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Abstract

Ninety-one Grade 12 science students were asked to read five popular reports of science. The students were within 4 months of graduation, and all were taking at least one course of senior biology, chemistry, or physics. On average, the students had completed about four high school science courses. The reports were chosen from widely available published work appearing in newspapers, science magazines, and general interest magazines. The tasks given to students required them to interpret the pragmatic meaning of the reports, that is, the meaning of the reports in relation to the goals and intentions of the authors and the context set by the reports. The students interpreted statements in the reports with a bias towards truth ascription by attributing to the statements a higher degree of certainty than was expressed by the authors. Also, no more than one half of the students accurately understood the scientific status and role of statements when that understanding required contextualized interpretation on the basis of the relationships among statements in the reports. Implications for the development of scientific literacy follow from the fact that these students were top science students, yet they did not fully grasp the fundamentals of interpreting texts that are major sources of new scientific knowledge for most laypeople.