Thursday, October 14, 2010

Questioning the data

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?

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