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Science a Mystery to U.S. Citizens 1656

Posted by michael
from the quelle-surprise dept.
maddugan writes "CNN and probably others are posting their synopses of the National Science Foundation's biennial report on the state of science understanding in the US. Sixty percent of those surveyed believe in ESP, psychic power, and alien abduction."
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Science a Mystery to U.S. Citizens

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  • Warning (Score:3, Funny)

    by Dr. Carl Jung (559378) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:12PM (#3439741)
    This whole thing is wildly inaccurate. Rounding errors, ballot stuffers, dynamic IPs, firewalls. If you're using these numbers to do anything important, you're insane.

    God, don't scientists ever learn?
  • So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by oooga (307220) <.oooga. .at. .usa.net.> on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:14PM (#3439743)
    I don't know how the questions were phrased, but if someone asked me "do you think it's possible psychic powers, alien abductions or esp exists?" I'd say yes. To say no discounts far too much evidence. Sure, it's all circumstational and mostly unsubstantiated, but there's _so freaking much of it_. However, if the question had been "do psychic powers etc exist" then to answer yes would have just been naiveity.
    • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dublisk (456374) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:35PM (#3439873) Homepage
      A couple solid pieces of evidence is infinitely more reliable and useful than thousands of unreliable anecdotes. Having "so freaking much" of evidence if the evidence is crap. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. On the other hand, _every time_ any one of these claims is tested in a controlled, scientific matter, they _never_ work. I'd say that's enough to reject these claims outright.

      • Re:So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PatientZero (25929)
        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

        Why? Galileo claimed the Earth revolves around the Sun, which at the time was quite controversial and extraordinary. However, simply observing the planetary motions proved him right. Nothing extraordinary there.

        On the other hand, _every time_ any one of these claims is tested in a controlled, scientific matter, they _never_ work.

        Wow, you've researched every claim and every test of those claims? Man, you must be exhausted. I rather expect that you're just repeating something you've heard from someone else. I have read quite a bit about near-death experiences, enough to convince me that there is more to us than our biological bodies.

        I didn't stop there, however. I looked at the evidence with a critical mind. How does this jive with my own intuition and experiences? The fact that I am aware of myself and my surroundings is incredible, and I cannot accept that this awareness arises simply from my electro-chemical brain. I have emotions and desires, quite apart from food and shelter.

        I don't care to convince you to believe it, but I emplore you to keep an open yet critical mind. And don't simply disbelieve because it seems too extraordinary, otherwise you might end up thinking the Sun revolves around the Earth.

        • wrong (Score:4, Insightful)

          by garyrich (30652) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:09PM (#3440109) Homepage Journal
          "Why? Galileo claimed the Earth revolves around the Sun, which at the time was quite controversial and extraordinary. However, simply observing the planetary motions proved him right. Nothing extraordinary there"

          It was indeed extraordinary. Observing the motions of the "wandering lights" with Galileo's "magic glass" was very extraordinary. Actually seeing the moons of jupiter revolve about the planet was a world shaking event for those that saw it and understood the Ptolemeic worldview that was official church dogma. It just *couldn't* be so. but you lool in the glass, and it *is* so.

          Extraordinary.
        • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Shelled (81123) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:43PM (#3440352)
          However, simply observing the planetary motions proved him right. Nothing extraordinary there.

          It's been a long time since I read deeply on the matter, but I believe this is incorrect. The accepted theory in Galileo's time - spheres within spheres with Earth at the centre - predicted positions of the planets visible to the naked eye quite well. However as the data improved the old model required more and more additions to explain small perturbations. Galileo did provide evidence extraordinary for his time, observations via the telescope.

          Wow, you've researched every claim and every test of those claims?

          Meaningless. I can lift the pen on my desk up six inches and release it, it will fall back to the desk. If I do this the rest of my waking hours until I die without it ever once falling up, it doesn't prove that when whoever pries it from my cold hands releases the pen it won't fall up, but at some point you have to move on.

    • by cpeterso (19082) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:43PM (#3439922) Homepage

      It is official; NSF confirms: Science is dying!!!

      One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered science community when CNN confirmed that science market share has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all pseudosciences. Coming on the heels of a recent NSF survey which plainly states that science has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. The United States is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last in the recent science test.

      You don't need to be a Kreskin to predict science's future. The hand writing is on the wall: science faces a bleak future. In fact there won't be any future at all for science because science is dying. Things are looking very bad for science. As many of us are already aware, science continues to lose market share. Red ink flows like a river of blood.

      Due to the troubles of the American educational system, abysmal TV shows and so on, science went out of business and was taken over by the Catholic church who sell a troubled pseudoscience. Now even common sense is dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.

      All major surveys show that science has steadily declined in market share. science is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If science is to survive at all it will be among academic dilettante dabblers. Science continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, science is dead.

      Fact: science is dying
      • by Tackhead (54550)
        > All major surveys show that science has steadily declined in market share. science is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If science is to survive at all it will be among academic dilettante dabblers. Science continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, science is dead.

        Fact: science is dying

        Science isn't dying.

        Nations and cultures that depended on science, but rejected it, are dying.

        About 1000 years ago, the scientific capitals of the world had successfully preserved the works of the Greeks and Romans, and built upon them to develop medicine, algebra, and giving the concept of "zero" to our mathematicians - while our ancestors were busily burning books, struggling with Roman numerals and carving crosses in people's heads to drive out the Devil.

        Then the leaders turned against science, and developed an insular / religious worldview. After about 500 years of stagnation, we adopted science, broke the shackles of theocracy, had an intellectual and artistic Renaissance, followed quickly by an industrial revolution, raising living standards worldwide, and just for kicks, we put men on the moon, developed the transistor, the computer and the Internet, and - quite by accident - took over the world.

        What have our former betters (who had a 500-year lead on us) achieved in the meantime? (I mean, aside from butchering a few civilians every couple of weeks.)

        Science isn't dead. But unless we either wake up and fix it (not bloody likely, given that 50% of those who have to "wake up" still believe in heliocentrism), we most certainly are.

      • Damn, and I just invested all of that money in lab coats and beakers.

      • Science is dying? No...

        It's dead, Jim.

        -Russ
    • READ THE ARTICLE (Score:3, Informative)

      by linefeed0 (550967)
      I totally agree that the ESP questions are somewhat biased, but if you'd read the article, you'd find that most questions dealt with concepts and proven facts that people could be expected to know -- that the earth revolves around the sun, that lasers work with light, etc. Some are things which everyone NEEDS to know (that antibiotics don't work against viruses, when many people are using them for the sniffles and resistant bacteria are a growing problem).

      The most obviously controversial questions are those about evolution and the big bang, but there is plenty of scientific evidence strongly in favor of both of these (and I am not an atheist, to give you a point of reference). Keep in mind that the NSF is fighting a losing battle in many states against religious extremists who want to prevent these well-supported theories from being taught in high school biology. Of course the survey is getting at something -- anything involving a large government agency like this will have some small amount of politics. But most of the questions aren't of this nature anyway.

    • Re:So what? (Score:5, Funny)

      by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:59PM (#3440041)
      To say no discounts far too much evidence. Sure, it's all circumstational and mostly unsubstantiated, but there's _so freaking much of it_.

