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A Mini-Lesson




Steven Dickhaus (ENSI '89)


Realm & Limits

We now have a textbook for students on the nature of science. It's intended to replace, or supplement, the inadequate first chapter of your text. It's designed to coordinate and help sequence several of the nature of science (NOS) lessons on the ENSI site. It is targeted to students in any science class, grades 7-10 (or beyond). It helps to satisfy virtually all the new NOS standards in NGSS and Common Core. If you've used any of ENSI's NOS lessons, you already know how powerful they are. This new book addresses most of the common misconceptions about NOS. It also provides information about the differences between good science, poor science, and pseudoscience. It offers clues for recognizing those differences, and opportunities to practice using those clues. "What's this magic book I've been waiting for all my life?" It's called Science Surprises: Exploring the Nature of Science. "Tell me more - like where can I see this book?" Say no more. It's available as an eBook, published with Smashwords. Click Here to get more information and a link to sample (and purchase) the new eBook Science Surprises.


Explores six criteria of science (CONPTT), with definitions and self-check questions. Compares "Emerging Science", "Non-Science", and "Pseudoscience", with definitions and examples. Activity engages students in analyzing a collection of paragraphs to decide which category each fits into. Six Criteria: Consistent, Observable, Natural, Predictable,
estable, Tentative.




Main Concept:
Science is limited to studying only the problems of the natural world that can be understood by using the processes of science.

1. Scientists deal with natural phenomena (events) which can be observed, measured, and tested by scientific methods; they must be able to use their senses to observe (directly and/or indirectly) and evaluate.

2. The processes of science are very successful in dealing with problems within the limits of science.

3. Scientific study is based upon the assumption that the universe is orderly, reasonable, and testable.

4. A valid scientific theory offers a well-defined naturally occurring cause (mechanism) which explains why or how a natural event (phenomenon) occurs.

5. Scientific theories are always subject to change (tentative, uncertain).

6. Science does not have the answers to all of the questions in the universe, or the solutions to all human problems.


 Information packet (4 pages)

Activity worksheet (2 pages)

Collection of short paragraphs reflecting science, non-science, emerging science, and pseudoscience


 (see end of lesson for the formatted handouts).

 Information packet (4 pages) AND Activity worksheet (2 pages); these 6 pages are available as packet in PDF format at end of this lesson.

Collection of short paragraphs reflecting science, non-science, emerging science, and pseudoscience. For a sample, take a look at "The Flat Earth / Round Earth Controversy," used in our "Flat Earth" lesson. Good source of statements that could be used in this CONPTT lesson: see the items of "evidence" for flat earth and for round earth.



Before using any of our Nature of Science lessons, be sure to read our General Background Information, with our Rationale and our Approach, and tips for Presenting the lessons for maximum effect and Dispelling some of the popular myths about science.

In any of the discussions expected with the class, select a few key items (important concepts) that lend themselves to interpretation, and introduce class to the Think-Pair-Share (TPS) routine dealing with those items. This is how "Active Learning" is done.

1. This lesson is most appropriate early in your course (first week) as part of your introduction to the nature of science.

2. Collect as many short paragraphs as possible (from news and magazine articles and other sources) which lend themselves to analysis and categorization according to the six criteria for science. These can be on separate slips of paper, or arranged randomly on sheets of paper. In either case, they should be numbered for easy reference and checking. See "The Flat Earth / Round Earth Controversy" as a source.

3. Hand out the 4-page information packet for students to read. They can do this in open class teacher-led reading and discussion, in small groups, pairs, or individually. This can also be done as homework, with followup review of the answers to the "Reality Check" questions the next day along with further discussion of the other 3 science-related terms: "Emerging Science", "Non-Science", and "Pseudoscience".

4. The central core of CONPTT and those 3 science-related terms are also found at the end of this lesson (abstracted from the 6-page handout).

5. Prepare students to do the activity. It helps to take a few sample paragraphs and consider how each one fits each of the 6 criteria in the "CONPTT Grid". Show how the worksheet can be completed while doing this (using overhead version).

CAUTION NOTE TO TEACHER: Attempting to disqualify one statement as non-scientific on the basis of one CONPTT characteristic may not be possible. Reviewing each CONPTT criterion individually may confuse the students more and they may fail to see that it is all of the criteria that must be satisfied for a statement to be validated as scientific.
After the quick attempt to create awareness for all six criteria, it might prove more helpful to return to one of the statements classified as non-scientific, and attempt to qualify it as a scientific or non-scientific statement using the entire set of CONPTT criteria.

6. Hand out the Worksheets and the paragraphs or "statements" to be analyzed, assigning one per student randomly. Can be completed in class as as homework. More statements can be assigned as deemed necessary (and if you have sufficient quantities of statements).

