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Lower secondary school students’ scientific literacy and their proficiency in identifying and appraising health claims in news media: a secondary analysis using large-scale survey data
  1. Lena Victoria Nordheim1,2,
  2. Kjell Sverre Pettersen3,
  3. Birgitte Espehaug1,
  4. Signe Agnes Flottorp4,5,
  5. Øystein Guttersrud3,6
  1. 1 Centre for Evidence-Based Practice, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Bergen, Norway
  2. 2 Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
  3. 3 Faculty of Health Sciences, Oslo Metropolitan University, Oslo, Norway
  4. 4 Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo, Norway
  5. 5 Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  6. 6 Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Norwegian Centre for Science Education, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
  1. Correspondence to Lena Victoria Nordheim; lvn{at}


Objectives Scientific literacy is assumed necessary for appraising the reliability of health claims. Using a national science achievement test, we explored whether students located at the lower quartile on the latent trait (scientific literacy) scale were likely to identify a health claim in a fictitious brief news report, and whether students located at or above the upper quartile were likely to additionally request information relevant for appraising that claim.

Design Secondary analysis of cross-sectional survey data.

Setting and participants 2229 Norwegian 10th grade students (50% females) from 97 randomly sampled lower secondary schools who performed the test during April–May 2013.

Outcome measures Using Rasch modelling, we linked item difficulty and student proficiency in science to locate the proficiencies associated with different percentiles on the latent trait scale. Estimates of students’ proficiency, the difficulty of identifying the claim and the difficulty of making at least one request for information to appraise that claim, were reported in logits.

Results Students who reached the lower quartile (located at −0.5 logits) on the scale were not likely to identify the health claim as their proficiency was below the difficulty estimate of that task (0.0 logits). Students who reached the upper quartile (located at 1.4 logits) were likely to identify the health claim but barely proficient at making one request for information (task difficulty located at 1.5 logits). Even those who performed at or above the 90th percentile typically made only one request for information, predominantly methodological aspects.

Conclusions When interpreting the skill to request relevant information as expressing students’ proficiency in critical appraisal of health claims, we found that only students with very high proficiency in science possessed that skill. There is a need for teachers, healthcare professionals and researchers to collaborate to create learning resources for developing these lifelong learning skills.

  • community child health
  • public health
  • statistics & research methods

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  • Contributors LVN, KSP and ØG developed a revised version of the news brief item and the coding guide, and coded the student responses. ØG administered the survey, managed the data handling, conducted the Rasch analysis and constructed the achievement scale. LVN wrote the preliminary draft of the paper with contributions from ØG. The paper was critically reviewed by KSP, BE and SAF for important intellectual content.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The data set used in this paper did not include information that identified individuals, so ethical approval was not required under Norwegian regulations.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement No additional information is available. A data file with a sample of the coded student responses (in Norwegian) is available on reasonable request. Please contact Øystein Guttersrud (