      I'm rich. I'm a billionaire. I mean, sure, it's all photocopies of Monopoly money, but there's so MUCH of it!
    • Re:So what? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by borzwazie (101172) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:46PM (#3440368) Homepage
      It's interesting what people believe can and can't exist.


      My great uncle, up till about a year and a half before he died, was a well-dowser.


      For those of you not familiar with the term, a well dowser finds wellwater usually with a forked stick (peach or willow is deemed best, at least by my great uncle) or sometimes by crossed wires.


      Now, I don't imagine that many here on Slashdot would think much of it, but the man didn't advertise, he just let word of mouth do the work for him. He claimed to me that he could tell not only where the water was, but approximately how deep, and an relative quantity.


      He was generally called in after conventional well drillers failed, although I remember he had good business among the local Amish. Apparently some of my uncle's 12(!) kids can do it also, but not all of them. None of them do it professionally. His brother (my grandfather) couldn't do it either.


      Call it paranormal nonsense, or whatever have you, but the man made a little money doing it, and had a good reputation.


      It's interesting to note that consultations of profession psychics among police investigations is not unknown as well. Why does anyone suppose this is useful? Why, indeed, would anyone even suggest it considering the flame job they'd get in the press?


      And, at the risk of ridicule: When my uncle told me about dowsing (I was about 10) the first chance I could, I found myself a forked stick and tried it. I don't know about any particular "sense" or mystic impulse like some may claim, but the stick twisted in my hands to point down when I walked over our well.


      Do I have any idea how it works? No. Is it mysticism, my own brain playing tricks on me, Alex Chiu's magnetism, dark matter, or something else? I dunno. I think anyone who claims to know is probably full of crap. But, like anything that people don't understand, it's magic until they they figure it out.


      One thing I have noticed about most really technical people, or at least people who believe themselves to be educated, is that they're often the least likely to ever discover any of these kinds of answers. Tesla was a crackpot...and his legacy powers your lights today, no matter what anyone says about Edison. Galileo was a crackpot...has anyone questioned his reasoning lately? When you really break it all down, does whatever crackpot theory you have pay off? If it does, it can't be all wrong.

      • Re:So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Zoop (59907)
        To quote Carl Sagan:

        "They laughed at Galileo. They also laughed at Bozo the Clown."

        Now, which do you think is more likely to be closer to 99.999% of the weirdo claims you hear?

        PS Galileo could actually explain his results. If you can't, you ain't Galileo.
      • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dvdeug (5033) <dvdeug@@@email...ro> on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @02:22AM (#3441254)
        My great uncle, up till about a year and a half before he died, was a well-dowser.

        A talent that's worth a million bucks from James Randi. From what I understand, there are more dowswer's who actually believe in thier abilities and go after Randi's million that just about any other paranormal field. They all fail.

        I don't know about any particular "sense" or mystic impulse like some may claim, but the stick twisted in my hands to point down when I walked over our well.

        An oft-repeated experiment is to have people with dowsing sticks walk a course over several sprinkler heads. The stick will invariably twist over the heads. After the experiment, you can reveal that the entire course ran straight over a water pipe that should have pegged as much as the sprinkler heads if you were actually detecting water.

        Do I have any idea how it works? No. Is it mysticism, my own brain playing tricks on me, Alex Chiu's magnetism, dark matter, or something else? I dunno. I think anyone who claims to know is probably full of crap.

        Why? Any number of experiments like the above show that it's the mind doing it and that dowsers do no better than chance when tested. But obviously you believe in your "deep mystery" so much that anyone who thinks they have an answer - an essential part in science - is "full of crap".

        It's interesting to note that consultations of profession psychics among police investigations is not unknown as well. Why does anyone suppose this is useful?

        Why do you presume it's useful? If there's an urgent mystery to solve - a lost child, say - it's easy enough to turn to anyone who offers the hope of a solution. And frequently they can offer vague answers - "he's alive and there's water nearby" - that have a decent chance of turning out as true. And, hey, people forget prophesy all the time; this is a nice list of prophesies done by Jean Dixon and others for the People's Almanac [google.com] - pretty much all failures.
        • Re:So what? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Gordonjcp (186804)
          A talent that's worth a million bucks from James Randi. From what I understand, there are more dowswer's who actually believe in thier abilities and go after Randi's million that just about any other paranormal field. They all fail.



          Get me James Randi's phone number then. I can dowse, and consistently. I've used dowsing rods made from bent bits of fence wire, L-shaped and forked bits of wood from various different kinds of trees, wire coathangers, an old Christmas tree that had lost its needles, and a Volvo propshaft that was lying around the yard. It all works.


          An oft-repeated experiment is to have people with dowsing sticks walk a course over several sprinkler heads. The stick will invariably twist over the heads. After the experiment, you can reveal that the entire course ran straight over a water pipe that should have pegged as much as the sprinkler heads if you were actually detecting water.



          I suspect it's not quite that simple. It doesn't work like a metal detector - you can't pick up a 2-gallon plastic bucket of water, but you can pick up a tiny trickle underground. I think it's something to do with magnetism or electric fields - before you start with the "pseudoscience charged water" thing, I am an electronic engineer and know enough about electricity and magnetism. I can detect buried electrical cables, but the response is different if there's a heavy current flowing through them.
      • Re:So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TMB (70166)
        It's interesting to note that consultations of profession psychics among police investigations is not unknown as well. Why does anyone suppose this is useful? Why, indeed, would anyone even suggest it considering the flame job they'd get in the press?

        Why would they get a flame job in the press if the majority of people don't realize it's crap? Public outrage doesn't happen if the public isn't outraged.

        [TMB]

    • Re:So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by odaiwai (31983)
      Always remember:
      "The plural of 'Anecdote' is not 'Data'."

      dave
  • in god?

    Talk about wide-spread ignorance!

  • by KaizerWill (240074) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:17PM (#3439765)
    i have esp, so i knew that this article was going to be posted three days ago.
  • by Guitarzan (57028)
    None of those things can be disproven by science anyway... Belief and science are not completely contrary to each other.
    • Not so. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Apuleius (6901) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:26PM (#3439808) Journal
      Religion cannot be tested by science. After that little dustup with Copernicus, most religions are carefully designed to be untestable. ESP, psychic powers, and the such (i.e. superstition), CAN be tested by science, and routinely are tested and disproven by scienc. That people believe in them is a matter of grave concern.
      • Re:Not so. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Beckman (136138) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:35PM (#3439866) Homepage
        Perhaps the issue isn't about the science, rather the general trust in scientists.

        At one point in history a scientist was a respected professional. Now that the public has seen that scientists can be bought to testify to almost anything (smoking does not cause cancer) the trust has been broken.

        When people talk of professional ethics its not just to maintain the good of those in the field, but also to maintain a status in the general public.

      • Re:Not so. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JordanH (75307)
        • Religion cannot be tested by science.

        Evolution cannot be tested by science, either. To my mind, Evolution is not a Scientific Theory in that you cannot devise an experiment where the results would disprove the tenants of Evolutionary Science. Experiments that can disprove a theory are, to me, the foundation and tradition of the Scientific Method.

        I know I'm going to catch hell for saying the above. I know that people are going to trot out all kinds of modern Philosophy of Science types who say that I have it wrong, but I just disagree.

        Now, do I believe that Evolution Theory is true and that evolution occurs? Yes, I do. I believe a lot of things that aren't based on Science. I believe that OJ is guilty, for example, based on reasoning. Reasoning alone does not make for Science. Reasoning is what Aristotle did concerning the natural world, and it led him to false conclusions more than once.

