There are many things in the world around us that we don't understand or would like to predict. Scientists face uncertainty everyday and they design experiments to test their theories. As they progress with their research, they aim to decrease the uncertainty and increase their confidence in the results.

The audio clip " Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, on uncertainty in macroeconomic policy making" makes a good introduction to this activity. The uncertainty in science feature also gives a good summary about the topic.

This activity could be done on a larger scale as a whole class. Have a whole class brainstorm where the class suggest the different topics that are based on uncertainty. Students can use the worksheet to record their ideas and thoughts. There are some questions there already as examples. Students could do this in class or as homework.

An extension activity: students try and decide whether enough evidence can be collected to ever answer the questions at some point in the future. There are examples and a table to fill in. This part can be carried out as small groups in the classroom or as homework.

This activity makes a good introduction to the other two activities in this resource.


Curriculum links

Data, evidence, theories and explanations 1a. how scientific data can be collected and analysed
1b. how interpretation of data, using creative thought, provides evidence to test ideas and develop theories
1c. how explanations of many phenomena can be developed using scientific theories, models and ideas
1d. that there are some questions that science cannot currently answer, and some that science cannot address.
Applications and implications of science 4b. to consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions
4c. how uncertainties in scientific knowledge and scientific ideas change over time and about the role of the scientific community in validating these changes.



Scottish Curriculum for Excellence

Science general - experiences and outcomes express opinions and make decisions on social, moral, ethical, economic and environmental issues based upon sound understanding
develop as a scientifically-literate citizen with a lifelong interest in the sciences
SCN 4-20a. Topical Science: I have researched new developments in science and can explain how their current or future applications might impact on modern life
SCN 4-20b. Having selected scientific themes of topical interest, I can critically analyse the issues, and use relevant information to develop an informed argument

Environmental Science National 4 & 5

Potentially relevant to modules: Sustainability (environmental, economic and social impacts, and identifying possible solutions)
Science National 4 Potentially relevant to modules: Fragile Earth (resources and conflicts, benefits and issues and possible solutions, how science is involved in the cause, effect and resolution of environmental issues)



How much don’t we know?

lagoon nebula

Make a list of different areas of research or questions about science that are based on making predictions. Use this worksheet to help you.

Some examples are:

  1. Climate change - the extent to which human life will suffer due to an increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
  2. Drug testing and treatments - how individual humans will react to a certain drug.
  3. The search for extra-terrestrial life - are we alone in the universe?

Now choose 6 of these questions and think about whether we will ever be able to answer them accurately or not.  What things would be needed to help us answer them? For example, will we develop new technologies, or will people be able to answer the question by looking at the data collected in the next decade from current research?

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