Friday, December 26, 2008

Promoting a Demand for Science Literacy

I have written quite a bit in these last couple of weeks about the need for some demand-side (desire-side) management to promote the value of scientific literacy. Yet, my writing has been short of specific recommendations. So, I hope to make up that deficiency in this post.

“What can I do to promote a demand for scientific literacy?”

(1) Become scientifically literate.

We lead by example. One of the ways to get other people to value something is to simply express that value in your own actions. If you are "caught" reading scientific articles and admiring expressions of scientific literacy, then this tells other people that this is something that might actually be worthy of being valued.

Carry scientific periodicals with you on the bus, read them in the restaurant, leave them on your desk at work, and, most importantly, know what they say so that you can intelligently discuss the contents with whomever asks.

Many people who understand science treat it like an embarrassment. The last thing you want to do is to be caught being a geek or nerd or some similar type of braniac freek. Yet, this type of behavior is exactly what promotes an aversion to scientific literacy.

(2) Express public approval of those who embrace science, and public disapproval of those who embrace pseudo-science.

Seriously, people who embrace pseudo-science deserve some measure of public ridicule. This is one way of embarrassing them against that type of behavior.

Of course, if it were a harmless activity, then there would be no particular reason to condemn those people. However, we are not talking about a harmless activity here. A person who can be made to believe in ghosts based on no evidence at all is the same type of person as the person who can be made to believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 and that greenhouse gasses cannot lead to climate change.

Some of the decisions that these people make – people who have no idea how to link premises to conclusions – are decisions on which the lives and well-being of a great many people depend. It is perfectly legitimate to tell these people, "You have an obligation to those who might be harmed to get a stronger grasp of reality, so that your decisions will fit the real world."

This is exactly how I would recommend expressing this objection. "If you are only hurting yourself then I have no objection to you accepting these baseless claims. However, when it comes to looking at policies that affect other people, I hope that you appreciate the need for a better class of evidence."

(3) Join an organization devoted to promoting science, and push that organization to collect money for and to fund a public advertising campaign that promotes scientific literacy.

Push an organization into hiring a professional public relations firm to design an advertising campaign of radio, television, print, and other forms of advertising, and to solicit funds for that campaign. Such a campaign would go so far as to include a set of slogans, like, "Science saves lives."

This campaign should be drawn up by trained professionals and market tested for effectiveness. Advocates of science should be quite willing to recognize that the truth is often not what “sounds good” to the listener but is what the evidence supports. This goes for selecting an advertising campaign to promote science as well.


anton kozlik said...

Sports should provide the learning gap. Fishermen now employ space age materials and electronic fish finders. Golfers can thank science for their new golf balls and clubs. Tennis rackets have undergone a tranformation since the old wooden racket days. Hockey players now play with lighter protection and few, if any, play with wooden sticks. Medical science has contributed "Gatorade" and hundreds of other performance helpers. A regular golfing companion of mine is a pastor who could only smile when I reminded him that if he was to thank anyone for his improved game, it wasn't God. It was the scientists!

Anonymous said...

I try this as much as possible.

Fortunately I take great pleasure in arguments at work with people who throw bad-science (although more often it is bad-statistics) around like it is something to be proud of. Fortunately I hate these people. I hate the bad-science adverts.

Beastinblack said...

I am in awe of science, I can visualise the curving of space time, I can instantly think of a counter claim to every arguement that says the moon landing is faked, im a total geek and love being one.