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Education United States Science

How To Make Science Popular Again? 899

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the push-church-and-state-apart-again dept.
Ars Technica has an interesting look at the recent book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, a collaboration between Chris Mooney, writer and author of The Republican War on Science, and scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum. While it seems the book's substance is somewhat lacking it raises an interesting point; how can science be better integrated with mainstream culture for greater understanding and acceptance? "We must all rally toward a single goal: without sacrificing the growth of knowledge or scientific innovation, we must invest in a sweeping project to make science relevant to the whole of America's citizenry. We recognize there are many heroes out there already toiling toward this end and launching promising initiatives, ranging from the Year of Science to the World Science Festival to ScienceDebate. But what we need — and currently lack — is the systematic acceptance of the idea that these actions are integral parts of the job description of scientists themselves. Not just their delegates, or surrogates, in the media or the classrooms."
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How To Make Science Popular Again?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 14, 2009 @01:58PM (#29416345)

    As much as many people would like to think otherwise, public policy is set by elected officials who may take science into consideration, but also must consider economic trade offs and cultural issues. Throw in the usual paranoid claptrap about corporations if you want, it doesn't change the facts.

    Just because the Republicans did not rush headlong and unquestionably into the public policy positions championed by the James Hansons and Al Gores of the world doesn't mean they were conducting a war on science.

    If science is unpopular today it is because of the arrogant, dogmatic and privileged folks who stand at its door. Add to that the people who embark on regular crusades, telling people they are stupid and ignorant for not listening to them, it's no wonder students shy away from science.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Moryath (553296)

      Also, the James Hansons and Al Gores of the world are (and let's be brutally honest here) as far from "scientific" as you can get.

      People are tired of being told that something is "scientific" or "scientifically proven" because those words have become synonymous with snake oil. Separating the things that are actually rigorously tested, from the ones that had a cherry-picked study that then massaged the numbers and employed lying with statistics [wikipedia.org] for their sales pitch, has become an art in itself.

      If science is

      • by Philip K Dickhead (906971) <folderol@fancypants.org> on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:20PM (#29416783) Journal

        Look,

        International capital interests are banking against a US role in the future. They own the casino, and you are a fool to bet against this house.

        There is an active effort to dumb-down America in particular, and to lose the capability for sound argument in the roar of mindless accusation and countercharges.

        There is a reason that Fox News and the like are funded to billions of dollars, every year. These are investments in an outcome, not wild and speculative spending.

        So.

        Don't get your hopes up, Eloi. You ar ein a Morlock zone - and all your cleverness and intelligence will not change the decisions that have been made for you. Enjoy fighting the school board brownshirts over "Creation Science".

        • by phantasmagoric (1626559) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:06PM (#29417555)
          An active effort to dumb-down America? I call bullshit. Do you have any evidence for that besides the fact that Fox News says stupid things? It seems to me that a widespread brain leak has been occurring in most of the western world, where science has lost the popularity it had gained (somewhat) during the 60s. A few weeks ago NPR was talking about a train going through Germany trying to get kids interested in science. The founder is very concerned about the slow degradation of GERMAN intelligence and interest in science. We aren't the only ones with this problem
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I can comment on the localized symptom in US and UK - where I reside.

            I agree, that most western economies, based on fiat currencies and reserve banking are in the crosshairs.

            The US has taken the bait deepest - and has had the most to lose.

            After decades of Prole-papers and bad Labour/Tory politics, the UK still stays skeptical of the crap they are fed. SkyNews hardly dents - but we'll see what's up for the new generation.

            Germany? They still actually manufacture high-quality industrial and engineering bits!

          • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday September 14, 2009 @04:33PM (#29418705) Homepage Journal

            It seems to me that a widespread brain leak has been occurring in most of the western world, where science has lost the popularity it had gained (somewhat) during the 60s.

            Wrong. I was born in 1952, and science NEVER was popular. We nerds were shunned as parias and only started getting respect when computers started getting popular with non-nerds.

            I blame the sorry state of US public education, where the science teachers can make the fascinating into something as dull as watching paint dry.

            • by multimediavt (965608) on Monday September 14, 2009 @06:19PM (#29420005)

              It took long enough for me to find this response!

              I'm sorry, I've been alive for twenty years shorter than the parent poster and I do not remember a time when science was ever "popular". Popularized, maybe, with the moon shots and all, but NEVER popular. If science was ever popular how would it ever lose popularity? Think about that for a moment. Science is a constantly changing beast, with something new emerging from an enormous variety of fields ... hourly! How could you ever get bored with science should it ever become popular?

              I call shenanigans on the whole notion of science having been "popular" ... well, ever! Not even in Newton's time, and certainly not Galileo's when it wasn't even called science. Hell, it wasn't even called science until the last, what? 150 years of its existence. It was a branch of philosophy (natural philosophy) before that!

              Science has never and probably will never be popular. Sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but use some scientific method and tell me when science was ever popular. I have no evidence to support the assertion and know of none to even test.

              • by couchslug (175151) on Monday September 14, 2009 @09:03PM (#29421289)

                "Popularized, maybe, with the moon shots and all, but NEVER popular."

                I was born in 1959, and your statement is dead-on.
                Ever ready to reap the benefits of science, American culture is still bitterly backward and only changes slowly despite what popular media would have us believe. The capable few change themselves, while the mob just drone along as usual. America despises smart people, exalting the retarded (note all the programs for window-lickers) and largely abandoning their gifted superiors. The US school system was a Hellmouth long before Jon Katz wrote about it.

                We need a self-aware, pro-science counterculture than can enable those who are deserving and eager, and rescue/separate them from their toxic inferiors.

        • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:18PM (#29417731) Journal

          An interesting comment, but note that the Morlocks were the smart ones in control and the Eloi were ultimately the pretty, vacant types. Your analogy doesn't fit perfectly, but if it did, it would be the other way around.

          Anyway, I can offer a simple cause for Science not being "popular" (whether this cause is deliberate or not, I'll leave open): science doesn't receive much reward. You look at what gets the hero's share in modern Western society - celebrity, fashion, football, whatever. People are frequently motivated by what gets them adulation or appears as if it might. They therefore desire to be like those people that get such adulation, not like those that don't. It's really, very, very simple. If society sees a celebration of people for their scientific ability, then you will get people wanting to be scientists. If its not celebrated, you will get fewer.
      • by joocemann (1273720) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:23PM (#29416855)

        I'd say science is not popular because ignorance is easy and science can be inconvenient. It's hard to actually learn things; people are lazy, no doubt. And when those things to learn aren't what you want to hear, that makes it *that* much harder to like.

        • by Kell Bengal (711123) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:40PM (#29417141)
          Old greek proverb: anything worth knowing is difficult to learn.
        • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:39PM (#29417979)
          Not only that, but science requires a lot of preexisting knowledge. You can't pick up a scientific journal in a field you've never studied and understand an article; that's impossible unless you have the necessary knowledge to even understand what they're saying. Modern science is pushing fringes that are bizarre and hard to grasp. With relativity, you can give a nice example of a man taking a trip to Alpha Centauri and returning younger than his brother who stayed here. It's weird, but you can kind of grasp it in a few minutes. Try to do the same thing with quantum physics and see if they don't come back 5 minutes later completely missing the point. Compare the complexity if relativity to the complexity of string theory; relativity is simple by comparison.

          People have gotten used to not knowing anything about science because they don't know enough to understand what's going on. We all make fun of articles that try to dumb down the science to make it understandable to people, yet that's what's necessary for people to try to understand it. Right now, the average person doesn't know science because it's inaccessible to them, and because they don't know science they don't trust that they can tell the difference between a lie and good research (this is probably because they can't).
        • by oni (41625) on Monday September 14, 2009 @04:24PM (#29418611) Homepage

          science can be inconvenient.

