Science and Public Ignorance July 12, 2009Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Science.
Tags: American anti-intellectualism, media distortions of science, public perceptions of science, Scientific illiteracy
There was some very interesting (and disturbing) polling information released last week regarding public attitudes toward science. Via CNET:
In the current survey, only 27 percent of Americans cited scientific advancement as one of the country’s most important achievements, compared with 47 percent in May 1999.
That is a curious drop-off in just 10 years. I’m not sure what the explanation is although scientific illiteracy may have much to do with it.
Among those [scientists] surveyed, 85 percent see the public’s lack of scientific knowledge as a major problem. Almost half criticize the public for having unrealistic expectations about scientific progress.
If the public has unrealistic expectations about science, when science inevitably doesn’t deliver, the public may be disappointed in the promise of science.
The media may contribute to the public’s scientific illiteracy.
The media also shares in the blame, say scientists. About 48 percent of scientists say the news oversimplifies science. Newspaper coverage comes off best, with 36 percent of scientists rating it excellent or good. But TV coverage of science fares worse–only 15 percent of scientists see it as excellent or good.
The media is often guilty of overselling science by reporting as scientific fact findings that have still not been confirmed. In most news stories, you have to read to the end to find out the degree of consensus regarding a particular discovery. Even then it may not be clear how complete the scientific understanding of a phenomenon is. So when speculative or insufficiently researched results don’t pan out, again the public is disappointed.
Of course, when you have a public that just flatly refuses to believe even settled, well-confirmed scientific explanations, it is hard to know what conclusions to draw from this data.
The majority of scientists firmly believe in evolution, with 87 percent saying humans and other living creatures have evolved over time through processes such as natural selection. Only 32 percent of the public believes the same.
A full 84 percent of scientists say global warming is the result of human actions, such as burning fossil fuel, while only 49 percent of the public agrees.
Science is so pervasive in human life that the public’s lack of understanding seriously threatens democracy. The human race, long ago, chose the route of technology to satisfy needs and there is no turning back. We cannot make good decisions about how to live without understanding the nature of the reality in which we must live.
or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com