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Scientific Literacy

Scientific Literacy

Author: Jensen Morgan

This lesson explains how science is communicated.

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Source: Earth PD Lecture CC Scientific American PD Obama CC Internet CC

Video Transcription

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Hi. I'm Jensen Morgan. We're going to talk about some great concepts in environmental science. Today's topic is scientific literacy. So let's get started.

We're going to talk about scientific literacy, various communication platforms for scientific information, the peer review process, and open-access journal publishing.

"Scientific literacy" is the ability to understand and analyze as well as form opinions about scientific information and writing. This is an important skill because nowadays popular media is filled with scientific topics and information, such as theories, data, speculation, and opinion. Being able to sort through this information and correctly interpret it gives you the ability to develop your own informed opinions in response to it. It gives you the ability to separate subjective or biased statements from objective ones and overall understand the world around you better.

Science can be presented in a number of ways with various degrees of rigor. Scientists present their work in technical language to their peers in presentations, journals, or even posters. They sometimes also present their work to the general public in articles using nontechnical language.

Media-- which includes magazines, television, new shows, and even documentaries-- often choose to present new, risky, controversial, and exciting science to the general public with the goal of entertaining as well as informing. Media will often use a mixture of data, opinions, speculation, and personal testimony. Media often presents science with less rigor because it is subject to public opinion and private interests, which influence what and how information is disseminated.

Scientific journals utilize a relatively high level of rigor through a peer review process while popular magazines, such as National Geographic, Time, Scientific American, Popular Science, and Newsweek do not. They present scientific information which is screened by an editor but not by a scientific peer review process.

Politicians tend to use scientific information in a generalized manner-- often influenced by their own agenda or opinion as well as that of the public. When consuming scientific information, it is important to be aware of the level of screening and review that it might have undergone and what biases it might be subject of.

Scientific information presented in a scientific journal is reviewed by a panel of experts along with a journal editor. They determine whether or not it is suitable and credible enough for publication. The panel and editor use a four-value criteria when reviewing an article.

The article is then first checked for scientific validity. Then it is checked for errors. Its methodology is evaluated. And finally, its relative importance and impact is evaluated as well.

There are some challenges and limitations to this process, however. Such as the journal and its reviewers may be biased to what it will publish or support. Different journals apply different levels of rigor to the review process, which creates inconsistency. The peer review process is lengthy, which can delay publication of new science.

To get a scientific article published, it can sometimes cost thousands of dollars, which may be too expensive for some scientists to afford. Even though the peer review process adds rigor, it does not always lead to the publication of the best new science within a reasonable amount of time due to these limitations. Because the peer review process can delay and control what science is published-- and therefore, read-- it also largely determines what science is accepted in the greater scientific community.

A potential solution to this is open-access publishing. This process is increasingly being utilized by peer review journals because it allows anyone with Internet access to get online and review the articles, which is accelerating the speed of publishing of new science. This is part of a larger trend of open access to libraries and databases, which is increasing global access to scientific information.

Now, let's have a recap. We talked about scientific literacy, various communication platforms to present science, the pros and cons of the peer review process, and up-and-coming open-access journal publishing and review. Well, that's all for this tutorial. I hope these concepts have been helpful, and I look forward to next time. Bye.