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Parents Baffled By Science Questions 656

Posted by samzenpus
from the don't-get-smart-with-me dept.
Pickens writes "The BBC reports that four out of five parents living in the UK have been stumped by a science question posed by their children with the top three most-asked questions: 'Where do babies come from?', 'What makes a rainbow?' and 'Why is the sky blue?'. The survey was carried out to mark the launch of a new website by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills called Science: So what? So everything."
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Parents Baffled By Science Questions

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:00AM (#29047783)

    In the UK?!

    Why, I'll bet we Americans could get stumped even easier!! take that, britian!

  • by JordanL (886154) <jordan,ledoux&gmail,com> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:02AM (#29047791) Homepage
    I always was interested in science, and when I was younger, it drove me to learn things on my own. While I was in high school, I substituted for a teacher a few times...

    But I was always amazed at how some people were so baffled by the simplest things that are very easy to learn about.

    The everyday person needs to know more science. Unfortunately, many people who do know a lot of science act religious. They treat people who don't know it as inferior, and I believe that turns a lot of people away from learning about it. Not because they think science is less valid, but in a sense, because they don't want to be like the jackass that just got done making them feel worthless.

    Honestly... I think people who know a lot of science are probably the biggest problem with science education.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:13AM (#29047873)

      FTSummary:

      Where do babies come from?

      From the sixties:

      Some parents asked their son, "What do you want for Christmas?"

      He said, "I want a watch."

      So they let him.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by davester666 (731373)

      How did we learn about things before google?

      • by CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:35AM (#29047983)
        When I was young I had a book called "Weet je waarom ... ?" ("Do you why ... ?") which contained funny and informative answers to general questions. From silly kid questions to just generally how the world works. Beats google every time for kids, everyone should have one of these [google.com] in their house and look up stuff with their kids for fun.
      • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @08:13AM (#29050041)

        How did we learn about things before google?

        My folks had an Encyclopedia set. The World Book Encyclopedia. When we learned about sperm and eggs and embryos and fetuses in school, I became curious as to how the man's sperm got into the woman. Not only was I curious, I was concerned. I certainly didn't want something like that happening: fathering a child simply by kissing a girl or holding her hand, so I figured I better find out before I got in trouble. So I pulled out the first "S" volume.

        The article on "Sex" (human) starts out quite dry enough, describing relationships between the sexes and how they develop and change as children mature. It discusses dating and marriage and religious and social influences on intersexual relationships. Then finally the mechanics. As I recall, the description read like this: "A man and woman lie close together. The man places his penis inside the woman's vagina." This made a real impression on me: I figured I'd have to do quite a bit of growing before I could lie down next to a woman, take hold of my penis, and pull it over to the her vagina and plug it in like an extension cord! I was a little disappointed by how dull this sounded, but at the same time relieved that I wouldn't be accidentally spreading my genes around by casual contact.

    • by morghanphoenix (1070832) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:25AM (#29047931)
      The question is, how many are baffled, and how many just don't care to learn it? Learning for the sake of learning doesn't seem to be popular anymore, people squeeze by with the bare minimum they can cram into their skulls so there's more space left over for American Idol, Reality TV and celebrity gossip. At least that is what I see here, I can't think of any reason it would be any different in the UK.
      • by the_womble (580291) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @03:48AM (#29048613) Homepage Journal

        Learning for the sake of learning doesn't seem to be popular anymore

        Schools and universities are increasingly being measures by how well they prepare people for work - i.e. education is becoming more like vocational training.

        In Britain, the government has made schools a lot more centralised. Both schools are teachers have a lot less discretion.

      • by martas (1439879) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @05:41AM (#29049221)
        this reminds me of Arthur C. Clarke's Final Odyssey (3001), where nobody knew anything except what was required to do their job, simply because they already had to learn too much. the difference, though, is that few people are operating at the limit of their mental capacity these days (or any other day, for that matter).
      • by CarpetShark (865376) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @06:15AM (#29049425)

        The question is, how many are baffled, and how many just don't care to learn it?

        Yep. Some people have much more pressing issues, like getting by on/below the poverty line. And maybe they don't think it's even the right stuff to be filling their kids' heads with. Yes, that should probably change, but I think there's definitely an overestimation of science's significance (in terms of awareness rather than potential) to the average person going on here.

