Monthly Archives: August 2009

Is Scientific Illiteracy The Fault Of Scientists?

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:

Darwin series:

All of our events and reading groups:


NSFW–Twitter: Cut Down on the Porn

These followings by porn-cam sites and what not get reported eventually, as they reach a certain scale. But look how a porn site can also have willing (somewhat) followers. This one has 21, including an infopreneur, several Iranian green wearing slacktivists, professional golfer John Daly and me (for about 20 more seconds). Who else will spam & porn ensnare on Twitter? How long before porn and spam become real problems on Twitter?

twitter porn

Charles Blow Infographic on Music Industry Ebbings


Why Journalists Need to Tend to Comments

From Fred Wilson’s blog. From a poolside on vacation, he gets into the issue of whether comments at the end of stories are worth the journalist’s time to interact with. His conclusion is that engagement is absolutely necessary and it is advice worth heeding:

But if the author of the news story, or opinion piece, or blog post, tends to the comments, replies to the good ones, signals the bad ones, chastises the loudmouth bullies, and generally runs the comment threads like a serious discussion group, a serious discussion will result.

It’s an issue for the news industry because tending to comment threads is not part of a journalist’s traditional job. But I would argue that it is now and they ought to get busy doing it. For one, the journalists that do it and do it well will be better read. And they’ll be better informed. They’ll get tips in the comment threads. They’ll get constructive criticism that will help them do their job better. And they’ll get leads on new stories before others will.