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Scientists’ observations are influenced by their science ideas

Key ideas

  • When carrying out an investigation, scientists try things out in different ways to look for patterns that will either support or discount their science ideas.


How samples are collected, and how the results are recorded, is influenced by the aims of the investigation.

Gradualism versus catastrophism:
When the idea of a sudden climate change was first proposed, there was strong opposition from scientists who understood climate change only as a gradual process. The explanation of meteor impact (and the resulting dust in the atmosphere) is now widely accepted as an alternative theory to explain the extinction of the dinosaurs. The evidence did not change – an alternative theory caused a new pattern to be observed.


Both the types of investigations scientists undertake, and the patterns they observe, are influenced by their science ideas.

Teacher reflection

  • How can cultural and political events change the science ideas that scientists hold?
  • Why is it important for scientists to look for results that don’t fit the predicted pattern as well as results that do?
  • How can we be sure that scientists are not ignoring important information in their observations?