Science & Education

, Volume 28, Issue 9–10, pp 1001–1025 | Cite as

Do Biologists’ Conceptions of Science as a Social Epistemology Align with Critical Contextual Empiricism?

  • Linda FuselierEmail author
  • Justin McFaddenEmail author
  • Katherine Ray KingEmail author


From literature on understandings of the “nature of science” (NOS), we know that sometimes scientists and others that participate in teaching and mentoring in the sciences lack an informed view of the philosophical underpinnings of their discipline. In this study, we ask whether biologists who are also teachers or mentors for college students agree with the tenets of critical contextual empiricism (CCE), a social epistemology of science that foregrounds the importance of a diversity of voices in knowledge-producing communities. We used a Q-sort methodology to examine beliefs about social knowledge construction that are related to teaching science inclusively. Overall, we found that biologists-teachers held viewpoints somewhat consistent with the tenets of Critical Contextual Empiricism. Although participants shared many beliefs in common, we found two significantly different groups of participants that were characterized under the themes “knowledge is constructed by people” and “the truth is out there.” Overall, although participants believed a diversity of cognitive resources aids scientific communities, they failed to recognize the more nuanced ways certain social interactions might impact objective knowledge production. For one group, outside of a belief that collaboration in science is valuable, other social influences on science were assumed to be negative. For a second group, the search for universal truth and the separation of rational and social aspects was critical for scientific objectivity. We use the results of our Q-sort to identify areas for professional development focused on inclusive science teaching and to recommend the explicit teaching of CCE to science educators.


Epistemological beliefs Nature of science Q methodology 


Funding Information

Spencer Small Grant: #201700080

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biology DepartmentUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA
  2. 2.College of Education and Human DevelopmentUniversity of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

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