Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

How Much Science Does a Citizen Need?

Credit: alphaspirit/Adobe

Credit: alphaspirit/Adobe

By Toss Gascoigne

While many believe that there’s a set of basic scientific facts that people should know, they are spectacularly unsuccessful at being able to nominate just what those facts should be.

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Carl Sagan thought that science was fundamental: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster. It’s dangerous and stupid for us to remain ignorant about global warming, say, or ozone depletion, toxic and radioactive wastes, acid rain. Jobs and wages depend on science and technology.”

But there are dissenting voices. George DeBoer examined the history of the science school curriculum in the USA. Now deputy director for Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, DeBoer wrestled with the issue of what science should be taught and why. He looked at the arguments put forward for the teaching of science by people in government, industry and defence.

In his frequently cited paper (http://tinyurl.com/j42neja), DeBoer pointed out that “people with extremely limited understanding of science function very well in society, many of them at the very top levels of their professions. There is no reason to believe that the national security, economy, democratic way of life, and science prominence are threatened by the low level of scientific and mathematical literacy in the general population.”

His comment would not find much...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.