Plenty of comments were provoked by this article in the Boston Globe seeking to understand how or whether scientists are to blame for America’s scientific illiteracy. The impetus for the story was the study released earlier in July from the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A slight majority of Americans are functionally illiterate about basic scientific concepts, such knowing what distinguishes a stem cell from a regular cell or knowing which is larger, an atom or an electron. To wit:
87% of scientists say humans evolved from other living things over time
32% of Americans in general say humans evolved from other living things over time
I’m not at all surprised by Americans’ scientific ignorance. Most never continue their interest in science after high school. Science is hard, and cumulative and requires patience. Also, the more interesting new science developed over the past 100 years has been largely theoretical (quantum physics, chaos theory, artificial intelligence, evolution) or so tiny/distant as to be unfathomable (nanotechnology, deep-space astronomy, biotechnology). What you can’t see or fathom is hard to maintain interest in.
That is what makes reacquainting people with first principles so important. Amateurs should spend more time reading the classics works of science and recapture the wonder that emerged from the birth of new sciences. We’re not going to solve today’s problems reading Newton, Aristotle and Darwin but general interest in science may never get a larger footing if laymen are asked to dive into the deepest waters first.
We are kicking off a free Darwin 150th Anniversary lecture series at Harvard with top scientists – and via webcast and phone. We have 250,000 Facebook users in our Darwin group – and we are reaching
Americans who never thought they would open a page of Darwin or interact with a leading scientist. And we are helping scientists interact with people they would otherwise not be able to reach through
typical science or general public science publications.
If any readers want to sign-up for the Darwin lecture series or any of our other free-to-the public stuff go here:
All of our events and reading groups: