1.1 Case Study: Why Should You Learn About Science?

Created by: CK-12/Adapted by: Christine Miller

Figure 1.1.1 Excitement!

Case Study: To Give a Shot or Not

Samantha and Aki are expecting their first child. They are excited for the baby to arrive, but they are nervous, too. Will the baby be healthy? Will they be good parents? It seems like there are a million decisions to make. Will Samantha breastfeed or will they use formula? Will they buy a crib or let the baby sleep in their bed? Samantha goes online to try to find some answers. She finds a website by an author who writes books about parenting. On this site, she reads an article that argues that children should not be given many standard childhood vaccines, including the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The article claims that the MMR vaccine has been proven to cause autism. It gives examples of three children who came down with autism-like symptoms shortly after their first MMR vaccination at one year of age. The author believes that the recent increase in the incidence of children diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorders is due to the fact that childhood vaccinations have also increased.

Samantha is concerned. She does not want to create lifelong challenges for her child by increasing his risk of autism. Besides, aren’t diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella basically eradicated by now? Why should she endanger the health of her baby by injecting him with vaccines for diseases that are a thing of the past?

A sleeping infant swaddled in blankets.
Figure 1.1.2 When infants are too young to receive vaccinations, they are protected from contracting life-threatening diseases by the immunity of those around them who have received their vaccinations.

Once baby James is born, Samantha and Aki bring him to the pediatrician’s office. Dr. Rodriguez says James needs some shots. Samantha is reluctant and shares what she read online. Dr. Rodriguez assures Samantha that the study that originally claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been found to be fraudulent, and that vaccines have repeatedly been demonstrated safe and effective in peer-reviewed studies.

Although Samantha trusts her doctor, she is not fully convinced. What about the increase in the number of children with autism and the cases where symptoms of autism appeared after MMR vaccination?  Samantha and Aki have a tough decision to make, but a better understanding of science can help them. In this chapter, you will learn about what science is (and what it is not), how it works, and how it relates to human health. At the end of this chapter, you will learn how Samantha and Aki use scientific evidence and reasoning to help them decide whether they should vaccinate their baby.

As you read this chapter, think about the following questions:

  1. How do you think the quality of Samantha’s online source of information about vaccines compares to Dr. Rodriguez’s sources?
  2. Do you think the arguments presented here that claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism are scientifically valid? Could there be alternative explanations for the observations?
  3. Why do you think diseases like measles, polio, and mumps are rare these days? Why are we still vaccinating for these diseases?

Chapter Overview: Science

In this chapter, you will learn about the nature and process of science. Specifically, you will learn about:

  • What science is and the types of questions it can answer.
  • How scientific knowledge advances through systematic and repeated experimentation and testing.
  • How scientific ideas are open to revision, although sound scientific ideas can withstand repeated testing.
  • What a scientific theory is and how it differs from common usage of the word “theory.”
  • Examples of scientific breakthroughs in biology, including the development of the first vaccines, Mendel’s laws of inheritance, and the germ theory of disease.
  • The scientific method, how it is used to answer scientific questions, and how it is often a nonlinear and iterative process.
  • How scientific experiments are designed and carried out, including the use of controls, the manipulation of variables to test the effects on other variables, and ways to minimize sources of error.
  • The importance of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the ways in which knowledge can be collected and handed down through many generations.
  • Characteristics of pseudoscience, which is defined as a claim, belief, or practice that is presented as scientific but does not adhere to scientific standards and methods.

Figure 1.1.1

 Excitement by Randy Rooibaatjie on Unsplash, used under the Unsplash License (https://unsplash.com/license).

Figure 1.1.2

Baby in black and white swaddle blanket, by Julie Johnson on Unsplash, used under the Unsplash License (https://unsplash.com/license).


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Human Biology by Christine Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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