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Science and the general public

  1. Jun 11, 2012 #1
    I recently saw some comments on t3h interwebz regarding the sciences/engineering. One comment went something like:

    "I don't really trust scientists, whenever I see something in the news about science, they are always talking about "it maybe this" or "it maybe that" they are never sure"

    I was instantly like wtf lolz0rdz? My first thought was maybe she had seen some theoretical physics related news scene, maybe it was during that fiasco with CERN and neutrinos travelling faster than light and assumed that's all scientists do theoretical physics. The stereotypical man with 1950's pomade-filled slick hair and thick bill gates glasses donning a white coat came to mind.

    Then later a girl who was around 25 asked me what exactly was engineering, and that she hears it all the time but wasn't sure of what it was.

    I thought of roundhouse kicking her in the face, but then realised I'd be helping lawyers make more money than they already deserve.

    The question I pose is, how stupid is the general public when it comes to the sciences? One would think a 25-year-old person (from Australia) would have at least done up to year 10 science and being in a developed country would have a grasp of what's happening around them.

    Some of us were interested in the inner-workings of devices, and why things worked the way they do since we were very young, and granted not everyone is like that, but I don't think ignorance in this day and age of the basic sciences let alone an understanding of what an "engineer" or a "scientist" is or does is acceptable. Not everyone is like this, but these two comments are just a few of what I've been seeing over the years, especially on the internet. I shudder to think how many ignoramuses there actually are.

    I'm not a lawyer nor have I studied law, but it doesn't mean I think all people who study law are running around in courtrooms arguing like in Law and Order and aiming to wear a stupid wig sitting on a bench by the time they are 50.

    Do people think computers, cars, electronic devices, phones just materialise from nowhere? I am wondering who they think exactly that makes these. I certainly am interested in getting in the minds of some individuals, would definitely make an interesting research paper to examine idiocy.

    End rant.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2012 #2

    Evo

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    The unfortunate answer is that they don't think about it.

    Do you think they wonder how a frying pan is made? Or the flooring they walk on? Or the bed they sleep in?

    No.
     
  4. Jun 11, 2012 #3

    Or even how vinyl records are made? Absolutely not!
     
  5. Jun 11, 2012 #4

    Evo

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    For the average person - where does rain come from? The sky. Where do cell phones come from? The store.
     
  6. Jun 11, 2012 #5

    epenguin

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    The general ignorance of very elementary things I find quite surprising. For instance I think it was found the majority of college students in the US didn't know the stuff trees are made of came mostly from the air not the roots. (would not be too different in UK or Europe I think). I just wonder if it is down to the schools or the students anyway how either of them manage to miss this and similar.
     
  7. Jun 11, 2012 #6

    micromass

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    It's a sad evolution. I feel that there is some kind of glorification of ignorance going on. Whenever I mention to people that I like math, there are always a lot who say that they were never good at it or that they can't count without calculator. And they're proud of it as well. It's a bit like saying: "I'm retarded, woohoo". In the meanwhile, people are good in science get put down as nerds and socially awkward. There is so much social pressure not to go into science or engineering.

    I feel that the media have a big role here. Everything must always be funny and flashy now. We don't have time for a thorough analysis. See how the history declined from bringing interesting documentaries to humor from Giorgio Tsoukalos.
    There was a program on television lately that had as goal to promote science. This is a good thing, but it turned out to be horrible. The host of the show would never let scientists complete their sentences and always made silly jokes while they were talking. Sadly, this is what keeps people watching these shows.

    We live in a world where science is so important for every major technology we have. But we also live in a culture that despises science and intelligence.
     
  8. Jun 11, 2012 #7

    Reference your point about people and maths, it reminded me of this humorous insulting article by Maddox where he lambastes those people who are proud that they suck at maths:

    http://thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=math

    The Formula 1 Williams team also noted that they were struggling to get engineers from within Britain so now they are left to hire from overseas. It's true what you say about media and perception. The general public in developed countries just do not realise the impact of technology. In countries like India and China it's the complete opposite, these notions of "nerd" and "geek" don't really exist.

