Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking have complained about society’s scientific ignorance. Everyone I know attributes the epidemic of scientific ignorance to the “dumbing-down” effects of mass media, but I have to disagree.
The biggest offender in the crisis of scientific illiteracy is the scientific community itself.
Science gives us the means to learn about practically anything in the universe that we care to know, while “Honey Boo Boo” and “Jersey Shore” give us feelings of self-loathing and Pauly D. If there ever existed a competition for attention, never forget that the scientific community lost to a show that basically documents the neglectful parenting of a Mountain Dew and Red Bull-riddled 6-year-old.
As a student and researcher of science, I have seen a side of the world that is vast and beautiful, yet contorted to near indecipherability by egoists and snobs. In my experience, the attitude of “anti-unintellectualism” among many scientists makes them more focused on weeding out “stupid” people than improving mankind’s collective knowledge.
Scientists who expect the public to understand the microcosm of scientific principles are like parents who expect their children to apprehend college material before they’ve learned to read. If the scientific community really wanted the public to better understand or care about science, it easily could.
The level of intellectual snobbery in science has crippled the community’s ability to reason.
For instance, advances in science are documented in technical papers. However, scientific papers are often written in such archaic language, unintuitive to anyone outside the niched-based community that even basic concepts are made nearly incomprehensible.
Even abstracts and summaries are often written in jargon only intended to be understood by those directly within the field of the paper’s scientific audience. Even scientists struggle to understand their colleagues’ work.
The scientific community cannot complain about society’s lack of care or knowledge regarding science while they are remaining extremely elitist. They have acted on the desire to filter out the undesirables and to remain a class of elites, thereby limiting knowledge to a few at the expense of the many. The community has gone against the core concept that science is about the proliferation of knowledge, not the hoarding of it.
The public’s lack of enthusiasm for science and the resulting scientific ignorance is not due to the stupidity of men and women or the shows they watch.
It is true that brainless media creations like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and “The Jersey Shore” command the nation’s attention, while the scientists linger quietly behind closed quarters. So if anyone had the unfair advantage, it is the scientific community.
But if Honey Boo Boo’s show and others like it are responsible for America’s scientific illiteracy, let me ask this: If the community that discovered how the Earth formed manages to be less interesting about it than a show about an adorably chubby 6-yearold who drinks a lot of soda, who’s the stupid one?
Reach the columnist at Jacob.firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @jacobevansSP