Americans suffer from a scientific split personality. On the one hand, we’re the undisputed world leaders in hard science and technology research and development. On the other hand, common wisdom holds that Americans are way behind the rest of the world in science literacy, and several prominent groups are anti-science.
Maybe the jaw-dropping awesomeness of NASA's "Curiosity" rover (helped by the online popularity of NASA's "Mouhawk dude") can renew interest in science, and help us be a generation that forgets these anti-evolution, anti-climate change, anti-science decades in public policy.
When I heard about the Curiosity Rover landing (read Luke McKinney’s description) I felt proud of our NASA team. Maybe you feel the same wave of patriotism and achievement. Even though the entire NASA program – from its inception, through the space race, to Curiosity – has cost the same as the Pentagon’s 2012 budget, the U.S. non-military science program still inspires the world.
Americans win more Nobel Prizes for the sciences than any other nationality, including shared prizes for medicine and physics this past year. We publish more papers than any other country, and 31 of the world’s top 100 science universities are part of our allegedly deteriorating education system. And Yanks are well represented at CERN, which is the future of internationally sized scientific projects. So you shouldn’t believe the hype – America remains at the front of science and technology.
On the other hand, when surveyed, about 40% of Americans believe that people and dinosaurs coexisted, and just over 50% could tell how often the earth revolved around the sun. What’s more, several U.S. states are passing educational reforms that would limit science instruction, in particular disconnecting math, biology, and hard science. Some reforms have wide effects, like when textbooks nationwide are changed due to legislation in Texas.
And don’t think this is just conservative Christians – non-science affects American opinions from nuclear power to genetic engineered foods to detoxing.
For most, the internet has brought a whole new age of collaboration and scientific progress. But the internet can also help very wrong people get together. Everybody reading this – follow the links, watch some old Carl Sagan or read some accessible books like Bill Bryson’s, and get science literate. Then teach other people, and your kids.
We are in a golden age of science, and it is so cool. Don’t let anyone say different.