This is quite a controversial and murky topic when it comes to science (which is something scientists are not always comfortable with let me assure you!). This is because, as you will see for yourself, it is really difficult to define health and disease. I tried to come up with a list of different conditions that might be difficult to classify as “healthy” or “not healthy” if we are to use the World Health Organization definition of health. That is a “complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
Complete the poll to see what you think. Also, I’d love to make this list even longer, comment with suggestions as to other conditions, which may be difficult to classify. This form of assessment for learning allowed my students to engage critically with the syllabus requirements and is an integral part of my teaching practice (Quality teaching in NSW Public Schools, 2003). Scroll to the bottom if you want to download the lesson in Word format.
So many of you will already be aware that there isn’t one scientific method. The one we usually learn and teach about however, goes a bit like this:
Looks familiar right? Now remember when I said there isn’t only one scientific method, let’s consider the field of epidemiology. In epidemiology which is a branch of biology we try to understand human diseases, how they originate, how they spread, what are some factors that predetermine the acquisition of disease and so on. Now it’s really frowned upon to do experiments on people. For example, we can’t PROVE that smoking causes lung cancer because we can’t say “Oi, you 30 people, come over here and smoke for the next 20 years of your life and we’ll see if you get lung cancer, and you 30 over there, you’re fine just don’t smoke”. I’m sure you can see how ridiculous that would be!
So how do we get around this problem? Well by a lot of observation. Epidemiology relies on life already carrying out the method and results, and epidemiologists just go out and try to observe people and find patterns. It’s a very complicated but extremely fascinating process that relies very much on statistics. I might do a post on the bell curve if I get a chance – it’s actually really cool.
So anyway, here is a template you can use with high school students to scaffold for them the (traditional) scientific method.
Can you think of another situation where the classical scientific method doesn’t hold true?