          I think that science isn't popular because all that we see of it is stuff that's depressing. Kids today are bombarded by the message that we've ruined the world, destroyed the planet, and can't do anything right. Why should they get motivated after hearing all of that?

          If you want to see a contrast, find some of the old Mr. Wizard videos on youtube or wherever you can find them. The undercurrent that I see in those videos is that everything is knowable, all problems are solvable. That's the mantra that was taught to the generation that landed on the Moon.

          The subsequent generation was very much a downer. Now, I'm not blind to the facts. I know that there is a lot of bad news out there. But it seems to me that what we tell kids today is simply, "omfg global warming!" "omfg extinction!" "omfg pacific garbage patch!" And that's all we tell them. We don't follow it up with optimism of any kind, so they come away with the attitude, "fuck this! what's the point of school when we're all going to die?"

      • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:21PM (#29417775)

        Also, the James Hansons and Al Gores of the world are (and let's be brutally honest here) as far from "scientific" as you can get.

        Are they in your opinion really "as far from scientific as you can get" or do you just disagree with some of their interpretations of the data? I've criticisms of every study making any conclusions about climate change, and I've heard an argument that we don't have enough evidence to really justify policy change. But that's all disagreements about interpretation. Scientists always do that (well, they do that if they actually care about the data and aren't sleeping during presentations or thinking about their own research... or just sex...).

        If James Hanson and Al Gore make their arguments based on faith or "I believe based on what God told me" then yes, they would be as far from scientific as you can get, but "This person interprets the data differently than I do" is not the same as "not scientific." Lumping them in with fake pharmacists is going way too far, and if you're going to go down that road, why don't you go for the full Godwin?

      • "...And the hundreds of Nobel Prize scientists who got involved with trying to communicate the dangers of global warming to the world long, long before Al Gore got involved in anything... Ignore them! Al Gore's special lethal uber-cooties makes what all those Nobel Prize winning scientists say irrelevant.

      • by Abies Bracteata (317438) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:31PM (#29417899)

        James Hansen is one of the most widely published, widely-cited climate-scientists in the world. (Consult scholar.google.com for more). Calling Hansen "unscientific" betrays a breathtaking ignorance in Earth-science/climate-science. The only thing Moryath's post proves is that many compsci students get a very poor education in the physical sciences.

      • Al Gore and James Hansen aren't just making this stuff up. They're simply relaying what 90% of scientists in related fields and what 90% of all scientists agree with. This is what folks in the world of science call a "scientific consensus". Unfortunately, because this particular scientific consensus is ideologically inconvenient for you, you want us to believe that 90% of all scientists in the world are part of a massive international conspiracy run by Al Gore.

        No offense, you are exactly the problem that is

    • Wrong question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrNaz (730548) * on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:04PM (#29416505) Homepage

      I think you're a troll, but I'll bite anyway. As someone who is fascinated with all things science related, I bemoan the total apathy towards science within the community. However, I feel that it is important to point out that it is not just science that is being neglected by the community; politics, philosophy, social conscience and other highly important fields have also been totally lost to the common mind.

      It's not just discussing the latest article in Nature magazine or Scientific American that results in dumb stares, but also trying to discuss things like the relative merits of current geopolitical policies of various nations, how and why the legal system has gotten to its current state, even this very subject, the apathy of the common person, is not the sort of thing that most people are able to discuss in any depth.

      This may all sound very high-horsey, however, I challenge anyone to go to a party, bring up a discussion about the question of whether mathematics is invented or discovered, and see how long you can keep it up. I'm likely to get laughed at for the mere suggestion of this, someone will call me a dork or similar.

      The thing is, I actually get out a lot. I travel several times a year, and spent a lot of time meeting new people. It's something that I really enjoy. I'm not a dork. I think.

      So, how do we make science (and other "intelligent" subjects) popular again? I dunno, how about priming children in an environment that's a bit more stimulating than the modern day care facility. How about teaching them the basics in an environment that's a bit more positive than the jokes that are primary schools where teachers' hearts are rarely in the job. Don't even let me get started on the barbaric mass-cagefight that is high school.

      You want to know why science is not popular in the first place? Because we (as a society, we can't just blame the "education system", after all, parents, they're YOUR kids) as a society are teaching our kids to be consumerist, apathetic, self-centered brats. We need a whole new social order, including a new social mindset that teaches people a proper set of values. Science and all the higher arts won't be popular again until people learn to value them.

      Thus, asking how to make science popular I feel is the wrong question. The correct question is how to teach people it's value.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        I don't think there's anything new there. As the anecdote goes, when Galileo presented the telescope to some of his peers, they didn't even bother looking at the sky, they didn't care. Instead they started using it to snoop on their neighbors.
      • Re:Wrong question (Score:5, Insightful)

        by neonprimetime (528653) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:25PM (#29416887)
        Thus, asking how to make science popular I feel is the wrong question. The correct question is how to teach people it's value.

        I believe that Science (like many other things) has been hi-jacked by politics. And since it's a given that people hate discussing politics they now hate discussing science too. The only way to make it popular again is to get politicians to stop hoarding it. Science should be for scientists and academia ... politicians should get their dirty little fingers out of it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Ironchew (1069966)

          Science should be for scientists and academia ...

          The reason science is largely unpopular in this country is because of a perceived elitism in the "process" of science. I'm not talking about the scientific method, I'm talking about peer review, university grants, and the esoteric publishing/journaling system that goes on with such a process. Language in scientific literature is purposefully obscure, not because of necessarily technical language, but because different scientific fields try to carve different niches and talk in their own languages to justi

        • Re:Wrong question (Score:5, Informative)

          by citizenr (871508) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:01PM (#29417481) Homepage

          I believe that Science (like many other things) has been hi-jacked by politics.

          It has been hijacked by dump people. If I turn on TV right now and switch to Discovery Ill probably see LA Ink, Most Haunted or other REALITY TV crap :(

      • Re:Wrong question (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kell Bengal (711123) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:43PM (#29417191)
        I agree entirely. The summary talks about heros, but most people's adored rolemodel is more likely to be a non-productive sportsman or actor. Sure, they're pretty to look at, but they don't actually do anything materially useful. Compare that with the recently deceased Norman Borlog who changed the world, but nobody knows his name. Perhaps if lauded and paid scientists like we do sportsmen - make it sexy and rewarding to do science - people would see them like the heros they are.

        The problem with science, though, is that it isn't sexy. By the time you're an elite scientist, you're old and grey whereas elite sportsmen are young and vigourous and all the things our hindbrains crave. And science is slow - you can't follow Fermilab like some do a baseball team. Let's face it: science is slow and tedious and not very exciting day-to-day.

        We could give scientists better pay, but capitalism isn't set up to reward the scientist - just the person who exploits their work. The modern mindset is to make money at any cost, and the idea of paying scientists to learn about the fundamental nature of the universe is disruptively out of step with the cash-squeezing mentality of the world.

        What are we left with? The fruits of their labour. Scientists discover things of beauty, magnificent vistas of science that are accessible to all. The fact is that most people are taught to shut up and pay attention to the TV, rather than think creatively or examine their lives.

        The problem with science isn't science - perhaps it's the very nature of our culture that rejects learning and instead values money, simple ideas and sex appeal. Unless we instill principles early on that value science and learning, it will never happen.

        • Us v Them. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by mcmonkey (96054) on Monday September 14, 2009 @04:54PM (#29419009) Homepage

          For all the references to popular esteem of the sciences the 1950s and '60s, no one is asking, 'why?'

