Talking About Science In science, much emphasis is currently placed on being able to talk about science. This could involve developing explanations for observations hypotheses based on existing knowledge arguments based on experimental evidence conclusions drawn from experiments
Doing Science Doing science involves: being familiar with research in the domain of interest developing questions and hypotheses on a topic in the domain collecting data analyzing the data discussing the data. These activities become incorporated into the discourse of a community of (student) researchers.
The Centrality of Discourse Discourse is central to doing science. Discourse refers to the communicative mechanisms in a domain, and encompasses: formal research reports – those that get into the professional journals less formal texts, like lab notes, correspondence between researchers as well as formal and informal spoken interactions, like conferences and lab conversations.
A Well-Structured Argument According to Suppe (1998), scientific articles “exemplify standard functional units constraining argument structure.” Suppe shows how the quintessential argumentative form in science can be recovered from scientific papers. This is a strong position, and if tenable, provides a definitive benchmark for learning and practicing science, and a secure foothold for advancing science education.
The Structure of a Scientific Report A report consists of several well-known sections (Suppe, 1998): Theoretical Background Methods Results Discussion A good scientific explanation or argument does not consist of simply including these sections, but depends on what one says in these sections.
Using the Framework This framework of Introduction, Method, etc., serves as a guide for identifying, organizing, and understanding discourse functions. The discourse functions, in turn, can provide a standard against which to assess and judge performance.
ANALYZING THE STRUCTURE & FUNCTION OF A RESEARCH REPORT
Example From An Undergraduate Report It is well-known that the cerebellum is responsible for integrating and executing complex motor movements; however, it is not well-known that the cerebellum is also responsible for reflex responses to certain cardiovascular and respiratory challenges. Our studies mainly involve the fastigial nucleus (FN) of the cerebellum, the most medially located of the four deep cerebellar nuclei.
Syntax and Semantics Ordinary language processing—production and comprehension—depends on two basic elements: Structural form—to conform to the requirements of a grammar. Semantic functions—to convey a message: WHO did WHAT to WHOM. In order to analyze research reports: you need to parse (or carve out) the pieces you need to assign a communicative (semantic) role to the pieces.
Discourse Functions Identifying and labeling discourse functions was carried out through an open-ended, iterative methodology (Krippendorff, 2004) guided by: Rhetorical structure of the text (Suppe, 1998) Consideration of a basic basic hierarchy for cognitive processes (e.g. Know, Understand, Analyze, etc.) (Bloom, 1956; Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Graesser et al., 2002) Functional differences in kinds of kinds of knowledge (e.g., declarative, procedural, and metacognitive) (J. R. Anderson, 2005; Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001).
Section I. INTRODUCTION TO EXPERIMENT State Domain Related Background Information State Prior Lab Findings State General Purpose of the Study Rationale and Elaborate on the Purpose of the Study State Prior Procedures Used in Lab State Research Questions Develop Logic and Formulation of Hypotheses State Hypothesis
Section II. EXPERIMENTAL METHODS Apply Experimental Procedures Elaborate on Experimental Procedures
Section III. RESULTS Report Results of Analysis Identify Analysis or Statistical Procedures Report Statistical Effects
Section IV. DISCUSSION Interpret Data Evaluate Implementation Evaluate Suitability Evaluate Findings Extend or Revise a Hypothesis or Theory Critically Re-Evaluate Project Related Declarative Knowledge Propose a New Experiment Elaborate on the Plan for a New Experiment Develop Logic and Hypotheses for Potential Experiments
Current Conclusions Scholars produce high densities of some types of discourse functions, and low densities for others, suggesting that the codes and coders were sensitive to differences in the contents of the reports. Scholars’ emphasis is on stating background information and on describing the experimental procedures. The reports had the required parts, but little evidence of building a rationale for the study in the introduction, connecting the priors established in the introduction to a discussion (argument) using the data from the experiment.
Developmentally Correct? Distribution of discourse functions shows emphasis on gaining background knowledge, running procedures, and (somewhat) analyzing data. Scholars with extensive research experience do not show strong evidence of engaging in scientific argument in their writing.
“Real” Science? A focus on discourse functions gives direction on how to improve the experience.
References Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman. Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: McKay. Graesser, A. C., Leon, J. A., & Otero, J. (2002). Introduction to the psychology of science text comprehension. In J. Otero et al., The psychology of science text comprehension (pp. 1-15). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Krippendorff, K. (2004). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. National Research Council (2003). Improving undergraduate instruction in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Washington, D. C.: The National Academies Press. Suppe, F. (1998). The structure of a scientific paper. Philosophy of Science, 65, 381-405.