October 14, 2010

Questioning the data

by Heather Falconer

A few weeks ago, we shared news of the discovery of a habitable exoplanet, Gliese 581g. Now, less than two months after that research was made public, its existence is being brought into question. Francesco Pepe of the Geneva Observatory in Sauverny, Switzerland, has announced that a review of known data, both old and new, show no indication that this exoplanet exists. You can read more about the data discrepancies here.

What this new development highlights is that controversy in science is not as infrequent as many might think. In fact, controversies are easily found in every branch and specialty. In a module soon to be released from Visionlearning, we discuss the nature of scientific controversy. Distinct from political, ethical, and personal controversies, scientific controversies are sustained, public debates among the broader scientific community in which arguments are based on evidence (as in the exoplanet). Though they sometimes overlap or have complex interactions, our module shows that controversies cause progress in science by encouraging research on the topic in question, and are resolved when the evidence favors one perspective overwhelmingly.

As we prepare to launch this new module, we would love to hear how you discuss controversy in your science classroom. Is it something you think about? If not, why? Are there other barriers that keep controversial science subjects out of the classroom? What do you think is the best way to approach these kinds of topics?

Heather Falconer

Written by

Heather Falconer holds undergraduate degrees in Graphic Arts and Environmental Science, as well as an MFA in Writing and an MLitt in Literature. She is currently completing her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition, with an emphasis on rhetoric in/and/of science. Heather has worked internationally in academic publishing as both an author and editor, and has taught a wide range of topics – from research writing to marine biology – in the public and private educational sectors.

The views expressed above do not necessarily represent those of Visionlearning or our funding agencies.