Date of Award

12-2013

Embargo Date

2014

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Biology

Advisor(s)

Jason R. Wiles

Keywords

Course Success, Evolution education, Global climate change, Nature of science, Politicization

Subject Categories

Biology | Science and Mathematics Education

Abstract

Many researchers have studied student attitudes toward and knowledge of evolutionary science, attitudes towards global climate change (GCC), conceptions about the nature of science (NOS), and course success. However, at the time of this writing, no studies explicitly link these topics.

It is overwhelmingly acknowledged by the scientific community that evolution and global climate change (GCC) are undeniably supported by physical evidence. And yet, both topics remain very politically contentious in the United States. Efforts to mitigate the disconnects between the scientific community and the general public on these issues are imperative to science education. Such undertakings need to examine students' conceptions of the nature of science (NOS), how evidence is treated, how theories are constructed, and how scientific consensus is reached, as these may be key

factors in acceptance of evolution and GCC. If students have a more thorough understanding of the weight behind scientific consensus and better tools to discern scientific versus non-scientific arguments, they may become more likely to accept strongly supported scientific ideas. Our study explored this hypothesis guided by the following questions: Do changes in NOS conceptions correlate with changes in attitudes towards evolution or GCC? If there are correlations, are they similar for evolution and GCC? What demographic factors affect these correlations? Further, we asked whether attitudes towards evolution before the course began was a significant predictor of achievement in the course.

Previously-developed tools were used to measure students' conceptions of the nature of science and attitudes towards evolution, while national public opinion poll questions were used to measure attitudes towards GCC. Demographic questions were produced to target factors thought to influence attitudes towards evolution or global climate change. Overall sample size was N=620. Principle Components Analysis was used to determine which variables accounted for the most variation, and those variables were analyzed using correlation tests, ANOVA, and ANCOVA to test for significant correlations and interaction effects.

Changes in students' attitudes towards evolution and global climate change were both positively correlated with shifts in conceptions about the nature of science. Attitudes towards evolution were negatively correlated with religiosity. Knowledge of evolutionary science was positively correlated with attitudes towards evolution, but knowledge about GCC was not significantly correlated with attitudes towards GCC. The strongest correlates of GCC attitudes were political leanings.

Findings support the hypothesis that a better understanding of NOS may lead to changes in attitudes towards politically contentious ideas that are not scientifically contentious. Though attitudes towards evolution correlated strongly and significantly with a number of other factors including knowledge of evolutionary science and religiosity, expected non-political correlates with attitudes towards GCC were absent. Giving students a good conception of the modern nature of science may lead to views that are closer to those of the scientific community. This study provides novel evidence of a linkage between student acceptance of evolution and attitudes towards GCC, i.e., NOS conceptions. We also found highly significant, positive relationships between student knowledge of evolution and attitudes toward evolution as well as between introductory biology course achievement and both pre- course acceptance of evolution and pre-course knowledge of evolution among students at Syracuse University, and assert that teachers who scant the teaching of evolution or who do not foster good attitudes toward evolution are not helping their students to prepare for success in science at the college level.

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