America’s Scientific Illiteracy

Over at the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, Bud Ward has posted a nice review of Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s new book Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future. From the book’s web site:

Climate change, the energy crisis, global pandemics, nuclear proliferation—many of the most urgent problems of the twenty-first century require science-based solutions. Yet Americans are paying less and less attention to scientists. For every five hours of cable news, less than a minute is devoted to science; the number of newspapers with weekly science sections has shrunken by two-thirds over the past several decades. Just 18 percent of Americans personally know a scientist to begin with, and exceedingly few can name a living scientist role model. No wonder rejection of science is rampant: 46 percent of Americans deny evolution and think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old; large numbers of Republicans continue to attack the science of climate change; and the public—including its wealthiest and best educated sectors—is in dangerous retreat from childhood vaccinations.

The disconnect between the scientific community and mainstream American culture grows wider every day.

The Nation has also published an article by the authors based on the book. Guess who gets a lot of the blame? The scientists.

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About Mark Meisner

Executive Director of the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA). I also research, teach, write about, and speak on environmental and sustainability communication, media, culture, and policy. Facts are usually facts, but opinions and sense of humour are always my own.
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3 Responses to America’s Scientific Illiteracy

  1. Leo Wiegman says:

    On the topic of scientific literacy, yes, scientists are beginning to emerge from their labs in the ivory tower to realize that explaining science in everyday terms is important. But the burden is shared. The public needs to ask better questions while the experts figure out less obtuse explanations. A very good distillation of the topic comes from Stephen Schneider, “The three questions that lay persons need to ask experts to be more literate in the environmental policy debates are (1) what can happen? (2) what are the odds? and (3) how do we know?” (Source: Schneider SH (1997) Defining and teaching environmental literacy. TREE 475. )

  2. I’m not familiar with the book, but it reminds me of a comment that Robert Hughes makes in the Human-Built World that everyone should be technology literate, especially when it comes to policy.

  3. Jen Schneider says:

    I haven’t read the book yet, so I’m speaking from a place of ignorance, but from the excerpts and synopses I’ve read, it seems like another example of the “deficit model” of PUS at work, no? I like Mooney’s work because at least it’s bringing these concerns into the mainstream, via bestseller lists. But his arguments don’t seem very nuanced…

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