Friday, September 19, 2008

Scientific Illiteracy

The level of scientific illiteracy in this country is holding steady at stupendous levels. From the Republican Vice Presidential candidate all the way down to the man on the street, we've got people worrying that the world is going to end in 2012, whether we landed on the moon, or thinking that the earth is 5,000 years old. What kind of ass hat would think the earth is 5,000 years old? Sarah Palin?

A recent sampling of postings on Yahoo Answers brings to light the level of ignorance in our society. This dumb ass is one among millions who thinks the world is going to end in 2012. According to him, its a prediction of "Nostradamus":

Scientist say the earths magnetic field is starting to switch Could this be the 2012 doomsday fortold many years ago by Nostradamus Merlin, and many others. The earth is going to reverse it's polarity supposedly it has happened 1000s of times before it's an event that happens every 750000 years.

Of course most people get the 2012 date from the vaunted Mayan calendar:

The mayan calender ends on the winter soltice on dec 2012.There is evidence to support a grand alighnment of the sun,earth,and the center of the galaxy.Has this happened before?If so what were the effects?What are the predictions for this event?

And of course there is endless speculation we really didn't land on the moon. Some of the best evidence is that the flag on the moon was blowing in the wind.

It goes without saying that millions of people were afraid of death by the Large Hadron Collider. So where do all these ignorant, moronic views come from? I see two causes:

  • The Media/entertainment culture
  • Bad science education
OK I'm not a genius, but the media fills peoples heads full of crap day in and day out. There are a few bright spots, PBS, The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel. But they're lost in a haze surrounded by Brittney Spears, Tom Cruise, and endless entertainment drivel. And even the good cable channels promote pure bullshit all the time, presenting UFO shows and Ghost shows on the History Channel as if they had a basis in fact. Ratings rule because money rules.

Even good scientific programs suffer from some major problems. NOVA aired a good three part series on string theory. But the problem is, you have this magical thinking populace watching a show about extra dimensions when they don't even know basic astronomy and physics. So in a way a show featuring Brian Greene on string theory plays into their magical outlook.

When it comes to education, we've got some serious problems. Frankly I don't think some physics professors even give a shit. Many of them are so wrapped up in themselves and their imagined special, elite status as great thinkers they would rather get on with their research and don't care what the general public thinks. Others can't teach worth a damn. How often have you heard about boring, boring, boring, introductory physics classes? If you can't get the freshmen or high school students excited about physics, how are you going to create a scientifically literate population?

In any case, we've got a serious problem. We've got a major energy crisis on our hands thats only going to get worse. We live in a world with nuclear weapons and religious fanaticism. We have to make choices about space exploration and tools like the Large Hadron Collider. How can the population and their elected representatives make informed choices when they are completely scientifically illiterate? Most people are just along for the ride. They have a cell phone, a TV and a laser pointer and don't know or even care how they work or where they came from. And the scientists and engineers that made them don't care that the population doesn't know or care, they think non-scientific people are stupid and ignorant. This is a bad mix that's going to lead to trouble down the road.

1 comment:

Pollywog said...

I have not been able to locate news stories about Sarah Palin saying the things you mentioned. Do you have some references for that? If they exist, I would like to share them with people.