The need to create a scientifically literate community is a widely accepted educational goal (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; Uno and Bybee, 1994). The question of what represents scientific literacy, or what a literate person should know or be able to do, is far more arguable (Baram-Tsabari and Yarden, 2005). Scientific literacy is a general concept that has had, and continues to have, a wide variety of meanings (DeBoer, 2000). According to Norris and Phillips (2003), the fundamental sense of science literacy is the ability to read and write science texts.
Scientific literacy can be thought of as a blend of three knowledge dimensions: nature of science, interaction of science and society, and enduring important scientific terms and concepts (Bybee, 1997). Palincsar and Brown (1984) introduced several activities that readers can exercise for improving their scientific literacy while reading scientific articles, such as: questioning, clarifying, and predicting.
According to Shamos (1995), there are two major operational definitions for functional and "true" scientific literacy (quotation marks in the original). Functional scientific literacy is characterized by the ability to converse, read, and write coherently in a nontechnical but meaningful context. Still, a functionally-literate person, according to Shamos, lacks an understanding of the fundamental role played by theories in the practice of science, as well as the role of experiments, reliance on evidence and the ability to think critically. On the contrary, the "true" scientifically literate individual has the ability to use those scientific ways of thinking (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990; Shamos, 1995).
Recent trends in cognitive science have not made scientific literacy easier to attain, but they have made the practices, through which educators meet its challenges more interpretable (Klein, 2006). Science literacy education helps students achieve formally valid reasoning using perceptually driven operations, construct written explanations and arguments using speech-like and narrative language. The prototypical example of a science text is the professional research article (Klein 2006). It is prototypical in the sense that it has been integral to the history of science (Bazerman, 1988), and it is considered the common genre for communication among scientists (Yore, Hand and Prain, 2002). Most importantly, other forms of science discourse, including textbooks and students’ own science writing, share some of its distinctive features. Therefore, one possible way for gaining scientific literacy is using scientific research articles for learning. This process can facilitate a deeper exploration of knowledge-building, such as the formulation of investigable questions and the development and defense of knowledge claims (O'Neill and Polman, 2004).
According to several studies in higher education, which were carried out in this context, when university students are asked to read scientific research articles, they face difficulties in distinguishing explanations of phenomena from the phenomena themselves (Murcia, 2009; Norris and Phillips, 2003). Reading research articles might then give the learners important elements of scientific literacy (Colleagues and Author, 2011) and reduce their high level of over-rated self-confidence of their ability to understand scientific research papers (Norris and Phillips, 2003). Reading scientific articles can assist not just in closing the gap between public knowledge and the frontiers of scientific inquiry, it can also help promote components of scientific literacy including acquaintance with the rationale of a research plan, exposure to research methods and their suitability to the research questions, and developing the ability to critically assess the goals and conclusions of scientific research (Yarden, Brill and Falk, 2001). It can also serve the view of education, which promotes young people's awareness of multiple points of view, an ability to establish relationships between processes, scales, and contexts, which may be nonlinearly related, and creatively practice forms of interrelations with others (Gray, Camino, Barbiero and Gray, 2006).