Science is a subject as broad as it is deep, meaning you’ll never need to worry about running out of material to study or resources to help you out! Pick any topic, and you’ll find enough experts, studies, and articles to fill a course load for an entire school, let alone 1 student.
But unlike some subjects like math or language arts, science often steps into territories that some people might find, shall we say, a little taboo. While these topics can spark some passionate discourse in classrooms, they might also make some students, parents, and teachers uncomfortable depending on how it’s broached, how it applies to the curriculum, and their own personal beliefs.
At Twine, we believe that teachers, parents, and students should work together to decide if a controversial science topic is worth tackling in the classroom. To give you an idea of what may be discussed in an average science class, we’ve compiled this list of controversial topics that you can go over with your child, parent, or teacher so you all can decide what may be appropriate to study together.
Even if none of these topics are discussed in the classroom, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let your curiosity guide you to new discoveries! Please feel free to use this list (and our list of really hard science questions) to inspire your next project, thesis, or debate—just always remember to check with the right groups to make sure it’s appropriate for the class.
Let’s dive in!
Are We Alone in the Universe?
If you start any science class with this question, you’re bound to start an exciting conversation.
While the idea of alien life isn’t as controversial as it was for previous generations, the suggestion of alien evidence on Earth has been the focus of endless articles, studies, and documentaries since the infamous Roswell Incident of 1947.
The topic has even seen new life in recent years thanks to declassified footage provided by the U.S. government thanks to organizations like To The Stars… Academy of Art & Science campaigning for their release. While the government maintains that these videos don’t suggest the existence of aliens on our planet, it’s hard not to imagine what these videos could be showing us.
So, what do you think? Do you want to believe?
UFOs aren’t the only thing keeping our eyes on the sky.
Ever since the moon landing, scientists have pondered the possibility of humans inhabiting the stars. And thanks to mega-rich entrepreneurs like Elon Musk (SpaceX) and Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin), a new kind of space race has ignited in the form of space colonization.
However, there’s much more to exploring the final frontier than boldly going where no man has gone before. Critics of space colonization often cite that life for these cosmic pioneers would be downright miserable even if we had the technology and training, while others want our governments and industries to fix the current issues on Earth before we start blasting off into the great unknown.
Climate Change: Is It Something to Worry About?
Speaking about the problems here on Earth, it’s time to talk about one of the modern age’s most urgent and controversial science topics: climate change.
While there is plenty of evidence pointing toward the effect human activity has on our planet, this topic has been heavily debated thanks to politicians, celebrities, and corporations all vying to gain public support.
As a result, talking about climate change can be a pretty sticky topic to cover in the classroom because of the range of opinions it produces.
Renewable & Alternative Energy
Jumping off of climate change, let’s look at a topic intrinsically tied to protecting and preserving our environment: using renewable and alternative energy.
There’s no question that natural gas and oil are the lifeblood of the modern world. We need it to power our homes, fuel our cars, and keep our industries afloat. However, our planet only has so much fossil fuel, and the effect of using these fuels is believed to be significantly impacting our environment over time.
As a result, scientists have started searching for other sources of energy. Some of the most common examples include solar and wind energy, but many critics believe these sources won’t be enough to produce the power we need efficiently and effectively.
Even nuclear energy, which can produce a significant amount of power with low carbon emissions, often conjures up the memories of the Chernobyl and Fukushima catastrophes. These events have left both of these areas too dangerous to travel to or live in, even to this day.
The Effect of Artificial Intelligence
When people think about the threat artificial intelligence may have on humans, many imagine the apocalyptic futures featured in popular movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day or The Matrix.
The truth is far more subtle than that.
A.I. has advanced considerably even in the last few years, and there is no doubt it has made our lives far more convenient and efficient. Still, these benefits are often plagued by concerns about our data privacy and a loss of jobs due to automation.
Should we allow A.I.’s to read our search history so companies like Amazon can fully personalize our drone-powered delivery service for convenience, or will this technology eventually leave us vulnerable and jobless?
Social Media, Smart Phones, & Staying Connected
Speaking of technology, imagine the mood in the classroom if the teacher demanded every student to turn in their smartphones at the beginning of class?
While there is no doubt that internet access is undoubtedly a valuable thing for every human being, questions are being raised about how we access this information and whether or not this information should be monitored, curated, or fact-checked.