          I think the answers goes to why we follow spectator sports. It also goes to why we have the current political environment.

          People like Us v Them. We like having winners and losers, even if it means sometimes begin a loser.

          Fox News and MSMBC have the following they do not because the common man wants to get in to the minutia of the government sausage factory. We are not a nation of policy wonks. It's Democrat v Republican; conservative v liberal.

          Science was the same way after WWII. It was our scientists v their scientists. Our bomb v their bomb. Our rocket v their rocket.

          The problem with science, though, is that it isn't sexy. By the time you're an elite scientist, you're old and grey whereas elite sportsmen are young and vigourous and all the things our hindbrains crave.

          Not true. While a successful scientist is usually able to maintain a productive level of performance longer than an athlete, the physical sciences and mathematics are very much a young persons game.

          And science is slow - you can't follow Fermilab like some do a baseball team. Let's face it: science is slow and tedious and not very exciting day-to-day.

          Again I disagree. Sports are slow. Sunday on the pitch is exciting. Perhaps the highlights of training camp are exciting. But the thousands of hours in the gym, lifting the same weights or climbing the same stairs for hours are just as boring as thousands of hours of practice a musician goes through or the preparation a scientist goes through.

          The difference is not the speed and the amount of drudgery to achieve excellence.

          The difference is scheduling. For the sports fan, the practice is boring but come Sunday noon, there will be excitement. For the music fan, the practice is boring but come Saturday night, there will be excitement.

          For the science fan, we don't know when the excitement will come. Science doesn't work on a schedule the same way.

          You want people to be able to discuss science the same way they discuss politics? You want the public adoration for scientists bestowed upon athletes? Just make science the Us v Them competition it was during the height of the cold war.

      • by Estanislao Martínez (203477) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:53PM (#29417335) Homepage

        However, I feel that it is important to point out that it is not just science that is being neglected by the community; politics, philosophy, social conscience and other highly important fields have also been totally lost to the common mind.

        This is an old theme of American history, called anti-intellectualism [wikipedia.org]. The American public isn't so much "anti-science" as anti-intellectual.

        I think that GP has a point about the proper relationship between science and policy; all too often people use the authority of science to sneak in policy and value judgements as science (for example, intelligence testing). We need to be critical of the people who insist that science should set policy, as GP recommends.

        However, to do so successfully we can't be anti-intellectual, and that's where I part with GP. The Republicans are the party that panders to anti-intellectualism; their war on science was real. G.W. Bush is an anti-intellectual poster boy, too.

        This may all sound very high-horsey, however, I challenge anyone to go to a party, bring up a discussion about the question of whether mathematics is invented or discovered, and see how long you can keep it up.

        Invented, just like chess.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sbillard (568017)

          Invented, just like chess.

          No, no no. Getting OT here, but I disagree.

          There are many aspects of mathematics that, for years, were purely intellectual pursuits. In many cases it was often much later when their relationships with nature was revealed.
          Hyperbolic geometry, and the Mandelbrot set, for example, were always there in the math, long before their discovery.
          The realm of math exists. It exists whether we choose to explore it or not.

          Discovered, just like the "new world" and exo-planets.

        • by rho (6063) on Monday September 14, 2009 @05:37PM (#29419547) Homepage Journal

          I would argue that what most people call anti-intellectualism is actually anti-elitism. Americans, in general, don't dislike intellectuals. They do take a very dim view on elitists, however. Elitists are often intellectuals of one stripe or another though, and it's more comforting to suggest that people don't like you because you're smart rather than admit that people don't like you because you're a pushy, meddlesome asshole.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        You want to know why science is not popular in the first place? Because we (as a society, we can't just blame the "education system", after all, parents, they're YOUR kids) as a society are teaching our kids to be consumerist, apathetic, self-centered brats.

        That's not the reason. People have always been consumerist. And to a certain extent, people have always been apathetic about science. I'm of the belief that what has changed is not the amount or type of education people have received in science, but how

      • Re:Wrong question (Score:5, Insightful)

        by maharb (1534501) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:37PM (#29417963)
        You are 100% correct. I live a 'normal' life but I find science, math, computers, etc interesting. I study how things work and why in my spare time and I have found out a lot about how the world works because of it. Some of my peers would point and laugh if I told them I spent an hour reading up on something science related when they used that time to follow a reality TV show. The real enemy here is not a political party. It is our society and culture that ridicules knowledge and science that is the problem. When it is more socially acceptable to watch reality TV than it is to learn useful skills then you know society is going in the wrong direction. I can't believe anyone would be so ignorant as to think that republicans are the enemy here. Clearly Democrats play an equal role at sabotaging progress by succumbing to the masses (reality TV watchers) pleas for handouts. Our education system is fine, our society is so fucked up it it is better socially to be the average kid that gets C's/B's then it is to be the smart kid with A's/B's. Kids intentionally mess up at school at a young age just to be part of that cool crowd. Then those of us that learn and go on to be successful get attacked for making too much money. Fuck that. I don't think anything will change. We will probably throw more money at education and wonder why that doesn't fix it. Just like we are about to throw more money at health care and wonder why that isn't going to solve all the problems. Our society accepts fat and dumb people and only people can change that, not money. Sorry if I offend anyone by using the reality TV show example, but it seems they are the perfect example of a waste of time and effort that also brainwashes kids into thinking life is all about relationships/relationship drama. There are functional people that watch these shows, but for the most part the shows are representative of people that haven't made their own life a top priority.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dtougas (152278)

        So, how do we make science (and other "intelligent" subjects) popular again?

        Here are a two suggestions:

        • Turn off the TV
        • Turn off the video games

        Participate in activities that involve active learning, exploration, and participation in the real world rather than passive entertainment or propaganda. Here are a few ideas:

        • Gardening
        • Outdoors (hiking, rock climbing, etc.)
        • Computer programming
        • Sewing
        • Cooking (real food)
        • Robotics
        • Fixing cars

        I could go on-and-on with all kinds of activities that people could participate in that have foundations in chemistry, biology, maths, engineering, etc. Unfortu

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by obarthelemy (160321)

      The problem is that on top of economy and culture, politicians also take into account... politics: what will benefit most MY home state, what will please MY core constituents most... When an administration does not even heed simple facts (there's no link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, condoms are the most efficient weapon agains AIDS...) , there's no chance it all Science will get a fair hearing.

      • by sycodon (149926) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:56PM (#29417407)

        politicians also take into account... politics: what will benefit most MY home state, what will please MY core constituents most.

        This is the entire purpose of politics. The alternative is who has the most/biggest guns.

        Reid is able to keep the nuclear waste repository out of commission because of politics. While some (including me) do not agree with his position, it is his state and presumably, his position reflects the position of the citizens of the state (we'll find that out in 2010...not looking good).

        The alternative to his use of the political/legislative process is for the feds to use force to open the repository. Or, for the citizens of the state to use armed force to prevent it.

        Politics suck, but it's better than shooting someone.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gerzel (240421) *

      I have been in academia literally all of my life and have yet to meet more than a small handful of the kinds of folks you speak of. My grandfathers worked on atomic energy and mass production of penacillin, as well as take a turn at being the Dean of the UNC School of Pharmacy. My mother and father both worked in the university for most of their careers.

      Yes I have had a couple of bad teachers, but they I while I could call them arrogant or dogmatic I could hardly call them privileged, and in retrospect it

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162)

      There are many reasons for why science isn't popular these days.

      Start with looking into an old manual for some technical device. Often you will find wiring diagrams, mechanical overview and a lot of things and descriptions. This may not be too interesting for adults, but curious kids will certainly look and even disassemble some devices. Just ask yourself - have you disassembled a clock? Gotten a shock from a CRT? Blown a fuse?