        You see, one of the problems with Science today, to my mind, is the dilution of the term. We have lots of "Scientists" who rarely, if ever, use the Scientific Method. Holistic Scientists, Environmental Scientists, Cosmological Scientists, Computer Scientists, Mathematical Scientists, Social Scientists, Political Scientists, yes and even Evolutionary Scientists. These, and a hundred others, are terms developed to embue those fields with the highly respected aura of Science and the funding that comes with it.

        I'm not opposed to those things being studied, but is it any wonder that people are confused about what Science is? When you abandon the Scientific Method for expediency, it's just a short step to ESP, UFOs and other such claptrap.

        Many years ago, I worked as a Systems Manager for Social Scientists and I can tell you, these people built their theories on what they wanted to believe, interpreted their data to make it come out right and discarded any data that didn't support their views. I talked with them about it and they admitted that it was typical in Social Science and it was extremely rare for a Social Scientist to come up with a result that they didn't believe going into an enquiry. That's not Science, that's what the psuedo scientists that are being criticized by this report do. Does this report criticize Social Scientists?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    More than 60% of Americans believe in this "God" person, and they believe he created us. Isn't that enough evidence that people don't understand science? :)
  • Belive it or not, the slashdot population does not represent the US general population, and quite probably will score much higher on these polls. So please don't reply with the fact that you got them all right, so did everyone else reading these commments.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Can we cross reference this with the percent of Americans that watch pro wrestling?
  • Scary (Score:4, Funny)

    by agm (467017) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:22PM (#3439783)
    Only 50% of people surveyed knew that the Earth revolves around the Sun once a year. I am absolutley gob smacked. Is this really a cross section of American society!?

    What do Americans teach their kids at school, if not that the Earth goes around the Sun once a year?
    • Re:Scary (Score:5, Funny)

      by Aexia (517457) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:45PM (#3439943)
      What do Americans teach their kids at school, if not that the Earth goes around the Sun once a year?

      That the Earth revolves around America.
      • Ethnocentrism (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Mr. Flibble (12943) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @01:11AM (#3441012) Homepage
        What do Americans teach their kids at school, if not that the Earth goes around the Sun once a year?

        That the Earth revolves around America.


        This is such an apt comment, I fully agree. It's incredibly concise too, but just to beat a dead horse I feel I need to elaborate:

        Of two previously powerful Empires in history (make no mistake, the U.S. is more or less an Empire) The Roman Empire and The British empire suffered from what is basically Ethnocentrism.
        That is, that American culture is in power, thus it's citizens view the world from their position of power and conclude that: "Since we are the most powerful and influential country in the world, why bother caring about the world outside my little realm? I live in the best country in the world, and I don't need to go elsewhere to know that."

        Furthermore, this leads to inward looking, and a decline of the very social forces that put an Empire into power in the first place. It happend to the Romans and The British, and probably many more.

        So, I find it interesting that this "apathy" on the part of a large percentage of the American population is just a symptom of a larger problem at work: Ethnocentrism. Make no mistake - the United States will continue to be the major power for some time, probably well after everyone who is reading this comment is dead and gone. However, this attitude will eventually lead to the erosion of the foundation that makes the United States as powerful as it is right now.

        (No, this is not a troll, just an observation, look this stuff up yourself.)

        • Re:Ethnocentrism (Score:3, Insightful)

          by flatrock (79357)
          Maybe I've got my history wrong, but it seems like the Romans and the British fell out of power mainly from internal problems. Both Empires were very concerned with events outside of their empire.

          You points about America are true about some Americans and untrue about others. Polititions which are strong isolationists don't do well in elections in most of the US, because the US is a nation of immigrants. The US gives out Billions in aid to other nations each year. Many Americans do feel that we should take care of our domestic problems before we stick our noses in other countries problems. But many others, especially those with greater knowledge of world events, realize that we can't just ignore the outside world and need to work with other nations to our mutual benefit.

          ethnocentrism Pronunciation Key (thn-sntrzm)
          n.
          Belief in the superiority of one's own ethnic group.
          Overriding concern with race.


          Racism is still a problem in the US, and it's definatley worse in some areas of the country than others, but I do believe that progress is being made.

          I believe that you weren't trolling, but I don't think you're right. The US is a place where everyone has a right to voice their opinions. If you're looking for examples of ethnocentric people in the US I'm sure you will find them. It's this freedom of speech which allows not only the ethnocentrics to voice their opinions, but also the immigrants, and people from other nations. Freedom of expression allows people to put forth their views, and keeps the US engaged with the world around US.

          I'm not saying that I think the US will be the most powerful nation in the world forever, but I think we're more likely to crumble from moral decay like our predecessors did, than from ethnocentrism.
    • Re:Scary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tackhead (54550) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:04PM (#3440073)
      > Only 50% of people surveyed knew that the Earth revolves around the Sun once a year. I am absolutley gob smacked. Is this really a cross section of American society!?

      Yes.

      Good thing they can vote and write letters to their congressmen, though. Otherwise our politicians might do something stupid, like ban new areas of medical research or make it hard to approve new reactor designs because "nukular" power is "like, totally scary and dangerous", especially when compared to buying oil from nations whose populations only want to kill us.

      I'd go off here on a tangent about how we should have a Constitutional amendment requiring prospective voters to demonstrate at least third-grade science and literacy skills before you get to vote, and maybe, I dunno, maybe an eighth-grade science education before you can run for elected office.

      But since that would require a vote... and since more than 50% of the people aren't even up to Copernicus and Galileo yet, oh, never mind...

      The more I think of it, a "democracy" in which 50% of potential voters are unaware that the Earth revolves around the Sun, but they choose the leaders who control what research can and cannot be done... well, it just doesn't sound like that great a deal. (Neither does a "democracy" where 50% of the population pays 4% of the taxes and votes for the leaders who charge the other 50% of the population the other 96% of the taxes, for that matter.)

      Bottom line, I think it's over for us. We jumped the shark in 1969 with the moon landings, and it's all been downhill from here. Maybe it's time we realized that for the US, democracy has finally become a bug, not a feature. A hobble against our progress, rather than our guarantor of freedom. (And a pretty lousy guarantor at that, if the Slashdot crowd's rantings about recent antiterrorism legislation is to be believed.)

      Furthermore, the current US practice of importing skilled workers because the majority of its own citizens are, to put it gently, a bunch of drooling fucknozzles, is clearly only a stopgap measure. Maybe it'll keep the patient alive for another decade or two, but it's not going to solve the underlying problem.

      Are there any Asia-Pacific nations that need high-tech folks with English skills, and have sane immigration policies that will give Westerners with the requisite skills and/or clue a shot at doing something useful with our lives? Democracy is not a requirement. Just give me a functioning capitalist economy (sorry, Japan, not until you get your banking system in order) and a high level (hell, even a basic level) of literacy.

      Someone's scientists are gonna start the nanotech industrial revelotion, or get heavy into bioengineering, or lob some stuff up there and make a self-sustaining lunar colony, or something even cooler that none of us have imagined yet, and I don't want to miss out on either the excitement or the financial rewards.

