2009-07-26 The formula

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Yet while scientific illiteracy is nothing to shrug at, the truth is that it's only part of a broader problem for which scientists themselves must shoulder a significant portion of the responsibility. Decrying ignorance and scientific illiteracy, many scientists treat their fellow citizens as empty vessels waiting for an infusion of knowledge. That is exactly wrong, and exactly why so many people, in turn, see science and scientists as distant, inscrutable, aloof, arrogant. Rather than blaming, scientists ought to be engaging with the public, trying to personally make their knowledge hit home and to instill by example (rather than from a distance) the nature and virtues of the scientific mindset - while also encouraging average Americans to ask their own questions and have their say. Scientists must make it clear that while they don't have all the answers, science is about searching for the truth, an imperfect process of doing the best one can with the information available, while knowing there is always more to learn - the epitome of humility.

Ask yourself: How much would more scientific literacy help the public, really, in understanding the toughest, most contentious issues? Undoubtedly, the more scientifically literate Americans are, the more they'll understand newspaper articles about science, and be able to follow public debates. But there's a limit: Scientific literacy is no shield against anti-evolutionists or global warming deniers, for example, who are often scientists themselves, who couch their arguments in sophisticated scientific language, and who regularly cite articles in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Having the knowledge equivalent of a PhD is more along the lines of what's necessary to refute them, and even then, the task requires considerable research and intellectual labor, far more than most people have the time for.


  • 2009-07-26 Solution: blame scientists, add fluff original (PZ Myers): "I must offer a significant criticism, however. They start out by pointing out that most scientists accept the evidence for global warming, while only about half the general public does. Right away, the comments start coming in complaining that AGW is wrong. Don't M&K know they aren't supposed to feed the conflict or stir up controversy or throw out ideas the public will find disagreeable? Where's the civility?"