Science education requires overcoming childhood understanding

John Timmer

It’s not a secret that the general population hangs on to no end of non-scientific beliefs despite contrary evidence; the Nobel Intent forums have been visited by proponents of homeopathy and intelligent design, to give just two examples. Two developmental psychologists at Yale are now suggesting these and many other non-scientific beliefs—their list includes "unproven medical interventions; the mystical nature of out-of-body experiences; the existence of supernatural entities such as ghosts and fairies; and the legitimacy of astrology, ESP, and divination"—all originate in childhood. Becoming scientifically literate, in their view, requires overcoming our early mental development.

They argue that most resistance to scientific ideas derives from what children learn before they get exposed to science. They point out that children have some understanding of solids and gravity and recognize that people act with distinct goals in mind. These implicit understandings are enough to help them navigate the physical and social worlds successfully.

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