How to Increase Scientific Literacy | Higher Ed Gamma – Inside Higher Ed

A recent correspondent shared a memorable quotation from the Nobel prizewinner Ernest Rutherford:   “That which is not Physics is stamp collecting. ”  In other words, that which isn’t science is a trivial and inconsequential waste of time.

Bored out of his mind by box checking introductory courses in the humanities, my correspondent wrote: “To many STEM students the truly “Great Books” were written by Physicists and Mathematicians. ”  He added:     “A deep study of literature will not get you through a decent course on Differential Equations. Facile speech doesn’t enable you to get through Physical Electronics. ”  Those words give vivid expression to a deep divide between those who value creative writing and the arts and those who attach the greatest importance to scientific inquiry,

I sense that the students tend to fall into one of two camps.   There are those, like my correspondent, who regard the humanities as lightweight, and consider STEM the only source associated with meaningful knowledge.   Then, alongside a small number of scientific skeptics, there are those who don’t think about themselves science people, plus who feel utterly incapable of evaluating scientific claims.

I think it’s essential that we bridge that separate.  

Americans once revered science and scientists. That, I think it’s fair in order to say, is no longer the case.   Many do, but a substantial quantity don’t.    

It’s not just due to religious fundamentalists or the conspiracy minded. Retractions.   Claims of fudged data, conflicts of interest, results that can’t be replicated, shifting theories, and highly publicized disagreements, compounded simply by the pandemic – all have reinforced skepticism. So , too, is the all too common tendency to move beyond agreed upon facts in making policy recommendations.

For all too many Americans, medical understanding is really a matter of faith.   It doesn’t rest upon genuine understanding or understanding.   It involves the leap associated with faith.   It requires the public in order to defer to scientific authority, something that numerous Americans with an Emersonian faith in self-reliance, won’t do.  

That doesn’t, however, mean that faith within science may be the same, say, as religious faith.   Science,   as Paul Bloom, who has taught psychology at the University of Toronto and Yalehas noted ,   is not simply another way of knowing along with equal epistemological status because religion.   Nor will be science merely a body of knowledge.   It is a methodology.

Scientific practice depends upon evidence, observation, experimentation, the particular development plus testing associated with falsifiable hypotheses, and revision.   Its conclusions and insights are provisional, and are open to questioning, refutation, and modification.   The scientific community is collectively responsible for evaluating technological conclusions.   Science, from this perspective,   is self-correcting in a way that will religion is usually not .

Still, since Professor Blossom also observes, science must not be fetishized.   As he adds:   “scientific practice is permeated by groupthink, bias, plus financial, political, and personal motivations. ”  After all,   distrust in technology has deep historical roots .   Scientific racism and Eugenics are simply two of examples of how science offers served as a tool for justifying and perpetuating social distinctions and discriminatory policies that rest on pseudoscientific understandings of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. There are usually similar examples from your history of scientific medicine, which includes wrenching samples of grotesque surgeries and disparate treatment associated with pain and illness rooted in ideas that were subsequently repudiated.    

It is the profound historical irony that will even as scientists proposed various theories of racial difference, racial superiority, and racial inferiority, such as polygenesis, it was religion that sustained a faith that will all human beings were created in the image of God.   We must resist the kind associated with simplification that underlay Andrew Dickson White’s highly influential 1896 volume,   A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom , which posited an inevitable conflict between science and religion to the particular detriment associated with the latter.

Given that will background, why should we trust technology?   That’s the question that Naomi Oreskes, the professor of the history of science plus affiliated professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Harvard, asks in her 2021 book  Why Trust Technology?     Her answer, in a nutshell, is science’s social character.   Science is trustworthy because it depends on consensus, diversity, and methodological openness.

Buttressed with blurbs from  Chemistry World ,   New Science , Technology, and the  Journal of Applied Crystallography , the Oreskes’ book argues that non-scientists can rely on medical consensus – agreement among those who are well-qualified in order to study the relevant facts.   But, as we all know, an earlier general opinion, for example , about phlogiston, or that the primary cause of ulcers was stress, turned out to be wrong.   As one commentator on the book put it: “ Because scientific truth, unlike spiritual truth, is always provisional; because Thomas Henry Huxley said, one associated with the tragedies of science is the particular undoing of beautiful ideas by ugly facts . ”

Because another reviewer  writes : “Consensus has no place in science. If 100% of scientists agree with a good incorrect hypothesis, it is still incorrect. Newton’s theory associated with gravity has been wrong. Einstein’s theories don’t work in black holes or even at quantum scales. ”

