HomeThe Asia-Pacific Education Researchervol. 21 no. 2 (2012)

Students’ Domain-Specific Scientific Epistemological Beliefs: A Comparison between Biology and Physics

Silvia Wen-yu Lee | Chin-chung Tsai

Discipline: Education



Among recent studies of students’ epistemological beliefs, great attention has been devoted to science education. However, investigation across different domains of science is rare. The major purpose of this study is to compare students’ scientific epistemological beliefs (SEBs) in biology and physics. In this qualitative study, interviews were conducted to 1) recognize domain-general and domain-specific dimensions of SEBs derived from the interview data, and 2) compare students’ beliefs about biology and physics for the “simplicity” and “certainty” dimensions defined in previous studies. The research subjects in this study included 18 college students majoring in science or engineering. The results suggest a framework with four dimensions of SEBs. Students’ SEBs for biology and physics appeared to be domain-specific for the structural-within and structural-across dimensions, but domain-general for the pragmatic and empirical dimensions. In addition, the students believed that physics was more coherent and certain than biology. This study concludes that domain-general and domain-specific SEBs co-exist for different science domains, and that some dimensions of SEBs may be nested. Suggestions regarding revision or clarification of some previously defined dimensions of SEBs are provided.