Image by the mad LOLscientist via FlickrThe LA Times (what not the NY Times) has an article about Chris Mooney & Sheril Kirshenbaum's new book, Unscientific America. The article, by Lori Kozlowski, Bringing science back into America's sphere laments the pitiful state of America's understanding of science.
The "demotion" of Pluto from a planet is used as a metaphor for what people know about science. It seems that the Pew Research Center did a study about what the public understands when it comes to science. They found that 60% knew that Pluto had been reclassified. On the other hand 54% thought that antibiotics kill viruses and 46% knew that electrons are smaller than atoms.
Given how little the public knows about science Kozlowski writes:
It is exceedingly rare that science does anything that reaches almost everybody anymore. So, when you get your moment to put it all before everybody, you don't want it to be a Pluto moment.If science is going to be a candle in the darkness (as the late Carl Sagan subtitled his great book: The Demon-Haunted World) then it needs to go viral. It has to grab the imagination of the public. In the preface to The Demon-Haunted World, Sagan relates how he had a limo driver ask why science guys, like Sagan, didn't work on finding the secret to unlimited power that supposedly powered the mythical island of Atlantis. This event was one reason why such a serious scientist, as Sagan, would write popular books. He wanted to make science interesting to the masses.
Kozlowski then talks about how so many people erroneously believe that vaccinations cause autism. These people are often well to do and educated. In a book that is similar to Sagan's Michael Shermer, in
"Why people believe weird things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time" writes:
In day-to-day life, as in science, we all resist fundamental paradigm change. Social scientist Jay Stuart Snelson calls this resistance an ideological immune system: 'educated, intelligent, and successful adults rarely change their most fundamental presuppositions.' ... That is, the higher the IQ, the greater the potential for ideological immunity.Maybe Mooney & Kirshenbaum have figured out how to break though ideological immunity and to make the excitement of the discoveries of science go viral. I'll have to add their book to my list to read.