        That said... I think there is one overriding factor that could sort it all out. And it's a factor that I never see discussed in terms of parenting skills or raising kids. That factor is: your kid just asked a serious question about life. If you can't answer it, go the fuck out and find the answer, and give it to him. Basically, have some respect for the child's questions... he's obviously asking because it's important to his development in some way.

      • by antirelic (1030688) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @06:49AM (#29049633) Journal

        Wrong. A vast majority of people have always just learned enough just to get by. There has never been a period in human history where the vast majority of people sat around reading philosophy and physics books and discussed xyz science discovery. Call it human nature, but people tend to focus on the things that are most entertaining to them, and most people just want to know enough to have a decent discussion with the rest of the people around them.

        I cant recall the last time I sat down with anyone and chatted about "Cirrus clouds", but this is the crap they teach in 5th grade. Why? Because the 14th century concept of the "new man". Its a failed paradigm that we still cling to: people being smart all around.

        The education system, I'd say across the world is completely outdated and is a perfect example of a government run system. Even with all the technological advances available to schools, we still use the 17th century lecture style instruction method across the globe. We cram 30 students into the room with 1 teacher, and force everyone to learn at one pace: from the smartest to the dumbest. This made sense when schools taught the basics: reading, writing and arithmetic. This system was never meant to produce "college students". No, college students came from "wealthy" families that could afford nice schools with small classes that offered more personal attention from the academic instructor.

        Intrusive government in the western world in cooperation with the unions work diligently to keep schools with a certain child to teacher ratio, in order to ensure more "jobs", not more educated children. Lets face it. You can put 100 children into a curriculum and augment it with a computer learning system and easily handle it with 1 teacher. This is being done with colleges all across the nation, right now. The teacher simply helps answer question while the computer handles the bulk of the instruction (yup, you can even complement the learning with pictures, videos, audio, etc..). Let the kids learn at their own pace and see what happens.

        You wont get this though. Because we live in a world that demands "social justice" aka: forcing the smartest to be clumped in with the dumbest and the laziest.

      • by wbren (682133) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:12PM (#29054467) Homepage

        Learning for the sake of learning doesn't seem to be popular anymore...

        Of course, because if you learned for the sake of learning you would be an intellectual, which is considered a bad thing in modern America. You can't have a beer with an intellectual, and intellectuals are not good at bowling.

    • by ldrydenb (1316047) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:34AM (#29047977)

      In "The Demon Haunted World", Carl Sagan recalls a taxi driver who professed to be very interested in science ... then asked Sagan about flying saucers, Atlantis, etc.

      Sagan describes his sadness at having to tell the guy that so many of his interests are "baloney" ... and his anger at an educational system that didn't equip the guy with the knowledge to distinguish science from pseudo-science.

      A couple of decades later, school science teaching still seems to be less about critical thinking and more about absorbing facts handed down from on high. I imagine that most science *teachers* wish it were otherwise, but are bound by the curriculum.

      • by JordanL (886154) <jordan,ledoux&gmail,com> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:40AM (#29048015) Homepage
        I was extremely lucky. My science teacher was a research scientist who quit researching for the specific purpose of "teaching correctly". It didn't matter what the cirriculum was, she forced you to reason your way to answers.

        I realized just how effective this was in my Freshman biology class when the student next to me, who was someone you'd probably refer to as a "typical black teen male" turned to me and said, "Man... you can't avoid learning in this class... yesterday I was makin' myself a sandwich and when I pulled the mayonase out I started thinking about what an immulsion was..."

        But teaching at that level is absolutely exhausting... the trick, I've learned, is to show people that things follow a logical path. People, especially young people, just wait until someone tells them what happens next. Often they don't even attempt to figure out on their own what happens next. Really good science teachers challenge you to do that first. Everything else follows.
        • by c6gunner (950153) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:38AM (#29048331)

          People, especially young people, just wait until someone tells them what happens next.

          Nonsense. Young people are naturally curious. Only after years of exposure to a spoon-feeding "educational system" do they become mindless drones waiting to memorize the next factoid. If we can change the system to work WITH their natural curiosity, it won't be difficult to motivate them - the hard part will be trying to keep them focused on just one topic.

