GED Science Practice Test: Evaluating Scientific Findings

Read the following passage and answer the questions below:

The process of finding patterns and trends, as well as the process of explaining outliers leads scientists to draw conclusions about their data, as you saw above.  However, scientists must evaluate how strong their conclusions are.   Part of this process involves the scientist critiquing his or her experimental procedures, data collection methods, method of finding patterns in the data, and the fit of the conclusions with existing knowledge of the topic.

One feature that characterizes science is the public scrutiny of experiments.  Scientists critique other scientists’ experiments, as well as their own.  This process ensures that several different people, with several perspectives, consider conclusions drawn from experiments.  This process is not only there to catch mistakes and flaws, but to strengthen and richen the process of analyzing data.  Scientists with different experiences might view the meaning of data in different ways.  Additionally, scientists might try to replicate an experiment that another scientist has done to see if the results can be replicated.  These types of studies, meant to confirm the results of experiments, can serve to strengthen conclusions from those experiments.  If a scientist cannot replicate the results of an experiment, it is possible that the experimental procedure is flawed, lacking reliability or validity. Experiments that pass scrutiny from other scientists add to and strengthen the base of scientific knowledge.

For example, pretend that you were a scientist who was asked to view the following graph showing the results of a bird feeding experiment to determine which type of bird food was most popular:

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The scientist who conducted this experiment concluded that corn is the most popular type of bird seed.  You might think of critiquing this experiment by asking the following questions:

  • Did you have any measure of how long the birds stayed at each type of seed? Is it possible that the few birds who stayed at the suet stayed longer and ate more seeds?
  • Were the bird feeders of equal size? Smaller feeders might discourage larger numbers of birds?
  • Were the birds of equal size? For larger birds, the amount of space on a feeder is limited compared to smaller birds.
  • Were the birds observed at each feeder the same species of bird? Is one species more abundant in this part of the world?  Would a scientist in a different part of the world get similar results (a replication study)?
  • What time of year did you conduct this test? Would the results vary with the time of year?

This is a good example of a scientist being able to draw a reasonable conclusion from the data (corn is the most popular bird seed).  However, assuming that the scientist had not considered the elements of the above questions, he or she might not have a strong conclusion that would generalize to other situations.  In addition to this public scrutiny, the strength of the conclusion could be tested with replication experiments.

 

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