Public's Knowledge of Science and Technology
April 24, 2013 10:37 PM   Subscribe

Pew Research and Smithsonian Magazine recently performed a survey, looking at the American public's knowledge of science.
Pew: The public underestimates how well American high school students perform on standardized science tests compared with students in other developed nations. A plurality (44%) believes that 15-year-olds in other developed nations outrank U.S. students in knowledge of science; according to an international student assessment, U.S. 15-year-olds are in the middle ranks of developed nations in science knowledge.
An examination of the results from Smithsonian Magazine.
posted by frimble (57 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait, so 44% believe that US students are out-ranked, and we're in the middle ranks, so aren't the 44% correct here?
posted by efalk at 10:44 PM on April 24, 2013


*fist pump* i still got it.
posted by phaedon at 10:46 PM on April 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sorry I think on a quick read there, it was really bad framing.

"A plurality of Americans (44%) say that average American 15-year-olds rank at the bottom on standardized tests of science knowledge, when compared with students in other developed nations. That is incorrect: According to the most recent available data from the Program for International Student Assessment, U.S. students rank among the middle of OECD nations."

So we think we're at the bottom, but we're really in the middle, hooray!
posted by efalk at 10:49 PM on April 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This might be a function of my age (I was born in 1983) or golden-age thinking or cynicism or something else, but I have to say:

When I was growing up, I always thought, and truly believed, that America was the most technologically advanced, scientifically savvy, and modern and adventurous country in the world. The evidence has been mounting for some time now that this is not true.

That makes me sad.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:09 PM on April 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


When I was growing up, I always thought, and truly believed, that America was the most technologically advanced, scientifically savvy, and modern and adventurous country in the world.

It is in a lot of ways. It's just not evenly distributed.
posted by empath at 11:13 PM on April 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's not evenly distributed between fields either: You have DARPA and NASA, but you also pay your rent with a mailed-in check, for crying out loud!
posted by Harald74 at 11:15 PM on April 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


I was quite relieved to find out that most Americans know why prescribing unnecessary antibiotics is bad. We did far better than I thought we would on that one, and that's a question that has more everyday practicality than knowing the largest component of the atmosphere (which a minority of people got right)
posted by LionIndex at 11:29 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nation Starting To Realize New Era Of American Innovation Never Gonna Happen
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:32 PM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


From the article:

When asked the key reason young people don’t pursue degrees in science and math, 22 percent of those surveyed said such degrees weren’t useful to their careers and 20 percent said the subjects were “too boring.” By far the most common response, though, was that science and math were “too hard,” a belief held by 46 percent of respondents.

That might be a problem educators need to study.


I don't know about the last bit. Science and math is hard; sure, you can make it sound fun or something, but you need to think, you need to practise, and so on. I'm not sure what any educator can do to reduce the amount of hard-work involved in appreciating the scientific principle or concepts.

In fact, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but through Coursera and other avenues, I've been discovering that I've had quite a few gaps in my own learning from school. Clearly, there are some concepts that I needed to re-visit again and again, even as an adult, to truly "get" them.
posted by the cydonian at 11:33 PM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do we actually need more people to pursue science and math? Last I checked, something like 10-15% of NSF grants were getting approved, and the NSF had to start asking for pre-proposals for grant proposals because they had so many grants to search through they couldn't handle it. Tenured university positions are drying up as well. There's no point in getting advanced science and math degrees if nobody will pay you to work in those career fields.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:41 PM on April 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


It is interesting that the hardest question was something as simple
as what you breath, something so important that if you did not have it
you would be dead in a few minutes. and its basically just make of two elements.
posted by quazichimp at 11:51 PM on April 24, 2013


Second link should have a "spoiler alert" for those that actually want to take the quiz first. Thankfully, I rarely click links in order and I'm happy to report that I am one of the 7% ;)
posted by J.W. at 11:51 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]



Do we actually need more people to pursue science and math? Last I checked, something like 10-15% of NSF grants were getting approved, and the NSF had to start asking for pre-proposals for grant proposals because they had so many grants to search through they couldn't handle it. Tenured university positions are drying up as well. There's no point in getting advanced science and math degrees if nobody will pay you to work in those career fields.


