"How helpful is this observation?": Children’s evaluations of scientific evidence

AbstractBeing able to identify causally relevant evidence is essential in order to evaluate scientific claims, yet doing so can be challenging, especially for children. In some cases, identifying causally relevant evidence can involve recognizing similarities in context and causal mechanisms underlying seemingly different observations. Two studies explore how children ages 7-10 (n = 98) judge the relevance of different observations for evaluating the accuracy of a scientific explanation. Observations varied based on topic (i.e., the same animal as the explanation or a different species) and the presence or absence of the same underlying causal mechanism as the target explanation. All children recognized that observations involving the same process in the same animal would be helpful. However, children ages 7-8 held a more fragile understanding than children ages 9-10 that observations involving a different animal but the same causal mechanism would be more helpful than observations involving the same animal but a different causal mechanism. Implications for conceptual development and scientific reasoning are discussed.

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