By Susan M. Nava-Whitehead, Sciences and Education Department, Becker College, Worcester, MA
Joan-Beth Gow, Biology Department, Anna Maria College, Paxton, MA
“Scientific research can reduce superstition by encouraging people to think and survey things in terms of cause and effect. Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order.” —Albert Einstein
Part I—Salem’s Secrets
1. What do you think caused the girls to behave this way?
2. In the opening passage, what “evidence” did the girls provide for the presence of witches/witchcraft?
3. Assume you are living in Salem in 1692. Develop a hypothesis based on your observations. (Remember that a hypothesis must be supported by scientific evidence.)
4. Reflect for a moment on this concept of evidence. How do we define “evidence” in science? Does the girls’ evidence pass scientific muster?
Part II—Mass Hysteria
Question 5: Have your thoughts regarding the events at Salem changed after examining this table? Reflect on the evidence you listed in Question 2.
Part III—Ergot: A Toxic Fungus
6. Incidences of witchcraft are found universally among cultures of this time, but none had the devastating impact that Salem’s had. What other factors may have contributed to the phenomena at Salem?
7. List evidence that the events at Salem could have been caused by ergot poisoning.
8. After reading Parts II and III of the case study, develop a second hypothesis, different from your first, explaining the events at Salem.
Part IV—Data Interpretation
9. Summarize the data by graphing it on the graph paper provided for you. Make sure you include a title for the graph, label the x and y-axis, and determine an appropriate scale that uses the whole graph sheet.
10. What do the data suggest? What symptoms are