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On Scientific Literacy

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Nihil Loc
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Posted 03/22/14 - 3:15 PM:
Subject: On Scientific Literacy
Neil Degrasse Tyson is at large in the media sphere, taking up where Carl Sagan left off in an attempt to help us lay people understand the grandeur, value and appeal of the scientific enterprise. The new television program, Cosmos, narrated by Tyson, is definitely full visual splendor and popular facts.

Tyson is definitely a likeable and charismatic fellow. I prefer his approach to that of the unapologetic and acerbic Richard Dawkins (who was chair for the "public understanding" of science at Oxford for some time). Dawkins might as well just jump the hurdle of trying to reason with unreasonable people and say what he likes to say at times in some form or another 'you're just an obstinate and whimsical idiot that needs a good scientific spanking, or if 'you're not interested in science, fuck off'.

The question here is to what level of scientific literacy should we strive in our life?

Tyson gave a compressed idea of scientific literacy in a few interviews, in which he posed the difference between someone who just amasses knowledge and someone who can actually figure out how stuff works by critical thinking.

It makes me think about how if I was sent back in time to medieval Europe, how valuable would my knowledge be for advancing the sciences.

Anyone would be of great value in being able to point people in the direction of progress by very general facts (ex. germ theory, or generating electrical current with a lodestone and copper wire). You could loosely describe how science is done and what to be wary of. The problem would be in staying alive while dispersing challenges to the scientific or religious authorities of the time.

In my own time however, I do not feel scientifically literate.

I do however acknowledge contemporary problems of science (which are in debate).

One of which is the problem of energy use in the biosphere. Every material conversion has a consequence and byproducts. Does scientific literacy include some moral sense for how we ought to use the technical revolutions handed to us through the scientific method?

We crave a kind of life which we pay for in all kinds of ways but are not always fully aware of the consequences of pursuing that craving. I always feel there is something missing from science in this respect, that it is a process of compartmental focus, where someone is dealing with trying to understand why cancer forms in one lab where in another someone is developing a substance that is useful but also causes cancer when it is commodified.

Can we catch up to forestall the forces of our own destruction, and does scientific literacy quicken or slow that pace?

Edit: It seems that science is very valuable as a metaphor of adaptation, of understanding how we can survive something, extend our lives and entertain ourselves, but how do we deal with the systemic costs of satisfying our will to transform nature too hastily and without good enough foresight?



Edited by Nihil Loc on 03/22/14 - 3:26 PM
thedoc
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Posted 03/23/14 - 12:08 PM:

I had watched the original Cosmos and have watched the 1st episode of the revised version. It is extremely important that people understand what science does and how it is done, otherwise people who have no understanding are making decisions about what is done and how it is done.
Nihil Loc
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Posted 03/24/14 - 3:22 PM:

thedoc wrote:
It is extremely important that people understand what science does and how it is done, otherwise people who have no understanding are making decisions about what is done and how it is done.


I'm stuck on an idea of the limitation of compartmental thought and action, which maybe means I'm hopelessly fixated on an ideal world and a utopic future.

Yes, it is great that we understand as much as we can, but we are all part of a collective organization over which we don't have very much control. We may have self-control but that is relative to selfish ends, concerns of personal satisfaction, family and whatever else. It is easy to say what we would like to do in a very principled manner but often what we do is guided and organized but what many people are doing, which essentially looks quite ridiculous and wasteful at times.

Utopia

Power can have a corrupting influence, but what does science have to say about politics. What is the decisive ethical compass by which we combat the corrupting aspect of political power for self gain at the expense of societal gain (how to understand the balance between the many and the few)?

confused


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