Scientific Illiteracy Quotes (8 quotes)
A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?
Increasingly, our leaders must deal with dangers that threaten the entire world, where an understanding of those dangers and the possible solutions depends on a good grasp of science. The ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, acid rain, questions of diet and heredity. All require scientific literacy. Can Americans choose the proper leaders and support the proper programs if they themselves are scientifically illiterate? The whole premise of democracy is that it is safe to leave important questions to the court of public opinion—but is it safe to leave them to the court of public ignorance?
Knowing how things work is important, but I think that’s an incomplete view of what science literacy is or, at least, should be. Science literacy is an outlook. It’s more of a lens through which you observe what goes on around you.
Let me suggest to you a simple test one can apply to scientific activities to determine whether or not they can constitute the practice of physics. Is what you are doing beautiful? Many beautiful things are created without the use of physical knowledge, but I know of no really worthwhile physics that isn’t beautiful. Indeed, one of the most distressing symptoms of scientific illiteracy is the impression so often given to school children that science is a mechanistic activity subject to algorithmic description.
Rampant scientific illiteracy in the general public is, in my opinion, one major cause of the current lack of opportunities for scientists. … A public that is ignorant of science, and of how science is done, is not going to support scientific research enthusiastically.
Scientific literacy is an intellectual vaccine against the claims of charlatans who would exploit ignorance.
Those who have dissected or inspected many [bodies] have at least learnt to doubt; while others who are ignorant of anatomy and do not take the trouble to attend it are in no doubt at all.
Who is unable to count one, two, three, or to distinguish odd from even numbers, or is unable to count at all, or reckon night and day, and who is totally unacquainted with the revolution of the Sun and Moon, and the other stars … All freemen, I conceive, should learn as much of these branches of knowledge as every child in Egypt is taught when he learns the alphabet. In that country arithmetical games have been invented for the use of mere children, which they learn as pleasure and amusement … I … have late in life heard with amazement of our ignorance in these matters; to me we appear to be more like pigs than men, and I am quite ashamed, not only of myself, but of all Greeks.