Posted by: drgeophysics | July 11, 2009

Science, ignorance and consequences

The first computer.

The first computer.

There have been several interesting reports that show that in the United States there is very poor education in science. The media is a source of nonsense and mis-information regarding science and a large part of the problem. The anti-intellectualism that has been a corner stone of some political debates does not help either. Unfortunately there are a series of complex issues in which science and science directed policy will be key to successfully solving them and the US is in a very poor position to advance.

It is natural that given the political nature now of science issues that opinions regarding science and scientific study will become part of political outlook. There have been two countries that have added political elements to science. In Hitler’s Germany science was seen as polluted by “jewish science”. Einstein, Freud, and other scientists were seen in a political light and actively harassed. The entire scientific field was viewed through this political prism. Similarly in Stalin’s Soviet Union science was viewed through a political filter. Evolution in biology and (surprisingly) plate tectonics were seen as “non socialist” and research and study in these areas was highly political, essentially non-scientific.

The United States has moved down this road in the last 30 years with essentially political viewpoints being misrepresented as scientific. This is a very serious issue. The quote below is taken from the AAAS site. Here is the direct link.

In the public’s view, science slips as nation’s greatest achievement. Significantly fewer Americans volunteer scientific advances as one of the country’s most important achievements than did so a decade ago (27% today, 47% in May 1999). Then, 18% cited space exploration and the moon landing as the country’s top achievement in the 20th century; now, 12% see it as the greatest achievement in the past 50 years.

Public, scientists agree on government role in funding research. Fully 84% of scientists name government as a top source of research funding in their specialty. Large majorities of the public think that government investments in basic scientific research (73%) and engineering and technology (74%) pay off in the long run, and 60% says that government investment in research is essential for scientific progress. Majorities of both Democrats (80%) and Republicans (68%) say that government investments in basic science pay off in the long term.

Substantial gaps exist on evolution and climate change. Most notably, 87% of scientists—but just 32% of Americans in general—say that humans and other living things have evolved over time and that evolution is the result of natural processes such as natural selection. A large gap also exists on the issue of climate change; 84% of scientists—but just 49% of the public—say that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity.

Politics and science. Majorities of both the public and the scientists say that it is appropriate for scientists to take part in political debates about issues such as nuclear power and stem cell research. But they differ in their views on many of these issues. Scientists are much more likely than the public to support the expansion of nuclear power, federal funding of stem cell research, and the use of animals in research. One recent political controversy—charges that the Bush administration censored government scientists—was largely invisible to the public, as 54% said they heard nothing about it. On the other hand, most scientists (55%) say they had heard a lot about it, and 77% believe that the charges are true.

Scientists are highly regarded, even by those skeptical of scientific conclusions. Scientists are very highly rated compared with members of other professions; only members of the military and teachers are more likely to be viewed as contributing a lot to society’s well-being. More than two-thirds (67%) of those who say science conflicts with their religious beliefs still say that scientists contribute a lot to the well-being of society. A similar proportion (63%) of those who accept a creationist view on the origins of life say scientists have contributed a great deal to society, compared with 78% who accept the theory of evolution.

Scientists fault public, media. Fully 85% of scientists see the public’s lack of scientific knowledge as a major problem for science, and about three-quarters (76%) say a major problem for science is that news reports fail to distinguish between findings that are well-founded and those that are not.

Scientists are upbeat about the state of their profession. About three-quarters (76%) say this is generally a good time for science and nearly as many (73%) say it is good time for their scientific specialty. Despite the country’s economic problems, 67% say it is a good time to begin a career in their scientific field.

The public’s “science IQ.” Americans are knowledgeable about basic scientific facts that affect their health and their daily lives, but they are less able to answer questions about other science topics. For example, 91% know that aspirin is an over-the- counter drug recommended to prevent heart attacks—but fewer than half (46%) know that electrons are smaller than atoms. The report is accompanied by a Web version of the quiz administered to the survey’s respondents.

The report includes an expert commentary from Alan I. Leshner, the CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science, in which he discusses implications of the survey findings for the scientific community, both the common ground and opinion gaps between scientists and the public.

The main telephone survey was conducted with a sample of 2,001 adults 28 April-12 May 2009; a science knowledge survey was conducted 18-21 June 2009 with a sample of 1005 adults. Both were conducted by landlines and cell phones. A survey of scientists was conducted online with a random sample of 2533 members of AAAS, the world’s largest scientific society, from 1 May-14 June 2009.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is an independent public opinion survey research organization that studies attitudes toward the press, politics, and public policy issues. It is one of seven projects that make up The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It does not take positions on policy issues.

Here is the PEW report, recently published.

Here is a PDF of the entire report.

It’s interesting that the United States has been down this road before during the 1950’s, when public education was slashed by federal and state governments. The space-race resulted in an immediate understanding that these cuts had been short sighted and counter to the national interest.

Unfortunately this is all repeating again. A major target of cuts for states are their respective University systems. This group of political state representatives is quite happy to cut university support by 25%+ in a single year and potentially eliminate public funding of higher education. Here is the example from California, cuts of $813 million to their state university system in a single year.

Colleges and Universities

At least 32 states have implemented cuts to public colleges and universities and/or made large increases in college tuition to make up for insufficient state funding.

* Arizona State University has addressed its loss of state funds by eliminating over 550 staff positions and 200 faculty associate positions, imposing employee furloughs ranging from 10 to 15 days, consolidating several schools and almost two dozen academic departments, and limiting enrollment in its nursing school. Tuition in Arizona this year rose 9.5 percent in response to funding cuts.
* As a direct result of state budget cuts, the California State University system is cutting enrollment by 10,000 students. The University of California system is reducing California resident freshman enrollment by 2,300 students for next year.
* Florida has cut university budgets and community college funding. The University of Florida has announced it will eliminate 150 positions for the coming year, resulting in 49 staff and nine faculty layoffs. Florida State University plans to lay off up to 200 faculty and staff members. Tuition at all 11 Florida public universities will rise by 15 percent next year.
* At the State University of New York, resident undergraduate tuition increased by 14 percent (over $600 per year) between the fall and spring semester of this past academic year.
* When Rhode Island cut higher education funding, the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, and the Community College of Rhode Island all increased tuition for this past academic year. Each of these institutions went one step further by increasing tuition further mid-year, by 6.7 percent, 8.2 percent, and 4.3 percent respectively.
* Budget cuts reduced state funding for the University of Washington by 26 percent for the coming biennium. The budget authorizes the university to increase tuition up to 14 percent to compensate for this funding loss.
* Other states cutting higher education operating funding include Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, Nevada , New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.

Here is the article.

Of course this can only get more stupid.  A Missouri school district recently banned band-t shirts because they “acknowledged evolution”.

Here is the quote to consider:

Though the shirts don’t violate the school’s dress code, Pollitt noted that the district is required by law to remain neutral on religion.

“If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing,” Pollitt said.

OK, so in Missouri evolution is now religion.  Be sure to eliminate all references to astronomy, biology, geology, genetics and climate change, they are, in Missouri, also religious in their nature.

Here is the article.

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