According to an article at Science Daily, (as of 2007) only 28% of American’s qualify as “Scientifically Literate”, which they weakly define as able to watch a Nova episode and understand the terms used. If true, this is frightening.
Then again, I just wrote a post on my other blog called Diet Pseudoscience, Falsification, & the Naturalistic Fallacy railing against the widespread abuse of science-sounding language in the world of fitness, nutrition, and the dubiously titled field of “Strength & Conditioning Science”.
Of course, the first comment on that post was quite angry and exemplified the point, by missing the point. Why? I’d argue a lack of Scientific Literacy of a deeper kind than reported by Science Daily.
Consider this line by John Durant:
“Scientific literacy should not be taken to mean the knowledge of a lot of science, but rather the understanding of how science really works.” — John Durant
AMEN. He went further describing Scientific Literacy in 3 levels.
- Knowing some science – how a microwave works, what the laws of thermodynamics are, that evolution isn’t a myth…
- Knowing how science works – basic philosophy of science: Popper, the scientific method, etc. (My post above was concerning this)
- Knowing how science really works – Combining #2 with an understanding of the very real human element, politics, and (dare I say it) bullshit that makes science a living thing.
The first approach by itself leads to what you might call Jeopardy Syndrome: you know lots of random crap, but nothing about HOW that crap fits together, or why it does, or what crap is true and what crap is just… crap.
The 2nd approach is deeply important, and is the key to being able to tell who the charlatans are, the difference between pseudoscience and real science, etc.
The 3rd approach builds upon the 2nd by adding to it the caveat that science is done by humans, and humans are fallible — horribly so.
Sadly, in most fields — certainly in mine — the vast majority of people, practitioners maybe more so than anyone, are NOT literate in science beyond level 1.