      And in schools it's often all about theory and little hands on.

      Sure - with today'

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

      If science is unpopular today it is because of the arrogant, dogmatic and privileged folks who stand at its door. Add to that the people who embark on regular crusades, telling people they are stupid and ignorant for not listening to them, it's no wonder students shy away from science.

      Sounds like someone is a bitter creationist.

      People are status-conscious, and they know the advantages intelligence provides, advantages they can't possibly acquire. They have been taught that it is correct to hate the intellec

  • by Rennt (582550) on Monday September 14, 2009 @01:58PM (#29416359)
    'nuff said
  • by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster@man.gmail@com> on Monday September 14, 2009 @01:58PM (#29416361)

    From TFA:

    From quotes on websites to a joke by Stephen Colbert, they offer anecdotes about how the public was against the IAUâ(TM)s (International Astronomical Union) decision to remove Pluto from the list of planets, leading the authors to call the situation a âoeplanetary crack-upâ and then ask, âoeDidnâ(TM)t the scientists involved foresee such a public outcry?â Well, if the scientists did foresee an outcry, then what? Should they conduct a public vote next time?

    Mooney and Kirshenbaum barely mention any of the scientific bases for the IAUâ(TM)s decision. Instead, they present the case as if the astronomers chose to reclassify Pluto on an inexplicable whim, and it makes one question whether or not the authors looked into any of the actual science for themselves.

    I think it's pretty well established that the goal should not be to fit science into pop-culture, at least not if we want it to remain correct and relevent. Your average citizen doesn't care that pluto is only the first discovered Kuiper Belt object, they care that they learned it was a planet when they were a kid. That isn't thinking scientifically. There is no way to make the decision popular without compromising on proper science.

    It's not an easy problem to fix. It seems to me like it requires you to teach people to care about science, rather than making science into something people care about. It wasn't that long ago when Bill Nye was getting kids interested in more pure science. Now about the best we have is Mythbusters, which certainly piques curiosity, although it has to resort to explosions and skipping most of the steps in the scientific method to make it palatable. They even have a "warning" for science content, which is a bad sign (tongue-in-cheek or not). Maybe we could get back to that, but it seems the prevailing momentum is toward smaller tidbits and shallower topics.

    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:12PM (#29416653) Journal

      There is no way to make the decision popular without compromising on proper science.

      I disagree... strongly... From my experience with the public one of the biggest problems facing the public's understanding and scientific interest lie in the poor teaching methods used to educate them in the sciences. Everyone is taught about science in a very similar way, as if doing so makes sense... I've got news for you- not everyone relates to the sciences in the same way and the monolithic teaching methods used in their education are largely to blame. Worse yet, the educational system discourages experimentation, working at your own pace and independent learning styles. THe teaching of science is like a chore to most peopel because it is taught in such a way as to be a chore. It is no wonder then why there is little interest in science by the public; the learning of proper science is discouraged, the independent thinking that underlies good science eroded away and the entire concept treated as boring and monotonous.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Very well said, sir. The solution I came up with for this problem would be to have a separate class in school teaching logical reasoning and the scientific method. Science teaching should be approached as a system of thought rather than a collection of facts. I mean, I am as fascinated by science as anyone and yet even I can remember being bored to tears in all of my science classes because of this dry treatment.
    • by schon (31600) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:28PM (#29416935)

      the goal should not be to fit science into pop-culture [...] It wasn't that long ago when Bill Nye was getting kids interested in more pure science. Now about the best we have is Mythbusters

      So.. we shouldn't be trying to fit science into popular culture, but the problem is that there is no science in popular culture?

      I'd say one of the problems is that modern popular culture regards science as evil. Look at Spider Man. In the 60's, Peter Parker was a science student who built his own tracking devices and formulated his own "web" and "web shooters" in order to fight crime. Science was a tool - used by good and evil alike.

      Contrast that with the recent movies.. Peter never does any science, or uses his intelligence to solve problems. The webbing and shooters are now part of his "mutation" (regardless that if that were the case, it should come out of his ass, rather than his wrists), and science is merely an evil corrupting influence on good, honest men like Norman Osborn or Otto Octavius.

      Hollywood needs to stop portraying science as evil.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      From TFA:

      Now about the best we have is Mythbusters, which certainly piques curiosity, although it has to resort to explosions and skipping most of the steps in the scientific method to make it palatable. They even have a "warning" for science content, which is a bad sign (tongue-in-cheek or not). Maybe we could get back to that, but it seems the prevailing momentum is toward smaller tidbits and shallower topics.

      I think you are mistaken on the scientic method issue. Granted, Mythbusters does do a lot of bangs and whatnot (which I admit to finding cool), but usually they do it after exhausting the possibility that the myth is confirmed or plausible. The format they use in my mind is the essence of the scientic method:

      1) Hypothesis = Myth is true.
      2) Experimentation = Test if myth could happen in real life
      3) Evaluation and improvement = If testing fails, re-evaluate how it could happen/how to improve the test met

  • by mpapet (761907) on Monday September 14, 2009 @01:59PM (#29416371) Homepage

    Science's irrelevance is some of the long-time-in-coming consequences of a society that emphasizes short-term, extremely self-interested value system with a repudiation of the notion of social plurality.

    Unless they adapt by supporting cavemen and women riding dinosaurs or hitching a ride on some other demagogue, Science remains irrelevant.

    After all, I don't benefit from science in any special way. Where's my flying car so I (alone) can leave the unwashed masses on the ground. How about my super-smart pill so only my children and I don't have to work very hard?

    I mean c'mon... This science thing is bunk unless I alone profit at the expense of everyone else.

  • Easy solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SnarfQuest (469614) on Monday September 14, 2009 @01:59PM (#29416373)

    Naked girls. Guys would flock to science if there wers lots of naked girls.

    • Re:Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:16PM (#29416713)

      So how do you get the girls to flock to science?

      The problem isn't with a lack of people entering the field; it's that the fields aren't seen as exciting. (Others might note that you can make more money in other fields; for example, I'd be making at least 2x what I make now if I was an electrician instead.)

      You then have people who aren't interested in excitement getting into or getting pigeonholed into those fields. "Oh, Beardo is kind of quiet and smart. Perhaps he'll be a good scientist, sitting alone in a lab all day."

      That's the problem. Science is exciting, no matter what branch you're getting into. I'm an Engineer -- an applied scientist. I'd like to think that I'm a reasonably exciting guy.

      I bike around, I make speeches, I SCUBA dive, I have a house / car / family, I can build a radio with scrap, I've saved thousands of lives, and right now I'm working on a series of billion-dollar vehicles.

      There are MILLIONS of people like me, but we don't sell magazines. It's not a matter of comprehension -- I have been able to adequately explain my job to my 5-year-old daughter -- but a matter of the stereotype of the scientist being a dork like Frink or evil like Baltar.

      Nobody without decent charisma can do a good job. You have to be able to sell what you do and sell your opinions to you colleagues and supervisors.

  • DIY science (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday September 14, 2009 @01:59PM (#29416375) Journal

    a big part of the problem I suspect is that people don't get to do much science around the house or at school. I suspect that if they were actually allowed/encouraged to do so you would see a rapid increase in the public's interest in science. unfortunately, DIY science has been under attack for quite some time in the home and in the school system its self. mostly in the name of safety... The proper response to safety concerns would be to educate the public on relevant safety practices rather than ban or severely limit scientific experimentation by the public. It would also help to show how the sciences are relevant to everyone's every day lives. Much of the reason the public's interest in the sciences is lower than it could be is that they do not see why knowing basic science is useful to them. It has to be more expansive than "because it will create jobs" which it will certainly but the immediate impact of the sciences must be emphasized.

