What differentiates scientific from, say, historical reasoning? Other than the content being reasoned about, I can't think of anything, so, I turn to the distinguished philosopher of science and epistemologist Susan Haack to discover that the notion of species of reasoning unique to science is unfounded. Haack writes.
Scientific inquiry is continuous with the most ordinary of everyday inquiry. There is no mode of inference, no "scientific method," exclusive to science and guaranteed to produce true, more nearly true, or more empirically adequate results ... And, as far as [science] is a method, it is what historians or detectives or investigative journalists or the rest of us do when we really want to find something out: make an informed conjecture about the possible explanationsof a puzzling phenomenon, check how it stands upto the best evidence we can get, and then use our judgment whether to accept it, more or less tentatively, or modify, refine, or replace it.The practices of good science are distinguished by that "informed conjecture"--by a special dependence upon technology (e.g., instruments that broaden the human range of perception), and by especially strong and well-enforced rules having to do with scrutiny and testing of claims and reproducibility of results. But they are not distinguished by an array of clearly identifiable, cognitively unique forms of reasoning.
What then, is to be understood by scientific reasoning? The answer cannot be very deep because the question isn't. Scientific reasoning is using, within a framework of scientific content, certain general cognitive abilities that develop over time or can be encouraged in most learners. So, there is not much that is exclusively scientific about such reasoning other than the fact that one is thinking about scientific content. Scientific reasoning is a sibling to, if not perfectly congruent with, historical reasoning, which is the use of similar cognitive basics in the context of records and commentary on the past. Scientific reasoning is deployed with hypotheses and observations about nature. It has other siblings as well: social, artistic, and literary reasoning for example.
The Bao et al. study showed that the Chinese and American cohorts had about the same level of general reasoning ability. Yet, the American students access this ability when attempting to reasonwhithin the Physics domain because they lacked the Phsyics content knowledge.
Also, if you want to believe that the typical Chinese education is painful rote and the typical American education is overly constructivist, then you're also led to the conclusion that a rote learning is every bit as capable of developing general reasoning skills as a constructivist education (or every bit as incapable depending on whether you think the skills demonstrated were sufficient). I, however, think it's more a matter of degree between the more traditional education that the Chinese cohort received (which isn't rote, but mostly problem-solving) and the typical education of the American cohort which is a hodge podge of content-lite traditional education with an emphasis on constructivist learning activities.
So, to the extent that the Chinese cohort received more content instruction it aided their understanding within the confines of the content domain (i.e., physics) and it did not diminish their general reasoning abilities. In contrast, the increased instructional time devoted to constructivist activities not only failed to improve general reasoning abilities (as the theory goes), but also hinered their ability to reason within a particular domain (physics) because the content of that domain was not learned. And, whatever benefits that supposedly come from constructivist learning failed to compensate for teh lack of content analysis that was forfeited by reducing the amount of content knowledge taught while pursuing those constructivist activities.
There are opportunity costs in education, as there are in every other human endeavor.