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Errors in Science and their Treatment in Teaching Science


This paper analyses the real origin and nature of scientific errors against claims of science critics, by examining a number of examples from the history of electricity and optics. This analysis leads to a conclusion that errors are a natural and unavoidable part of scientific process. If made available to students, through their science teachers, such a knowledge, would give students a deeper insight into the scientific process and remove their fear of making errors in their own laboratory work.

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  1. 1.

    Actually, the authors’ interest in the subject of error is not limited to errors of measurements. This paper ‘is intended to serve as a prelude to more extensive examinations of the role of error in science and science education’ (3, p. 954).

  2. 2.

    Most definitions reduce ‘error’ to an error of measurement. For instance, ‘in the scientific world error refers to this inevitable uncertainty [in measurement], they are not "mistakes" or "blunders" or "human errors" (www.sewanee.edu/physics/PHYSICS101/ErrorAnalysis.html). Likewise, ‘in science and engineering in general an error is defined as a difference between the desired and actual performance or behavior of a system or object’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Error). The few scholarly definitions I have found are either too vague or unhelpful. For instance, ‘any mistaken conclusion or unintended outcome in science or technology’ (Allchin 2001, p. 38.) is applicable outside science too and defines ‘error’ through an undefined term ‘mistake’. Another definition by this author - ‘An error is a faulty mapping that does not preserve the structure of the world as intended (ibid., p. 41) – expresses ‘error’ through a much more complex term ‘mapping’.

  3. 3.

    The terms ‘wave theories’ and ‘corpuscular theories’ in plural mean all theories of specific optical phenomena based on the hypothesis of light waves (or corpuscles). They may differ in other hypotheses (periodical or not, longitudinal or transverse, and others).


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Correspondence to Nahum Kipnis.

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Kipnis, N. Errors in Science and their Treatment in Teaching Science. Sci & Educ 20, 655–685 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-010-9289-0

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