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Recommendations for teaching the nature of science (NOS) are grounded in a deficit view of students and/or the public—wherein people accept pseudoscientific claims, particularly about evolution, because they do not adequately understand what counts as being “scientific.” Under the deficit view, correct views of science are defined by the normative claims of particular authorities, and public views are evaluated based on similarity to those authoritative claims. Such normative accounts have come under increasing criticism among researchers attentive to cultural dimensions of science education. Ethnographic fieldwork in eastern Tennessee, where evolution remains a highly salient topic, in churches and public spaces, gave me further reason to doubt the deficit account. In order to clarify the relationship between views on the NOS and beliefs about evolution, I interviewed students at a public high school in rural Tennessee and asked them to complete two surveys—on “Nature of Science” and “Beliefs about Origins”—which I developed in light of my earlier ethnographic fieldwork. In order to avoid the aforementioned deficit approach, I analyzed their responses using a cultural consensus analysis, which generates multiple “answer keys” based on participant agreement. I then interpreted the results of the cultural consensus analysis in the light of the student interviews. Drawing on Malinowski’s insights on studying myth, I paid attention not only to the content of statements with which students agreed, but also how such statements are used by students. I conclude that, irrespective of their position on evolution, the students draw on both cynical and celebratory ideas about science. However, they deploy those ideas differently, in ways that support their position on scientific assertions. These findings speak to a growing literature in NOS research that frames views about the NOS as argumentative resources. Students assign value to scientific claims through exchanges with other people. Ideas about science are recruited in these exchanges to support claims about which claims have scientific merit. Science educators should be aware of how ideas about science are deployed by students before figuring out how they should be taught.
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- Changing minds or rhetoric? How students use their many natures of science to talk about evolution
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Cultural Studies of Science Education
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