          • by JordanL (886154) <jordan,ledoux&gmail,com> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @03:03AM (#29048433) Homepage
            I was refering to teenagers...
          • by shani (1674) <shane@time-travellers.org> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @03:26AM (#29048513) Homepage

            People, especially young people, just wait until someone tells them what happens next.

            Nonsense. Young people are naturally curious. Only after years of exposure to a spoon-feeding "educational system" do they become mindless drones waiting to memorize the next factoid. If we can change the system to work WITH their natural curiosity, it won't be difficult to motivate them - the hard part will be trying to keep them focused on just one topic.

            Nonsense. Anyone with experience with young children (say 2 to 5 years old) will know that kids are curious, but incredibly lazy. So they ask, "why?" and wait for an answer. And then they ask "why?" about that. And then "why?". And then "why?". And then "why?".

            If you don't teach them how to reason for themselves, then they behave exactly as the original poster describes. They just wait until someone tells them what happens next. It is work to show children that they can reason for themselves, or investigate causes on their own.

            • by acklenx (646834) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @11:10AM (#29052619) Homepage

              ...kids are curious, but incredibly lazy. So they ask, "why?"

              You have to seed the pool of reasoning... If they have no basis for "why" how can you expect them to reason out why something else happens?

              I used to push my son in a stroller while I went for a run. He would ask why ad infinitum, and I kept on answering way past his ability to comprehend. But I was amazed at his memory - even years later he remembered the "why" and was able to apply that to new questions - no longer asking simply "why" but asking instead, "is it because...", or "is it like..." but referring to thing that were way outside of his comprehension level at the time he was originally "spoon fed".

              I think the biggest problem is that teacher are used to being spoon fed themselves. How many teachers don't know the answer if it's not printed in the "teacher's edition" of the book?

              Typical Q&A with the science teacher:
              Why is the sky blue?

              Because it reflects blue light.

              Why does it reflect blue light?

              Because it's blue.


              It's a good thing they taught me to read early. That's about the only way I learned anything.

    • Disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aepervius (535155) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:37AM (#29047993)
      Honestly... I think people who know a lot of science are probably the biggest problem with science education.

      The problem is not that science people are arrogant, the problem is that they come way too late in education (to properly explain the science method) at a point where all people did for the previous year was swallow factoid and regurgitate them (lower school science lesson is usually just that), and combined with the fact science is seen as nerdy/geeky and thus only for contempt. Later those same people which admire jocks and despite nerd become parents and are baffled by science question.Add to that the fact that science is sometimes seen as attacking/going against their own religious belief (in reality science as a method do not care for religion (except social science) what cannot be falsified is ignored)...
    • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:37AM (#29047997)
      One could make the argument that people who don't know any basic science ARE inferior. Yeah, sure, no one needs to know about electron orbitals and wave particle duality in their daily life. But people that believe that perpetual motion is completely legitimate and is being covered up by big oil companies and governments as some big conspiracy are fucking worthless. That isn't advanced science, that's standard high school junior year science. The people that pay absolutely no attention to that class have no idea why we should develop renewable energy because "we just need perpetual motion". Forget funding research into this area, let's waste time "overthrowing" corporations to get this magical source of limitless energy.
  • Calvin's Dad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:10AM (#29047853) Homepage Journal

    Obviously many parents parents need to be more like Calvin's Dad [s-anand.net]. He was never stumped by Calvin's science questions.

    (More [google.com])

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by benjamindees (441808)

      You left out the absolute best one [freewebs.com].

      This [nocookie.net] isn't bad either.

  • by fremsley471 (792813) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:25AM (#29047929)
    There is no way that children in Britain think blue is the colour of the sky.
    • by julesh (229690) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:08AM (#29048711)

      There is no way that children in Britain think blue is the colour of the sky.

      You missed the point of the question. It's usually asked when the kid gets to about 5 or 6 years old, looks up at the sky one day and finds that it's a different colour to what it usually is. It's normally asked with a hint of fear (similarly, perhaps, to "why is the plane's wing on fire?"), and quite frequently during a foreign holiday.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:27AM (#29047941)

    Clifford Stoll's astronomy PhD orals seemed to be going swimmingly.

    Just as everybody was about to gather their papers, shake hands and head home, his rather sadistic PhD supervisor asked him to explain why the sky is blue.

    The sharks sensed blood in the water and began circling for the kill.