Uhhh... Academia is the smallest and to many people the least interesting career path for putting a math or science degree to work. Certainly it's one of the least well paid.

Universities and businesses sometimes have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to innovation, but when it comes to size the number of engineers and scientists working in private industry completely dwarf the college scene.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:15 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did the quiz yesterday and sweated buckets (no self-confidence). 12/13 (self-confidence for 5 minutes achieved) would have been 11/13 if not for a spoiler on FARK though, and the one I still got wrong is horribly embarrassing.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 12:38 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does industry have a lot of jobs available? My friends graduating with MS degrees in biology aren't doing spectacularly well on the job market, and I have a friend with a PhD who just got stuck in a job that only requires a bachelor's degree and pays pretty badly.

Probably it matters a lot what kind of degree you get and what level.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:40 AM on April 25, 2013


I've thought for a while that it's big industry itself trying to make it seem like we need to encourage more STEM education, but only so that they can pay people less due to increased supply.

Sure there's plenty of less-desirable specialties that are in high demand, but on average, I don't know.
posted by JauntyFedora at 12:48 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The language of those questions was horrible.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:50 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Science and math is hard; sure, you can make it sound fun or something, but you need to think, you need to practise, and so on.

Isn't that true of any subject, though? I found science very easy in school and never had any doubt that I could do it. But there were other subjects which I convinced myself were too hard, or that I believed I had no aptitude for, so I barely tried and therefore earned awful marks. As an adult with a more healthy attitude to learning, I now find that I'm actually not bad at those subjects; I won't be switching careers, but I'm not the mental klutz that I talked myself into being.

The image of scientists that kids most commonly encounter is a super-genius loner, or maybe of someone making boring guarded statements in difficult technical language on TV (they tend to be white and male too, which can't help). Lots of kids therefore go into science and maths with strong expectations that it will be boring or hard, and of course that's how they find it unless the teacher is really good, and able to overcome that mental barrier. I'm not claiming that every kid had the potential to be the next Einstein, but I'd be willing to bet that most kids would do better in STEM if they didn't go in expecting to fail.

Do we actually need more people to pursue science and math? Last I checked, something like 10-15% of NSF grants were getting approved...

Perhaps we (I'm from the UK, but the picture is broady the same) don't need more people going into maths and science research careers, but there's nothing wrong with an educated population. Studying literature or art might not lead to a related career, but I think most would agree that it enriches the worldview of the person who studied it, and probably has a positive influence on whatever they do choose to do out in the real world. Similarly, I'd argue that having a good grounding in science can teach a specific style of problem solving, and introduce people to some of the beauty and grandeur that's hidden in the details of how our world works.

So I agree that we probably don't need to increase the flow of people doing STEM postgraduate degrees (... although as a fairly recent PhD myself, it's pretty hypocritical of me to say so), but I think having more people feel that they're capable of enjoying high school- and undergrad level STEM subjects can only be q good thing.
posted by metaBugs at 12:52 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, if anyone ever talks about how a college degree is just a piece of paper you use to get a job and you don't learn anything, look at the results from that quiz. The college grads have a solid lead on the some-college people, and both beat the high-school or less group. There's probably some socioeconomic effect there as well, but it's certainly a positive sign, and it shows why employers pick college graduates ahead of others. While basic science knowledge is not useful in every job, I'm sure it comes with a corresponding increase in literacy, etc. which is useful.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:20 AM on April 25, 2013


Got them all. I went to a major university and hold a Master's in Science, so, I guess, money well spent? I wonder had I answered the gender question differently how the results would have turned out. I fear the worst, and put the blame for that fear on education, not gender.
posted by axiom at 1:27 AM on April 25, 2013


A highly educated populace is a net benefit even if none of them work directly in science as a career. If the public are confident with at least a basic knowledge in maths, science and statistics, they're more likely to grasp concepts like relative risk, progressive and regressive taxation, and in theory be better able to judge the benefits and pitfalls of new or complex technologies and concepts such as genetic modification, windfarms, large hadron colliders and the like. It's not just about the few at the forefront who are doing the innovative thinking. It's also to do with the masses being able to appreciate the work of the few, and to grasp the implications sufficiently to be able to hold informed opinions.

