What scientists have to say about the nature of science

By Elizabeth Walsh - May 2011


Wong, S. L. & Hodson, D. (2009). From the horse’s mouth: What scientists say about scientific investigation and scientific knowledge. Science Education93(1), 1–22.



ISE professionals should find this paper useful in understanding how scientists view the nature of science (NOS) as flexible, creative, and continually developing, in contrast to the more regimented scientific method typically taught in school.

What Is The Issue?

Through interviews, the researchers have enabled a view of science as a flexible, creative and continually developing knowledge enterprise, in contrast to the regimented, experiment-driven scientific method most often taught in schools. The authors believe that teaching authentic nature of science (NOS) will certainly aid in enthusing students to learn science and take initiatives in scientific problem solving.

What Was The Study?

The researchers interviewed 13 scientists who had research careers ranging from 10 to 32 years. These scientists (1 female, 12 male) represented a wide range of fields from high-energy physics, astrophysics to biochemistry and molecular biology. They used a modified version of the open-ended Views of Nature of Science Questionnaire (VNOS-C, from Lederman et al., 2002) to elicit scientists’ views on the NOS.


With the long-term goal of improving curriculum oriented toward NOS, this study sought to include what constitutes authentic scientific practice and how the NOS can best be taught to students. Specifically, this analysis focuses on scientific methods and the role and status of scientific knowledge.

What Were The Findings?

The scientists described their scientific practices as more flexible and less regimented than the scientific method that is normally taught in classrooms. Some scientists denied that their work was all experimental, in sharp contrast to the common understanding of science as consistently driven by experiments. Further, some research was described as not being entirely based on hypotheses but rather on identifying questions after data collection and mining of data for answers. In addition, science was described as privileging creativity and imagination at all stages of investigation, and the need for creative thinking that helps drive scientific inquiry was emphasized. In addition, science was viewed as evolutionary as evidence accumulated over time, with a distinction made between the roles and functions of theories and laws.

The researchers suggest creating laboratory activities that emphasize the theoretical groundings of experimentation so that students become aware of how scientific theory is developed and utilized. In addition, the study points out the utility of helping students understand methods of inquiry beyond experimentation and the scientific method.

Further Reading:

Lederman, N. G., Abd-El-Khalick, F., Bell, R. L., & Schwartz, R. S. (2002). Views of nature of science questionnaire: Toward valid and meaningful assessment of learners’ conceptions of nature of science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(6), 497–521.