As nevertheless other writers argue, the scientific method, with its emphasis on deduction or induction, doesn’t fully describe what scientists actually do, as some of the most important breakthroughs are usually conceptual plus theoretical and require decades of experimentation before they are shown to be correct, incorrect, or partially correct.   These authors agree along with Karl Popper and argue that science’s distinctive feature is skepticism: the willingness to query and test all technological claims.   As yet another commentator  contends ; “what distinguishes a scientific claim from a non-scientific one is not really that there is a few observation by which it can be verified, yet that there is several observation by which it can be refuted… the key activity of science is not the particular gathering of observations, but the formulation of conjectures and the pursuit of specific observations that may refute them. ”

James C. Zimring’s 2019 volume,   What Science Is and How It Really Works , offers a somewhat different defense of technology.   This argues, as  one of the book’s reviewers puts this , that will science differs from other belief systems because it “is based upon calculating what is the particular most probable explanation with regard to what we observe in our world with consideration to cognitive biases, heuristics, fallacies, plus many other issues that all of us all face as humans in the human society. ”

The particular Oreskes and Zimring books suggest that if we really want undergraduates to understand the level of confidence that they should place in particular scientific information claims and be able to distinguish valid claims through flim-flam, we need to do two things.   First associated with all, we have to introduce them to scientific reasoning and the scientific technique as well as the distinction between scientific and non-scientific thinking plus “ how science mitigates the particular tendency of normal human thinking to ‘get the world wrong’ in specific situations . ”  The second is definitely to engage college students in medical research so that these people can begin to see regarding themselves the particular nature associated with scientific investigation and thinking.      

I think it is fair to say that much of the general public feels unequipped in order to assess the reliability or significance of scientific findings or exactly how these fit into a larger portrait associated with nature’s evolution and workings.   Vaccine hesitancy, climate change denial, and a belief within the efficacy of unsupported alternative medical treatments are just a few of the byproducts not only out of American culture’s profound doubt of expertise, but associated with the perception among some that bias, political and otherwise, provides infected plus tarnished technology and medicine.    

I, for one, am increasingly convinced that one or 2 introductory programs in biology or geology is not the best way to instill scientific literacy.   We need a different approach – one that combines an understanding from the scientific method and the particular nature and limits of scientific statements and hands-on experience in scientific query.

In 1959, the British scientist plus novelist Chemical. P. Snow published the hugely important book entitled  The particular Two Cultures .   In that will book, this individual argued that intellectual life in the West was divided into two mutually antagonistic subcultures, one rooted in the arts and humanities, the other in science and engineering. Snow expressed a deep concern about what he saw as a widening gulf of misunderstanding and mistrust, of suspicion and distrust, between researchers and non-scientists. In Snow’s view, humanists and scientists existed within separate cultures that have “almost ceased to communicate in all. ” Science conceived of itself as dispassionately objective, while the humanities plus arts emphasized sensibility, values, and the influence associated with culture.  

Much handwringing has been expended over this cultural divide–which is, of course, part of larger fragmentation and specialization of human being understanding. Yet despite widespread concern about the chasm separating the sciences and the particular humanities, the profound gap continues to separate the two ethnicities. The breakdown in communication between the sciences and the humanities was vividly illustrated simply by a controversy that erupted after the mathematical physicist Alan Sokal revealed that will an article he had published in the humanities journal  Social Text   in 1996 was a hoax. To Sokal, this particular incident revealed the lack of “standards of intellectual rigor within certain precincts of the particular American academic humanities. inch This charge provoked a good outcry from many humanists.

The gap between sciences as well as the humanities carries profound social and intellectual consequences. On the one hand, technology and technology without a humanistic understanding of aesthetics and ethical values risks becoming mere scientism: soulless, antisocial, plus lacking an awareness associated with human ideals. Likewise, the humanities without an understanding of contemporary technology is impoverished indeed; it is necessarily ignorant of the very most recent conceptions of causality, interactivity, and representation.

A humanistic knowledge of human existence cannot leave science aside.     After almost all, science can be central in order to cultural self-understanding. Students in the art and humanities benefit enormously from learning the language, methods, plus concepts associated with science.   But STEM students as well would benefit from a better understanding of the honest and epistemological issues science raises.   One of the academy’s aims should be to encourage technology students in order to contemplate the particular legal, ethical, social, and philosophical implications of cutting-edge scientific research into this kind of fields since genetic architectural, new reproductive technologies, plus animal and human testing.   All students, in turn, need to understand that researchers and humanists wrestle with many of the same fundamental questions, even while they rely upon distinctive methodologies, languages, plus traditions.  

We must, in short, link the divide that separates the humanities and ORIGINATE majors, and ensure that both groups understand the scientific technique, the nature plus limits associated with scientific knowledge claims, and scientific ethics.   One perspective is certainly incomplete without the some other.  

Steven Mintz is teacher of background in the College of Texas at Austin.

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