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There are two different types of scientific controversies.

I. Controversies within science – scientists, using the scientific method, are debating a topic. Examples: What killed off the dinosaurs – was is mostly due to a meteor impact, or did volcanic eruptions from the Deccan traps play the larger part?

Within this topic there are different sorts of scientific controversies:

1. Decisional controversies: We need to take action despite inadequate information. For example, how do we combat a disease epidemic with only limited knowledge of the situation.

2. Ethical controversies: We have scientific knowledge, but it is not clear how one may ethically/morally use such knowledge.  For instance, should people have access to their sequenced genome, and make birth and abortion decisions based on this data?

3. Controversies on the basic scientific facts themselves. For example, what is the nature of dark matter, and what is the origin of dark energy?


4. Controversies on how to interpret data – this can overlap with topic 3.  One of the more common types of data interpretation controversies involve diet. For instance, is red wine good for one’s health? What amount of alcohol is safe to drink? Should people have a plat-based diet, or a vegan diet?

 Some topics, such as the use of GMOs, may include all of these types.


II. Controversies against science – when social or religious groups deny the findings of science due to their belief systems. Examples: Claims that evolution are false or a hoax.


Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo.

Vincenzo Galilei, father of Galileo.


What controversy: Is a controversy misrepresented or blown out of proportion?

Here’s a headline unlikely to run in any paper: Senate getting along: No fights or arguments for days! That’s because good news is generally no news. Clashes, on the other hand, are exciting and often important. So it’s not surprising then that media reports on science often focus on controversy. However, when a scientific idea is portrayed as controversial in the popular media or in a policy, that conflict might be one of a few different types, which stem from different sources:

Is a controversy misrepresented or blown out of proportion?

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An evolving controversy: The struggle to teach science in science classes, Berkman and Plutzer, American Educator, Summer 2012

Aft.org An Evolving Controversy: The struggle to teach science in science class

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Science controversies past and present

Steven Sherwood, Physics Today, October 2011, page 39

Copy of article on Physicstoday.scitation.org
Copy of article on Semanticscholar.org


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