    • Re:DIY science (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:18PM (#29416733) Homepage
      I learnt much about electronics and radio growing up by getting involved in ham radio. You had to learn some theory to pass the exam for the license, and every month ham magazines had some new do-it-yourself radio project that even a 12 year-old like me could put together. The DIY aspect made it fun. Nowadays, however, amateur radio has mainly lost its appeal against the internet, and what novel things are going on within the ham community often require super-specialized electronics matched to complicated software that a young person just can't grasp entirely.
      • Re:DIY science (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Watson Ladd (955755) on Monday September 14, 2009 @05:20PM (#29419311)
        Ham radio is still around. There are lots of new ideas in low power communication. In the 2003 ARRL handbook there is a project where you build a direct conversion quadrature receiver, and so can hear the frequency spectrum from left to right. That's actually a new idea, and well within a weekend.
  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:00PM (#29416391)

    Speaking as a European, actually science is pretty popular in the USA, globally (except for the mad handful who think science is the sworn enemy of their faith). Actually, I quite like to think of the USA as the country of nerds. Case in point, that's where all the Europeans nerds want to go cause since some time around the 1930s that's where all the big science and engineering are. In Europe (UK excluded, too much of an American satellite to be representative) we don't make offerings to the holy ghost of Charles Darwin, and we couldn't care less about science fiction (seriously, we care nowhere near as much as people in the USA do). But we're better at mathematics, physics, chemistry or biology, because secondary education didn't fail us. It's not a cultural problem, it's all an educational one.

    The problem is not how "popular" or "cool" it is, the problem is with education. To put it simply and bluntly, your educational system sucks, particularly when it comes to science. Reform it. Education is pretty much the same problem for anyone, you're doing it wrong, look at how others are doing it right.

    An obvious rift exists between many religious and scientific communities.

    Yep, and there shouldn't be one. Science and faith aren't incompatible, some great men of science were also men of faith. But in America more than anywhere else it was turned into an epic science vs faith war where everybody picks a side and the battlefronts are shit that no one would normally care about, like biology and genetics or palaeontology or even palaeoclimatology.

    Also, why the hell can't I post this comment? It says "There was an unknown error in the submission.". It seems Slashdot is crumbling to pieces day after day.

    • by m3rc05m1qu3 (1611071) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:05PM (#29416507)
      Here's a pretty solid quote from Alun Anderson, New Scientist editor, "Science writing used to be slightly apologetic: [puts on whiny voice] "this is all going to be terribly difficult, but I'll try and make it easy for you". Like they've sugar coated something you don't really want to take. Our goal was to really change that - change the people and the ideas - to be self-confident. Science often suffers from this sort of cringe factor - "I'm a boring scientist, you probably don't want to talk to me". My policy was if you're talking to someone else the approach is: "what's happening in science is the most interesting thing in the world, and if you don't agree with me just fuck off, because I'm not interested in talking to you". You had to have that kind of attitude." Teh article here--> http://www.sussex.ac.uk/alumni/notablealumni/interviews/alunanderson/ [sussex.ac.uk]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by initdeep (1073290)

      The problem is not how "popular" or "cool" it is, the problem is with education. To put it simply and bluntly, your educational system sucks, particularly when it comes to science. Reform it. Education is pretty much the same problem for anyone, you're doing it wrong, look at how others are doing it right.

      This is the absolute truth.

      students at a majority of US colleges and universities are there simply because they are told they need to to succeed in life.
      Then they get there and basically waste an average

      • by 4D6963 (933028) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:39PM (#29417123)

        I agree to the extent of what I can relate to in what you say, although you have to be careful with your suggested course of action. I think there's a tendency in reform to try to address the problem blindly hoping it works, it's a way to do it, but it's not very safe. The safe and efficient way to do it is to look at how countries with a successful educational system do it, and try to model after them, without straying from what's been tried and met with success.

        It's often said that you can't just copy another country to fix your issues. That may be true most of the time, but like I said education is the same problem for anyone, and because of that looking up to a successful as a role model is a good and relatively safe thing to do.

      • by PitaBred (632671) <slashdot.pitabred@dyndns@org> on Monday September 14, 2009 @04:18PM (#29418529) Homepage
        You get rid of the tenure system, you get rid of the ability for teachers to speak freely, and only do more to indoctrinate people to maintain the status quo and not question anything. There are cases where tenure needs to be able to be rescinded, but that should only be done in the case of academic dishonesty. And that's it.

        The part I agree with you is that it's the parents that are failing. They're teaching their kids that it's ok to be mediocre, that it's cool to not be smart. They'd rather have them play football or basketball, anything other than be smart. And the popular role models for kids? Fucking morons like Kanye West [reuters.com] straight-out saying that it's not cool to read. He gets his "information" from talking to people, apparently. Great way to learn anything scientific. Our culture is worshiping ignorance, putting appearance on a pedestal while banishing substance and intellect to the basement. Even the "geek chic" [wikipedia.org] look is just that... a look. You don't have to actually know anything to be part of it.
    • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:23PM (#29416853)
      Agreed. TFA worries about how scientists can also worry about public relations. Perhaps the first thing that needs to be done is getting people interested enough that they might care about science in the first place, and not just in a facile way of "wow--isn't that neat?" I'm mainly talking about teaching science in primary and secondary school. Currently, the anti-intellectual climate (which is often anti-science as well) isn't helped by bad schools, bad teachers, and bad curriculum choices.

      Example of the problem. I taught high school math and physics for a few years in the early 2000s in the US. In my physics classes, I encouraged a lot of analysis and actual thinking to earn a good grade. We would do lots of hands-on experiments, from which we'd derive data, and then analyze that data and compare it to theory. I encouraged students to bring in their own questions they encountered in daily life that were related to the things we were discussing, and we'd investigate them. A lot of students balked when I required them to think on tests, rather than just regurgitate information or solve another problem exactly like one they did ten times on a homework assignment, but eventually most of them learned a lot of critical thinking skills. By the end of the year, I'd trust most of them to set up an experiment, collect data, and analyze results in the real world, as well as to critically evaluate that sort of task done by others, at least using the limited mathematical tools they had at their disposal. Many of them also left with a much more curious attitude about how the world worked than when we began the year.

      This worked great in the private school I taught in, since we have freedom over the curriculum. Contrast this to my first year teaching in a lower middle class public school where I was straightjacketed by a state curriculum.

      I had to teach algebra II to a bunch of kids who had crappy preparation. Many of them had a substitute teacher for much of algebra I, most had little understanding of even pre-algebra, and some of them couldn't even do basic arithmetic without a calculator. (By "basic" arithmetic, I mean things like 12 minus 7.)

      I came into this classroom late in the fall, because the previous teacher quit after she refused to try to teach algebra II to students who couldn't even understand basic math. She wanted to do remedial work so they might actually learn something useful, rather than just how to move meaningless symbols around. Almost all of my 140 students were juniors or seniors, and for most, this would be the last math class they would ever take. Very few would go to college. What did we teach them?

      One example: we spent almost 6 weeks on conic sections. Mostly on how to put equations in standard form and name the various characteristic parts, since that was required by the state curriculum, and my high school cared much more about that than whether the students actually could do anything. When we got to exponential equations, I tried to give them an application involving compound interest and loans, and I found that only 2 out of my 140 students knew what compound interest was. And most of them couldn't follow the application anyway, because before they took my class, they had never been asked to use algebra to actually DO anything before; to them it was just moving meaningless symbols around until they solved for a variable. The only reason they were taking a second year of algebra was because in that state it qualified them for a better diploma.