    If you claim to not know maths and LOL like an idiot you will probably be looked upon as the village idiot. Why? Probably because of the culture and also because of the real noticeable impact the sciences are having in human development, so the career aspiration goals for engineering is there.
     
  9. Jun 11, 2012 #8

    ZapperZ

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    Note that one of the most comprehensive survey of the state of Science and Engineering, including the public's attitude and knowledge of science and engineering, is done by The National Science Foundation's Science and Engineering Indicators. The latest survey was done in 2010, and you can get the full report here:

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/ [Broken]

    Chapter 7 covers the survey on the general public.

    You'll notice that while the support for science is high, the knowledge of science from the public is not. This means that the support for science is not based on knowledge, but rather from a PERCEIVED importance. This is crucial for everyone to understand, because it means that it comes a rather shaky foundation, and it also means that the support for science can be affected by some public perception not based on facts.

    Zz.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  10. Jun 11, 2012 #9
    A lot of people think one scientist can do some research, and then whatever he says about that research is automatically deemed fact, printed in books, and taught in schools.

    Or they think that what Charles Darwin discovered about evolution was automatically taken as fact by the scientific community, and no further research has been done on the subject for 150 years.
    So for instance, they'll point out something that was incorrect about what Darwin said, and pretend like the whole theory of evolution is bunk because of that.

    The things people think about evolution would be hilarious if it weren't sad at the same time.
     
  11. Jun 11, 2012 #10
    I didn't know this .... :( Is it logical?

    EDIT: Well I suppose it has to be the case since otherwise the ground would shrink away, but still... the fact you list it implies you find it super duper evident, so I'm probably overlooking a more obvious reason?...
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012
  12. Jun 11, 2012 #11

    phinds

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    NewtonianAlch, there is a thread somewhere on this forum talking about a new Gallup poll that says 46% of all Americans (ALL Americans !!!) believe that the earth and people and dinosaurs were all created 10,000 to 11,000 years ago.
     
  13. Jun 11, 2012 #12
    Okay this is worse than the tree thing.
     
  14. Jun 11, 2012 #13
    It's true. That was about the time people in the fertile crescent were learning about agriculture. Of course, there was no Earth to farm, so they practiced on simulators until God put an Earth under their feet.
     
  15. Jun 11, 2012 #14

    Borg

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    I wouldn't be so worried if it was just the religious propaganda. I remember reading a poll once that stated that a significant number (on the order of 15%) of high school students in Texas didn't know which country was on the southern U.S. border. I've read too many surveys with results like this to be surprised by much anymore.
     
  16. Jun 11, 2012 #15
    1/4 of American adults don't accept the idea that the Earth goes around the sun. The general ignorance is really bad on its own, but to make matters worse science is routinely attacked by anyone with a political agenda or a scam to sell. Whether it be the environmentalists, the creationists, the alternative medicine folks, and so on. That makes it impossible for people to have informed views on an increasing array of critical issues, ensuring effective policy is not rendered.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 11, 2012
  17. Jun 11, 2012 #16

    collinsmark

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    Yes, it's logical. :smile: The easiest way to see this is to complete the cycle. Take a log (originally from a tree, of course) and burn it. After the fire is complete, what's left on the ground? A little bit of ash, and perhaps a little bit of leftover charcoal, weighing only a small fraction of the weight of the original log. That ash is more-or-less what originally came from the soil (very roughly speaking, that is).

    In Newtonian physics there is the concept of the conservation of matter/mass (it's no use bringing in relativistic effects: the relativistic E = mc2 component of the mass is completely negligible for such chemical bonds). So where did the rest of the mass go? Back into the air in the form of carbon dioxide and water. The vast majority of a trees mass can be chemically recombined to form carbon dioxide and water.

