Over at the Galilean Library, they’ve been having a good discussion about my recent post on the similarities between scientific literacy and reading comprehension. I realize now that my use of global warming as an example may have caused some confusion. Let me try clarify with yet another tendentious sports analogy. (fyi, most of this comment has also been posted over at the above thread.)
I think what we mean by scientific thinking is a general critical thinking ability that can be applied across domains, even when you encounter a subject for the first time. It’s kind of like we expect someone who’s athletic to quickly pick up any sport. The key point is that in both cases, general skills confer only limited proficiency in a new task. An amazing basketball player will not necessarily be good at swimming or football no matter how athletic she is. Similarly, an accomplished chemist may not be able to reason about geophysics even if she is great at “scientific thinking.” Of course within certain domains it is easier to transfer skills. Tennis knowledge probably helps with badminton, and running the 100 m helps with running the 400 m and so on. But it’s a leap to assume that either a general athleticism or critical thinking ability can be applied everywhere.
So when Peter says “Anyone can develop a good understanding of scientific thinking simply by reading the scientific literature,” I would say that we really have to specify “the scientific literature.” You can understand the thinking in a field by reading its particular literature, and I’m not sure it will apply in other fields.
Has any of this made sense?