7. Collect and grade the worksheets, and/or go over them (or a sampling of them) in class for further discussion.

8. Assessment can be accomplished by having students analyze a few new statements in an exam.

1. Consider using a similar lesson from The American Biology Teacher: "Preparing Students for Science in the Face of Social Controversy " by Terry Bramschreiber and David Westmoreland (77:4, pp 284-288), April, 2015.

"One of the many challenges for science educators is teaching about topics that are largely resolved in the scientific community yet remain controversial in the broader society." The authorss describe two different strategies and provides handouts for both. Instead of the 6 CONPTT tests for scientific authenticity, the author uses 10 criteria in the second strategy: 1. logical, 2. well defined claims, 3. falsifiable hypotheses, 4. repeatable experiments/observations, 5. claims examined by peers, 6. unexplained gaps in theories viewed with suspicion, 7. examination of evidence requires caution, 8, objectivity required, 9. coincidence not accepted as proof, 10. anecdotal evidence not accepted as proof.

"These exercises and assessment projects have been done with hundreds of high school students over the course of many years. Students report that the topic is of high interest, and they enjoy researching a pseudoscientific belief of their choosing. Students also report that they enjoy listening to their classmates’ findings, and many admit that they had accepted some of the pseudoscientific beliefs (the existence of Bigfoot, psychic read- ings, and astrology for example) as fact without ever scrutinizing the evidence. Since these activities are done during a “Nature of Science” unit at the beginning of the year, students often bring in examples of pseudosciences that they find in the media over the course of the term." (quotes from the article).

Copy of article available online from The American Biology Teacher (if you are a member). if not a member, send request (naming the article, author, and source) to the webmaster, or to the primary author <mailto:terry.bramschreiber@asd20.org>

2. There is another article in the same issue (pp. 309-311) of that journal (ABT): "Global Warming: Scam, Fraud, or Hoax?" in the Sacred Bovines column by Douglas Allchin. The article contains numerous resources and tips for recognizing valid science vs science detractors. "For the nonexpert, the foremost focus should not be the evidence itself, but who to trust in interpreting evidence and reporting on it honestly."


Some of the ideas in this lesson may have been adapted from earlier, unacknowledged sources without our knowledge. If the reader believes this to be the case, please let us know, and appropriate corrections will be made. Thanks.

1. Original Source: Steven Dickhaus (ENSI 89)

2. Preliminary approval for ENSIweb by: Martin Nickels, Craig Nelson, Jean Beard: 12/15/97

3. Edited / Revised for website by L. Flammer 1/2000

 The following is the central core of CONPTT, along with the 3 other science-related terms covered here, their definitions and examples. These are all included in the PDF version found at the end of this page.


Concept: Following the discussion of "CONPTT", the student will be able to distinguish between scientific and non-scientific statements.

Introduction: To summarize our previous discussions and today's ideas, let's list some criteria that might help us recognize the difference between what is science and what is not science, criteria that will enable us to recognize a scientific statement and a non-scientific statement.
The following criteria were developed by science educators in Iowa and found acceptable by several midwestern high school biology teachers.


Six Criteria of Science: Consistent, Observable, Natural, Predictable, Testable, and
entative. The sequence is not important, but the acronym "CONPTT" makes a good long term memory hook.

1. Consistency: The results of repeated observations and/or experiments concerning a naturally occurring event (phenomenon) are reasonably the same when performed and repeated by competent investigators. The event is also free from self-contradiction: it is consistent in its applications. The weight of the evidence is also compatible with well established observations and limits.

REALITY CHECK #1: which of the following is a scientific statement, and which one is not a scientific statement?
1. Green plants will grow towards a light source.
2. Walking under a ladder will cause bad luck.

Using the idea of "Consistency", how can we determine which statement above is a scientific one?

2. Observability: The event under study, or evidence of the occurrence of the event, can be observed and explained. The observations are limited to the basic human senses or to extensions of the senses by such things as electron microscopes, Geiger counters, etc. If the phenomenon cannot be reproduced through controlled conditions, natural evidence of the event's occurrence must be available for investigation.
REALITY CHECK #2: which of the following is a scientific statement, and which one is not a scientific statement?
1. Some plants eat meat.
2. Extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth.

Using the idea of "Observability", how can we assess which statement above is a scientific one?

3. Natural: A natural cause (mechanism) must be used to explain why or how the naturally occurring event happens. Scientists may not use supernatural explanations as to why or how naturally occurring events happen because reference to the supernatural is outside of the realm of science. Scientists cannot conduct controlled experiments in which they have designed the intervention of a supreme being into the test.

REALITY CHECK #3: which of the following is a scientific statement, and which one is not a scientific statement?
1. Green plants convert sunlight into energy.
2. With a rod, Moses parted the sea so his people could cross to the other side..

