View Full Version : Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates

2005-Oct-23, 04:10 PM
I have to do a critique on this article by David Goodstein for a class. It can be found here: http://www.phds.org/reading/elites.html

Here's what I have so far, it's one page maximum but I would like to hear some feedback on it, if anyone would like to provide me with some.

Goodstein’s article discusses how the American education system has failed the majority of the population of the country. How despite being a nation with some of the most educated, brilliant scientists an overwhelming majority of the population is completely ignorant of modern science. He discusses the survival prospects of scientific research in such an environment and concludes that they are indeed poor. He concludes that in order to save science, we must educate the masses, for if the masses understand science, they are more apt to support funding to further scientific progress.

While Goodstein made some excellent points, I found it a bit difficult to find these points as he seemed to ramble a little and bury his arguments in conjecture. For instance, he blames elementary school teachers for the poor showing of women in science because young girls look to their scientifically illiterate elementary school teachers more than boys; however, in many areas of science, women are graduating in roughly equal numbers as their male counterparts. It appears as though much of the decline of women in academia occurs after graduation and is often attributed to the working conditions . He also seems to consider it a bad thing for a large percentage of the population to attend institutes of higher learning, while his final conclusion seems to support education for all, rather than a select few.

I do, however agree with his final conclusion, that it is necessary to give the public a proper education in science, not just a select few. Education is a very important tool and it should be available to all. The article is rather effective in bringing awareness to the plight of scientific education in America and proposes what appears to be a viable solution to the problem. However, it might have been a more effective article if he had condensed it and refrained from speaking outside his area of expertise.

I'm not entirely happy with it but I'm not sure what I can do to make things better.

Also, if somebod can help me think of a witty title, that would be nice. :D

2005-Oct-23, 05:35 PM
I'm utterly amazed by the fact that when I visit other countries, such as Germany, the vast majority of the populace is quite comfortable discussing aspects of politics, physics, sociology, and other sciences, even though they may very well be bartenders or even the maid who cleans my room.

It appears that we in America have been incredibly dummed down over the years, on average.

2005-Oct-23, 05:42 PM
Yeah, apparantly we're not so much better off in Canada either.

2005-Oct-23, 06:13 PM
Fortunately, thanks to endeavors such as About, Google, and Wiki, one need not remain in the dark!

2005-Oct-23, 06:20 PM
I don't think it should be up to the internet to educate people.

Schools should do a better job.

2005-Oct-23, 06:54 PM
It's hard to evaluate your paper without reading the article/paper you are critiquing. But I do have some observations which may be useful.

If the future of science were based on the popular vote we'd indeed be in trouble. But that would ignore market forces that stimulate all kinds of scientific advances. For example, there was a news article today about a Vanderbilt University student discovering a better light bulb. The patent would of course be worth millions. So as far as the end of science, no way.

On the other hand, I would say the majority of the world's people, including the 'educated' Western populations, do not understand the basics of evidence and logic, the core principles of science. The majority, by far, still attribute natural phenomenon to the supernatural. They don't understand the basics of the germ theory. They don't look to the experts to answer questions, they instead go with whatever the popular opinion is.

Some examples to illustrate my point:

Obviously, the vast majority, including many scientists, still believe in god(s) and of those, many believe god(s) literally cause earthquakes and floods or save certain people from such disasters. This despite the fact there is no evidence such disasters affect believers less than non-believers of any religion.

As to the germ theory, my area of expertise, people cannot get past their personal experience (anecdotal evidence, sample size one or maybe a couple of similar occurrences), in order to evaluate and accept the results of well done research. Flu shots don't make people sick as many studies have shown yet millions believe they do. They or someone else got sick "after a flu shot".

Personal experience is given much greater weight than well done, placebo controlled, double blinded studies. Associated events are concluded to be related as cause and effect with no thought that coincidence is even to be considered.

Kevin Trudeau, (infomercial salesman with a felony conviction for fraud and absolutely no scientific credentials let alone medical credentials), and the charlatans like him have no trouble convincing people to spend BILLIONS of dollars on his supposed information on natural cures. This without any question or thought to perhaps look at true expert opinion even to check the guy's credibility out.

We most definitely need to educate the masses better. We're doing a very poor job in schools teaching how evidence and research should be interpreted. We are not explaining to kids that drug companies to not have a monopoly on research dollars and the US government couldn't possibly suppress information on specific hazards completely just so some company could make a profit. I'm not saying no research is tainted by motive. I am saying understanding the biases of a study and the limits of bias to taint every single study of a single topic is not being taught.

So while science itself isn't in danger, the populations that could benefit from science certainly are. They are in danger of missing opportunities, wasting resources, and doing more harm than good by failing to understand scientific advances. The advances themselves might be slowed but there is enough human nature in the gene pool that will certainly keep science moving forward.

2005-Oct-24, 12:17 AM
The link to the article is in the first post, unless that site is down again.

2005-Oct-24, 02:26 AM
I am, compared to many on this board, scientifically illiterate. (Except in certain very minor parts that have caught my interest--and evolution, which I have learned a great deal about because the IDers don't want me to.) This is not the fault of my elementary school teachers; I don't remember learning science in elementary school except in gifted class, wherein we disected frogs and studied geology (at different times, obviously). This may be related to the fact that two of the three junior high science teachers I had didn't seem to have any real interest in science, but I doubt it.

However, I'm better than the average population about knowing what's bad science, because various teachers (the inestimable Mrs. Nicholson foremost among them) taught me logic. I can spot that the "medical establishment" would make a lot of money from anything that "cured" whatever dire illness we've come up with this week. (Heck, I can spot that people within the medical establishment may get those diseases, and would almost certainly like a cure to them, thank you.) I can spot when people are making claims without evidence--or, worse, when they contradict evidence. And (thanks again, Mrs. Nicholson and Ms. Downhower) I can look things up. Too many people only know how to research online, and that isn't always reliable. Paper encyclopedias may be flawed, but they're a heck of a lot more reliable than half the stuff you'd get from a Google search.

2005-Oct-24, 06:50 AM
The link to the article is in the first post, unless that site is down again.Saw it, didn't have the time to read it. But I have opinions to share anyway. ;)

2005-Oct-24, 09:08 AM
I'm utterly amazed by the fact that when I visit other countries, such as Germany, the vast majority of the populace is quite comfortable discussing aspects of politics, physics, sociology, and other sciences, even though they may very well be bartenders or even the maid who cleans my room.

It appears that we in America have been incredibly dummed down over the years, on average.
We in the UK have our fair share of the dumming down and scientific illiteracy too. Though i was relieved it find its not universal. When i was in a meeting with one of my physics profesors he had to take a break for a moment as he had a phone call. The call was from a local bus driver who was confirming the time of his appointment to come in and discuss a technicallity of General relativity with the professor.

2005-Oct-24, 07:52 PM
Would this be a bad time to point out that it's spelled "dumbed"?