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The Sciences

Still Dreaming of the Day...

Cosmic VarianceBy cjohnsonAugust 31, 2005 6:45 AM

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In my opening post, I spoke of a dream of mine:

I dream of a day when, basic scientifically educated conversation will be heard at any dinner table alongside conversations about politics, entertainment, music, literature and all of those other wonderful things.

I have this dream for several reasons, but one main practical concern about the prevailing (and seemingly growing) science-illiteracy of our culture is that fact that we live in a world which is dominated by things scientific. So many of the tools we use everyday, and -more importantly perhaps- the air we breathe, food we eat, water we drink, and several other inevitable aspects of our lives, are connected to science in some way - these things are all altered in some way by society's actions, and controlled by its science and technology. But yet people are happy to leave to others those decisions about the science that dominates so much of our lives. In even the most "educated" circles, it is ok to giggle at the dinner party about the fact that we don't know the first thing about F=ma, don't have the faintest idea of how electricity works, or what DNA does, but everyone would be appalled at someone who at the same party admitted to not knowing who Michael Jackson was (I don't mean the author of the excellent guide to Scottish Single Malts), or would be a bit embarrassed to admit that they had not read some novel from the standard canon. Anyway, I could rant on at this at length, but you get the idea. I was rather pleased to have it reaffirmed that my views and concerns (which constitute the lion's share of my motivation for taking part in this blogging endeavour) are shared by some, upon reading today's Science Times article by Cornelia Dean. It was a profile of Jon Miller, a political scientist at Northwestern. I recommend that you have a read of it, as it is quite interesting. It's encouraging to read in the article that:

science literacy has doubled over the past two decades

(how is this measured though, and with what margin of error, I wonder...) although, we should not get too excited yet, since apparently:

only 20 to 25 percent of Americans are "scientifically savvy and alert"

Further, that point which is dear to my heart is mentioned:

people's inability to understand basic scientific concepts undermines their ability to take part in the democratic process

Yes! Yes! Yes! Here's another extract:

...in the era of nuclear tests he asked people whether they knew about strontium 90, a component of fallout. Today, he asks about topics like the workings of DNA in the cell because, "if you don't know what a cell is, you can't make sense of stem cell research"

He's also done some studies on on what socio-economic factors are correlated with adherence to creationism and rejection of Darwinian theories, the results of which would be interesting to see, I'd say. -cvj

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