Big Ideas in Literacy
Disciplinary Literacy in Science
Science writing can be narrative in form, for example, it can be found in an online feature on the life of Madam Curie, a magazine article on the discovery of the structure of DNA, an episode of The Big Bang Theory, or a science fiction novel. However, core disciplinary writing in science is expository: a concise factual account with minimal narrative embellishment.
Reflect: One of the most popular and readable accounts of a scientific discovery is Jim Watson’s The Double Helix, which is available today in many editions, including this free online version. Think about how you might use Watson’s narrative account of the discovery of the structure of DNA in comparison to the brief technical report of the discovery.
Textbooks are probably the most commonly encountered expository writing, but they generally lack key elements of scientific writing.
Components of science literacy include:
- Highly specialized technical vocabulary
- The use of special characters, symbols, and mathematical representations
- A strong affinity for quantitative evidence and datasets that have statistical power, i.e., large numbers of observations and measurements
- An emphasis on graphical representations of data
- A standard of reproducibility of results by independent researchers
- A standard of drawing on multiple independent lines of evidence to support conclusions
- A special emphasis on parsimonious <p><strong>parsimony</strong><br /> When interpreting data, the principle of starting with the simplest explanation, based on the most likely causes, and using that interpretation as an operating hypothesis until further evidence rules it out. One of the main functions of parsimony is to make it harder for researchers to ignore evidence that discounts their pet theories. Parsimony also helps in determining what the next most valuable experiment would be.</p> interpretation of results aimed at persuasion by overwhelming evidence and flawless logic, rather than argumentation or appeal to desirable outcomes
- Nearly universal accepted standards for the organization and components of scientific reports
- Crediting the specific contributions of various researchers and authors
- Careful referencing of previous work
Since most textbooks are overstuffed with factual content, they give short shrift to the process of science and how we come to know the facts that are presented. One essential feature that textbooks do share with most other forms of science writing is a highly integrated strategy of combining visual information with textual information. Textbooks have their place in learning science, and students can benefit tremendously from learning to be critical, inquiring textbook readers.