Using the idea of "Natural", how can we determine which statement above is a scientific one?

4. Predictability: The natural cause (mechanism) of the naturally occurring event can be used to make specific predictions. Each prediction can be tested to determine if the prediction is true of false.

REALITY CHECK #4: which of the following is a scientific statement, and which one is not a scientific statement?
1. Without sunlight (or comparable artificial light), green plants will die.
2. If you are a "Scorpio", your horoscope for today is "You'll be saying 'I feel rich !' Lunar position highlights back pay, refunds, correction of accounting error."

Using the idea of "Predictability", how can we determine which statement above is a scientific one?

5. Testability: The natural cause (mechanism) of the naturally occurring event must be testable through the processes of science, controlled experimentation being only one of these. Reference to supernatural events or causes are not relevant tests.

REALITY CHECK #5: which of the following is a scientific statement, and which one is not a scientific statement?
1. The Bermuda Triangle causes ships and planes to sink and disappear.
2. Life comes from life and cannot come from non-life.

Using the idea of "Testability", how can we determine which statement above is a scientific one?

6. Tentativeness: Scientific theories are subject to revision and correction, even to the point of the theory being proven wrong. Scientific theories have been modified and will continue to be modified, getting better and better (closer to realtity) to consistently explain observations of naturally occurring events.

REALITY CHECK #6: which of the following is a scientific statement, and which one is not a scientific statement?
1. The number of human chromosomes was once "known" to be 48, but is now considered to be 46.
2. Living things were once grouped into 2 major groups, then 3, then 4, and now 5, because the criteria used for classifying living things have changed.
3. We know that the world began about 6000 years ago, and nothing will change that.
4. At one time, it was thought the heart pumped blood out of a large container as an "open system", but now it is known that blood "circulates" in a closed system.

Using the idea of "Tentativeness", how can we assess which statement above is a scientific one?


Emerging Science Defined: Emerging science (or "protoscience") may be defined as a "near science". A protoscience tends to conform to most of the CONPTT criteria but typically falls short in one or more of the criteria. A protoscience differs from a science in that consistent observations and predictions may be limited by knowledge and/or technology.
For example, let's look at parapsychology. This includes such phenomena as clairvoyance, precognition, and psychokinesis. Scientists generally consider parapsychology a pseudoscience because its phenomena conflict with known physical laws. However, at least one member of the parapsychology family, mental telepathy (thought transmission directly from one brain to another), might be worthy of scientific consideration. Mental telepathy, then, could be considered as a "protoscience".
NOTE: See Arthur Strahler, Science and Earth History (1987), page 55 regarding mental telepathy as a protoscience; pages 46-47 for more information about extraterrestrial visitors; and pages 47-49 for more information about UFOs and UFOlogy.


Non-Science Defined: Non-science may be defined as an area of knowledge which does not meet the criteria of science (CONPTT). Non-science topic areas may be very logical and based on good reasoning, but simply do not fall within the realm of science. They would include any belief system, e.g., religious beliefs, philosophy, personal opinions or attitudes, a sense of esthetics, or ethics.


False Science Defined: False science ("pseudoscience") may be defined as a non-science which is portrayed and advertised as a legitimate science by its followers and supporters. Good examples of a pseudoscience would include "astrology" (as presented by some of its supporters), and "creation science". (See Strahler, page 525).


Science is a limited discipline that studies only naturally occurring events, while offering natural explanations for the phenomenon under study. The data must be consistent, observable, predictable, and testable, while any conclusions or theories must be tentative.


Student Handout Packet (6 pages):
Includes Information and Activity Worksheet


 The following pages are in Adobe Acrobat pdf format in order to maintain their intended layout for easy printing of handouts. Only a "thumbnail" reduced size image of the first page is showing (if more than one page is in that file). For enlarging and copying, (and seeing other pages in that file), you will need to download the free Acrobat Reader from Adobe (unless it's already installed in your system). Then just click on the blue file name above, below, or next to the first page. You may see the "Acrobat Exchange" (Reader application) loading, then the pages will display. You might need to shift-click and drag the lower left corner of the page to enlarge it, or click the magnifying glass on the menu bar.

If this doesn't seem to work, you might need to load and/or enable the PDFViewer plug-in by following one of these protocols:

For Netscape Communicator: EDIT>Preferences>Navigator>Applications (then scroll down to "Portable Document Format (PDFViewer)", click on it, then click OK; if it's not there, click on "New", and add it in).

For Netscape Navigator: OPTIONS>General Preferences>Helpers (scroll to check for PDF on list, add it if it isn't, then click OK to activate it.

For other browsers, or problems with this, check with your browser tech support, Adobe tech support, or, in dire frustration, e-mail me. If nothing else, I will mail you hard copy of the formatted pages desired.

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