      • Re:Scary (Score:3, Interesting)

        by FFFish (7567)
        Neither does a "democracy" where 50% of the population pays 4% of the taxes and votes for the leaders who charge the other 50% of the population the other 96% of the taxes, for that matter.

        One percent of America's population holds 40% of the wealth.

        I hope you are not suggesting that it is unfair to have that one percent of the population pay 40% of the taxes.
      • Re:Scary (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Ian Bicking (980)
        What makes you think that people in other countries are any better than the US? I wouldn't be so sure. Education someplace like Japan might be able to make people test better on science tests, but they actually seem considerably worse for understanding basic science, which is what literacy is about.

        I think the US would stack up well against most other countries -- certainly the people who come to the US are an elite among their own countries, and are not representative, so you won't know by talking to people here. For all the flaws and compromises of our education system, the idea of a liberal arts education -- in high school as well as college -- has a greater following here than most other places. Lots of reformers (particularly among conservatives/capitalists) are essentially proposing a more vocationally-focused educational system, more like in other countries. The vocationally trained really don't need to know science -- an understanding of molecules is useful in very few professions.

        I heard a test of basic scientific literacy about five years ago showed that literacy among Americans was about twice the percentage of Europeans, and three times Japanese. It was about basic things like what a molecule is, what DNA is, etc. I was quite surprised. (No country did that well -- I think the US was like 20%). Sadly I cannot find a reference -- make of this what you will. However, I would generally be suspicious of international comparisons based on formalized testing, and comparisons done in school -- the real judge of an education system is not what students know, but what adults who have finished schooling know. This reference was the best I could find -- A comparison of interest in science [nsf.gov]:

        In the United States, Europe, and Canada, approximately 1 in 10 adults can be classified as attentive to science and technology policy; the proportion is smaller--about 7 percent--in Japan. The percentage classified as the "interested" public (for science and technology policy) is higher in the United States than it is in the other three sociopolitical systems. In 1995, it was 47 percent, compared with 33 percent in Europe (for 1992), 40 percent in Canada (1989), and 12 percent in Japan (1991). For all countries, there is a positive relationship between level of education and level of attentiveness (Miller, Pardo, and Niwa 1997).
  • This is absurd. These are things for whichc there is little or no scientific proof which entirely disproves it or proves it.

    Just like religion and God. that's a whole different story. Are they to assume that I am 'scientifically clueless' just because I attend church each sunday?

    (lets note for the record that I do not really believe in stuff like physic abilities (maybe a religious prophet.... I'm sure that the people working at the dial-a-psychic 900 number have no special ability. I DO believe however, that certain people seem to be able to sense that 'something bad' is going to happen, before it happens.) And alien abduction is possible... but that's a topic for another day)
  • This is obvious... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:23PM (#3439790)
    As a graduate student in physics, it has long been obvious to me that the general public has NO idea of what is going on in science. There are a variety of reasons for the scientific ignorance of the general public.
    1. The common "Who cares" attitude about science. This is rampant in society -- try talking to a non-scientist about some scientific issue and watch the eyes of most people glaze over.
    2. The media dramatizes and reduces complicated scientific issues into 2-second sound bites. This is why, for example, so many people misunderstand what Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity actually state.

    In some sense, this is a dangerous development for society. The US Founding Fathers supported the creation of public libraries because they realized that having an informed public is important for good government. This does not mean that everyone should be an expert at say diagonalzing a Hamiltonian, but at least actually know what the heck Quantum Mechanics is about (and no it will not help you lose weight). Scientific progress is creating technology that will revolutionalize human society and even what it means to be human. These are things that the public, as a democracy, should understand because it affects everyone.
    • by global_diffusion (540737) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:17PM (#3440167) Homepage
      Part of the problem is that the standard "education" here (well, at least here in Seattle) focuses on english, with all its magical realism and supernatural tendencies in full swing. Looking back, I see the biggest mistake was the lack of philosophy. Since science can't really be taught without a good level of math (well, at least not rigorously), I would have liked to build up my rational thinking skills with some philosophy. Alas, the teachers we have can't keep up with that level of material.

      Basically, it all comes down to gradeschool -> highschool because most Americans won't take any decent science once they're in college (if they go to college).
      • by Cardhore (216574) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @11:42PM (#3440629) Homepage Journal
        If I had points I'd moderate you up. My high school required 4 years of english! and 4 years of social studies, but only one year of science, and only 1.5 years of math. Keep in mind that for many students, 1.5 years of math means completing only basic Algebra!

        When I read, the question people ask me is "What class is that for?" They don't even consider that someone could be reading for the sake of learning or enjoyment.

        I read material in textbooks I find interesting. This baffles people. I read manuals for the devices I have. This also baffles people. These same people come up to me and ask why their printer won't work.
        • Math (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Synn (6288)
          How is forcing students to take math supposed to educate them?

          I only got up to geometry, but am a professional programmer for a living. And quite frankly I don't use much math. Very few fields use math. But we all use english to communicate to each other effectively.
          • Re:Math (Score:3, Interesting)

            Apparently you don't know what math *is*. If you program, you are exploring mathematical logic. If you don't think that's true, then I hope your code is never critical.

            It's topics like computational complexity, boundary conditions for representational limits (when does this calculation overflow?), and information theory (how much space do I really need?) that every programmer worth his salt should have a basic understanding of. If you don't get the math, you also don't get the idea.
          • Re:Math (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MrResistor (120588)
            As a math tutor I was asked that question quite often (including the popular variant, "how will I use this in the 'Real World'?"). Here's the answer I came up with:

            Mathematics is a way of thinking; namely, a systematic approach to solving problems. We are not taught algebra because we will need to solve quadratic equations, but because we will need to solve problems in general and, contrary to the apparent beliefs of the general populace, the systematic, logical approach is usually the most effective.

            Math is the language of logic, and therefore of the sciences. As such it is absolutely necessary in order to have a functional understanding of the modern world. Expecting someone to make rational decisions regarding the technological society we live in without an understanding of mathematics is like asking someone to debug the Linux kernel without knowing C.

            High school algebra serves the same function as Pascal; teaching concepts. That you are about as likely to use Gaussian Elimination as you are to be paid to program in Pascal doesn't mean that either of them should be eliminated from the standard curriculum. To do so would be a grave disservice to the student.

            The fact is that if you didn't have an understanding of algebraic structure you would be an utter failure as a programmer, but that concept has already been dealt with by other responses.

      • by SEE (7681)
        Looking back, I see the biggest mistake was the lack of philosophy.

        You'd have gotten a survey course anyway. Actually teaching one of the philosophies that accept the existence of a reality that can be reasoned about would itself be too controversial to get taught exclusively.

    • by Dr. Cam (20341) <cam AT ellisonpsychology DOT ca> on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:36PM (#3440309) Homepage
      As I like to remind my clients from time to time: half the population is below average. Graduate students, even the majority of undergraduate students, are among the intellectual elite, to whom many things are obvious. To those below the midline, they are not so obvious, unfathomable as that may seem. For probably 40% of the population, just getting through the day being no worse off than the day before is a major achievement (if you don't believe me, I can point you to the data). They do not have the energy or capacity to deal with quantum mechanics, or even to understand the phrase, and unless it will impinge directly on their lives in a way that they can do something about it, they will reserve their energies for something more immediately important.