    Don't assume a question is easily answered just because it seems simple and innocuous at first glance.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by treat (84622)

      Indeed, so far no one has posted the answer. And even though the total of the articles on wikipedia seems to be the most concise yet thorough explanation I can find, it fails to impart an actual understanding.

      I doubt anyone can explain why the sky is blue in a way that doesn't involve a partial explanation. I doubt anyone here could explain it to a child in a way that the first child could explain it to another.

      Just saying "Rayleigh scattering" doesn't answer it. Nor does copying the formula for it or being

  • demonizing groups (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bogotronix (1586717) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:28AM (#29047943)
    This type of news item is sort of a cheap shot by journalists. It's an old trick that probably dates back to antiquity--look how stupid these people are, they can't answer simple questions! And the consumer rolls their eyes, feels superior, etc. Look on youtube [below], there are some hilarious videos about Americans, British, Germans being "stupid". The vids were done as an exercise in psychological manipulation. One example [youtube.com].
  • Embarrassing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gweihir (88907) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:51AM (#29048087)

    At least the first one the parents need to be able to answer, it they halfway have a memory left. As to the technicialities of the issue, if they really cannot talk about sex, they should be aware that they are putting their children at high risk of messing it up later (unwanted pregnancy, STDs) and fix this disgrace immediately. There are books that help and that deal specifically with how to explain this to your children. Go to your local bookstore and ask! Grossing the children out is a minor and acceptable possible side effect. But they need to be told!

    As to 2. and 3., I can understand that. These are actually advanced wave-physics questions.

  • by dbet (1607261) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @01:57AM (#29048131)
    If this happens to you, the best thing to do is say that you don't know and go find out together with your child. This not only gives you something fun to do, it can help teach them to explore the internet, a bookstore, or a library. Most importantly it teaches them how to learn things.

    The cool thing is, most of these basic questions have many levels beneath them. For example, most of you know why grass is green, but why is chlorophyll green? Why is green a really odd color for plants to use? Would "orange-phyll" (if it existed) work too? This leads to an exploration of chemistry and physics as well as biology.

    Another good thing to teach is how people know this stuff - the idea that the natural world is knowable through discovery and testing, and that we decide as a community what "the truth" is, based on what we observe and what makes sense. Kids can certainly learn the idea of what science is at a pretty young age, even if complex logic isn't possible until, I don't know, early teens? Hmm, something to look up!
  • by Torodung (31985) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:04AM (#29048169) Journal

    After all, when asked about the color of the sky, a parent could answer like this [eskimo.com].

    Let us give thanks that some people have the sense and honesty to say "I don't know," and try not to look down our noses at them. Bad parenting is darned hard to unlearn.

    --
    Toro

  • by VincenzoRomano (881055) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @02:38AM (#29048329) Homepage Journal
    They'd [wolframalpha.com] try [wolframalpha.com] WolframAlpha [wolframalpha.com].
    That's it!
  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @03:39AM (#29048571)
    A lot of people above are posting about "Why is the sky blue" being a hard question, Rayleigh scattering, etc. etc. But this is to miss the context, which is telling children. The level of an explanation depends on the ability of the explained-to person to understand.

    From this point of view, all that is needed is to be able to explain light from the sun is made up of all colors (no need to explain wavelengths) - which you can demonstrate with a bit of broken glass, no need for an official prism - and are then most of the way to the rainbow explanation - and that the blue light from the sun is spread out more by the atmosphere. You can demonstrate scattering simply by putting a little milk in a glass of water and shining a flashlight through it. This is a level of explanation suitable for a child under, say, 13, and already introduces a number of ideas about optics.

    As for where babies come from, even quite small children are quite safe with the idea that babies grow inside their mothers. Rural children can hardly avoid knowing this by the age of 3 or so. They need reassurance that it won't happen to them, yet, and they need a gradual increase of detail until they reach puberty. But they don't need to know about DNA, cell fission, fertilisation and so on in order to understand what causes pregnancy and how to avoid it until it's actually wanted.

    Personally, I blame not so much the dumbing down as the increasing formalism of science teaching. The criticism of science teaching in Brazil made by Richard Feynmann is now valid in much of the West today. We actually need to teach ideas with simpler, more familiar equipment rather than the special manufactured experiments in school labs, otherwise how can people see the relevance? The example above, of someone suddenly realising that mayonnaise is an emulsion, is a good one.

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