The DeHavilland Blog

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Is the US hostile to science?

It certainly appears that way from an article published a few days ago in the New York Times (click here; free registration required). While this is not a new phenomenon - it's been in the works for quite a while - top representatives of Cornell and Stanford highlight how the ever-larger debate on teaching intelligent design in schools is representative of a growing bias against science. Acting Cornell president Hunter Rawlings:

Rawlings said the (intelligent design) dispute was widening political, social,
religious and philosophical rifts in U.S. society. "When ideological division
replaces informed exchange, dogma is the result and education suffers,'' he
said.

Also from the article:

Polls for many years have shown that a majority of Americans are at odds
with key scientific theory. For example, as CBS poll this month found that 51
percent of respondents believed humans were created in their present form by
God. A further 30 percent said their creation was guided by God. Only 15 percent
thought humans evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of
years.

Other polls show that only around a third of American adults accept the
Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, even though the concept is
virtually uncontested by scientists worldwide.

"When we ask people what they know about science, just under 20 percent
turn out to be scientifically literate,'' said Jon Miller, director of the
center for biomedical communication at Northwestern University.

He said science and especially mathematics were poorly taught in most
U.S. schools, leading both to a shortage of good scientists and general
scientific ignorance.

Only 20% are scientifically literate. And isn't that the sort of thing that replicates itself across generations? If I'm not scientifically literate, how supportive am I going to be of schools or others orienting my kid in that direction? Probably not very, especially if you're contradicting my belief systems in the process. And in the meantime, other countries are passionate about science, recognizing that it represents their future.

So what's the solution? How can you get parents to "give up their kids to science" so to speak? All I can see is a concerted effort at all levels to drive home the simple message that "science equals success." If you want our country to prosper - if you want your kid to have a good job when he/she grows up - man, you better let them loose. Otherwise we are doomed to fail, and I do not believe that to be an understatement.

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