      The flip side of this is how well things are explained. Jerome Bruner (eminent pscyhologist) used to say something to the effect that you should be able to explain anything to a five-year-old. I get to deal with four- and five-year-olds with some frequency, and though it is not easy, it can be done.

      If you simply want to talk at people, the message will be received only by those who have both inclination and ability to try. If you want to communicate, you must find a way to motivate people to listen, and express your ideas in ways they can understand.

      Don't blame people for something over which they have little, if any control.

      • by Fjord (99230)
        Jerome Bruner (eminent pscyhologist) used to say something to the effect that you should be able to explain anything to a five-year-old.

        This is odd. Developmental psychology has shown that the vast majority five year olds don't have the brain centers involved in different parts of abstract thought and that they don't fully develop in most people until 10. You can talk to a 5 year old about Bell's Inequality Theorem, and they can even learn to parrot it back, but they don't actually understand it in the same way that they don't understand that if you pour a volume of liquid from a short container into a tall container, the tall container doesn't contain more liquid.
  • Just look at our advances in Astrology [slashdot.org]...

    ... to say nothing of the clear sign of impending doom provided by the recent gathering of planets in the sky...

  • by Xzzy (111297) <sether@tru7[ ]rg ['h.o' in gap]> on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:24PM (#3439799) Homepage
    > Sixty percent of those surveyed believe in ESP,
    > psychic power, and alien abduction

    Uh-huh. So just beacuse science can't explain things that people see, think they see, or where phenomena, it MUST be "pseudoscience", as in, a load of hogwash.

    Now I'm not saying I believe in any of it either, but there's a lot of questions one could ask about this world where the answers dip into this category.

    To imply that these people are ill informed is really quite immature. Cause OBVIOUSLY if you can't apply a formula to it it doesn't exist.
    • by Macrobat (318224) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:42PM (#3439919)
      There is a big difference between accepting that you don't know how something works, and accepting just any explanation for it.

      I had a friend who tried to convince me that Jonathan Edwards of "Crossing Over" fame had real psychic abilities. He would point out some information he'd "divined" and said, "See? How could he have known that if he wasn't psychic?"

      At the time, all I could say was, "I don't know how. But it doesn't mean he's talking to ghosts."

      Skeptic Magazine [skeptic.com] has an article that detailed his methods, which are pretty much like the methods of other mediums and spritualists. In addition to the regular cold readings, he also had a bus-load of confederates in his studio audience, and the author of the article states how the overhead microphones in the studio audience were turned on for over an hour before the taping of the show. So he could hear what people were talking about. Of course, they were talking about their dead relatives.

      The point is, I didn't have to accept a (to me) preposterous explanation for how he knew what he knew, even if I couldn't figure out exactly what his tricks were.

    • To imply that these people are ill informed is really quite immature. Cause OBVIOUSLY if you can't apply a formula to it it doesn't exist.

      People are stupid, easily misled and believe what they want to believe. It doesn't help that a sizeable contingent is more than willing to take advantage of that for financial gain.

      The Amazing Randi [randi.org] has had that million-dollar prize [randi.org] to prove *any* paranormal powers for how long? That's pretty telling.

      *Sure*, paranormal powers *could* exist, but my cat *could* have created the universe Last Thursday as well. But if they do exist, it's none of the quacks running around today.
      • The Amazing Randi is one of my personal heroes. (Seymour Cray, Steve Wozniak, and Paul Hogan are the other 3).

        But I must say, that Randi has been playing a rather cruel joke that no one ever realizes. Andy Kaufman couldn't have played the same joke this long, and held out on the punchline.

        Think about it. Randi insists on proof for the paranormal, in such a stringent way, that if anything goofy or cool ever was proved... it couldn't be considered as paranormal or supernatural. His very method of prooving such, reduces all of it to...

        WEIRD SCIENCE PHENOMENA.

        Now, he would probably be a man of his word, and honor the million dollar prize. But I'm still flabbergasted that no one ever realizes it.
  • Majority. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by saintlupus (227599) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:29PM (#3439821) Homepage
    Sixty percent of those surveyed believe in ESP, psychic power, and alien abduction.

    This constitutes a majority, of course, which means that (if my junior high civics lessons were correct) the government should be dumping huge amounts of money into researching these things, right?

    Funny how I kept hearing that "rule by the majority" was good, without a single caveat about what happens when that majority is a cluster of mouth-breathing gits.

    --saint
  • My gosh, how many years has it been since I read a column in PC Magazine, probably in 1985, urging an emphasis on "numeracy" as a special focus along with "literacy" ??

    Just last week, I read an article in Mother Jones magazine [motherjones.com] about Robert Moses, a 60's civil rights leader who now is strongly advocating better math education for minorities, both through his own actions teaching in a Mississippi school (he commutes weekly from his Massachusetts home, bless those dedicated liberals), and in his book, Radical Literacy . (I just ordered the book, ISBN 080703127, but haven't got it yet.)

    I absolutely agree that math and science education should be a stronger emphasis in schools (math is probably more important than science, but they each fuel the other). And clearly, inner-city schools, and other poor schools, provide lousy education, especially in math and science. And as the survey cited here demonstrates, that lousy education shows.

    Here in Pleasanton [k12.ca.us], California, a wealthy suburb, my Rotary Club [pnr-rotary.org] awards prizes each month to a "student of the month." I'm amazed each month that these kids all take multiple AP classes (sometimes five or six) and have GPAs of 4.15 or 4.25. When I went to school, even taking AP Calculus, it was mathematically impossible to have a GPA greater than 4.0 -- speaking of "math literacy". But what about the many inner-city students who never graduate from high school, and lack even the basic math skills required to work at a cash register? (Ask your local McDonald's manager how they work around the lack of functional literacy and math skills.)

    Another book plug: I just finished the book And Still We Rise , a reporter's account of a year in an AP English classroom in South Central Los Angeles. It's a remarkable book that left me feeling hopeful (unlike most books in this genre, which leave me frightened and numb). But alas, that book focuses only on just a few dozen surviving geniuses, and not thousands of their peers whose best efforts could not overcome the cruel challenges of the inner-city school environment.

    Finally, I read an article [bayarea.com] in yesterday's newspaper (the Valley Herald), recounting a new bill by my local state legislator, who wants to exempt more new teachers from needing teaching credentials. The bill's stated intent is to allow more skilled professionals to teach, but I suspect the real goal is to circumvent teaching standards and put more lower-cost teachers into classrooms without adequate training.

  • Miss Cleo (Score:4, Funny)

    by martissimo (515886) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:36PM (#3439880)
    i just called and asked Miss Cleo if U.S Citizens are gaining a better knowledge of science.

    And she told me that "not even tha cards can answer that one", but she did tell me that i would be rich very soon!
  • Surprised? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BlackGriffen (521856) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:39PM (#3439897)
    For the vast majority of people, science is just another religion: taken on faith or rejected as heresy. It's sad, but true. The reason a lot of people probably get disillusioned with science is because science doesn't have all the answers, and isn't always right, and it makes no bones about it (at least the good scientists don't, anyway). I find that one quote I love is the one from a movie called Dangerous Beauty, "The people want answers. They don't care if they're wrong answers, they want them just the same." When someone comes across something not currently explained by science, and science cannot explain it immediately, they automatically assign a supernatural explanation to it.

    Are people just so arrogant as to not be able to admit, or perhaps even afraid to admit, that there are just some things that have not been explained yet? Things that are just beyond our current grasp, but not necessarily beyond our potential grasp?

