New And Precise Data Theory Model
DISTINGUISHING DATA, THEORY, AND MODEL
Data, theories, and models are all vital parts of scientific research, but are also influenced by the
paradigm and culture of science. The hypothetico-deductive approach involves constructing
hypotheses to explain the natural world, designing appropriate research methods to test
hypotheses, and collecting and analyzing data. If hypotheses are repeatedly supported by
empirical data, they can become scientific theories. Scientific theories generate additional
hypotheses and open up new areas and methods of research. Frequently, scientists develop
models that represent their data and/or theory to make the data or theory easier to understand,
develop testable predictions, or formalize a theory.
It is easy for data (i.e., “facts”) and theory (i.e., “probabilistic truth”) to be confused; this occurs
for the general public and scientists and is propagated through the media. For example, data
shows that Earth has liquid water and other planets in our solar system do not; likewise, Earth
has life and the other planets do not. This leads to the theory that liquid water is necessary for
life. In the media, and even in some scientific literature, theory is often described as fact (e.g.,
“liquid water is necessary for life”).
Why are we doing this lab? 1. To help you understand the influence of paradigm/culture on the epistemology of science. 2. To give you the skills to distinguish between data and theory and understand what that
means when deciding what is true about the natural world.
3. To start thinking critically about something you don’t normally think about, the origin of life.
______________________ – Information about the natural world gathered from the senses
(describes what…). Once verified, these are the “facts” of science.
______________________ – Generalization of data, usually mathematically (e.g.,
gravity, thermodynamics, genetic inheritance).
______________________ – Explanation of a natural phenomenon with repeated support
through empirical evidence (explains causes…). Aka another name
for scientific truth.
Must be: Testable
Consistent with most lines of empirical evidence and logic
Adaptable to account for new data
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______________________ – Representation of data or theory
______________________ – Represents a particular phenomenon (e.g., a scale model of
the solar system, a model of a molecule’s structure)
______________________ – Represents data (e.g., mean, t-Test, correlation)
_______________________ – Represents a mechanistic explanation of how a natural
phenomenon works (e.g., biomechanics of the hand,
Models can have different values:
Predictive – ________________________________________________________
Heuristic – aids in understanding, problem-solving, science
Now, let’s take a look at a couple of examples related to last week’s lab:
Table 2. Cricket behavior
observations collected at 30-
second intervals by my group
during the experiment.
0 1 2
30 0 2
60 0 2
90 0 4
120 0 3
150 0 4
180 0 2
210 0 3
240 0 4
270 0 2
300 0 2
Mean 0.09 2.73
SD 0.30 0.90
Crickets significantly preferred granola
(2.7±0.9 crickets touching food) over
lemons (0.1±0.3 crickets touching food)
(p < 0.001).
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Science is communicated in a variety of media, including newspapers, websites, radio programs,
videos, textbooks, etc. Consumers of this media tend to interpret it as the truth (or as an obvious
falsehood if it disagrees with their preconceptions), particularly if coming from an authority.
Being critical of the presentation of data and theory will help you analyze if/how you know
something to be true.
You will be evaluating 3 media about the origins of life (i.e., abiogenesis, “life from nonlife”).
How life originated is a fundamental question in science, but also theology. Science estimates the
Earth to be 4.54±0.05 billion years old, with life on Earth appearing at least 3.5 billion years ago.
You will be analyzing three types of media for their presentation of data and theory about the
origins of life and then thinking about how/why data and theory are utilized as they are.
a) Analysis of media: (1) An article from about.com, a commonly referenced website for basic information (2) An excerpt from a science textbook focusing on evolution (3) A video from Coldwater Media, a Christian educational films company
For each of the media, box theories, theoretical models, & predictions based on theories
and underline data and data models. Alternatively, you can use two different color
highlighters! Make sure to provide a key linking the colors to data versus theory.
For the video, you will need to write down key statements of data and theory; you are
advised to re-watch the video several times to capture as many statements as possible.
b) You will also be interpreting your results to answer several questions.
Preliminary questions (do these before you analyze the media)
1. Make a hypothesis about the proportion of data vs theory in these media. (Do you think
they will be the same for all media? Different? How? Why? Explain your rationale.)
2. This kind of analysis doesn’t lend itself to a 50% data:50% theory null hypothesis. What
do you think a reasonable ratio of data to theory would be? Why?
