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This classroom activity, adapted from an exercise on PBS's NOVA website, provides an excellent example of an active debate within the scientific community regarding a relatively recent human fossil find, Homo floresiensis.
One class period
This activity highlights the ways in which scientists can interpret scientific evidence in different ways, how scientists build arguments to support their claims, and how assumptions can influence interpretation. However, we don't recommend having students take a poll about which premise is best supported (as recommended in the teacher's guide), since this might give students the incorrect idea that scientific ideas are judged based on popularity.
Correspondence to the Next Generation Science Standards is indicated in parentheses after each relevant concept. See our conceptual framework for details.
- Science aims to build increasingly broad and coherent explanations of the natural world.
- Scientists strive to test their ideas with evidence from the natural world; a hallmark of science is exposing ideas to testing.
- Scientific knowledge is open to question and revision as new ideas surface and new evidence is discovered.
- Scientific ideas cannot be absolutely proven.
- Scientists can test ideas about events and processes long past, very distant, and not directly observable.
- Scientists test their ideas using multiple lines of evidence.
- All scientific tests involve making assumptions, but these assumptions can be independently tested, increasing our confidence in our test results.
- Scientists often try to generate multiple explanations for what they observe.
- Scientists use multiple research methods (experiments, observational research, comparative research, and modeling) to collect data.
- Raw data must be analyzed and interpreted before we can tell whether a scientific idea is likely to be accurate or inaccurate.
- Different scientists may interpret the same data in different ways; data interpretation can be influenced by a scientist's assumptions, biases, and background.
- Hypotheses are proposed explanations for a narrow set of phenomena.
- Hypotheses are usually inspired and informed by previous research and/or observations. They are not guesses.
- Scientists usually work collaboratively.
- Scientists scrutinize each other's work through peer review and other processes.