Chapter 2 Part I: Misconceptions
After our investigation into the black box you probably realize that
sometimes a proposed model or explanation seems to work when,
upon closer inspection, it does not. One of the challenges scientists
face is something called a misconception. Misconceptions are like
misunderstandings…you think you get it but you don’t. Everyone has
experienced this at some time in his or her life. In fact, misconceptions
are often part of the learning process.
Misconceptions happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, a
misconception is based on incomplete or wishful thinking. Others are
passed on from one person to another year after year the way urban
legends or rumors are spread. Some misconceptions are widely held by
large numbers of people and some even show up in text books, on the
internet or on television.
You have read (and hopefully processed) the assigned article from a
book by Phillip Plaitt. Mr. Plaitt has a good sense of humor and he
enjoys debunking (proving wrong) some of the world’s most common
science misconceptions. His field of expertise is astronomy so his book
is titled Bad Astronomy.
Avoiding misconceptions is really about making careful, detailed
observations and then using logic and evidence to explain them.
Consider these three common misconceptions:
1. People mistakenly believe that the seasons have something to do
with how far away we are from the sun.
2. People mistakenly believe that the phases of the moon are caused
by Earth’s shadow falling on the moon.
3. People mistakenly believe that eggs can balance on end ONLY
during the spring equinox.
All of these ideas are wrong but they are all caused by the same thing;
they sound right so people don’t carefully look into the details and
consider them. In order to understand the seasons, the phases of the
moon and the equinox you have to understand how the sun, moon and
Earth are arranged in space. You need to know how the Earth and
moon move as well.
Psst…sorry to interrupt but
PROCESS! Use context clues to
figure out what this word means.
Misconceptions are pernicious, people don’t let go of them easily. One
of the things you need to do as a good science student is to be
constantly aware of the potential for forming misconceptions. At the
start of each unit we will explore some of the more common
misconceptions that people have about that topic. Check yourself
when we do this to see if you have those ideas in your head too. If you
make yourself aware of misconceptions they are easier to remove from
Scientists are also prone to misconceptions. To avoid them, scientists
work very hard to design tests that remove any doubt as to what is
really going on. Scientific experiments need to be conducted carefully
and deliberately so that the results are meaningful. The next lesson is
all about designing fair tests, or good experiments.