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Assessing contemporary science
Assessing contemporary science

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This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course S350 Evaluating contemporary science [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . It took you through a series of examples and exercises designed to develop your approach to study and learning at a distance, and helped to improve your confidence as an independent learner.

The first two sections introduced this course and what is meant by contemporary science. This included examples of science in the news, potential applications arising from academic science at The Open University, and a discussion of reasons scientists should engage with policy makers, business people, NGOs and the public, in order to influence decision makers and use their science to improve people’s lives.

In Section 3, different perspectives on contemporary science were compared, from four scientists who work in different scientific disciplines. Section 4 further explored how contemporary science works, considering different approaches scientists take when they research, and how they assess and communicate the products from their research. This is very important, as science influences our daily lives, but research may be reported in a variety of ways and should be carefully evaluated to avoid introducing bias.

Section 5 proposed that communication is at the heart of scientific progress and public debate. This involved an interview between Richard Holliman and Vic Pearson, in which Vic discussed her involvement in science communication and engagement as a research scientist in the School of Physical Sciences at The Open University. Next, Section 6 considered the interpretation of science news using the ‘Score and ignore’ framework suggested by Kevin McConway, Professor of Applied Statistics at The Open University.

Section 7 then introduced a contemporary topic in scientific research, namely plastics and how they affect modern society in both positive and negative ways. This led into Section 8, which introduced the PROMPT framework, and used it to evaluate a Wikipedia page about plastic pollution. Finally, Section 9 explored some ways in which research continues to develop around plastics in society.

In summary, you have learned about and practised some important skills related to accessing and analysing information about science. We hope that this free course has whetted your appetite to learn more about evaluating contemporary science, and that you will be inspired to continue studying this area and develop further key skills, perhaps through S350 Evaluating contemporary science itself.