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Scientific Literacy

Scientific Literacy

Author: Sophia Tutorial

Determine the scientific source that would provide a given quotation.

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what's covered
In this tutorial, we will cover the topic of scientific literacy. We will discuss how science is communicated — the various platforms, the benefits, and drawbacks of the peer review process, and the process of open access journal publishing.

Our discussion breaks down as follows:

  1. What is Scientific Literacy?
  2. Scientific Communication Platforms
  3. Peer Review Process
  4. Open Access Journal Publishing

1. What is Scientific Literacy?

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. It gives you the ability to separate subjective or biased statements from objective ones, and to overall understand the world around you better.

2. Scientific Communication Platforms

Science can be presented in a number of ways, with various degrees of rigor.

Scientific Communication Platforms Description
Scientists Scientists present their work in technical language to their peers in presentations, like the lecture shown in the graphic below, journals, or even posters. They sometimes also present their work to the general public, in articles using nontechnical language.
Media Media 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 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 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 to.

3. Peer Review Process

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

  1. The article is first checked for scientific validity.
  2. The article is checked for errors.
  3. The article's methodology is evaluated.
  4. The article's relative importance and impact are evaluated.

There are some challenges and limitations to this process, however.

  • Bias: The journal and its reviewers may be biased as to what they will publish or support.
  • Inconsistency: Different journals apply different levels of rigor to the review process, which creates inconsistency.
  • Time consuming: The peer review process is lengthy, which can delay publication of new science.
  • Cost: 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, due to these limitations, it does not always lead to the publication of the best new science within a reasonable amount of time. 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.

4. Open Access Journal Publishing

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 accelerates the speed of publishing new science.

This is part of a larger trend of open access to libraries and databases, which is increasing global access to scientific information.

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.

Source: Adapted from Sophia instructor Jensen Morgan