      So, in other words, we were graduating a bunch of students who could put the equation of a hyperbola in standard form, even though they didn't really know what a hyperbola was, but they had never heard of compound interest and had no tools for evaluating the terms of a loan. (Maybe this has something to do with the economic fiasco?) And I couldn't spend more time on the latter, because the state curriculum required me to move on.

      These students had no critical thinki
  • simple (Score:5, Informative)

    by acomj (20611) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:00PM (#29416409) Homepage

    Become Neil Degrasse Tyson's facebook friend. He's making science interesting again, especially with Nova Science Nows profiles on science. If science oriented kids knew there a lot of people like them, they'd be more likely to pursue it as a career.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/cosmic/ [pbs.org]

  • by compumike (454538) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:01PM (#29416421) Homepage

    If you're truly trying to integrate science with "mainstream culture", a big part of the overlap is in engineering. Science for the sake of scientific knowledge is great, but we've found that it's often easier to connect to people by looking at how science connects with their lives, which often falls into the realm of engineering (or medicine). We have tried to do that with our free educational electronics videos [nerdkits.com].

    Even as science and medicine and gadgetry continue to advance, it's important to make it accessible and exciting to those outside the field. But while the original book being reviewed argues that "the scientists themslves" must take up the lead in educating the public, the fact is that making these subjects accessible has its own set of required skills that are not necessarily the same as those needed for being an excellent scientist. Some will be able to do both, but it's not for everyone.

  • Easy! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by raventh1 (581261) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:02PM (#29416425)

    For public school situations take that damn football money and use it for science classes.
    2nd Hire decent teachers that actually enjoy learning and teaching.
    3rd Encourage questions. Ask the students questions, and then wait for a response. Let them actually think! Have some actual communication.

    Optional: go places! Take students to new environments to get them to think outside of the box. Science is awesome, you don't have to dress it up to make it fun!

    All else fails: Blow shit up! Then explain why it blew up!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sconeu (64226)

      For public school situations take that damn football money and use it for science classes.

      What are you, some kind of socialist nerd?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mdarksbane (587589)

      In many schools, football pays for itself and the entire rest of the extracurricular budget. They aren't taking away from science at all to field a football team - they're giving the nerds (at least, those of you who seem to hate your bodies enough to not enjoy sports) a big concert venue for the band and funding for other extracurriculars.

  • If you're going to be an evangelist for science, there are a lot of potential pitfalls. I personally was almost turned off science by the half-assed philosophy that many scientists seem to implicitly hold.

    For people on the borderline---who might've accepted a scientific worldview but ultimately rejected it---anecdotally the biggest factor I've found is a feeling that accepting the scientific worldview is nihilistic. Usually this seems (again, anecdotally), to be a result of some particularly overreaching attempts to use science as a sort of naive-reductionist philosophy, where every discovery of mechanisms delegitimizes higher-level things, because now they're "only X", and in some sense don't "really" exist anymore. People particularly object to this with humans. Arguments like "X is just brain chemicals" or "Y is just evolved behavior" get thrown around, and you ultimately end up at claims like: "You don't really love her; that's just brain chemicals". "There isn't really any such thing as morality; that's just evolved group behavior". And people generally recoil at and reject that view, if you're implying that actually nothing about human existence is "real".

    Of course, nothing in science actually demands that sort of explanation at a philosophical level. Nobody argues that since chemistry is "just physics", it's therefore in any sense not real or illegitimate. It's a perfectly correct way of explaining, at a particular level of description, how the universe works, and chemical properties are real properties, that really do exist. The fact that chemical properties are due to lower-level interactions doesn't change that. Daniel Dennett even coined a term for some of these kinds of philosophical misuse of science: greedy reductionism [wikipedia.org].

    Fortunately, I was saved from that by some more philosophically sophisticated scientists who pointed out to me that the views held by people who study physicalist [wikipedia.org] explanations of the world are much better thought out. And on, say, what the mind "really" is, fully defended physicalist accounts of mind [amazon.com] don't have the same greedy-reductionism that characterizes the rather questionable [slashdot.org] comments of a lot of neuroscientists.

    Sure, there are all sorts of other problems, like fundamentalist Christians who won't ever accept any explanation not derived from the Bible. But as a scientist, I tend to think some outreach is better than just attacking them: there's plenty I might change about their organizations, but I can't, so what can I change about mine? Simply being more accurate about the philosophical implications of science, I find, helps to dispel a lot of unnecessary worries, while having the added benefit of actually being, well, more accurate.

  • Some ideas... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by khayman80 (824400) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:02PM (#29416441) Homepage Journal
    1. Graduate education should include mandatory classroom instruction, and a heavier emphasis on giving presentations. I regularly suffer through my colleagues' miserable presentations at conferences, so I strongly believe that scientists need to develop better communication skills.
    2. Re-orient science classes so they emphasise curiosity and skepticism rather than rote memorization. I've previously complained [dumbscientist.com] about the sad state of science education in high school and general collegiate physics courses. Some people still believe that the seasons are caused by the Earth moving farther towards/away from the Sun, and that sinks/bathtubs drain differently in different hemispheres. Maybe if science classes actually taught people how to think like scientists, these silly myths wouldn't be as widespread. Maybe people would even be interested in science in general if they didn't see the subject as a bunch of equations to be mechanically applied.
    3. The scientific community has a tendency to ignore bizarre claims because they don't want to give credibility to people who believe in things like creationism, electric universe, climate-change-denialism, moon-landing-hoaxers, relativity-deniers, etc. This isn't very productive, because some people apparently get the impression that scientists dismiss these fringe views because of a massive conspiracy of suppression. I think it's a better idea to slowly and patiently explain why these examples of pseudoscience simply aren't consistent with the available evidence. I'm trying to do that on my homepage, but there's only one of me versus a horde of pseudoscientists...
    4. Science journals need to be made open source, like PLoS ONE [plosone.org] and ACP [atmos-chem-phys.net]. Maybe the general public's science illiteracy is partially based on the fact that crackpots publish their "research" freely on the internet (which is why the internet is now a tarpit of scientific misinformation), whereas scientists publish articles in peer-reviewed journals that can't be accessed by anyone outside of a major university.

    As you can tell, I think this article touches on a very serious problem. Sagan said it best:

    "We have designed our civilization based on science and technology and at the same time arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster." -- Carl Sagan

  • by Jeng (926980) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:03PM (#29416459)

    If each schools Academic Decathlon team got the same amount of exposure as the high school football team did then you would see a lot more interest in academics from the general population.

    My senior year our Academic Decathlon team made it to the national conference in Chicago. I heard that we placed in the top 10 in each category, but I never did see a single thing about it in our local paper. And this was a small rural school.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by cashman73 (855518)
      I don't know how much glamour you can put on an Academic Decathlon team, but Dean Kamen has had some success with making science and engineering seem a bit more fun with the FIRST Robotics [usfirst.org] competition. Some high school teams are actually bringing cheerleaders and cheering sections to the event, and there are starting to turn up more local events as well.
  • We must all rally toward a single goal: without sacrificing the growth of knowledge or scientific innovation, we must invest in a sweeping project to make science relevant to the whole of America's citizenry. We recognize there are many heroes out there already toiling toward this end and launching promising initiatives, ranging from the Year of Science to the World Science Festival to ScienceDebate. But what we need--and currently lack--is the systematic acceptance of the idea that these actions are integral parts of the job description of scientists themselves. Not just their delegates, or surrogates, in the media or the classrooms.

