Science Literacy (Low) and a Science Fair (Very High)

The May 30th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education ponders the state of Americans’ knowledge about science (quite low) and what to do about it. The Chronicle reports that one-third of Adults do not know that the earth revolves around the sun, and only three-fifth agreed with the statement “Astrology is not at all scientific.” Those findings come from a survey led by Jon D. Miller, a political scientist at Michigan State. The better news in the survey, conducted annually for two decades, is that the U.S. ranks second in the world in scientific literacy in developed nations, behind only Sweden. Besides, the percentage of scientifically literate adult Americans, only 10 percent in 1988, rose to 25 percent by 2007.

Michigan State, the Chronicle reports, is one of the leading universities in developing “learning objectives” in scientific and quantitative reasoning for all students. One aspect of the effort is a plan to measure educational gains by testing students’ grasp of science as freshmen, then again as sophomores.

If you live in the New York City area and you want to improve your scientific literacy, consider attending some events of this week’s World Science Festival 2008, including a session on “You and Your Irrational Brain” (a production of WNYC’s Radio Lab); neuroscience in the action film, The Bourne Identity and its two sequels; a play on the discovery of oxygen; interviews with some brilliant scientists; an analysis of vision and the brain by Oliver Sacks and Robert Krulwich; and Alan Alda revisiting his role in the Broadway play QED, on the life and personality of Richard Feynman.

The festival is designed to be fun as well as educational, with sessions on science and sports, Disney imagineering, sonic juggling, magic and video games.

The festival runs from May 28th to June 1st. Some events are oversubscribed. Many are not. The schedule is here.

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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