Scientific argument and explanation: A necessary distinction?



In this paper, we argue that there is an emergent confusion in the literature in the use of the terms “argument'' and “explanation.” Drawing on a range of publications, we point to instances where these terms are either used inappropriately or conflated. We argue that the distinction between these two constructs is, however, important as a lack of clarity of fundamental concepts is problematic for a field. First, a lack of common conception hinders effective communication and, second, it makes defining the nature of the activity we might expect students to engage in more difficult. Drawing on a body of scholarship on argument and explanation, this paper is an attempt to clarify the distinction and to explain why such a distinction might matter. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed95:627–638, 2011