Avoiding the science stupidity trap


  • Bonnie McBain University of Newcastle http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9751-5128
  • Andrew Yardy University of Newcastle
  • Frances Martin University of Newcastle
  • Hollie Tose University of Newcastle
  • Liam Phelan University of Newcastle
  • Ian van Altenaa University of Newcastle
  • Jill McKeowen University of Newcastle
  • Claire Pemberton University of Newcastle
  • Lindsey Fratus University of Newcastle
  • Michael Bowyer University of Newcastle


scientific thinking, active learning, pseudoscience, scientific literacy


Why do we only follow people who think like us on social media? Why is this dangerous? What are the risks of having a high IQ in science? Why do ‘flat earthers’ still exist? Why doesn’t scientific evidence always change how people think? Why are fake facts winning in the media? Moreover, why is this relevant to university science students? No one teaches us the foundational elements about how to think like a high quality scientist. Our university science students are often expected to osmotically absorb this knowledge as they spend their time remembering disciplinary facts and theories. An article in New Scientist (2019, No3218) shows that this is not good enough to prevent flawed thinking or ‘stupidity’. This course makes explicit to first year science students 1) what a high quality scientist is and 2) practical strategies on how to become a high quality scientist. It teaches students about the full repertoire of different types of scientific thinking and explains where and where not, to use them. A cohesive student-learning journey across the degree means that students apply the theory of high quality scientific thinking, through active learning in second and third year.

Author Biographies

Bonnie McBain, University of Newcastle

Bonnie is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle. She has won national awards for her teaching in sustainability science and does research on Ecological Footprinting.

Andrew Yardy, University of Newcastle

Instructional Designer, Centre for Teaching and Learning

Frances Martin, University of Newcastle

Professor in the School of Psychology

Hollie Tose, University of Newcastle

Quality Assurance, Teaching & Learning Officer, Office PVC - Science, Faculty of Science

Liam Phelan, University of Newcastle

Senior Lecturer, School of Environment and Life Sciences

Ian van Altenaa, University of Newcastle

Lecturer, School of Environmental and Life Sciences (Chemistry)

Jill McKeowen, University of Newcastle

Learning Advisor, Centre for Teaching and Learning

Claire Pemberton, University of Newcastle

Learning Advisor, Centre for Teaching and Learning

Lindsey Fratus, University of Newcastle

Senior Librarian, Academic Services, University Library Academic Division

Michael Bowyer, University of Newcastle

Professor, School of Environmental and Life Sciences Faculty of Science