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The general public is scientifically illiterate!

  1. Sep 2, 2010 #1
    I read the tech blog Gizmodo. They recently posted a story about Stephen Hawking.

    Read through the comments:

    It is amazing how many people have no concept of science. Nobody seems to even have a concept of what a theory or law is.


    The rest of the comments there are absolutely atrocious. People giving their ideas of big bang, etc. It is truly hilarious, and at the same time will make you feel depressed.

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2010 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Yes, the general public is scientifically illiterate. How do you plan on improving things?
  4. Sep 2, 2010 #3


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    Well said. I think those of us on this forum, who generally understand science better than most, have an obligation to educate people wherever we can
  5. Sep 2, 2010 #4


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    Hell...some of the engineers I work with are scientifically illiterate! LOL!

  6. Sep 2, 2010 #5
    And BAM!!

  7. Sep 2, 2010 #6
    THAT IS WILD Wild it's wild...:bugeye:
  8. Sep 2, 2010 #7
    Forget scientifically illiterate, plenty of them are functionally illiterate... *sigh*
  9. Sep 2, 2010 #8
    Reading internet comments in general (not including this forum) will give you a very depressing picture of humanity. Try reading the comments to any AOL news story:(
  10. Sep 2, 2010 #9
    Youtube comments for the win!
  11. Sep 2, 2010 #10
    I agree that the general public is generally stupid. But I don't know if this is an instance of that foolishness. The comment you quoted is technically a correct description of how science works (if patently obvious), except for the author's misuse of the word "theory." However, here I think the author was using that word in the colloquial sense, i.e. as it would be used in a murder investigation. Indeed, it's highly probable that Dr. Hawking worded this statement in such a way as to stir controversy, so it's not surprising that we've got responses like this.

    Besides, wouldn't it be more fun to quote the responses by the religious extremists? Hawking usually manages to stir them up.
  12. Sep 2, 2010 #11


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    After some of the papers I've been reading lately, I think I'm scientifically illiterate...
  13. Sep 2, 2010 #12
    More to the point - it's true that the general public is scientifically illiterate (I would not use the word stupid), the question is what is important for them to know. Understanding how technology works, while nice, doesn't really matter. I don't care how my ipod works, I just want it to work and do cool stuff. What does matter is that I understand the fundamentals of science. Reason by logic, how to interpret and judge data presented to me, credibility of sources of information, and the ability to make reasonable interpolation and/or extrapolations. Definitional terms, like theory, law, hypothesis, control, etc, should also be taught.
  14. Sep 3, 2010 #13
    "Something bounced off the sun."

    Wow (smacks forehead).
  15. Sep 3, 2010 #14


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    John Gabriel's Greater Internet F***wad Theory (featuring NSFW, but absolutely true, language):

    In theory, the anonymity (maybe like beer) lets you say what you really think. In practice, the low SNR probably means that people troll in order to get noticed.

    EDIT: More pertinent to the thread at hand, it doesn't help that there's a PR campaign to make science just another "brand" of information (and possibly even worse, one with a Liberal bias, to drag science into the whole culture wars) with total subjectivity and opinions that, like Stephen Colbert says, come straight from the gut (rather than more nuanced differences that arise from prior results, publications, and yes, even occasionally from the gut--as shaped by prior experience).

    To again take this OT (and possibly into the Politics subforum), I'm surprised that there isn't some institution (especially some of the new Evangelical colleges like Bob Jones or Oral Roberts) offering "Conservative Arts" degree given how much of a pejorative the word "Liberal" has become these days.
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2010
  16. Sep 3, 2010 #15
    I could not locate that quote and it's preposterous of course, that's no science. However there are plenty of people who want their 'theories' to become facts and laws, several having PhD's even. A bit hard for the general public to distinghuish them from scientists.

  17. Sep 3, 2010 #16


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    the scientific are publically illiterate!
  18. Sep 3, 2010 #17


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    A generalisation, but you make the point well.
  19. Sep 3, 2010 #18


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    The general public is scientifically illiterate!

    An economist / banker could equally say the general public is financially illiterate.

    A composer of music can equally say the general public is musically illiterate.

    Sure, the general public is scientifically illiterate - though I fail to see your point.

    Are you endeavouring to aggrandise scientists thereof ?
  20. Sep 3, 2010 #19
  21. Sep 3, 2010 #20
    Do you believe that the average physicist can learn how to be a CPA? Do you believe the average CPA can become a physicist? I think this a bit "quaternion"-ish... it doesn't yield the same result in both directions. Science is the means by which we understand the world around us, whereas say, finance, is a necessity which is purely invented for the sake of smooth commerce.

    It really comes down to those questions: A can -> B, but B cannot -> A. How many scientists enjoy classical music...? Many, especially those with an appreciation of mathematics. How many composers can or do appreciate the science of their own instruments? Some, but not many.
  22. Sep 3, 2010 #21
    I think the problem is that the general public are not educated to value logical thinking and don't have the desire to understand how everything works, why the world is as it is... they are content to just get on with their lives and enjoy the physical pleasures... I guess its not a problem really, just matter of opinion...
    but science is so important! thats why it is a problem not more people appreciate it! we NEED to understand our world! or we will end up destroying it!
  23. Sep 3, 2010 #22
    I do feel like science kind of barricades itself behind jargon and difficult theories... makes it much less easy for everyone to understand. but that is the nature of it I guess... hundreds of years of knowledge built up and inter-linked - takes a while to understand it! so more education is needed on the importance of science and on value of logical thinking. with these two, everyone should want to and be able to understand science.
  24. Sep 3, 2010 #23

    Chi Meson

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    One difference I see in this argument is this: a science PhD would not pretend to automatically know the intricacies of finance, nor would they pretend to be an expert in music theory, etc, etc, etc.

    But too many people mistake their general feelings and mistaken intuition for valid scientific arguments. Too many senators, for certain.
  25. Sep 3, 2010 #24
    I tend to ignore those opinions, but I think what Hawking said was totally illogical.
    If he could actually prove the existence of everything, then he can claim that god does not exists.

    I have to agree with Newton and Einstein that science and religion can coexist.
    I find Hawking quite strange in the past few months.
  26. Sep 3, 2010 #25


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    Hmm, interesting point. He did make that statement about aliens a few months ago (that we should not be looking for them). It was sort of odd, I thought, but I figured the media had taken it out of context (haha...imagine that, the media taking something a scientist says out of context, haha....sigh).
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