I was pleasantly surprised to that only 10% were adamant that the continents have not been moving for millions of years. That suggests that a maximum of 10% of respondents are young-earth creationists. (or the rest weren't listening)
posted by talitha_kumi at 2:07 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fracking fracking is the one that got me. (Chrome spellcheck doesn't even think it's a word)
posted by Gordafarin at 3:06 AM on April 25, 2013



Incidentally, if anyone ever talks about how a college degree is just a piece of paper you use to get a job and you don't learn anything, look at the results from that quiz. The college grads have a solid lead on the some-college people, and both beat the high-school or less group.


Yes, but what did they succeed at? Answering a factoid quiz related to topics you usually see in school. I wonder how the demographics would break down for a quiz on how a car works?
posted by ennui.bz at 4:12 AM on April 25, 2013


I was pleasantly surprised to that only 10% were adamant that the continents have not been moving for millions of years. That suggests that a maximum of 10% of respondents are young-earth creationists. (or the rest weren't listening)

I haven't read the material yet, but on this one age may be a factor. Geologists did not agree about plate tectonics until the late 1960s and they still weren't teaching it in schools in the mid-1970s. Ditto only moreso for global warming. When I was in school, my teachers still believed in the brontosaurus. The bumblebee flight controversy hadn't yet been resolved. And so on with other discoveries, I am sure.

This is not to say old = ignorant, but you have to work to keep up ('cuz that's how science works) and not everyone can or does.
 
posted by Herodios at 4:15 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, if anyone ever talks about how a college degree is just a piece of paper you use to get a job and you don't learn anything, look at the results from that quiz. The college grads have a solid lead on the some-college people, and both beat the high-school or less group.

I can't tell you how many times that knowing that nitrogen is the most common gas in the atmosphere has come up in a job interview.

Also, this is all stuff they should have learned in high school or earlier, so I imagine the correlation has to do with the fact that people who retained what they learned in high school are more likely to have gone to college, rather than that college helped them retain what they learned in high school.
posted by empath at 4:17 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for the spoiler empath i hadn't taken the quiz yet
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 AM on April 25, 2013


13/13, the atmosphere one was a process of elimination: hydrogen is explosive, can't be too much of that, oxygen is poisonous in large amounts, CO2 is increasing but is a small constituent. Must be nitrogen then I guess.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:28 AM on April 25, 2013


Got 13/13, though I almost got this one wrong by beanplating it:
Which is the better way to determine whether a new drug is effective in treating a disease? If a scientist has a group of 1,000 volunteers with the disease to study, should she…

(a) Give the drug to all of them and see how many get better

(b) Give the drug to half of them but not the other half, and compare how many in each group get better
Certainly the answer to this question depends heavily on what is meant by "better" along with the type of disease these volunteers are suffering from. Couldn't they have expressed the same point about the use of experiment and control groups using something a little less subject to complicated ethics?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:29 AM on April 25, 2013


There aren't any complicated ethics involved in medical studies with control groups. That's how it's done, always. Sometimes, although rarely, they'll stop it early and treat everyone if it's obvious that the medicine is effective, though.
posted by empath at 4:52 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the material yet, but on this one age may be a factor. Geologists did not agree about plate tectonics until the late 1960s and they still weren't teaching it in schools in the mid-1970s. Ditto only moreso for global warming. When I was in school, my teachers still believed in the brontosaurus. The bumblebee flight controversy hadn't yet been resolved. And so on with other discoveries, I am sure.

This is not to say old = ignorant, but you have to work to keep up ('cuz that's how science works) and not everyone can or does.


