Update on scientific literacy piece

I’m still working on that piece on scientific literacy for my writing about science course. I mentioned it in an earlier post.
Here are some of the parts and quotes that I have cut out:

  • A recent Columbia graduate comments on her experience in a course called “Better Planet By Design,” saying that, “It made me realize that we can have a lot more of an effect on the environment than I realized. I mean I knew we were contributing to all these things like global warming, but I thought the situation was kind of hopeless. Are we really going to stop using fossil fuels and all this stuff then I learned that there were a lot of things that really can make a large effect and I thought that was really interesting.”
  • “So that’s a problem if you are trying to encourage children to like science, like maths. To be able to do them, to not be afraid of them. If you’re someone who has gotten into a field specifically because you are afraid of it or you don’t have as much of an interest, it’s going to cause problems when trying to get other people interested in it.”
  • “I think that there is a lot of involvement of politics with science that people almost don’t care to look into because they have some emotional investment in holding their viewpoint especially with stem cell research and evolution versus creationism. Like somehow conflicts with their religion.”
  • “It’s sort of like they are finding science to back up their preexisting sort of moral ideas and I feel like when someone reads something that backs up something they already think, what’s like a widely held societal norm like say about gender roles, like about adolescence and what that means in society or something, that you don’t want to look any further because it already confirmed what you already thought.”
  • “I think that when you have a little bit more knowledge and have read scientific studies about biological mechanisms and how these things actually work and how studies are done, then you have a better sense when you are reading the newspaper about whether the alarming statistic you are reading is actually alarming. You could think a little more critically about whether it’s just correlation and not causation.”

I’m handing in a second draft today, but the final draft should be done by the end of this week. Hopefully I will post it here soon after!

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6 Responses

  1. Scientific literacy: making science concepts into “household names” | science before breakfast says

    [...] many of these science concepts become “household names.” Previous posts about this piece: http://chewbear.beforebreakfast.net/2009/04/27/update-scientific-literacy/ [...]

  2. chewbear says

    Thanks for the link to the video. I had not seen that before! I also like the graphic that was underneath it that said “The stupid. It burns.”
    I think part of the problem is that people who don’t get science are skeptical of processes that occur at geological time scales. Our brains have trouble comprehending things that we cannot relate to our own life’s scale.

    I can’t believe that the congressman thought he “stumped” Dr.Chu! Why bring in a scientist if you don’t believe anything he says? He was obviously not open-minded about anything that Dr.Chu would have said and only wanted to confirm what he already believed. Unless he meant “stumped” like the blogger suggested, in the way that Dr.Chu was not expecting this question…

  3. Nat says

    I should point out that right after the above-mentioned exchange, the congressman wrote in his Twitter stream that he had just stumped Dr. Chu.

    http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/04/rep-joe-barton-i-stumped-nobel-prize-winning-scientist.php

  4. Nat says

    I like these quotes you’ve picked out, especially the ones about how so many people only see science as useful when it backs up things they already believe. (And of course, shun science or even see it as an enemy entity when it goes against what they believe.)

    In the 1600s Galileo was tried by the Inquisition for heresy, on suspicion for believing in heliocentrism, which was considered contrary to scripture by the church back then. The Catholic Church has since gotten a lot more forward-thinking in terms of their respect for science, recently with regards to evolution. But other conservative (and usually religious) organizations have been stepping to continue a strong distrust of science, as an antagonistic entity that goes against their own ideology.

    It reminded me of this video I saw recently. This is ridiculous- the amount of disrespect, combined with ignorance, that is displayed in this exchange is representative of these sorts of problems, which I think exist at all levels of our society.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/04/23/speaking-of-texan-doomism/

  5. chewbear says

    That’s interesting to hear. The person I talked to may have taken the class several years ago, so the structure of the class may be different though I am not sure. I think it would be difficult for any type of course to cover topics like this and prepare people to make changes, mostly because we don’t have a good idea of what kind of changes are really necessary or what will be successful or not. But I guess part of the process is figuring this out along the way!

  6. Lili says

    I’m in that class right now! It’s called A Better Planet By Design. Interestingly, I think it’s actually turned me off pursuing a career in environmental engineering, at least in the way the class lays out the options. It seems to cater too much to people who don’t work in the hard sciences, and though that kind of general education is definitely necessary for spreading awareness and scientific literacy, I can’t agree that it’s particularly useful for training people to go on to work and make changes in those fields.