Wednesday, May 06, 2015

I’m not a scientist ... But, I'm not an idiot either!

In the introductory class that I am teaching this term, I reminded them--yet again--about the importance of general education.  In order to further drive home the point, I pulled up this interactive quiz on scientific literacy.

The awesome advantage of teaching in these times when I can project learning materials like that quiz straight from the web and have the entire class participate in it.  I tell ya, a classroom is not for nonstop lecturing, and I feel sorry for all those students held captive in rooms where the instructors love listening to themselves!

"Oh my god!" exclaimed a student at one of the questions (#7) that had drawn a miserable correct-response rate in the survey of Americans.  It was a question where answers based off religious explanations sharply diverge from the scientific explanations.

The US is becoming one heck of a crazy country with its anti-science attitude, which finds a home in only one of the two major parties: the Geriatrics Only Party.  The GOP's "leaders" are getting more and more insane with every passing day.


The Pulitzer-winning science writer at the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert, writes:
Last week, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, headed by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, approved a bill that would slash at least three hundred million dollars from NASA’s earth-science budget. ... Defunding NASA’s earth-science program takes willed ignorance one giant leap further. It means that not only will climate studies be ignored; some potentially useful data won’t even be collected. ...
The vote on the NASA bill came just a week after the same House committee approved major funding cuts to the National Science Foundation’s geosciences program, as well as cuts to Department of Energy programs that support research into new energy sources. As Michael Hiltzik, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, noted, the committee is “living down to our worst expectations.”
Yep, this is the country that once sent astronauts to the moon. And now it is the same country that wants to make sure that there will be less money for scientific research, especially on one of the most urgent issues of the day that the entire world is worried about.

Kolbert writes:
Cutting NASA and the N.S.F.’s climate-science budgets isn’t going to alter the basic realities of climate change. No one needs an advanced degree to understand this. Indeed, the idea that ignoring a problem isn’t going to make it go away is one that kids should grasp by the time they’re six or seven. But ignoring a problem does often make it more difficult to solve. And that, you have to assume, in a perverse way, is the goal here. What we don’t know, we can’t act on.
 To use Yakov Smirnoff's line from a different context, "America, what a country!"


Anne in Salem said...

What part of the budget would you like cut? The US debt is over $18 trillion; the debt per taxpayer is more than the cost of my first house. The deficit is a far more reasonable half trillion dollars. With ridiculous handouts from the government and a gargantuan bureaucracy, something has to be cut. The handouts certainly won't be cut. The bloated bureaucracy won't be cut (how many more agencies can Dodd-Frank add?). Something has to be cut. No matter what it is - science spending, art spending, aid to foreign governments - someone will cry foul.

Please keep in mind, we are not all geriatrics.

Sriram Khé said...

My post was not about government spending. My post was not about debts and deficits. It was about the anti-science religious fundamentalism being reflected in the politics, and that political antics being carried out by only party--the GOP.

If the post were about government spending and the deficits and the debts, then I would still argue that gutting NASA's climate science projects or the NSF's energy projects is remarkably wrong-headed. Why? Those are tiny, tiny slivers of the federal budget pie. The entire--yes entire--science and medical research is less than 2 percent of the budget. What the politicians avoid when it comes to spending and deficits and debts is conveniently avoid discussing the big three: defense, social security, medicare, which together account for two-thirds of the budget.

Oh yeah, there are a couple of GOP faithful who are less than 65 ;)
But, hey, in the 65+ voter population, the GOP has like a 16 point margin in the plus, but at the other end it has a 19-point deficit. That age, gender, and race deficit has been overcome because of one huge factor, which the GOP smartly carried out under the Gingrich/DeLay strategy: redistricting and gerrymandering. If not, the GOP will be in shit streets with the demographic disadvantage.

Ramesh said...

If you keep politics aside, this is the general state of scientific awareness in every society. Americans are not unique. I have little doubt that the answers will not be wildly different in most other countries.

The drivers of ignorance are different in different societies. It may be religion in your case. That won't be the case in say, China. Chinese may actually score higher in a science test but would completely flunk a similar history or a geography test.

The fight against ignorance has to be never ending.

@Anne - You can cut every research and science budget and it still won't make a pipsqueak of difference to your deficit. As long as you don't touch Defence, Medicare and Social Security, the US budget will perennially be sick looking.

Anne in Salem said...

Mea culpa. I missed the point of the post. 2 funnies by way of peace offering:

Read in the Cornell daily newspaper when I was a student: Democrats spend money like drunken sailors, except that isn't fair to drunken sailors because at least they spend their own money.

Standard joke: If one isn't a Democrat when young, one has no heart. If one isn't a Republican when older, one has no money.

Perhaps I shouldn't read so many posts in one sitting . . .

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, that standard joke has been quite a standard ... there is something to be said about the optimistic idealism of youth and because that idealism is for changing the world as opposed to preserving the status quo, well, youth and the GOP don't go together ... I worry about the young in the GOP!!!