State of science education

2008/11/08 § 1 Comment


It is a complete mystery to me why people would choose to remain ignorant to the laws and principles that govern their existence. However, quite frequently people choose to do so.

Just recently I had two experiences that made me wonder if there ever will be a time in which people will be able to take informed decisions when it comes to their environment, their health, well basically everything which exceeds the realm of fantasy.

I am talking about people to vote against science and for “cultural education”. Whatever that may be?

Experience number one was when I met a young Nepali who inquired what I did for a living. To make matters easier for me I replied I was a chemist (when I say I am a geneticist or molecular biologist I get the more “respectful” reactions, but most people have not the faintest clue what it is). His reaction was a surprise. “I hate chemistry. I hate science”, he exclaimed. After a discussion it turned out that his real problem was that he felt that science education in his school left him with too little information. He felt as though it was useless to know about science because the “big picture” was missing. Ironically it seemed he would have preferred to have no science in school. While obviously the solution to his evident lack of information (in order to fill in the pieces missing from the big picture) would have been massively more science education.

The second such experience was with my travel mates; two Israelis and one Canadian. In a conversation about school education they all said that they think there is too much science education in school and they wanted more cultural education, like arts and languages.

I was stunned mildly speaking. Here we had three individuals who basically did not know the first thing about science (sorry Izzy, you did in fact impress me by remembering the principle of entropy 😉 ), yet they wanted to know even less. From the rest of our conversations I can deduce that there was a lot of interest in mysticism, spiritualism, religion and esoteric subjects in these three guys.

Obviously it does not surprise me. With a decent amount of science education you need not wonder if there are “other forms of energy” that science has not yet discovered and which explain alternative healing schemes (Izzy 😉 ).

With a basic education in science there need not be any further discussion about the fundamental truth and correctness of the law of evolution and the age of the earth (Asaf 😉 ).

I am saddened by the fact that so many opt against science. However, I see the fault not only in the fact that people are generally lazy, and the babble-subjects of arts and social education are easier to handle than the mathematical oriented science subjects. The fault lies also with the way science is taught, and the lack of education of philosophy of science. There is a fundamental lack of time for science subjects, yet the time is decreased in many countries even further.

Science education would have to give an insight into what science is good for and what the scientific method is in the first place. Ask any person with a school education what the scientific principle is and find that most have no clue.

It would be necessary to inform kids about that without science they would not be playing X-box, they would not eat microwave pizza, they would not be driven around in a gas-guzzling car, they would not live in heated homes and most would not even be alive or at least not as healthy as most f them are. Only a person who knows what they sacrifice when they opt against science can opt against it in the first place.

Science has become the victim of its own success it seems to me. The fruits of science have become so incorporated into our lives that we do not even see them anymore. Most of us are so healthy that we have the luxury to play around with non-functioning “alternative medicine”, knowing all too well that if it goes wrong “conventional” medicine can rescue us with antibiotics and other fantastic inventions. (I cannot begin to tell you how much I praised Mr. Pasteur and Mr. Flemming when they fixed my Indian-diarrhea in a matter of days- impossible before them and potentially deadly, but we forgot that already thanks to them)

Scientific progress has put us in a position where we have the luxury to enjoy all its benefits while at the same time blaming it for everything from global warming and the hole in the ozon layer to nuclear weapons and the threat of bio-terrorism. And while these are the dark sides of how science has been applied (as has been the iron ax when it was a novel invention to cut trees) far too many will concomitantly with their complains utter the most bizarre and too far reaching hopes in science to fix all these problems and more yet in no time.

So many people I talked to lately are caught in a weired twilight zone of scientific ignorance from which they are not capable to judge the most basic things surrounding them. A person without proper scientific knowledge has no means of distinguishing right from wrong.

I mean it almost as general as this sounds. Because the understanding of what the scientific method is and how it can be applied gives you the measure to distinguish between why a TV-commercial is selling you for stupid versus buying a product because it says that it works for 90% of people (“1000 individuals were asked if they felt the effect in a phone survey. 900 agreed to the statement that the product may have had beneficial effects for them”- I love these thingys…).

Scientific knowledge will help you figure out how to improve your health, give you guidance how to help the environment and show you the way in life in everything outside of the realm of fantasy. Unless of course you prefer fantasy over reality.

Some interesting reading about how you can impress people with ignorance if you just manage to make it sound complicated enough… Yes, I am looking at you so called “intellectuals” and disciples of “humanistic studies”… watch it, haha 😛

http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Reviews/1998-07-09postmodernism_disrobed.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair

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§ One Response to State of science education

  • “The fault lies also with the way science is taught, and the lack of education of philosophy of science. There is a fundamental lack of time for science subjects…”

    The point you make here, is very real and very true!! It is a growing need world wide to invest in Scienc Centres for valued education with an entertainment factor- or edutainment! With facilities devoted to enhancing scientific expression and understanding, the the future is brighter for all.
    Thank for your words.

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