Scientists’ Ontological and Epistemological Views about Science from the Perspective of Critical Realism
Including the perspectives of scientists about the nature and process of science is important for an authentic and nuanced portrayal of science in science education. The small number of studies that have explored scientists’ worldviews about science has thus far generated contradictory findings, with recent studies claiming that scientists simultaneously hold contradictory sophisticated and naïve views. This article reports on an exploratory study that uses the framework of Bhaskar’s critical realism to elicit and separately analyse academic scientists’ ontological and epistemological views about science in semi-structured interviews. When the views of scientists are analysed through the lens of critical realism, it is clear that it is possible to hold a realist ontological commitment about what knowledge is of, simultaneously with a fallibilist epistemological commitment about knowledge itself. The apparent incongruence of scientists’ so-called naïve and sophisticated views about science is resolved when analysed using a critical realist framework. Critical realism offers a simple and coherent framework for science educators that avoids many of the problems of positivism and social constructivism by finding a middle ground between them. The three pillars of critical realism: ontological realism, epistemological fallibilism and judgmental rationality help to make sense of how socially constructed scientific knowledge can be anchored in an independent reality.
The author would like to thank the academic scientists who willingly gave their time to participate in this study. Thank you to Michael Matthews for his helpful comments and encouragement on an earlier version of the paper. Thank you also to Liz Johnson, Tai Peseta and Jan West for their support, guidance and feedback. And finally, thank you to the anonymous reviewers who may not have agreed with each other, but whose comments and suggestions all contributed to the improvements in the paper.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The author reports no potential conflict of interest.
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