By Eli Levi, Business Editor
This semester, I enrolled in a course entitled “Scientific Literacy.” The course aims to teach students how to evaluate scientific data for themselves. I have found it to be an extremely practical course that teaches some very relevant skills. The most important skill I learned is the ability to find reliable information sources and the basic tools to navigate the scientific field. This is particularly useful for tackling fake news and/or misinformation, a topic that comes up often in our class.
One website this course exposed me to was “Semantic Scholar,” a site that allows anyone to browse and filter for peer-reviewed articles written on a topic that they are interested in learning about. Peer-reviewed articles are dense and extremely hard to read (think Halakhic Man but worse) but, at the moment, are our best source of verified scientific information. All writers or contributors to a scientific article have to state all of the connections they may have to relevant organizations and universities, leading to greater transparency as to what may be influencing the research. Another example of transparency is the mandate that all peer-reviewed writers must disclose their sources of funding.
Understanding how to evaluate scientific information is a skill everyone should have. Before taking this course I did not realize how vital it was, but I now realize how central it is to understanding the world.
Science is not the truth in any sense. Scientific literacy could help people to understand what it is that science addresses and how it arrives at its conclusions. Instead of blindly trusting scientists and institutions the scientific literacy course gives us other options. We can look at the science ourselves and see what was discovered. Taking science back into our own hands and verifying data on our own is very important.
All science ever claimed to be was the best interpretation of the world today. The scientific literacy course delves into how to evaluate the various types of scientific data. Whether the data itself and the basics of the statistics involved or the mediums of scientific research and the gold standard, a peer reviewed article in a respected journal. All of these different elements are integral to understanding the state of science today and can be immensely useful for evaluating anything that we come across. How many times does someone quote a study or give you health advice? Scientific literacy gives you the tools to find answers to these types of questions including bigger questions like the efficacy and safety of vaccines.