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Keywords:

  • socioscientific issues;
  • epistemology;
  • ethics;
  • scientific literacy;
  • cross-cultural research;
  • socioscientific reasoning;
  • sociocultural

Abstract

The purpose of this investigation was to examine, from a cross-cultural perspective, students' epistemological patterns of reasoning about socioscientific issues (SSI), and to identify potential interactions of cultural and scientific identity. Mediating factors associated with students' argumentation and discourse about SSI, as well as the public's understanding of science, has been identified as an important area of investigation in the field of science education. This mixed-methods design included over 300 students from Jamaica, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, and the United States. Students responded to instruments designed to assess their epistemological conceptualizations and justifications related to distributive justice, allocation of scarce medical resources, and epistemological beliefs over five dimensions related to scientific knowledge. Four iterations of a coding scheme produced over 97% inter-rater agreement for four independent coders. Results indicate there is a consistent trend toward epistemological congruity across cultures within inductively derived themes of: (1) Fairness; (2) Pragmatism; (3) Emotive Reasoning; (4) Utility; and (5) Theological Issues. Moreover, there were no discernable differences in terms of how students from these countries presented their beliefs on the sub-categories of each of the five major categories. It appears that students displayed a high degree of congruence with respect to how they frame their reasoning on this SSI as well as their justifications for their epistemological beliefs. There were statistically significant differences regarding the ability to raise scientifically relevant questions among countries. Commonalities as well as distinguishing characteristics in epistemological orientations are compared and contrasted and connections to a model of socioscientific reasoning with implications for research and pedagogy are discussed. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 50:251–283, 2013