Fighting "bad" science in the information age : misinformation and improving students' critical reading skills
- For today's students who have spent their formative years in the Digital Age, the use of Web media as an informational source is ubiquitous. Due to new developments in Internet technology, such as Web 2.0 sites that allow Internet users to create and publish media content, science information now ranges vastly in quality as publication barriers have been removed. Moreover, because new Web technology facilitates the distribution of information with "sharing" functions, misinformation about science easily spreads among members of the public, circulated alongside scientifically accurate information. As such, in today's information landscape, it is necessary for non-experts to read and think critically when approaching scientific claims in a Web-based context. Furthermore, there is a pressing need to develop ways of supporting learners of science in cultivating a critical mindset towards scientific claims. This dissertation includes three papers that examine the nature of Web-based misinformation about vaccination safety, the ways in which students approach flawed scientific claims, and potential strategies for supporting students' critical thinking when reading potentially flawed science information. To investigate the background knowledge necessary for students to be critical readers of Web-based scientific misinformation, Article I examined high school students' assessments of flawed scientific claims in Web by using qualitative Think Alouds and retrospective interview methods. Specifically, the research questions addressed by this study were the following: 1) Do students take a critical or accepting stance towards misinformation about science in Web media? 2) What types of background knowledge support students who take a critical stance? 3) When given the explicit task to critique information, do students become more critical of scientific claims? In this study, high school students participated in voicing their thoughts while reading a weblog article containing flawed claims about vaccination safety that were inconsistent with existing research in the field (confirmed by vaccination experts in face validity tests) and appropriate scientific reasoning (confirmed by scientists in face validity tests). Furthermore, to investigate students' competencies in critiquing scientific claims, students were also directly asked to critique the article for flaws. From the data, evidence suggested that students who were critical of the article mostly based their sentiments their knowledge of scientific reasoning and the language used by the author. In contrast, students who were accepting of the article's claims attempted to reason with the author's claims using their novice level content knowledge, as well as their perceptions of appropriate scientific reasoning. Lastly, some students accepted the article's claims, but changed their minds when asked to critique the article for flaws, suggesting that priming students to detect errors in scientific arguments may encourage critical thinking. Findings from this investigation have implications for science literacy by providing a qualitative perspective on the types of background knowledge used by students when taking a critical stance towards erroneous scientific claims, and how students respond to the task of critiquing scientific claims. To characterize the nature of misinformation and misrepresentations of science in new user-generated media, Article II examined the nature of commentary on the social media platform Twitter regarding the controversial issue of vaccination safety by qualitative analysis of Twitter posts (known as "Tweets") for sentiment and purpose. Furthermore, a more focused analysis was conducted on anti-vaccination Tweets for the presence of errors in scientific reasoning, and to characterize the types of errors in these Tweets. Specifically, the research questions in this study were the following: 1) What is the nature (specifically, attitudes and purpose) of comments on Twitter regarding vaccination safety? 2) How are anti-vaccination claims justified, and what flaws are in the reasoning for such claims? Findings from qualitative analyses were used for automated text analysis using machine learning software to examine a larger sample of Tweets. From this study, a number of conclusions emerged — anti-vaccination comments were more common than those in support of vaccination safety. Furthermore, anti-vaccination claims were more often elaborated upon or supported with reasoning than those in support of vaccination safety — thus, anti-vaccination claims were likely to be more persuasive to those who are undecided or questioning of vaccination's safety. Of anti-vaccination claims that were justified, the majority were misinterpretations of scientific research, or based on biases about science and scientists. Conclusions from this study have implications for public health, communications, and science literacy research on attitudes and beliefs that lead to perspectives on both sides of the vaccination safety debate, and may have implications for improvements in the persuasiveness of public health communication. Finally, to see if we can enable a critical stance in students who are reading erroneous scientific information, Article III experimentally tested the use of structured opportunities for student questioning of erroneous claims about science, and the effects on students' epistemic vigilance. The research questions in this study were the following: 1) Does prompting for critique heighten students' ability to be vigilant of flaws in scientific information? 2) When prompted for critique, how are students evaluating flawed scientific information? Specifically, students were provoked to critique scientific claims by reading a sample Web-based article containing errors in scientific reasoning, and participating in an activity that encouraged students to question the author's reasoning, use of evidence, and potential biases. This study involved the development and validation of an original survey instrument for measuring students' epistemic vigilance as an outcome, a randomized controlled trial (N= 1,081) of the aforementioned reading activity, and subsequent statistical and qualitative analysis of survey data. The ultimate goal of the study, therefore, is to see if it is possible to improve critical awareness of scientific interpretation at the high school level by providing structured opportunities to detect poorly reasoned scientific claims. The quantitative findings of this study were suggestive of a possible effect of the activity on students' critical awareness of scientific misinformation, particularly if the students had completed the activity. Furthermore, the effects of the reading activity were most significant in 11th grade students, as well as students who were undecided about the safety of vaccination. However, qualitative analysis of open-ended survey responses suggested that students were mostly critical of the article's quantity of scientific evidence, rarely identifying the article's scientific flaws to support their assessments of the article's trustworthiness. As such, it can be concluded that providing students with structured opportunities to critique scientific misinformation may be effective for stimulating critical thinking, but it was unclear as to whether the students were aware of the actual flaws and weaknesses in the reading sample. The conclusions have implications for the improvement of formal science education and students' competence as critical readers of Web-based scientific claims, particularly in response to changes in our media landscape and the subsequent reliability of science information that is available to the public.
|Type of resource
|electronic resource; remote; computer; online resource
|1 online resource.
|Brown, Bryan Anthony
|Treharne, Elaine M
|Degree committee member
|Brown, Bryan Anthony
|Degree committee member
|Treharne, Elaine M
|Stanford University, Graduate School of Education.
|Statement of responsibility
|Submitted to the Graduate School of Education.
|Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2018.
- © 2018 by Anita S Tseng
- This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC-ND).
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