    They briefly touch on this when discussing movies but somehow everyone is forgetting that the problem isn't in science or scientists, it's in what motivates us. Our capitalistic society is simply getting better at convincing us that research and experimentation aren't rewarding. Making money is. A 9 to 5 job coding Jakarta Struts will net me more cash than working on my doctorate regarding AI or NLP ever will. Sure I could hit on something big and then put in 80 hours a week and try to launch a start up but that's like playing the lottery.

    We don't need to destroy the whole system, just make it monetarily worth while to devote your life to science and the scientific process. This mission statement seems to just make scientists more popular or more prestigious ... that's not the answer. The answer is to increase monetary rewards for scientists. We can rip on intellectual property and intellectual property law but that's one of the few examples where our capitalistic system ties inventions and discoveries monetarily to their originators. And when that's in place we'll ask why it matters that those "scientific" progresses were made since we can't readily access them in a cheap manner?

    Right now, you'll make more money as a surgeon doing gastrointestinal bypasses than you will experimenting in surgery and medicine. Because GI bypasses are a surefire bet in America. And one person doing them will help individual people but not really society unless you look at GI bypasses on the whole. The same can be said in so many other fields.

    The funny thing is that the general populace isn't really interested in science, they're interested in how science can provide them cheaper things, better health, easier money, naturally selfish goals. Look at the quest for knowledge, it's only worth pursuing if it has very practical uses that are often tied to money. In short, you're not going to change this because capitalism's been so successful and changes to how it works now are going to make people unhappy. The discussion is worthless unless you're willing to change how the system rewards scientists across the gamut--not just special institutions or foundations but from the single scientist up to the largest corporation.

  • by mpapet (761907) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:09PM (#29416603) Homepage

    The general idea being there is a lack of discord in fields of research because the money for research comes with strings attached in the form of corporate sponsored research or politically motivated public-sector grant processes.

    Here's a nice example of one way the social science of economics has become irrelevant.
    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2009/09/why-economists-rarely-saw-bad-things-about-the-fed.html [nakedcapitalism.com]

  • by Mashhaster (1396287) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:11PM (#29416637)
    In Cat's Crade, in the guise of Dr. Hoenikker "Any scientist who cannot explain his work to an eight year old is a charlatan." If you can't separate scientific process from opaque jargon, you'll never be able to engage the layman. As such, IMO, the burden falls on every one of us to try and make scientific knowledge as accessible as possible to anyone who cares to listen. Also, spending some cash on science education (maybe as much as we spend on athletics...) to get good teachers, and engaging materials and activities might help. Or maybe another Star Trek TV series. It worked for me when I was growin' up.
  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris@bea u . org> on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:15PM (#29416681)

    The argument this clown is using is exactly WHY so many distrust science. Because the scientists are so obviously political these days. Now this wouldn't be bad if they were political scientists (i.e. the fuzzy social sciences) but it has no place in physics or chemistry.

    You can't have it both way folks, which view of a scientist do you want the masses to have?

    1. The scientist as the almost monastic searcher for facts, discovering new wonders by relentlessly collecting facts in the field, doing careful experiments in labs full of shiny equipment, publishing carefully reasoned papers which are mercilessly peer reviewed and basically being devoted to following the facts wherever they lead. But in the end, scientists tell us how the universe works and what is possible. Engineers use that knowledge to build things after the marketing dept identifies a customer for it and then the politicians decide how to regulate and tax it.

    2. Philosopher Kings. Politicians with PhDs. Victims of several bad ideas, namely that a) expertise in one narrow area implies a general wisdom; b) that rule by a technocratic elite is 'better' than rule by the consent of the governed; c) that just because science says something is possible means we must do it, because morals aren't scientific after all.

    The last century has shown a marked shift in the public's idea of the word 'scientist' from the first to the second. This explains their change in attitude. In other words if Hansen and his ilk stopped the politicking and went back to their lab and produced some results that didn't get shredded people might start readjusting their views again. Even better would be if the other so called 'real scientists' policed their own a little, forcing the ones who want to take up a new career in politics to LEAVE science first. Because it should now be clear that attempts to lend the good name of science to a political argument doesn't actually work, that instead the bad name of politics attached to science.

    And here is another good example of the problem. Carl Sagan's _Cosmos_. It is a wonderful introduction to science in many ways yet terribly flawed by Bad Idea A from above in that Sagan mistakenly believed himself an expert in Foreign Relations apparently for no other reason than he was a smart fellow. But the series is full of the most naive useful idiot twaddle of the sort that, with the Cold War ended, few would dispute. When the grandkids are older I plan on showing them the series and use it as an example of the problem of scientists trying to become political leaders without first investing the effort to actually become an expert.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:20PM (#29416773)

    The outcome of a science and/or engineering degree at this point is competition with millions of people making $8/hr.
    .
    Seriously, in a self-interested, capitalist society what could POSSIBLY motivate a young person to expend limited educational resources on something that resulted in that?
    .
    Any rational person would go for medicine, law or finance or any other field with higher pay with less chance of outsourcing.
    .
    Whine and hand-wring all you want. We did this to ourselves when we started giving away the store to save a few bucks for next quarter. We'll never win another war because of superior technology. Any technology we *do* create will be outsourced in seconds, so why please explain to me why I would ever bother?
    .
    Hope you're all enjoying the global marketplace.

  • by stefaanh (189270) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:20PM (#29416775)

    http://libwww.freelibrary.org/closing/ [freelibrary.org]
    Quote:

    All Free Library of Philadelphia Customers,

    We deeply regret to inform you that without the necessary budgetary legislation by the State Legislature in Harrisburg, the City of Philadelphia will not have the funds to operate our neighborhood branch libraries, regional libraries, or the Parkway Central Library after October 2, 2009.

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:22PM (#29416819) Homepage Journal

    "We must all rally toward a single goal: without sacrificing the growth of knowledge or scientific innovation, we must invest in a sweeping project to make science relevant to the whole of America's citizenry."

    Science is relevant to every last person on the planet, given the science behind world-altering technology related to Nuclear energy, Climate Change, and biological engineering (just to name a few). The problem isn't that it's irrelevant (although that may not have been the author's precise intent in that word.) The problem is that what little science is picked up by the general public is subject to spin by those who have nothing to do with (and little comprehension of) science, namely politicians.

    What's required isn't to make science popular, it's to make fact checking and critical thinking popular. It doesn't matter how little or much you understand of Clean coal technology (as an example); when you are subject to misleading information from all angles of mainstream media what you need is the ability to think for yourself or you are going to be led astray (from science). Too many people are willing to believe whatever 'preferred news outlet x' has to say on a subject and their beliefs quickly align with whatever interest the "journalist" has in mind for them. They proceed with their lives thinking that they are sufficiently informed since they were assured by their favorite news outlet that the "science behind" a particular issue aligns with their interests.

    You can't change the laws of the universe, and well done science is almost as unwavering. When these things conflict with what you want, your best bet is distraction and misunderstanding. THATS the problem we face.

  • by CannonballHead (842625) on Monday September 14, 2009 @02:31PM (#29416999)

    Of course, a lot of it has to do with education... but a lot of education has to do with what your philosophy of life is.

    For example... more recently, it seems, individualism has been raised to an incredibly high pedestal. It no longer really matters what others think, as long as you think you're doing the right thing. It doesn't matter what your parents teach you; in fact, your parents really don't know anything. It doesn't matter how well you do in school, as long as you are popular and have "social skills." It doesn't matter how you succeed in your line of work, as long as you think you do well. It doesn't matter what kind of art you produce, as long as it's "self expression." It doesn't really matter what you learn, as long as you LIKE learning it.

    With that sort of prevailing pop-culture attitude/philosophy, how CAN scientific endeavors thrive? There's no reason to look or learn about science. It's just some other guy's research, why would I want to read about it? Why should I care?