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Media #1: Website article
Understanding Chemical Evolution (Heather Scoville, Evolution Expert on About Education);
The term “chemical evolution” can be used in many different ways
depending on the context of the words. If you are speaking to an
astronomer, then it could be a discussion about how new elements are
formed during supernovas. Chemists may believe chemical evolution
pertains to how oxygen or hydrogen gases “evolve” out of some types
of chemical reactions. In evolutionary biology, on the other hand, the
term “chemical evolution” most often is used to describe the hypothesis
that organic building blocks of life were created when inorganic
molecules came together. Sometimes called abiogenesis, chemical
evolution could be how life started on Earth.
The Earth’s environment when it was first formed was very different
than it is now. The Earth was somewhat hostile to life and so the
creation of life on Earth did not come for billions of years after the Earth
was first formed. Because of its ideal distance from the sun, the Earth is
the only planet in our solar system that is capable of having liquid water in the orbits the planets are in now. This
was the first step in chemical evolution to create life on Earth.
The early Earth also did not have an atmosphere surrounding it to block ultraviolet rays which can be deadly to the
cells that make up all life. Eventually, scientists believe a primitive atmosphere full of greenhouse gases like carbon
dioxide and perhaps some methane and ammonia, but no oxygen. This became important later in the evolution of
life on Earth as photosynthetic and chemosynthetic organisms used these substances to create energy.
So just how did abiogenesis or chemical evolution happen? No one is completely certain, but there are many
hypotheses. It is true that the only way new atoms of non-synthetic elements can be made are through the
supernovas of extremely large stars. All other atoms of elements are recycled through various biogeochemical
cycles. So either the elements were already on Earth when it was formed (presumably from the collection of space
dust around an iron core), or they came to Earth via the continuous meteor strikes that were common before the
protective atmosphere was formed.
Once the inorganic elements were on Earth, most hypotheses agree that the chemical evolution of the organic
building blocks of life began in the oceans. The majority of Earth is covered by the oceans. It is not a stretch to think
that the inorganic molecules that would undergo chemical evolution would be floating around in the oceans. The
question remains just how these chemicals evolved to become organic building blocks of life.
This is where the different hypotheses branch off from each other. One of the more popular hypotheses says that the
organic molecules were created by chance as the inorganic elements collided and bonded in the oceans. However,
this is always met with resistance because statistically the chance of this happening is very small. Others have tried
to recreate the conditions of early Earth and make organic molecules. One such experiment, commonly called the
Primordial Soup experiment, was successful in creating the organic molecules out of inorganic elements in a lab
setting. However, as we learn more about the ancient Earth, we have found out that not all of the molecules they
used were actually around during that time.
The search continues to learn more about chemical evolution and how it could have begun life on Earth. New
discoveries are made on a regular basis that help scientists understand what was available and how things may have
happened in this process. Hopefully one day scientists will be able to pinpoint how chemical evolution happened
and a clearer picture of how life began on Earth will emerge.
Kepler’s Supernova. Getty/Encyclopedia
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Media #3: Video
The Miller-Urey Experiment Debunked, an excerpt from Icons of Evolution (Coldwater Media);
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQ7376K56kM (may also be accessible through Blackboard)
Write key statements and classify them as theory or data in the space below:
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3. Describe your process for identifying data vs theory. What key words/phrases and other
structures helped you identify them?
4. Count up your results regarding the number of statements you classified as data or theory
in the following table. Add up the data and theory columns to find the total.
Data Theory Total
Now, restate your results as percentages to help your analysis. To do so, divide the data
column and theory column by the total column. Check your work by making sure the data
and theory columns add up to 100%.
% Data % Theory Total
Media #1 100%
Media #2 100%
Media #3 100%
5. Describe your results. What do they indicate about use of data and theory in most media?
Does any media source appear to have more empirical support than the others? Explain.
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6. Explain your results. How do they compare to your hypothesis? Why do you think they
are the same/different?
7. Make conclusions/hypothesize about the generalizability of your results. Do you think
these results would translate to all media? Why or why not?
8. Make conclusions/hypothesize about the generalizability of your results. Do you think
these results would translate to all scientific topics? Why or why not? Give examples.
9. Make conclusions about how you can critically analyze media about science. Why is it
important to distinguish between data and theory? How can you do so?
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