Beyond Construction: Five arguments for the role and value of critique in learning science

Joseph Henderson, Anna MacPherson, Jonathan Osborne, Andrew Wild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


This paper argues that science education has overemphasized the importance of construction at the expense of critique. In doing so, it draws on two key premises—Ford's argument that the construction of knowledge requires a dialectic between construction and critique and Mercier and Sperber's theory of argumentative reasoning that critique is essential for epistemic vigilance. Five separate cases are presented which argue that the absence of critique within school science limits the opportunities for students to engage in scientific reasoning making the learning of science less effective. These five arguments incorporate research literature surrounding the nature of science, epistemology, literacy, pedagogy, and motivation. Furthermore, we draw on data collected from cognitive think-aloud interviews to show that students can, with the appropriate prompts, engage in the important epistemic activity of critique. We conclude by examining the implications for the teaching and learning of science. In essence, we argue that the undervaluing of critique within the curriculum and pedagogy of school science results in a failure to develop the analytical faculties which are the valued hall mark of the practicing scientist; a misrepresentation of the nature of science; and, more importantly, a less effective learning experience. Critique, therefore, needs to play a central role in the teaching and learning of science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1668-1697
Number of pages30
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number10
StatePublished - Jul 3 2015


  • Argumentation
  • Questioning
  • Reasoning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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