The conceptions of reflective practice in education have their roots at least partly in the work of Dewey, who describes reflection as “the active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it and the further conclusions to which it tends” (Dewey 1933, p.9). This conception of reflection has carried on into more-focused efforts to describe critical reflection as a tool for improving professional practice (where academic and educational practice is the particular interest of this study); “… some puzzling or troubling or interesting phenomenon” allows the practitioner to access “the understandings which have been implicit in his action, understandings which he surfaces, criticizes, restructures, and embodies in further action” (Schön 1983, p. 50). Both of these descriptions embody a central idea of critical reflective practice: that the examination of practice involves the divination (in a rational, critical sense) of order and perhaps meaning from the facts at hand (which, in turn, are brought to light by the events that occur as the results of implementation of theory). As part of a lecture series, Gottlieb defined science as “an intellectual activity carried out by humans to understand the structure and functions of the world in which they live” (Gottlieb 1997). While science and critical reflective practice attempt to build models about different parts of our world – the natural world and the world of professional (educational) practice respectively – both embody certain underlying aims and methodologies. Indeed, it is striking that in these definitions the simple replacement of the terminology of reflective practice with the terminology of science (or vice versa) leads to a perfectly comprehensible definition of either.

It is this confluence that this paper studies, building from two separate foundations, critical reflective practice and science. Via their models and exemplars of their “models-in-practice” – action research and the scientific method – the paper forms a bridge between two empirical practices. We contend that the ability to do this is no accident, but stems from a deeper substrate that they have in common: empirical epistemology, as expressed in post-enlightenment models of the development of reliable knowledge.