I agree with you about scientific knowledge being something that's always moving forward, but that's not quite the point I was trying to make (apologies for my poor wording). Whether you believe the continents are moving or not, the question asks whether the respondent believes *anything* has been happening on the Earth for "millions of years". Given that some religious types believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, they're going to have to answer that question in the negative regardless of whether they've heard of plate tectonics or not..
posted by talitha_kumi at 4:55 AM on April 25, 2013


There aren't any complicated ethics involved in medical studies with control groups. That's how it's done, always.

Really? I thought there was more to it. I know there are lots of studies where people who, for whatever reason, were given a certain treatment are compared with a control group of those who weren't after the fact, but I was under the impression that things can get very tricky when you deliberately create experiment and control groups, which is why there are institutional review boards to sort through the specifics of the situation and decide whether or not it's okay to do things that way.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:11 AM on April 25, 2013


Any truth to the notion that in some countries, only the best and brightest take these tests, while in the US this is often not the case?
posted by ZeusHumms at 5:23 AM on April 25, 2013


13/13. Damn, it feels good to be a scientist.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:27 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why are these science quizzes always terribly written?It always seems like these quizzes are written by people that are decidedly not actual scientists.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:30 AM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


I haven't done a science class since high school and found that test terribly easy. That only 7% of respondents have managed the same result I did is mildly disturbing.
posted by Wolof at 5:41 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


There aren't any complicated ethics involved in medical studies with control groups. That's how it's done, always.

Sure there are. Does the control group receive only a placebo, meaning that they're going to go totally unmedicated? Or do they instead receive whatever is the current standard of care?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:46 AM on April 25, 2013


I got them all, and I avoided math and science in high school and college. Majored in Communications, got a law degree. These all seemed to be basic knowledge (though as noted above, the idea of comparing the "size" of electrons v atoms was initially hard to grok).
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:00 AM on April 25, 2013


Do we actually need more people to pursue science and math?

We sure do so long as we're going to keep pushing medicine and allied health careers on people. I just finished up a stats class geared predominantly towards future nurses/allied health professionals and dear lord, given the amount of cheating that went down in that class I would not trust 95 percent of them with my medical care. In this class, at least, I think a lot of the cheating was indicative of not having a full grasp of much more basic math. Screw up that basic math later and look, you've just given someone a serious drug overdose.

I realize that this isn't "pursuing math and science" in the pure research sense, but allied health professionals are one group who should have some science and math understanding beyond the high school level. As to whether should be pursuing PhDs in math and science-sure, why not, as long as you go in with an understanding of what you want out of it and what your job prospects look like afterwards. The error is more pushing these fields as the *only* ones with jobs or as more "practical" than humanities degrees when funding's tight for everyone.

Whether we should be pushing so many people into allied health at the expense of other careers is a totally separate question.
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:03 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rhomboid,

I think the purpose of this quiz is much more about who has a functional knowledge of some basics of science which allow them to be an informed consumer and voting citizen. The sunscreen, global warming, and fracking questions are much more about being functionally science literate than having an in depth knowledge.
posted by fontophilic at 6:05 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is interesting that the hardest question was something as simple
as what you breath, something so important that if you did not have it
you would be dead in a few minutes. and its basically just make of two elements.


The correct answer is only one element.
posted by LionIndex at 6:07 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


on this one age may be a factor. Geologists did not agree about plate tectonics until the late 1960s and they still weren't teaching it in schools in the mid-1970s. . . . you have to work to keep up . . . and not everyone can or does

Whether you believe the continents are moving or not, the question asks whether the respondent believes *anything* has been happening on the Earth for "millions of years". Given that some religious types believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, they're going to have to answer that question in the negative regardless of whether they've heard of plate tectonics or not..


I'd say one's interpretation here a lot depends upon whether one is interested in analysing the results or confirming one's position on "religious types'.

The propoosition is worded thus:
The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future.
In order to answer "true" you have to believe both that continents move and that they (and the Earth and so on) are millions of years old. I focused on "do continents move" and you focused on "millions of years".

