Applied Science BTEC Nationals/Perceptions of Science

There are four main strands to this unit:

Scientific theoriesEdit

How they have developed; what questions they have answered, might answer and could never answer; how new theories are developing:

  • Evolution
  • Gravity
  • Ozone depletion
  • AIDS and AIDS origin - how the disease was identified and some dissident views on its cause.
  • Plate tectonics - a good example of a paradigm shift
  • Relativity
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Big Bang
  • Genetics
  • How malaria spreads
  • Germ theory of diseases

The Scientific MethodEdit

The scientific method is the ideal way for science to proceed. The simplest theory (Occam's razor) that fits the observations is tested.

Theories may adapt to new data, or an entirely new theory may be necessary. Adopting a completely new theory is called a paradigm shift.

Falsifiability: Some philosophers and scientists, most notably Karl Popper, have asserted that no empirical hypothesis, proposition, or theory can be considered scientific if no observation could be made which might contradict it.

For example, "the Earth has been visited by little green men" is unfalsifiable, since no amount of observation could ever demonstrate its falsehood. However, the opposite statement "The Earth has not been visited by little green men" is falsifiable, by the presentation of one little green visitor.

Areas where science has the answersEdit

  • Diagnosis of diseases; HIV, cancer, etc.
  • Materials science
  • Nuclear power
  • Diagnosis of genetic conditions; Down’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, etc.
  • Identify CO2 levels and global temperatures

Areas where science might provide answers sometimeEdit

  • Nuclear fusion
  • A base on the moon
  • Is there life on Mars?
  • How to store nuclear waste
  • How to generate power without CO2
  • How to remove CO2 from the atmosphere
  • What causes cancer?
  • Can AIDS be cured?
  • Does the Higgs boson exist?
  • Can chemicals be made using less energy?
  • When will earthquakes occur?
  • When will a volcano erupt?
  • When will viral outbreaks occur?

Areas where science does not give answers, and never willEdit

  • Should we provide fertility treatment to the elderly?
  • Who should be given the limited medical resources we have?
  • What should we do now we know our unborn child has Down’s syndrome?
  • Should we spend money on a moon base/particle collider/other expensive science projects?
  • Is animal testing ethical?
  • How much should we reduce GDP to reduce CO2 emissions?

Public concerns about scienceEdit

Study two recent cases from the media. Are the concerns justified? Have the media made a fair contribution?

  • Concerns about MMR vaccine.
  • Do badgers cause bovine TB?
  • Should we put fluoride in water?
  • Should we test pharmaceuticals on animals?
  • Is cannabis safe?
  • Can we blame our actions on our genes?
  • Is the International Space Station worth it?
  • How much pollution should we allow?
  • What do we do about Global Warming?
  • Does God exist?
  • Does homeopathy work?
  • Do antidepressants work?
  • Should we teach evolution in schools?
  • Is bisphenol-A a problem?

These online news sites cover science stories:

Ethical and moral issuesEdit

How have scientific advances created new ethical questions? How have scientific advances affected society?

  • Roy_Meadow and his controversial theory that because cot death is not inherited, multiple cases in the same family were murder.
  • GM_food - can it increase the productivity of farmers? Can they afford it? Will it benefit or harm the environment? Are the foods safer? Better?
  • Genetic fingerprinting - good for catching rapists, but should we all be fingerprinted?
  • Contraception and abortion became much more reliable and less risky during the 20th century. Various ethical and moral objections have been raised to the use of contraception and the practice of abortion. Before the 20th century these were minor issues, because few people would take the risk.
  • Advances in surgery, particularly transplant surgery, raised important ethical questions when it first became practicable. One aspect was that the legal definition of death had to be changed to allow heart surgery. There are groups who will not accept certain types of medical procedure on ethical grounds. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions.
  • Antibiotics – who should receive them if supply is limited?
  • DNA testing – who should be tested? Who should know?
  • Genetic screening – should insurance companies know?

Applications and funding of scienceEdit

How science is influenced by political groups. Who funds science? Who decides how to use scientific knowledge?

  • Global_warming_controversy. Who benefits from the acceptance of Global Warming Theory? Who would benefit if were found to be untrue?


Edexcel recommend the following resources except * which have been added to their list.


Best J — Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians and Activists (University of California Press, 2001) ISBN 0520219783

Brignell J — The Epidemiologist: Have They Got Scares for You! (Brignell Associates, 2004) ISBN 0953910822

Curran J — Mass Media and Society (Hodder Arnold, 2005) ISBN 0340884991

Goliszek A — In the Name of Science: A History of Secret Programs, Medical Research and Human Experimentation (St Martin’s Press, 2003) ISBN 0312303564

Jackson A R W and Jackson J — Forensic Science (Prentice Hall, 2004) ISBN 0130432512

Jewkes Y — Media and Crime: A Critical Introduction (Sage Publications Ltd, 2004) ISBN 0761947655

Michaels P J — Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media (Cato Institute US, 2005) ISBN 1930865791

Moreno J D — Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on Humans (Routledge Inc, 2000) ISBN 0415928354

Mur C — Animal Experimentation (Greenhaven Press, 2004) ISBN 073772000X

O’Sullivan T et alStudying the Media (Hodder Arnold, 2003) ISBN 0340807652

Spitz V — Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of Nazi Experiments on Humans (Sentient Publications, 2005) ISBN 1591810329


Office of Health and Safety (American website - has a set of scenarios that could provoke discussion).

Royal Society of Chemistry’s chemical science network.

*Sense About Science - debunking popular myths about science.

*The CSI Effect.

*Resources for discussing science