    *sigh*

    BlackGriffen
    • Re:Surprised? (Score:3, Interesting)

      I don't think that people reject science because of a perceived lack of explanatory power. I certainly agree that there are many questions which science doesn't have the answers for (metaphysical questions, which cannot be attacked by the scientific method, as well as more prosiac mysteries such as what determines the mass of the electron.) But that isn't the problem. You might claim that it's the problem if, for example, the phenomenon of ESP has been convincingly demonstrated and yet cannot be explained by science. In reality, there is absolutely no good evidence in favor of ESP, UFOs, or any of the other staples of pseudoscience. Uri Geller has been videotaped surreptitiously bending spoons when he thought nobody was watching, yet some people still believe he possesses supernatural powers.

      The problem is rather that people aren't taught to think critically. With rudimentary critical thinking skills, the vast majority of the silly claims that one comes across (especially on late-night TV) can be easily debunked. Without the ability to perform such critical evaluations, our natural tendency to favor florid and exciting stories takes over. That's how we get these little grey men from Sirius.

      Critical thinking skills are generally useful, but especially so in science - the majority of proposed scientific theories are wrong, and a lot of the work of science goes into proving theorists wrong. However, even scientists aren't explicitly trained to think critically. We're expected to pick it up via osmosis, and some of us apparently fail to learn the lesson. For example, some of the more rabid endorsements of "psychics" have come from practicing scientists. Typically, these psychics refuse to perform in front of professional magicians; whenever they do, guess what? Their mysterious powers disappear. (Magicians are familiar with the methods of fooling people, and aren't easily fooled.)
    • "When one turns to the magnificent edifice of the physical sciences, and sees how it was reared; what thousands of disinterested moral lives of men lie buried in its mere foundations; what patience and postponement, what choking down of preference, what submission to the icy laws of outer fact are wrought into its very stones and mortar; how absolutely impersonal it stands in its vast augustness - then how besotted and contemptible seems every little sentimentalist who comes blowing his voluntary smoke wreaths, and pretending to decide things from out of his private dream!"

      -William James, The Will to Believe
  • CNN survey (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rant-mode-on (512772) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @09:39PM (#3439900) Homepage
    On that CNN page, there's a survey asking what you think your knowledge of science is. As of 9.30pm EST, 76% rated themseleves as either very good or excellent.

    Either:

    • a) Web surveys are seriously flawed

    • b) Americans think they know everything
      c) All of the above
    • Re:CNN survey (Score:3, Informative)

      by scottp1296 (574212)
      Take a look at Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments [apa.org] for an interesting look at why results like that are to be expected.
      • Re:CNN survey (Score:5, Insightful)

        by King Babar (19862) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @12:51AM (#3440941) Homepage
        Take a look at Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments for an interesting look at why results like that are to be expected.

        Ah, thanks for beating me to this recommendation. :-) A cute point about this particular paper is that it actually won an Ig Nobel Prize a few years back. Now, it sure ain't a flawless piece of work, but it is a result that you ignore at your peril. For those who won't bother to click through or read the linked paper, the punch line is exactly what the title says: not only do *most* people from a given population think they're at about the 60th percentile in ability for X, for almost values of X, but they do not correct their inflated self-assessments even when confronted with data that should clue them in. So, you might think that somebody who was in the bottom 10% but who thought they were better than the average student at, say, "proper" English grammar could recognize that this might not be true if you confronted him or her with their own written work and a representative sample of student work. But they don't; if anything, they now think they are even better than they did before.

        Now, I suppose the Ig Nobel was awarded to them because in some sense this is a "duh" result. But the real point is that it really does completely crush what might seem to be an obvious and humane teaching strategy: provide students with models of superior work and have them strive to meet that ideal. I hope some of you just had your blood run cold when you just realized why this won't work.

        Now it gets even better once you realize that this same effect can help explain why education about science and technology is especially hard to design. A big strong argument in favor of Real Science in comparison with PseudoScience is that the Real kind eventually leads to very tangible yet nearly miraculous things. So Real Science gives rise to miraculous stuff like rewritable CD players and genetic engineering, while astrology and ESP only seem to lead to bad TV specials. Now, you think that this difference would be clear, and that you would listen to the people who brought you the Magical Machines when they point out that astrology is complete crap. But they don't.

        Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  • by Millennium (2451) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:16PM (#3440151) Homepage
    Some of the questions are certainly a matter of grave concern. In particular, those which revolved around actual science.

    Some of the others, however, such as the belief in pseudoscience, I'm not sure are as alarming. Is this really a disbelief in science, or simply a turning away from something I call "scientific exclusivism"?

    Allow me to explain. Science, logic, empiricism, and the like are very good at explaining stuff. In fact, you can explain a whole lot of things with these. But you cannot explain everything with them; there are holes. And there are holes in every school of thought out there; the universe is just plain not simple enough to allow for a single set of principles to explain all things. So to fill in those gaps, something else is needed. And whatever this "something else" is, it has its own holes, ones filled in by science. They complement each other, rather than conflict.

    Also interesting to note is the conflicts you see in any exclusivist system. A religious fundamentalist will blithely ignore what he sees every day, in an attempt to justify his own beliefs. But a militant atheist will weave together a maze of logic which, in the end, contradicts itself, usually by an assumption that lack of proof positive equals proof negative. And then there's Objectivism, but going into the exclusivist errors in that one will take more time than I currently have. In the end, though, it all goes back to Goedel's theorem that no system of methematics can be both consistent and complete at the same time. It's true for schools of thought as well; if you want to be truly consistent in your beliefs, then it is impossible to stick with only one.

    There has been a growing trend among academia for scientific exclusivism lately, that is, the idea that science can explain all things and anything else is ridiculous superstition. This bothers me; in its own way, it is as bad as any religion, and breeds the same sorts of intolerance (albeit with different targets). If this test shows a trend away from exclusivism -be it scientific, religious, philosophical, or whatever- then someone is doing something right for a change.
    • by gwernol (167574) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @12:38AM (#3440895)
      Science, logic, empiricism, and the like are very good at explaining stuff. In fact, you can explain a whole lot of things with these. But you cannot explain everything with them; there are holes. And there are holes in every school of thought out there; the universe is just plain not simple enough to allow for a single set of principles to explain all things. So to fill in those gaps, something else is needed. And whatever this "something else" is, it has its own holes, ones filled in by science. They complement each other, rather than conflict.

      I'm sorry but that argument doesn't stand up to a moment's examination. First just because our current set of scientific theories don't explain everything says nothing about science's ability to explain everything, which seems to be your argument. Just because I don't know something today doesn't mean I can't learn something new tomorrow. Second, I don't see and you give no evidence at all to back up, the claim that the current holes in scientific theory are complemented by any alternative "theory" (presumably some form of religion). There are plenty of phenomena that are explained by neither science nor any alternative theory. Believing in lots of contradictory systems does not get you any closer to a "complete" understanding of the universe than believing in any one of them.

      In the end, though, it all goes back to Goedel's theorem that no system of methematics can be both consistent and complete at the same time. It's true for schools of thought as well; if you want to be truly consistent in your beliefs, then it is impossible to stick with only one.

