Printer Friendly

Practices of Science: Communication & Collaboration in the Scientific Community

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices

SF Fig. 1.3. Pioneering scientists in evolutionary biology (A) Charles Darwin at age 45 in 1854 (B) Alfred Russell Wallace at age 39 in 1862

Image A courtesy of Henry Maull and James Fox, image B courtesy of James Marchant, both adapted from Wikimedia Commons

Scientific ideas are often developed or refined through collaboration with other researchers. Charles Darwin (SF Fig. 1.3 A) and Alfred Russell Wallace (SF Fig. 1.3 B) both developed similar theories, in part because they were both familiar with the work of other scientists and philosophers. For example, both were familiar with the work of Thomas Malthus, an economist who described population growth in human societies. Darwin and Wallace used Malthus’ ideas as inspiration to find out why animal and plant populations were naturally kept from overpopulating their environments. Darwin and Wallace corresponded with one another for many years, and Wallace even sent Darwin specimens from his travels. Darwin had been working on a book that carefully articulated his ideas for many years, but it was only when Wallace sent Darwin a copy of his own papers expressing a nearly identical idea that Darwin realized the time to publish his work had arrived. Darwin and Wallace both presented their work at an 1858 meeting of the Linnean Society of London, a major professional organization. Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, while Wallace continued to travel and study biogeography, the geographical distribution of life. The story of Darwin and Wallace highlights the importance of the scientific community. Scientific thought progresses as scientists examine the work of other scientists and ask questions about that work. Darwin and Wallace’s presentation of scientific papers at the meeting of the Linnean Society gave the scientific community a chance to closely examine the two men’s work and share their own ideas and observations. Darwin and Wallace could then incorporate the new information presented by their colleagues into their own work.


Communication and Collaboration

With only one or two pieces of a puzzle, it is hard to determine what the overall picture looks like. In many ways, science is like putting together a puzzle without a picture guide. As more and more pieces of information are fitted together, there is a clearer picture of what is happening.


Try this example of trying to piece together a science puzzle using information from Activity: Modeling Evolution.

Your group has some information about the activity. Is it enough for you to figure out what the activity is about?

What your group knows: The activity uses two kinds of paperclips to simulate two types of bacteria (plastic coated and regular silver)

What you think this means:


Talk to another group and find out what information they have. If you put your information together, does it clarify the “big picture” at all?

What the other group knows: The activity uses dice to simulate exposure to an antibiotic drug

What you think this means:


Keep collaborating with the other scientists in the room until you think you have it figured out.

What the other scientists in the room know: In the dice game, regular silver paperclips have a higher rate of survival than the plastic coated paperclips

What I think it means:


Question Set
  1. How close was your original hypothesis to the final hypothesis you had about the Modeling Evolution activity?
  2. How did your original hypothesis compare to the hypotheses of other groups?
  3. When two scientists have “competing” hypotheses, how might that situation be resolved?
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.