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Gwen tweets progress. @SfPRocur
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Back to science reading ....

The problem with advice columns on reading science is that they make many assumptions about what the reader understands vis-a-vis the science paper.
They assume that readers already have some understanding of the connection between what they're reading & the science that was done. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most learners first encountering a research article have only the vaguest understanding of what it is.
My model for teaching science reading is precisely learners with no real previous exposure. The goal is to dissipate any misconceptions about the truthiness of publication and the sanctity of scientists:
Truthiness of publication: it's published hence it's true

Sanctity of scientists: Whatever scientists in white coats holding test tubes say is true and unquestionable. They exist in a different realm where their magical eyes can see all as it really is.
Where do these myths come from?

How science is mostly taught at school and presented in the news media.

Students learn science mostly from textbook where science is presented as collections of unquestioned facts discovered by lone geniuses.
The news media perpetuates the myths by focusing on sensationalistic findings.

The weakness in both sources is eclipsing the processes behind the findings with a glossy interpretation of findings themselves.
IOW, all the messy bits about how scientists are simply people with biases and holes in their knowledge, using less than ideal frameworks and tools, to do the best they can to ask difficult, slippery questions, gets lost behind the glitter and neat packaging.
Reading science well entails an understanding of this reality. Specifically, it depends on:

1. Understanding the relationship between the science done and what was published about it.

2. The ability to be critical about what was done.
Both of these requirements are satisfied quite directly through a narrative pedagogy of science.
I'll next describe what I do during a training seminar. Pls note that through the results from the full multi-condition study are very encouraging, that though I have taught many seminars using only the experimental condition, the research requires at least one full replication.
We have two full replications planned in two different countries.
The goal of the seminar is to help learners see how pervasive narrative is in how they understand the world around them, their lives, interactions, etc.

I do this by using a series active teaching exercises, using first images and objects, and then communicative settings.
The goal is to get learners to see the narratives everywhere, because they are everywhere.

Next comes deconstructing a classical narrative, typically a fairy tale.

The goal here is for learners build awareness of:
1. The structure of narrative
2. Its complexity despite how intuitively easy it feels
3. The relationship between narrative structure and the universal interrogatives appearing in all human languages
4. The relationship between empathy and the comprehension of a narrative.
I do this by asking relentless questions. I begin with questions such as 'what is narrative, why is this a narrative, etc. leading learners to discover these connections. Yes, they typically find my questions a little bewildering, and something think I'm asking trick questions
but creating awareness of narrative relies on making these points explicit. It becomes a bit of literary analysis albeit with the goal of understanding how we use narrative to understand in general.
Once learners are in a state of hyper awareness of narrative, then they get a real article to read. And we do exactly the same thing to the article that we did to the fairy tale, using what we did to the fairytale as a template.
Learners use their understanding of how narratives are constructed, and in particular, the role of the agents, to understand what they are reading. Notice that there are no lists of guiding questions. Instead, learners depend on the universal interrogatives.
Using narrative structure immediately transforms an article from a short version of a textbook, i.e. a collection of facts, into a description of something someone did.
And because a paper emerges clearly as something someone did, the realisation that the paper is an interpretation of real events by real people soon follows.
This step in particular is crucial to being able to critically evaluate a science paper. Seeing the researchers as people making choices as part of doing science, and as part of selecting which aspects to report, are expressions of empathy & indispensable to critical thinking.
The empathy elicited to understand character motivations in a narrative, is used here to follow the authors' logic, to reason about why they made the choices they did, and whether they make sense.
The ability to follow a plot in a narrative allows learners to clearly see holes in argumentation, etc.
I will underline that this process isn't magic, & that it's not by any means all that is required to understand science.
I am saying that this step in learning to understand scientific literature is almost entirely missing from science pedagogy, despite how much subsequent steps depend on it.
Some critics may argue that everything I've said is self-evident. If it is, then how do we explain what a revelation all this information is to learners, or how much reconstruing the science literature as narrative increases comprehension and reduces plagiarism?
I see the paucity in research on science reading as another example of the benign neglect associated with the #hiddencurriculum, and of assuming that something that is obvious to experts should be obvious to novices.
If we truly are committed to improving the quality of our science, and for students by this I mean:

1. fewer instances of students staring at a paper like a deer in headlights
2. lively discussion at seminar
3. better written, organised & argued student papers
4. no plagiarism
Some students will then become researchers, and their training weaknesses will appear as

1. incoherent papers riddled with incorrect citations and plagiarism.
2. Reviews that make no sense.
3. Inaccurate replications, etc.

And don't get me started on science journalism...
It is imperative that we put our money where our mouth is, & dedicate real resources to developing the best methods to consume primary scientific literature. Narrative seems effective at providing the necessary foundations. I welcome opportunities to see what else is out there.
Today is my last day curating this account. If you'd like to hear more about my progress on the science reading problem, and the other ways I work to improve the quality of science, please follow me at,


and at

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