      I'm sorry but you are just plain wrong about this. Godel's theorem is about mathematics and mathematics alone. It cannot be applied to other fields of knowledge such as general philosophy. If your argument is based on the belief that Godel's theorem is applicable outside mathematics then you need to go back and try to understand Godel's theorem again. For example, Boyer states that: "Gödel showed that within a rigidly logical system such as Russell and Whitehead had developed for arithmetic, propositions can be formulated that are undecidable or undemonstrable within the axioms of the system." Clearly many philosophies are not "rigidly logical systems..." and so Godel's theorem does not apply to them.

      if you want to be truly consistent in your beliefs, then it is impossible to stick with only one.

      This is so preposterously not what Godel's theorem states that I am beginning to suspect you are a troll. Please go back to a good account of Godel's work and take another run at it.
    • Some of the others, however, such as the belief in pseudoscience, I'm not sure are as alarming. Is this really a disbelief in science, or simply a turning away from something I call "scientific exclusivism"?

      The problem with pseudo-science is that it is typically made up of theories that should be, but are invariably not, empirically verified. For example, ESP is something that can easily be tested in a lab. Far from being open questions (like philosophical debate as to whether god exists), questions that can easily be answered with a simple lab test are closed.

      Science doesn't attempt to "explain" anything-- it goes further than this by requiring standards of verifiability. Pseudoscience on the other hand claims to produce results, but mysteriously "stops working" when subjected to a sceptical eye.

      Something that is purely conjectural like the existence of alien life forms, god/gods, etc does not fall under the umbrella of science or psedoscience.

      BTW, your remark about Godel is utter nonsense. Goodels theorem has nothing to do with belief systems, it merely addresses mathematical axioms and their logical consequences.

  • by _LORAX_ (4790) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:19PM (#3440179) Homepage
    ... can't reason their way out of a paper bag.

    One of the major problems with psuedo-science is..

    Unexplained != Inexplicable

    Just because we don't know why some things happed does not mean there is some supernatural reason behind it.

    ESP has never been proven to be anything but statistical number games or fraud. Cold reading is a well documented skill that has been used for centuries.

    Psuedo-science != Relegion

    Religion takes things on faith. People believe in religion for many reasons. Psuedo-science attempts to prove something is true by using scientific ( language, tools, ... ) but in no way what they are doing is scientific. The one thing that psuedo-science does not have that really sets them appart is they have NO peer revier of their findings.

    To summerize what alot of people have said already...

    "But too many people believe it not to be true"
    This is a classic appeal to populatity. Common knoledge is often simplified or all together wrong.

    "You cannot prove that it's NOT ESP"
    I don't have to. That is an appeal to ignorance. By that reasoning I can prove and disprove anything I want. Basic critical reasoning says that I don't have to prove you wrong, you have to prove to me that you are RIGHT.

    "ESP is a faith just like any other science"
    Nope, see above. Science has the feature of being peer reviewed and have reproducable results. ESP has never been proven in any controled environment.

    As most of the slashdot public has proven this article is quite right.
  • Psychic power? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ImaLamer (260199) <john.lamarNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:19PM (#3440185) Homepage Journal
    Let's look at these things.

    While they are rebuffed by scientists - does that make these things "fake" or non-science?

    Part of the Great Witch Hunt was physicians, along side of their Church counterparts, who killed off any "medicine men" or faith healers. Kind of ironic considering they [hunters] were advocates of prayer for healing and both sides treated illness with their limited knowledge of the human body.

    We look back and assume that the medicine men were crazy shamans - but they were in fact scientists in every sense of the word. Be very careful not to get on either side of this debate because in the past the debate was based on politics and not based on science what so ever. [look into the real history of the American Medical Association]

    "Science" is a mystery. We can only study what is before us.

    I don't believe in these things - most of all the UFO portion. But look here [psiexplorer.com] for more. I do, however, think that there is too much that we don't know or don't understand about our own minds to say these ideas are all "fake".
  • by Edmund Blackadder (559735) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:25PM (#3440216)
    The US really has to improve their school education.

    We have probably the best university education in the world, and one of the worst public education systems in the industrialized world.

    It is a side of the great inequality ruling american society - just as we have a huge disparity between rich and poor, we have a great disparity between people with good and bad education.

    I dont know if people realize how problematic this is. Having large numbers of badly educated people is just asking for civil unrest. And we can really do better in the richest and most powerful nation on earth.

    Of course there are communities in the states that will strongly resist education. But that pressure will be getting very weak because the internet erode the power of local authority centers.
  • by John Miles (108215) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:30PM (#3440260) Homepage Journal
    For instance, there are plenty of scientists who claim to be Christians (as opposed to Christian Scientists). Should those scientists be stripped of their professional accreditation because they believe in the eventual return to Earth of a 2,000-year-old dead Jewish guy?

    If you think so, then be prepared to lose the benefits to society of a number of otherwise-intelligent, thoughtful people.

    If you don't think so -- if you believe that one's religion should not disqualify one from being considered a "scientist" -- then what's the difference between a scientist who is a Christian and one who believes in other unprovable, irrational propositions such as clairvoyance or astrology?

    A great many people, including some of history's most successful scientists, have their pet irrational beliefs. It probably doesn't make sense to use someone's New Age-y beliefs as the chief yardstick of their scientific literacy.
  • by wowbagger (69688) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:31PM (#3440271) Homepage Journal
    The problem with science is that there is always doubt, and most people don't want doubt, they want certainties.

    For example: from where I sit, I cannot see into my garage - in fact, I cannot see my garage at all. Therefor, if I am to be absolutely precise, I cannot state that my car is in the garage. It could have been stolen, it could have disappeared in a puff of smoke, it could have been abducted by aliens. Each of those is a hypothesis, just like the hypothesis that the car is setting there. If I am to be precise, I cannot state for fact that my car is there or not.

    However, since my garage is locked, my car is locked, and had the doors opened I probably would have heard them, the hypothesis that it was stolen is unlikely. Given the body of evidence supporting conservation of matter, the hypothesis that it went poof is unlikely. And any aliens that could reach Earth would have little use for my car, so even if the Drake equation is bunk it would seem unlikely aliens would have stolen it. The most likely hypothesis is that my car is right where I left it (relative to the Earth's surface).

    However, that sort of thinking doesn't make sense to the average person. "How can you *not* know your car is out there?" And when a scientist says "I cannot conclusively disprove it", they think that means that is must be true.

    Most so-called "science" teachers just teach that water is H20, that natural gas burns in oxygen, etc. In short, they teach facts, rather than teaching the tools to THINK, and to CHECK what you think. It's easy to test if a student can regurgitate the facts you've crammed down their throat - testing if a student can actually THINK when confronted with a new situation is hard, and subject to opinion (read: "If I flunk this kid, can his parents cast doubt upon my grade?").

    Until we actually start teaching kids to THINK, to constantly question what they know, and to take nothing for granted, we will have this sort of nonsense running around. And since the Industrial Revolution the purpose of public schools has been to turn out organic labor units, not thinking individuals.

    And before you pat yourself on the back, smug in your superiority - when was the last time YOU actually stopped to think about your opinions, and to ask "Now, what are the underlying axioms of this belief? What truths must I hold self-evident to get to this belief? How can I test if those beliefs are true?"
  • by richieb (3277) <richieb AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @10:33PM (#3440287) Homepage Journal
    I've been through all the arguments involving scientific method and repeatable experiments etc. But most people don't want to hear it. So now I have the following list:
    • I don't believe in psychics because you have make an appointment to see one.
    • Where were all the psychics on September 10th?
    • Why have I never seen a headline "Psychic wins lottery"?