I see from your profile that you are in the UK, but if you are following the gun control debate in the US at all, you know that it hangs in part on the 2nd amendment to the US Constitution. The full text* of said amendment is:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Without making a value judgement or taking sides, I point out that one side focusses their attention on the introductory clause while the other ignores it and focusses solely on the main clause. So careless wording has consequences.

Returning to the science quiz, if they only wanted to know whether people knew about continental drift and all that, mentioning the age of the Earth is just a distraction. If they only wanted to know whether people disagreed with hundreds of years of scientific thinking about the age of the Earth from physics, biology, and geology, they didn't need to mention continents moving at all. So the yes vote count captures only the informed and persuaded, while the no count conflates the uninformed but persuadable and the dogmatic.

Possibly, that was intended; but like many many such, it does seem that the question could have been constructed with more care.

Having taken the quiz now, and read the results page, I see that my intuition is supported by the data: the younger the respondent is, the more likely they are to answer this question YES.

18-29 87%
30-49 77%
50-64 77%
65+ 66%


-----------------------------------------
*Including the comma after the word 'militia'. I checked the original.
posted by Herodios at 6:29 AM on April 25, 2013


a highly energetic electron could certainly have a longer wavelength than the atomic diameter of a small atom

Oops, that doesn't make any sense, as wavelength is inversely proportional to momentum. That's what I get for criticizing I suppose. But I still stand by the notion that a question about the size of an electron should elicit a little bit of "wha??" and head tilting.

I think the purpose of this quiz is much more about who has a functional knowledge of some basics of science which allow them to be an informed consumer and voting citizen.

But it's framed as a test of our educational system. If answering all the questions correctly requires outside knowledge of current events (as is evidenced by the youngest age range doing particularly poorly on the fracking question) then there is something amiss.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:37 AM on April 25, 2013


It's not surprising that most Americans think that our students can't perform in science when you consider whom that misconception benefits. Corporations want employees who can come in off the street with exactly the right flavor-of-the-month skill set, no training needed. The more students they can convince with talk of shortages to take on training at their own expense and no guarantee of a payoff, the pickier they can be about whom they hire. The idea of the science-illiterate American student also helps build support for visa programs that bring in workers without the bargaining power of citizens or green card holders.

Believing that American students are at the bottom of the barrel in science has huge appeal to a lot of political persuasions ("It's all because of that school board in Kansas that wanted to teach intelligent design!" "We're raising a lazy and entitled generation of women's studies majors!") but only one group, economic libertarians, sees concrete benefits from it.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 6:51 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd say one's interpretation here a lot depends upon whether one is interested in analysing the results or confirming one's position on "religious types'.

I wasn't basing any kind of conclusion on it, just noting an "oh, that's interesting" side-point that I noticed and which thought others might also be interested in, whilst finding myself in agreement with the conclusions in general.
posted by talitha_kumi at 6:52 AM on April 25, 2013


a question about the size of an electron should elicit a little bit of "wha??"

The question does capture notionally the relationship between electrons and atoms, which is the more important point. Perhaps that is what they were really after.

It always seems like these quizzes are written by people that are decidedly not actual scientists.

I don't think they need to be designed by scientists; but the motivation is unclear. It looks like they were aiming for "science in public policy" rather than "educating future scientists". That's how the fracking question and atmosphere questions might make some sense. At the other extreme, the "example of a chemical reaction" question seems more oriented toward guaging general science education and far removed from public policy issues. And it's hard to see what the laser question proves.

Quite a mish-mosh.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:55 AM on April 25, 2013


Rhomboid, you know what answers they want. Do you think many "actual scientists" would fail to get the desired answer on any of those questions?

More to the point, they're doing a statistical assessment of people's general knowledge, not an individual assessment of anything. This isn't a pop quiz. And it's not just looking at knowledge of the general methodology of science. Facts count, too, because you can't analyze everything from first principles every time.

