Understandings of the nature of science and decision making on science and technology based issues


  • An early version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, New Orleans, LA, April, 2000.


The purpose of this investigation was to explicate the role of the nature of science in decision making on science and technology based issues and to delineate factors and reasoning associated with these types of decisions. Twenty-one volunteer participants purposively selected from the faculty of geographically diverse universities completed an open-ended questionnaire and follow-up interview designed to assess their decision making on science and technology based issues. Participants were subsequently placed in one of two groups based upon their divergent views of the nature of science as assessed by a second open-ended questionnaire and follow-up interview. Profiles of each group's decision making were then constructed, based on participants' previous responses to the decision making questionnaire and follow-up interviews. Finally, the two groups' decisions, decision influencing factors, and decision making strategies were compared. No differences were found between the decisions of the two groups, despite their disparate views of the nature of science. Participants in both groups based their decisions primarily on personal values, morals/ethics, and social concerns. While all participants considered scientific evidence in their decision making, most did not require absolute “proof,” even though many participants held absolute conceptions of the nature of science. Overall, the nature of science did not figure prominently in either group's decisions. These findings contrast with basic assumptions of current science education reform efforts and call for a re-examination of the goals of nature of science instruction. Developing better decision making skills—even on science and technology based issues—may involve other factors, including more value-based instruction and attention to intellectual/moral development. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed87:352–377, 2003; Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI 10.1002/sce.10063