  • by Bowie J. Poag (16898) on Tuesday April 30, 2002 @11:21PM (#3440532) Homepage

    You know, I spent much of this evening wondering to myself if its just me, or has everyone around me more or less just become more stupid as the years have gone on...After overhearing this conversation at a local PetsMart:

    Dumb Lady: Oh my God! Oh my god, this fish is dying!

    Clerk: Hm? The goldfish?

    Dumb Lady: Whats wrong with your fish?

    Clerk: Oh..That one. They're supposed to look like that.

    Dumb Lady: With...with its head like that?

    Clerk: Yeah.

    Dumb Lady: What about those eyes? Thats not supposed to be like that..

    Clerk: Yeah. Those goldfish are supposed...supposed to be like that. They're....genetically...not supposed to be like that, originally.

    Dumb Lady: Huh?

    Clerk: Thats the way they make em. Genetically...altered.

    Dumb Lady: ARE YOU SERIOUS?!!?? (gasp)

    Clerk: Yeah.

    Dumb Lady: These fish are GENETICALLY ALTERED?????

    Clerk: Well..they're not.....they're..just come like that.

    Dumb Lady: Oh my god. Radiation. Oh..my god..thats...I guess that means they wont live very long. Like the sheep.

    Clerk: Well, no, its just they're not as hearty as...the other goldfish.

    Dumb Lady: I see.. wow. Look honey, they can do that now..to fish!

    The "fish" the 40-something mother-of-two woman was referring to was one of those big googly-eyed goldfish that you can see in any pet store..Just normal goldfish that are bred to be decorative fishes. I would have said something, but it was already obvious this woman had absolutely no concept of something as simplistic as breeding animals... That,and I felt bad for the clerk who had to endure this woman's sub-roomtemp IQ. I just walked off and felt sorry for civilization.

    Cheers,

  • Public schools (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DaveWood (101146) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @12:02AM (#3440749) Homepage
    We've been reading for decades now about our lagging public educational institutions. They were sub-standard in the 80's, and now they're to that point past crisis where as a parent in all but the most affluent suburbs (and even there) I would have a serious problem sending my child to them. In New York City the high school dropout rate remains over 50%, and the facilities are so poor that classes are taught in closets, and falling masonry is literally killing students. We pay teachers here less than garbagemen; it's not just an urban problem, either, as primary school educators generally can expect to earn a fraction of what other graduate degree holders make (think attorneys, engineers, or doctors). The system's funding has been at best maintained year after year despite a burgeoning, malthusian population explosion. By now we've entered a death spiral of "reforms" and "reorganizations"; vouchers and charters (catholic school subsidy and union busting, respectively) are a perfect example, and as the conservative-liberal polemic has adopted education as one of its battlegrounds, you can't talk to anyone about it without hearing one ignorant catechism or another.

    Only your teachers know the real story, which is that there aren't nearly enough of them, and getting more is tough, since as it stands right now only martyrs and discipline enthusiasts want the job.

    These things have consequences.

    All that separates the 1st world from the 3rd world is the schools. Without education, there's no such thing as democracy.
  • by The Other Dan (30260) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @12:19AM (#3440819)
    Sorry to interrupt the fighting, but I had to point this out.

    In explaining the scientific illiteracy of the US population, the author of this article talks about the number of Americans who believe in psychic powers, UFOs and astrology. The author then writes:

    Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed believe in the theory of global warming, that the planet is being heated by an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Of those surveyed, 86 percent said global warming is a serious or "somewhat serious" problem.

    This is terribly misleading writing. Unlike the previous three issues, the vast majority of scientific evidence supports the belief that the global temperatures are currently rising, and will continue to do so. While scientists may disagree about how high the temperature is going to rise to, or what factors are most to blame, the fact of global warming accepted by the vast majority of scientists. As written, the article could be read to imply that global warming, like psychic powers, UFOs and astrology, is pseudo-science.

    Just had to get that cleared up. Carry on....

  • Random thoughts... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by detritus. (46421) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @12:42AM (#3440911)
    "Sixty percent of those surveyed believe in ESP, psychic power, and alien abduction."

    Evidence suggests that there must be many undiscovered modes and ranges and domains of perception. The human brain is fundamentally unable to conceive of certain profound dimensions of mathematical relationships, as the human eye is fundamentally unable to perceive light beyond a specific range of wavelength. Although, even the slightest glance of what is possible is enough to make someone be called a "visionary" (pun)

    The obvious criterion to consider first is energy. All of human perception (and exceptions thereof) depend on the transference of some form of energy: light, heat, vibration, chemical energy. The next logical question is to ask is: is it possible to create a sensory mode that does not depend upon the emission, transmission, or reflection of energy? The obvious center point to this Is that one would need some medium by which to transmit information, but this is not true if one finds a way to detect information that is already present.

    Consider: mass distorts space. If one can find a way to detect the logical distortion of a distant object, thereby making it possible to sense an object indirectly. Therefore, the true question is, is there an efficient by which one can detect gravity waves?

    Enough rambling for now, i'm tired.
  • Only in America..? (Score:3, Informative)

    by stereoroid (234317) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @04:05AM (#3441506) Homepage Journal
    For the past 2 years I've lived in Ireland, where the state TV broadcaster (RTÉ [www.rte.ie])can be seen doing the following:
    • Every weekday, at 6PM, they have "The Angelus". I have never seen an official explanation of what this is, but it appears to be a Catholicism-inspired "minute of silence", featuring images of crosses and the "virgin mary", interspersed with shots of people oberdiantly stopping whatever they're doing, even crossing the street.
    • This is followed by the News, after which they show commercials for "psychic" hotlines.
    • Sometimes, not just on Sundays, they will have programs about some old catholic fart carrying some saint's jawbone around Ireland, or swanning off to Lourdes on a pilgrimage. Last night I saw about 10 seconds of some missionary dragging women out of Bangkok brothels and preaching at them, after which (I presume) they carried on as before - this guy is a hero worthy of endorsement by a state broadcaster!

    You want my opinion? Three words: Education, Education, Education! The Irish Constitution [www.gov.ie], like the US Constitution [house.gov], mandates freedom of religion, and I take that to mean that people are free to do without religion. So, why are schoolchildren taught to believe in unprovable assertions? From theistic religion to aliens and ESP is but a short step, if you do not have a grounding in scientific principles.

  • by stereoroid (234317) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @04:17AM (#3441525) Homepage Journal
    This was one of Carl Sagan's last books, which IMHO does a very good job of educating the reader in the ways of "bullshit detection" (not his choice of words!). In response to some previous comments, he also uses some good examples to explain the difference between a) allowing that something is possible, and b) believing people who tell you it's actually happening, and who will enlighten you (for a few dollars more).

    (I'm not going to post a link to one bookstore and thus give it more hits - your own favorite bookstore should have it.) Alternatively, if your attention span doesn't allow for the absorption of an entire book, at least go and rent "Contact". After all, if there weren't other civilizations out there, it would be an awful waste of space...

UNIX was half a billion (500000000) seconds old on Tue Nov 5 00:53:20 1985 GMT (measuring since the time(2) epoch). -- Andy Tannenbaum

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