    There IS a correlation between some historical scientific figures and their philosophy of life. For example, some believed in a Creator, and that had a great deal to do with their philosophy of science, and thus gave them a reason to pursue it. That's just one example, there are examples of completely atheistic scientists too, I suppose.

    Short version: if your philosophy of science (which comes from your philosophy of life) gives you no reason to pursue scientific endeavors (including "education") then why should I expect you to do so?

    And, at least in the US, when our schools promote a rather distinctly weak philosophy of life and philosophy of science, when the schools are more interested in "educating" with political and social agendas instead of actual useful educations..

    I actually came from a homeschooling situation and then went to a public junior college for a year or two. I learned far more before high school than most of my junior college peers knew... and not just in scientific subjects, but things like grammar and vocabulary. As for what I missed socially and politically... yes, I did miss out on some things. Like drugs and learning that wearing pants such that you have to hold them up with one hand is "cool." And learning that treating girls like sex objects is a good thing to do. And learning that lying and cheating is the way to succeed and get an education... or at least get through high school. Somehow, these kids were in "college," presumably "graduated" from high school, and didn't even know what an "adjective" or "adverb" was... let alone how to do simple algebra or what in the world an ion is.

    I think there's something wrong with a lot of our philosophy... philosophy of education, of science, of life... and it distinctly shows up in schools. It seems that the ones I saw in my limited public school experience that succeeded were of two kinds. The first: they came from a family that promoted (or required) a different philosophy. The second: they were older people that realized what a failure the philosophy they had or their family had, and were now working to fix it by finishing their education and actually working hard and learning. I very much respected the older (30s and 40s) students in my classes because I knew they were likely having a harder time than I was (had children, had full time jobs, etc) but were still dedicated to doing it. I didn't particularly respect the normal-aged college students that didn't care about learning and just didn't want to get an F, because then they'd have to take the class over again (what a drag!)...

  • by HikingStick (878216) <z01riemer @ h o t m a i l . com> on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:53PM (#29418185)
    How about ceasing to overregulate home chemistry sets (which now really do little more than allow kids to see color changing tricks), and allowing for private citizens to once again be citizen-scientists without the fear of drawing the suspicion of the DHS (Look! He's got a lab in his garage! He must be a terrorist!) or the DEA (Look! He's got a lab in his garage! He must be a making meth!). Heck, I'd love to set up a hydroponic tomato garden in my basement so I can have tomatoes during the winter in Minnesota, but I don't want to risk being booked on having "drug-growing equipment" (Look! He's got them plant lights in his basement! He must be growing pot!)

    I mean, come on, people! In the days after 9-11, restrictions put forward governing certain incediary chemicals nearly killed the ability of model rocket hobbyists to purchase engines online or at distant hobby shops (due to proposed shipping restrictions). The model rocket and hobby industries had to lobby to make sure those changes didn't cripple a hobby that spurred the interest of many people in the fields of aerospace, aerodynamics, engineering, chemistry, and physics. Heck, let's get back to being able to order our own chemical supplies so we can make our own rocket engines!

    It has even changed kitchens. My mother had a recipie that used baker's amonia as a primary ingredient (I'm assuming as a levening agent in conjunction with baking soda). As far back as the 1980s she could no longer buy it herself without registering with a pharmacist and having them order it for her (in limited quantities--you know how often cookie-bakers must have engaged in bomb-making activities). Recently, I went to a number of pharmacies, but none of them could get it for me.
  • recommended review (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wasabii (693236) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:54PM (#29418203)

    I recommend Jerry Coyne's review of this book. It eviscerates it.

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/07/14/unscientific-unscientific-america-part-1/ [wordpress.com]

  • It's easy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kimvette (919543) on Monday September 14, 2009 @03:56PM (#29418229) Homepage Journal

    It's easy to make science-related careers more popular: pay scientists more than poverty-level. Having passion for a career is one thing, but at the end of the day, passion doesn't put food on the table. The paycheck does.

  • by jwhitener (198343) on Monday September 14, 2009 @05:06PM (#29419145)

    I wonder if the lack of interest in Science in general is due to there being less and less 'easy' things to discover?

    Back in the 1800's/1900's, Science was often associated with inventions or entrepreneurial activities. Now so much of science is very minute discoveries, often requiring specialized equipment and intense training, that the average person out there probably feels very distant from it.

      What grabs the average mind more, the invention of the steam engine or the discovery of some obscure physics particle? To appreciate the physics discovery, you need to have a much greater understanding of physics, while just about anyone can be excited about a big steaming engine:)

  • A paradox! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Monday September 14, 2009 @05:38PM (#29419563)

    The problem is this. . .

    You, (the elite managerial over-seer), wants all the little people to toil in order to provide you with food, shelter, safety, power and luxury. It takes back-breaking effort to provide these things to you and there is no good reason to do it. As with most people of your sort, you live with a constant shadow on your shoulder; you harbor a morbid fear that one day the flow of wealth and abundant resources (which you don't work for) will cease. Because you have never really worked at anything, you fear work; nothing is more terrifying than the thought of being reduced to the status of a common peon. And so in fear, you cast about with great concern! How is your fear most likely to manifest? Why a popular uprising! Any moment now, you will be discovered and the slaves will take back what they have given you and which you do not deserve to have.

    Thus, population management becomes a great concern to you. An obsession.

    So how do you make sure that the slaves never have enough energy or awareness to see who is making their lives miserable and come together to do something about it? Why you make damned sure they are stupid and distracted and constantly fighting amongst one another!

    Thus enters the Paradox! --To have the most fashionable elitist lifestyle, you need to employ the Wonders of Science! However, to employ the Wonders of Science, you need thinking men and women capable of sharp awareness and bright imagination. --And yet thinking men and women of awareness and imagination are exactly the kind of people who are most likely to realize that they are slaves and that you are their bitter enemy. They are the ones you fear most!

    If only there was some way. . . --A method to mind-program people so that they retain the brain power necessary to engage in research and experimentation and other skills required by the Wonders of Science, while ALSO being remaining stupid and distracted. Is such a thing possible?

    Fortunately for you, the answer is YES!

    Among the maneuvers used to create the perfect army of mindless scientists and engineers are. . .

    -Age segregation in schools. (Humans are pack animals; in healthy communities children of many ages play together, and the older and more experienced ones naturally take on leader/protector roles. In the school system, there are no clear leaders established through age, leading to endless, un-resolvable competition, generally resulting in the most base physical attributes becoming the dominant deciding factors. Say hello to "Jocks v.s. Geeks" --Those who are strong thinkers tend to seek love and approval from the only authority figures who appear to value such attributes, the teachers. All you have to do is program the teachers according to your system and they will make sure that the students are similarly programmed.

    -Media! --Children who have survived the school system are shell-shocked by that war zone social structure. Their brains have developed strong wiring as they grew up, programed to have low self-esteem, to fear above all things, ridicule. So all you have to do is create a popular media which tells the population what is being laughed at this week, and you can rest assured that even the most progressive thinkers will shudder and cringe as their deep-programming kicks in.

    -Meaningless debate! --It is important to maintain and nourish two opposing camps of thought on any number of emotionally evocative subjects. The population will self-divide and spend all their free energy fighting and arguing and hating one-another, while you rest safely up in your ivory tower and collect taxes.

    -False Money and False Economic Theory. My typing muscles are getting tired, so I won't bother going into this. Any smart person, (who hasn't been laughed at recently), is capable of working out how money and debt keeps everybody in check.

    -War. Again, no real need to explain this one.

    There are, of course, many other techniques available, but these three are the work-h

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