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Science illiteracy to the Nth degree

2009/07/26

From a trailer for the new season of It’s Always Funny in Philadelphia:

Dennis: How is burning trash green?

Charlie: I could stick it in a land fill where it could stay for million years or I could burn it up and let it disappear into the sky where it turns into stars.

Mac: That doesn’t sound right, but I don’t know enough about stars to dispute it.

At least Mac’s willing to admit what he doesn’t know.

Although it does sort of bring up a point about access to science in a tangential way. Even if we all agree that science coverage in the local papers is not great, at least it mentions science. So starting from that, if we take my current place of residence as an example, the population is 250,000 and the subscription rate is around 90,000 for the local paper. So less than 50% of the folks don’t even get the paper (and no you really can’t assume that they are reading it online; I do and you would never know that they ever report any science anything from the website). We could assume as well that some of these people are not watching science-themed TV either and that even if they get the paper, they are not reading the science-y bits. So where are they getting information about current science? Or even basic science? How do you connect with those people? Should you be trying to force science at people whose day to day concern is food and housing? And you can’t ignore that segment of the population (do I need to say environmental justice); to do that would lead to the core of so many futuristic dystopias involving the haves vs. the have-nots, just provide the what. At the end of the day, it gets back to improving the standard of living first (sustainably we’d hope) and then moving on to other things.

It’s not that I demand that everyone knows how a star is made or anything. Maybe we just need to replace some of what people consider common sense with some actual sense.

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