Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Achieving Scientific Literacy

A new edition of Robert Hazen and James Trefil's Science Matters: achieving scientific literacy is on the new book shelf.  "From plate tectonics to leptons to the first living cell, now you can understand the simple science behind our complex world," is the promise of this little book, and its purpose couldn't be more important.  The authors begin with convincing arguments of why scientific literacy is so crucial, including, "The threats to our system from a scientifically illiterate electorate are many, ranging from the danger of political demagoguery to the decay of the entire democratic process as vital decisions that affect everyone have to be made by an educated (but probably unelected) elite." 

I am especially struck by this section's conclusion: "If you expect someone to know something, you have to tell him or her what it is."  A scientifically "illiterate" individual may not readily pick up this book, if that person is unaware of or unconcerned about his or her lack of knowledge.  But it speaks directly to the reader who understands the need for scientific literacy, and provides a wonderful model of how to teach others essential scientific principles. 

Each chapter title is accompanied by a true statement elucidating the title, e.g., The Cosmos - "The universe was born at a specific time in the past, and it has been expanding ever since."  The subtitle of the final chapter, Ecosystems, says simply "All life is connected."  Indeed.

I hope this book is borrowed and read by many!

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