Knowing what the atmosphere is made of, for example, is an indicator of how much attention people have been paying. Are you really going to say that you don't believe it's a likely indicator of general scientific knowledge when taken over a population?

And, yeah, an electron is a statistical cloud (except that that in itself is an oversimplification, because it's really only what we OBSERVE that's statistical). But almost all of the distribution is almost always concentrated in a space smaller than the similar space for all the particles of an atom (take one electron orbital versus the union of the nuclear orbitals and the electron orbitals).

And an atom includes one or more electrons, plus other particles, which makes the atom "bigger" by a quite reasonable and coherent definition.

And if you go all Copenhagen and abstract an electron as a point particle with a probabilistic location which can be determined to arbitrary precision provided you give up on knowing its momentum, then it's definitely smaller than an atom, which is a collection of such particles that will never coincide exactly, and therefore has extension even in the limit, whereas the electron does not.

But that's all more pedantry. Everybody knows what they mean.
posted by Hizonner at 8:40 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I got them all, and I avoided math and science in high school and college. Majored in Communications, got a law degree."

posted by schoolgirl report

Eponyhilarious.
posted by marienbad at 8:40 AM on April 25, 2013


Of course I know the answer they want, that's not the point. I think we've all had to suffer through questions where we know what the expected answer is but we still pause to remark at how poorly it was phrased or how it could be misinterpreted and so on. It's especially embarrassing when something that is supposed to be testing for scientific literacy borders on being scientifically illiterate. You can easily come up with questions that test for basic knowledge of chemistry that have no such issues, like "Which has more mass, the electron or the proton?" or "Does the electron have a positive or negative charge?" or "Which of the following is not found in the nucleus (electron, proton, neutron)?" or "Do atoms bond to form molecules or do molecules bond to form atoms?" and so on.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2013


I got them all right except for the demographics ones at the end. How am I supposed to know I'm not a 24 year old woman who dropped out of college her Junior year?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:26 AM on April 25, 2013


I they had asked about the mass, it would have been a more precise question. But the electron is a particle in addition to being a wave, and as a particle, it does have a size.
posted by empath at 10:37 AM on April 25, 2013


Do we actually need more people to pursue science and math?

Pursue it as a career? Maybe. I assert that we need more people to pursue STEM subjects farther than they currently do. If science and math skills/knowledge are distributed in a bell curve, more science and math will move the average. Not only do we have a populous that is more well educated and has better problem solving and analytic skills but could move the tails of the graph up. Our smartest are more brilliant and our dumbest are less ignorant.
posted by VTX at 11:15 AM on April 25, 2013


Not only do we have a populous that is more well educated and has better problem solving and analytic skills but could move the tails of the graph up. Our smartest are more brilliant and our dumbest are less ignorant.

Would that be the case though? There's a lot of students pursuing STEM subjects in China, and of course they excel in the subjects they study, but beyond that it's hard to determine if it gives them an edge in problem solving or analytic skills to an American student that's studied Philosophy or something. And adding to the rampant plagiarizing and emphasis on standardized testing in China makes the results even murkier.

And to switch gears (not directed at VTX's comment), is the world really worse off if someone decides to pursue English literature or school counseling or business instead of a STEM degree? I always thought it was more threatening when there's a lack of education or continued lifelong engagement with education rather than having a person study one instead of the other.
posted by FJT at 1:48 PM on April 25, 2013


It depends on if this hypothetical person pursued English literature because science was "too hard". I feel like a lot of people find something in math or science that's hard and then write off all of it. Everyone knows math is hard right, so I much just not be smart enough for it. But when it comes to other subjects, if it's hard, you just have to try harder because it doesn't come with that same stigma.

I think with most subjects, if it's challenging, most people assume the problem is with them. With math and science, people assume the problem is the subject. So maybe you end up with a mediocre English lit scholar when, had they not dismissed math, would been an awesome mathematician.

