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Entry #3:: Scientific Illiteracy: The Bane of America?

Posted 12-05-2009 at 10:47 PM by BeanMarine
Updated 12-06-2009 at 12:02 AM by BeanMarine
There's a scary trend that's taking place in America—and, no, it's not the advent of those hideous, neon colored plastic sunglasses—


I refuse to call this fashionable

It’s when half of all Americans believe that humans used to live with dinosaurs or that the sun revolves around the earth. The term that people use when someone believes that a common vaccination can lead to autism is generally called Scientific Illiteracy. And it’s a growing problem.

We are in a world propelled by science and technology. Groundbreaking discoveries occur every year, every day, and every second. The cure to HIV may be just around the corner; a program to accurately predict the next influenza strain may be just beyond the horizon. There’s no doubt about it, science has become a core part of our daily lives. We use it when we decide what food to eat, how to lose weight, or even who we vote for.

But all this information is progressively getting more complicated. And as this data becomes more obscure, as the numbers and probabilities, the graphs and charts become further convoluted and less understandable—the gap between science and the everyday American grows larger.


The tooth on the left is Science. The tooth on the right is the everyday American. The gap in-between is Scientific Illiteracy.

Once upon a time, America used to be one of the leading countries in science. We sent the first man to the moon, invented a vaccine for Polio, and were generally a pioneering force to be dealt with. Unfortunately, Present-Day America has been consistently scoring lower than other countries concerning scientific literacy. “The 1996 Third International Mathematics and Science Study ranked U.S. eighth-grade students 17th out of 41 countries”—Keith L. Black, MD. In 2000, the same study showed no difference.

How is it possible for us to live in a world that depends on science and technology that almost no one understands?

One theory blames the educational system. The problem lies not during Undergraduate school, Highschool or even Junior High, but in Elementary school—those essential K-12 years. Right from the start, children are taught to memorize cold, hard facts about nature, as if the information is engraved in stone, as if this information will never change. Truth of the matter is: we know shit about the world around us.

Regardless, the world still measures intellect by seeing how much information a person can cram into their cerebellum. Entry Exams for Special High Schools, college and graduate schools all emphasize the ability to memorize information rather than to think independently and the ability to approach and solve new problems. When was the last time you got partial credit for a multiple choice test? We have been led astray into thinking that we know everything about the world, when we honestly don’t.

Scientific Illiteracy is not an epidemic that inflicts only those outside of the sciences. It is also a problem prevalent in modern day physicians and especially medical students.


Med-students are one of the biggest groups suffering from Scientific Illiteracy

By the time undergraduate students enter medical school, they are already jaded. They no longer have inquiring minds, are not curious or passionate about understanding, but are simply a set of memorized facts that even they do not fully understand. All throughout their life, they have been taught to remember facts, that they will have already forgotten by the time they have graduated.

So how do we fix this problem? If the problem lies in our Educational System, then it’s the Educational System that we should revolutionize. Of course, treating it like it’s the sole answer to this problem is unrealistic, but revamping it may lead us one step forward.

Many have suggested that Science education be taught creatively. Rather than presenting facts, teachers should begin by saying: “We know nothing about the universe, and everything I’m about to teach you is probably theoretical”. We must allow students to challenge and question the basic fundamentals of science; we must allow them the freedom to think on their own and experience the exciting puzzles of nature, whose perplexity is what makes it so enticing to begin with. Only then, should we even begin to approach and more closely exam these puzzles.

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For anyone wondering why I'd bother writing about this issue: This is the topic for my final paper in my English class. This isn't going to be the exact layout of my essay, but it gets the fundamentals down (woohoo)

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  1. 7hatGuy's Avatar
    Pretty good post.

    I'm in agreement here that our educational system here in the states isn't the best. I think our scores on tests get slightly lower then the previous year (fuzzy memory). I remember being able to do some basic programming a couple years back when I was a sophmore.

    Now I'm a senior in AP Comp Science and my brain can sometimes barely think on how to make the program work or make make the methods for java.

    The only subject that I feel absolute stone cold facts are needed are for math. Most of the classes that people take should require some level of critical thinking, but if all we get fed are facts which were told are true and we get wrong other wise, why would we dare to try and veer and think something might be different?

    *The contents of this post may not make sense due to sleep deprivation
    permalink
    Posted 12-05-2009 at 11:39 PM by 7hatGuy 7hatGuy is offline
  2. SOC's Avatar
    Interesting outlook. :3
    permalink
    Posted 12-06-2009 at 07:44 AM by SOC SOC is offline
  3. Hykari's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by BeanMarine
    We must allow students to challenge and question the basic fundamentals of science;
    There's no use in this, because people are stuck on whatever so-called "experts" say as absolute fact.

    If I were to challenge something, it would be proving that the complex AIDS virus wasn't man-made (and somehow occurred spontaneously in nature). Or pretty much any other virus besides the common cold..
    permalink
    Posted 12-06-2009 at 10:19 AM by Hykari Hykari is offline
  4. BeanMarine's Avatar
    Quote:
    Interesting outlook. :3
    Glad you enjoyed it! It's a view that's shared by many, and I've just briefly breezed over the issue. If you're interested, you could try reading "The Art of Teaching Science" by Lewis Thomas, which goes a lot more in depth about the issue and how we might fix it.

    Quote:
    There's no use in this, because people are stuck on whatever so-called "experts" say as absolute fact.

    If I were to challenge something, it would be proving that the complex AIDS virus wasn't man-made (and somehow occurred spontaneously in nature). Or pretty much any other virus besides the common cold..
    If "experts" are the scientists, and if what you say about people listening to these experts like they were god is true--then you'd totally expect for the scientist and general public to be on the same level in terms of new, scientific discoveries. Trouble is: we're not. Scientists are shouldering the majority of the knowledge, but they're only a small, small minority of the world.

    I don't suggest we challenge all key concepts, but, like many others, I'd like to approach science from a new perspective that promotes free thinking rather than rote memorization. No doubt it's going to be hard, but certain schools like UCSF have already initiated programs that are experimenting with this kind of teaching. I can't remember what the program is called for the life of me, but I think the results have been pretty good.

    I once had a physics teacher that let us experience the magic of physics on our own, let us reach our own conclusions before delving into an explanation. It was one of my favorite classes in High School (unfortunately, I'm still really bad at physics, haha)
    permalink
    Posted 12-06-2009 at 01:52 PM by BeanMarine BeanMarine is offline
    Updated 12-06-2009 at 01:56 PM by BeanMarine
  5. Torikakae's Avatar
    If I remember correctly, I heard that schools in Japan and HK are more about self-discovery that memorization. There was a documentary about it, how it compared the USA and German education system against Japan's system. It was like that the western used a theory->experiment system while Japan used a think-about-it-first-and-experiment-with-friends->lesson system.
    permalink
    Posted 12-06-2009 at 05:54 PM by Torikakae Torikakae is offline
  6. SOC's Avatar
    Quote:
    Glad you enjoyed it! It's a view that's shared by many, and I've just briefly breezed over the issue. If you're interested, you could try reading "The Art of Teaching Science" by Lewis Thomas, which goes a lot more in depth about the issue and how we might fix it.
    No, I am a Christian, I believe God exists and every thing is absolute. But thank you! ^^
    permalink
    Posted 12-06-2009 at 06:38 PM by SOC SOC is offline
 
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