November 3, 2005

Reuters on US Anti-Science Attitudes

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at November 3, 2005 5:30 PM

Via Shellock, there's a Reuters piece today outlining concerns about increasing anti-science sentiment in the US. I was glad to see this in a mainstream source; it's what scientists have been saying for a few years now. The piece is a bit disjointed but manages to hit several related topics: Bush administration abuses of science, the intelligent design battle, general scientific illiteracy and weaknesses in science education. They could have been tougher on the ID crowd but it's nice to see them correctly place ID in the larger anti-science trend.

Tags: Bush Administration, Creationism, Politics, Science
Comments

As I mentioned at lunch today, the whole thing is a slippery slope. First, these people go after evolution. Pretty soon, they'll be going after gravity, and eventually they'll even attack string theory (saying we can't teach that in high schools), and then where will we be?

Kidding aside, I am pleased for publicity concerning such attitudes. Maybe that can help provide a step towards actually helping to fix the problem. When I tell non-nerds what I am (the scientist/mathematician part, not the other things), conversations tend to stop. Some relative or family friend asks what I do, and this sort of statement on my part quickly nets the 'smile and nod' response and then everybody moves on with their lives. I live in a different world from they do, and that seems to be the end of it once they find out.

And this doesn't even touch real-life applications of scientific/critical thinking like the concept of a sample size and looking closely at statistics one might see in news sources (or wherever else). Whenever I have a discussion about something even with people who especially ought to know such things (e.g., somebody about to get their MBA from UCLA), bring up this point brings some drecky response on the order of 'I wasn't any good at math.' or 'You're the math guy. Whatever you say.' I'd be happy if they challenged me to defend my comment so I could try to get my point across, but that's not what's typically going on (at least in my personal experiences). One major thing I found when I got to Tech was that everybody was challenging my claims all of a sudden and was not getting annoyed at me when I challenged someone else. (My parents, for example, couldn't take it when I actually asked them to justify one of their opinions. All they would do was repeat themselves in a louder voice. Pretty literally, actually.)

The typical person in the US is afraid of anything that rings remotely of math and science (not to mention their practitioners), and there is an attitude in elementary and high schools that anybody interested in such stuff is inheritly uncool. The people who aren't already inclined in technical directions seem to take pride in their ignorance and then they reach a point (which some like to call 'adulthood') where having at least a vague familiarity might be useful and they're so intimidated that it's hopeless for most of them.

I admit the MBA student not having any clue about sample sizes is an extreme example, but I think that this is a concept that people would find helpful in their everyday lives (say, when they vote). More generally, I don't expect people to do any calculations or prove any theorems (and this isn't about sample sizes; obviously, that's just one specific example), but a big part of the anti-science attitude manifests in the lack of ability/training to think critically by the majority of the US population.


Posted by: Mason | November 3, 2005 8:06 PM

Some more interesting reading.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051104/ap_on_sc/vatican_science

Posted by: shellock | November 4, 2005 6:11 AM

and Kansas does it again http://us.cnn.com/2005/EDUCATION/11/08/evolution.debate.ap/index.html

Posted by: shellock | November 8, 2005 5:21 PM
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