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Salem's Secrets

A Case Study on Hypothesis Testing and Data Analysis


Author(s)

Susan Nava-Whitehead
Sciences and Education Department
Becker College
susan.whitehead@becker.edu
Joan-Beth Gow
School of Professional Studies
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 Areas

Scientific argumentation, Scientific method, Social issues, History of science

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division

Format

PDF

Type / Methods

Interrupted

Language

English

Subject Headings

Microbiology  |   Epidemiology  |   Biology (General)  |   Sociology  |   Psychology  |  


Date Posted

12/11/08

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