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Climate science is not about ‘belief’: Chief Scientist

Chief Scientist Ian Chubb says more children should be taught the scientific method. AAP

Australia’s Chief Scientist Ian Chubb says teaching the scientific method to secondary school children could shift the discussion on climate change, by ensuring people can distinguish between belief and evidence.

Professor Chubb was speaking to the Royal Society of Victoria, which today launched a three-year program aimed at increasing the awareness of science among primary school children.

“We scientists need to talk about evidence, and without being cornered into answering questions like ‘do you believe?’,” Professor Chubb said.

“I get asked that every day and every now and then I make a mistake and say yes or no…It’s not a belief, it’s an understanding and an encapsulation and interpretation of the evidence.”

Professor Chubb said when scientists say ‘It’s highly likely that humans have intervened in the global warming patterns that we are now seeing’, it would be good if people accepted that ‘highly likely’ doesn’t mean ‘we don’t really know’.

“But the shock jocks drive a truck through the fact that people don’t understand what that means,” he said.

“I think it would be good if we infiltrated every corner of our community with people who were educated in the scientific method and end up using that method in a whole variety of careers.”

In May, Professor Chubb delivered the Health of Australian Science report, which found senior school participation in science had declined in recent years, and while overall university science enrolments were up, they had not returned to their position in the late 1980s.

Professor Chubb said people now take science for granted, and what’s required is a change in the way people conceptualise and think about science.

He pointed to a survey of Year 11 and 12 students that last year found only 4% of those surveyed thought science was ‘almost always’ useful in everyday life.

Professor Chubb also said the government has not supported science teachers well enough in the past, and he would like to see more funds directed at professional development, with a focus on content development, not just pedagogy.

The Royal Society of Victoria, through its “Science and my world” program, is planning to develop a range of online science materials pitched at children and primary school teachers to use in follow-up to community science events.

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