Educating Critical Scientists: Critical Science Literacy in University STEM Subjects



Friday 24 February




Chris Vennell

University of Otago (New Zealand)


Much of our interaction with the world is overtly influenced by science or the products of science. The forward progress of science can seem overwhelming and relentless, leading many to adopt a fatalistic attitude to scientific progress: you’re either with science or you’re against it. This polarisation of attitudes is unhelpful and obscures the fact that science is a human endeavour and thus has human aims and values. What these values are is rarely explored by lay citizens, communicators or even scientists themselves. In a society where science plays a dominant role, the practitioners of science have an obligation to acknowledge the human aims and values inherent in their practice. This thesis asks: are scientists being educated to think critically about the human aims and values in science during their undergraduate education?

In order to provide a framework for thinking critically about these human aspects of science, the thesis draws heavily on Susanna Priest’s Critical Science Literacy (CSL). The research investigates whether there is compulsory CSL content present at top science universities by looking at whether it is possible for a student to fulfil the requirements for a major and not encounter CSL. Publicly available descriptions of paper content were collected and then analysed for Critical Science Literacy content in three areas: sociology of science, philosophy of science and publicity of science.

This thesis renews the arguments for the critical education of future scientists. We found that despite calls for ubiquitous critical education in science, the reality falls short of the rhetoric.