Plain Language Summaries
Whoever asserts something today often justifies it either with scientific findings or with personal experiences. The current age of "post-truth" is characterized, among other things, by the fact that justification by personal experience is experiencing an upswing. If one wants to examine this phenomenon scientifically by looking at beliefs, various constructs that have already been researched to a greater or lesser extent suggest themselves: Beliefs about the utility of science and of personal experiences, trust in science, and epistemic beliefs, i.e., beliefs about the nature of knowledge and knowing.
So far, little is known about how these different constructs are related. Moreover, knowledge might also play a role, more specifically knowledge about how science works. It was therefore the aim of the present study to explore the relationships between beliefs about the utilits of science and personal experiences, trust in science, epistemic beliefs, and knowledge about how science works.
A paper-based questionnaire study was conducted in which 315 students of psychology, educational science, and teaching at the University of Bamberg participated. The data were collected before the Covid-19 pandemic at the end of various university courses. The students indicated their agreement with four statements each about the usefulness of science and personal experiences and with eight statements about their trust in science and scientists. They also indicated their agreement with 26 statements about epistemic beliefs related to the following five subdomains:
To assess their knowledge about how science works, the students were presented with nine short scenarios, in each of which they had to select the one from four alternatives that most closely corresponds to a scientific procedure. Topics were, for example, the control group design of a study, probabilities or the generalizability of results. For each correct solution, the students received one point, so a total of 9 points could be achieved. In addition, the students were asked to indicate which courses on scientific methods they had already attended. From this, the number of attended courses was included in the further analysis.
For the analysis, a latent model was specified, i.e., a model in which a latent measurement error-adjusted value was calculated for each construct, which was then correlated with the other latent values. For knowledge about how science works and number of courses, only the respective summed value (without measurement error adjustment) was included.
A number of interesting findings emerged regarding the correlation of beliefs:
Knowledge of how science works was also correlated with beliefs. Knowledge correlated ...
Controlling for knowledge, the number of methods courses correlated negatively only with the perceived simplicity of knowledge.
The results show that the different constructs on science-related beliefs cover different aspects. This means that in further studies on this topic several of these constructs should possibly be included; at least it should be considered which construct is best able to capture the research question.
Furthermore, the results show that some normatively desired beliefs seem to contradict each other. For example, both a high level of trust in science and a rather skeptical attitude toward authority (as justification of knowledge) are normatively desired - however, these two constructs correlate highly with each other. However, this also makes sense against the background that scientists (who are to be trusted) are experts and therefore authorities.
The findings on the connection between knowledge about how science works and (desired) beliefs about science are encouraging - after all, they give rise to the hope that positive beliefs could also be fostered by appropriate training. However, the latter would first have to be verified in a further study.
Schoor, C. (in press). University students’ beliefs about science and their relationship with knowledge about science. European Journal of Psychology of Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-023-00724-2 (Open Access)
The study was conducted within the project Contexts, which was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).