Basing its arguments in current perspectives on the nature of the scientific enterprise, which see argument and argumentative practice as a core activity of scientists, this article develops the case for the inclusion and central role of argument in science education. Beginning with a review of the nature of argument, it discusses the function and purpose of dialogic argument in the social construction of scientific knowledge and the interpretation of empirical data. The case is then advanced that any education about science, rather than education in science, must give the role of argument a high priority if it is to give a fair account of the social practice of science, and develop a knowledge and understanding of the evaluative criteria used to establish scientific theories. Such knowledge is essential to enhance the public understanding of science and improve scientific literacy. The existing literature, and work that has attempted to use argument within science education, is reviewed to show that classroom practice does provide the opportunity to develop young people's ability to construct argument. Furthermore, the case is advanced that the lack of opportunities for the practice of argument within science classrooms, and lack of teacher's pedagogical skills in organizing argumentative discourse within the classroom are significant impediments to progress in the field. © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Sci Ed84:287–312, 2000.