On top of this, researchers are finding more and more people struggling to stay focused thanks to the number of features and apps a smart device can hold, while others have noted declining rates of mental health in young people who are constantly in touch with their smart device.
Treating Mental Health Problems as Medical Concerns
Much of the controversy that affects mental health and psychiatry comes down to debates on whether or not mental illnesses (like addiction, bipolarism, and depression) are legitimate health concerns that can be properly diagnosed and treated.
Mental health researchers and advocates have made some serious leaps in the past few decades to bring these illnesses to light, but there is still much work to be done to get the support they need from the medical community.
Alternative Medicines & Their Efficacy
The alternative medicine industry is growing, but researchers are still debating whether or not these complementary and holistic treatments are serving the public’s health.
Traditional medical practitioners criticize alternative medicines because of the lack of research put into their legitimacy. However, many alternative medicine supporters claim these treatments provide the relief people need without having to pay for expensive therapies or take part in a health system that might have the best interest of their patients in mind.
The Effect of Health Fads
Leaping off of alternative medicine is the growing rate of health and wellness fads popping up worldwide. Similar to alternative medicine, the health and wellness industry is exploding thanks to the power of social media personalities and celebrities raving about their proclaimed benefits.
Researchers of these trends have found wellness fads affect people in various ways, and it all depends on personal health. It’s not that these trends don’t work; it’s just essential for people to realize that they may only work for certain types of people. Before following the latest tea-tox trend, speak to a physician.
The Legitimacy of Vaccinations
Speaking of health, one of the most controversial subjects in the medical industry is vaccines and whether or not people should be forced to take them.
While vaccines have been a controversial topic for a number of years, debates exploded worldwide about their legitimacy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020 and the rise of misinformation spreading on social media.
Vaccine critics are skeptical about their effect on the human body. At the same time, supporters often point to historical examples of humans eradicating certain diseases with the help of vaccines.
GMO vs. Organic Foods
Scientists have long debated whether we should be using genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to help us produce the food we consume or if organic farming is a safer, natural way to feed our populations.
On the one hand, specific GMOs can help farmers produce crops more efficiently, but there are many questions about their use and safety. Who will decide which GMOs are safe for people to consume? Will we know if our food contains GMOs? What are the long-term effects of eating GMOs?
On the other hand, if we choose to pursue organic farming, how will we know if our food is safe if it’s not protected from pests or regulated by observatory parties? Is organic food healthier than GMO food? Should we be paying a premium on organic foods if they claim to be healthier?
Is Animal Testing Ethical?
The ethics of animal testing is a hotly debated subject in the science community, but it has led to some of the most innovative changes in our world. Without animal testing, we wouldn’t have the medicine we need to treat many health issues, like:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
Unfortunately, the uncomfortable truth is that this testing inflicts on the rights of animals and can sometimes lead to harm or even death. On the other hand, removing animal testing completely can make it much harder to find treatments that could save millions of human lives.
The Theory of Evolution
The theory of evolution is one of the biggest controversies to cover in science class, mostly because it directly conflicts with long-held religious beliefs that many people still share today.
However, religion isn’t the only thorn in evolution’s side. Some evolution critics believe that evolution can’t explain how certain complex biologies came to be (like the human eye, for example), though, over time, research has supported the idea that evolution is a more complicated process than we once thought.
Should We Be Genetically Engineering Humans?
If we could change the very fabric of our DNA, should we still do it?
This is a heavily controversial subject in the science community since the effect that genetic engineering could have on the human species can be enormous.
Supporters of genetic engineering believe that we can perfect our species over a few short generations, allowing us to live longer, healthier, more productive lives. At the same time, opponents are concerned with who will get to decide which traits are perfected and who will get to enjoy the benefits.
Cloning is another topic involving genetic engineering, but it remains controversial because of the low survival rates for clones.
Stem Cell Therapy
Researchers have found that stem cell therapy can help treat numerous health problems and diseases, like cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, and heart failure, but critics of it are concerned that its cost may be too high of a price to pay.
The main concern is about the ethics of human embryonic stem cell therapy. These stem cells are taken from a human embryo, but it destroys the embryo as a result. A much less controversial alternative would be using stem cells from adults, but these cells might not be as useful for scientists as embryonic stem cells.