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.
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.|
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:
There are some challenges and limitations to this process, however.
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.
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.
Source: Adapted from Sophia instructor Jensen Morgan