical thinking and how science works.”

In this compact outline of how science works, Dr. Novella suggests ten features, or ten categories, of scientific literacy and elaborates on each one. “These ten categories of literacy regarding the scientific process,” he says, “are meant to be a quick overview of the basics, what I consider to be the minimum that anyone should know in order to be truly scientifically literate.”

  1. Scientific Knowledge
  2. Science is an empirical and logical process
  3. Science uses multiple logical methods
  4. Science is tentative, and always has error bars
  5. How to Analyze a Scientific Study
  6. Most Studies are Wrong or Incomplete
  7. Consensus Matters
  8. Understand Pseudoscience
  9. Understand Denialism
  10. Understand that humans are flawed and biased.

What is the best way to use an excellent compact summary like this one within our TOK course? As you can tell from my enthusiastic comments on this pair of blog posts, I think that every TOK teacher should read them. “You just gotta read this! It’s just soooooo good!”

Is that enough? Well, yes. Maybe it is. Reinforcing our own understanding as teachers, especially on parts of the course that lie outside our own expertise, is a continuing responsibility and pleasure for us as teachers. One of the joys of teaching TOK is being stimulated, again and again, to read and think.

But would I hand this summary to my own students to read? Well, if I were compiling a background list of good resources in any case, I’d certainly include it. I’d also quote bits of it in class when dealing with relevant topics. (I will surely be quoting Novella in this blog later on.)

But I wouldn’t hand this summary to students to read in class. I wouldn’t base a class on consuming good materials, in which somebody smart has already done all the thinking! I’d rather give students flawed materials to critique themselves, or, better yet, activities to generate their own ideas and expression.

So this is a resource for us – for teachers. Thank you, Dr. Steven Novella!


Real Scientific Literacy, The Ness, Neurologicablog, January 12, 2016. http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/real-scientific-literacy/

Real Scientific Literacy, Part II, The Ness, Neurologicablog, January 14, 2016. http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/real-scientific-literacy-part-ii/

image by PeteLindforth, pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/space-fractal-science-backdrop-1095783/

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