    Granted, much of the water originally entered the tree from the roots. But that water was rain shortly before, so even then one could argue the water came from the atmosphere too.

    Trees are carbon based lifeforms. That's kind of obvious because if you only half burn the log, there are obvious presence of a lot of carbon. And where did all the carbon come from that makes up a vital chunk of the tree's mass? From the carbon dioxide in the air. The tree sucked it in through its leaves.

    The tree, having carbon dioxide from the air, water (originally from atmospheric rain), a comparatively small amount of minerals from the soil, [Edit: plus a little bit of nitrogen and perhaps a small amount of other stuff that I neglected to mention,] and using the light energy from the sun, recombine the components (using chlorophyll) to form tree matter.

    [Edit: For what it's worth though, I concede that the first time I thought about this was less than a year ago. :blushing: I knew from high school biology the importance of carbon dioxide to the process, but it never really hit me that carbon dioxide ends up contributing so much to the tree mass.]
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2012
  18. Jun 11, 2012 #17
    Neil Degrasse Tyson is actually starting up Cosmos again in 2013. We all know that Carl Sagan's original instatement of Cosmos was a huge hit, and generated a positive outlook on not only astronomy and astrophysics, but science in general.

    Tyson is extremely good at popularizing science, and I feel like if this show gets advertised well enough on PBS, hopefully it will be able to increase scientific literacy in the general public.
     
  19. Jun 11, 2012 #18
    Take a human (one that's already dead, of course) and burn it. After the fire is complete, what's left on the ground? A little bit of ash, and perhaps a little bit of powdered bones, weighing only a small fraction of the weight of the original person. That ash is more-or-less what originally came from the soil (very roughly speaking, that is).

    In Newtonian physics there is the concept of the conservation of matter/mass (it's no use bringing in relativistic effects: the relativistic E = mc2 component of the mass is completely negligible for such chemical bonds). So where did the rest of the mass go? Back into the air in the form of carbon dioxide and water. The vast majority of a human's mass can be chemically recombined to form carbon dioxide and water.

    Granted, much of the water originally entered the human from a glass. But that water was rain shortly before, so even then one could argue the water came from the atmosphere too.

    Humans are carbon based lifeforms. That's kind of obvious because if you only half burn the human, there are obvious presence of a lot of carbon. And where did all the carbon come from that makes up a vital chunk of the human's mass? From the carbon dioxide in the air. The human sucked it in through its lungs.

    The human, having carbon dioxide from the air, water (originally from atmospheric rain), a comparatively small amount of minerals from plants recombine the components to form human matter.
     
  20. Jun 11, 2012 #19
    I'm a tree.
     
  21. Jun 11, 2012 #20
    Take a thread (one that's not too serious to joke about, of course) and derail it. After the derailing is complete, what's left to discuss? A little bit of the original topic, and perhaps a little bit of science about trees, weighing only a small fraction of the content of the original thread. That content is more-or-less what originally game from the OP (very roughly speaking, that is).

    In Newtonian physics there is the concept of the conservation of a thread's original topic (it's no use bringing in relativistic effects: considering science is in no way applicable to a thread). So where did the original concept of the thread go? Back into the form of something far less serious than it once was. The vast majority of a human's ability to focus on one subject for an extended period of time has been chemically studied to be not very long.

    Granted, much of the ideas of this thread came from other parts of the internet. But those ideas were from people, so even then one could argue that the idea of this thread was created from the ignorance of others.

    Threads can be delicate lifeforms. That's kind of obvious because if only half of the posts are on topic, there is an obvious presence of a lack of concentration. And where did all the concentration come from that makes up a vital chunk of the success of a thread? From the very posters of the thread. They read it in through their very eyes.

    The thread, having a set topic of discussion, an idea (originally stemmed from the ignorance of the general public), and a comparatively small amount of on topic posts combine to form a successfully derailed thread.
     
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