The two questions that determine your scientific literacy
If you think you can just take a test and demonstrate your scientific literacy, think again.
By Ethan Siegel
Jan 18 2017
“Through basic science literacy, people can understand the policy choices we need to be making. Scientists are not necessarily the greatest communicators, but science and communication is one of the fundamentals we need to address. People are interested.” -James Murdoch
There are a lot of claims going around the news lately that make one question whether, as a nation and a world, humanity is a scientifically literate species. Prominent politicians and lawmakers, among many other citizens of Earth, are debating and publicly questioning, among other topics:
• the safety and efficacy of vaccines in preventing disease,
• the truth of whether the Earth’s climate is changing and whether humans are playing a role,
• whether adding fluoride to drinking water is safe for humans to drink and effective at cavity reduction,
• whether there was a natural origin to life on Earth or whether there is evidence of divine intervention,
• and whether the Earth is billions of years old or thousands of years old.
Most attempts to measure scientific literacy focus on how well people can answer a series of questions that measure one’s knowledge of scientific facts, but as it turns out, that’s not a good measure of scientific literacy at all. Being scientifically literate isn’t about having the ability to measure the curvature or circumference of the Earth, how you can discern whether the Earth is round or flat, or even whether you know that the Earth itself is round. The more we know about the world and the Universe as it actually is, the better off we all are, of course, as more information is always a good thing to have. But being a scientifically literate society isn’t dependent on knowing whether any particular set of scientific facts, laws or conclusions are true or not; rather, it’s about your answer to the following two questions:
• Are you aware of what the enterprise of science is?
• Do you have an appreciation for how scientific knowledge, understanding and its applications benefit humanity?
If the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” then you are scientifically literate, and you have every intention of making the world a more scientifically literate place while simultaneously understanding that the more we include factual, robust science in our policymaking, the better off humanity as a whole becomes.