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Salem's Secrets

A Case Study on Hypothesis Testing and Data Analysis



Co Authors:

Susan Nava-Whitehead
Sciences and Education Department
Becker College
susan.whitehead@becker.edu

Joan-Beth Gow
School of Fire and Health Sciences
Anna Maria College
jgow@annamaria.edu

Abstract:

This case study examines the Salem witch trials that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 1600s. It is designed to provide students with an opportunity to analyze and critique data and help them understand the scientific method. Originally developed for a non-majors general biology course, the case could be used in a variety of other courses such as psychology, microbiology, sociology, biostatistics, and American history by focusing on particular aspects of the case. Likewise, this case provides an excellent opportunity for teaching across the curriculum.

Objectives:
  • Apply the principles of the scientific method to analyze and evaluate evidence critically.
  • Define the term “evidence” using scientific terminology: observable, measurable, repeatable.
  • Outline the defining social dynamics of mass hysteria.
  • Identify the signs and symptoms of ergot poisoning.
  • Synthesize data to formulate and defend a conclusion.
  • Appreciate and communicate that scientific understanding is contextual—it is interpreted at the technological level and within cultural norms of the time.
Keywords: Mycotoxin; ergot toxicity; fungal poisoning; psychogenic illness; mass hysteria; Salem, Masschusetts; colonial New England; 17th century America; witch trial; witchcraft
Topical Area: Scientific argumentation, Scientific method, Social issues, History of science
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Microbiology   Epidemiology   Biology (General)   Sociology   Psychology  
Date Posted: 12/11/08
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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