I don't think we need take the same approach as China and try and force students to study math and science more that we just need to stop discouraging it.
posted by VTX at 2:10 PM on April 25, 2013


I just read this in Science

Outside the Pipeline: Reimagining Science Education for Nonscientists (full text available with free registration)

which argues that we should be looking at not only how to push students into the STEM pipeline but also how to increase science literacy among students who don't pursue science fields into higher education -- which, personally, I almost think is a better goal, and one that might actually also increase higher-education STEM participation as it might help demystify science and math.
posted by jaguar at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not a USain, and I have a weird view of The Smithsonian from reading too many articles about fossil hunting when I was young, but they're one of those organizations I don't completely trust. It's because they exist in a grey area between government, academia and... what? Commercialized fossil/artefact hunting? Self-appointed science news organization?

13/13! Probably from reading all those Smithsonian magazines.

Anyway, they know their audience and how to sell magazines, if this article about The 10 Most Disturbing Scientific Discoveries is anything to go by. Reading the comments there will give you a very different outlook on the state of science education in the US. (Spoiler: hilarious and frightening at the same time.)
posted by sneebler at 3:48 PM on April 25, 2013


Far best is he who knows all things himself;
Good, he that hearkens when men counsel right;
But he who neither knows, nor lays to heart
Another's wisdom, is a useless wight.


I think that there might be a slight disconnect between having knowledge of factual information and being able to discern whether some new knowledge is, indeed, factual or not.

The question about the "size of an electron" bandied around in this thread is a great example - remember a little bit from grade 8 science lets you answer the question correctly. If one has ever taken grade 10 science, they might be puzzled. Taking some college chemistry and one might understand why that question isn't entirely correct. Take some upper level college Chem and you might not even bother posting here about the electron size question because it causes GRAR!!* Taking some college chemistry, some philosophy, some psychology OR having a lot of experience with other people of differing educational backgrounds allows one to ask "Who wrote this quiz and what are their intentions? Are they (or the people they delegated to compose this quiz) benignly ignorant or did they choose the questions and the phrasing in order to produce the result that they intend to serve their purposes? What are their purpose(s)?"

Having grown up in Canada, gotten an expensive undergrad ("college") education in the US, and stupidly gotten MSc and PhD degrees back in Canada, I can say that "we" aren't much better than the US. Among the general populace, there seems to be a huge swath of "don't care, couldn't care" in the middle and a significant (if aging) proportion that are actively hostile against academics and nuanced knowledge ("ivory tower academic know-it alls who have never worked a real job for a day in their life, what do THEY know about real-life" sentiment-owners) and then there are the segments that have respect for knowledge and learning and science and "stuff."

Unfortunately, a too-large proportion of people in that group are also willing to believe *anything* with enough appeal to authority (anti-vaxers, homeopathy, chiropractry, new age crystals, reki, whatever).

I'm surrounded by university students (years 2 through 4) doing a "co-op" (take 1 or 2 semesters from formal classes on campus to intern at a "real world" science job doing minimum wage stuff with the hopes that they can get an opportunity to get "experience" for whatevers. Some places are great, other places just use the cheap labour). These are kids pursuing a STEM (mostly bioscience) education. The vast majority of them don't care/even-know about climate change. Or population demographics. Or peak oil. Or progressive political reform. The best I can say is that they can mostly tell fake science from "real" science, but mostly, they just don't care.

These are the "educated STEM field people" who are supposed to be shaping the political climate going forward, and they're the minority and (still) the socially marginalized on campus. Most people just care about themselves and how much money they can make for the least amount of work that they have to do. They don't even know WHAT they would do with money if they ended up having a great deal of it. But, yah. 19-22 year olds. I was probably not too different, but I'd like to think that I was.

*any tenure-track/tenured R1 chem profs here who can chime in?
posted by porpoise at 9:25 PM on April 25, 2013


SOPA creator’s latest bill proposes stripping peer-review from science funding
posted by homunculus at 5:00 PM on April 29, 2013


« Older Studio Ghibli presents Giant God Warrior Appears I...  |  It's not so often that a new a... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments