Teaching Kids About the Difference Between Good and Bad Science

In the land of the Internet, how are kids supposed to know what is credible?

Parents and teachers are often up at night worrying about how to make science “relevant” to kids. The avalanche of false health claims blend in with evidence-based medicine and how do we know fact from falsehood? It’s important to see popular claims as an opportunity to scrutinize in the classroom or in the grocery store.

Before our kids can debase or verify any scientific claim, they must first understand the nature of research and testing. They must learn how to examine the data themselves, to ask the right questions. Because these claims can have an impact on our behavior, we want our kids to distinguish between legitimate science and bad science the way we want them to discern between legitimate news and “alternative facts”.

Here are a few ideas to putter with, whether you are a teacher or a parent when helping young people make clear assessments of new information purporting to be fact.

 

  1. The Scientific Method. Most kids have heard of this at a certain age, but they don’t know what it means. But the scientific method dates back to Galileo and Bacon, and had acted as the keystone of objective discovery in the natural world. It goes beyond simply observing, theorizing and disproving, it means dispassionate testing, randomized trials, systematic reviews, cohort studies, and scientific surveys.
  1. Putting the Principles to Use. When kids conduct an experiment in the classroom, or even at home, they can really see how many beliefs may be based on false assumptions due to not having enough data. Let them tinker with controlled experiments, understand the difference between judgments and observations, repetition, and control groups.
  1. Examining the data. Here’s where it gets challenging: when a new claim comes into the mainstream, like a new supplement can prevent cancer, to use an extreme example, we all want that to be true. But we need to look past that hope and see how it was tested. Was it an observational study occurring out in the field or in a controlled environment? Who peer reviewed it, and are there independent sources verifying the claim?
  1. Follow the money. One indicator that a claim might be false is that a particular group stands to score big from this new invention, solution, medicine, or product.
  1. Looking at legitimate sources.   There are vetted, trusted sources out there, but we shouldn’t blindly accept information just because it comes from an authority figure. Show kids some examples of doctors who turned out to be quacks, or scientists who got blinded by their own egos. It really takes groups or scientists who are unaffiliated to come to a consensus.

 

Need some good resources to help kids get the value of scientific fact?

By starting this ongoing conversation now, kids will develop a keen eye and understand the complex processes involved in introducing new scientific data. They will be less gullible, more discerning and ultimately safer for knowing the difference.

 

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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