Scientific literacy

“Timely” is my middle name.

About 3 weeks ago, The Audacious Epigone posted a compact series of statistical surveys measuring scientific “literacy” by the following variables: race, belief and gender. I was particularly captivated by the racial study.

There were no jaw-dropping surprises as the Blacks and my people (Hispanics) scored the lowest, in classic fashion, behind Whites and Asians.

A cursory eyeball examination of the results tells me the races ranked as such:

1) Whites
2) Asians
3) Hispanics
4) Blacks

It’s the archetypal intellectual hierarchy witnessed when examining the mental surface of the multi-cultural and decidedly unscientific American populace. I won’t print Audacious’ full chart. I’ve left out the revealing grid, but I want to show the list of scientific statements which participants were asked to complete in order to ascertain their general scientific knowledge:

I reflexively found the list amusing if for no other reason than that I’m flabbergasted by the elementariness of the items. They seem to be culled from some random General Life Science 101 course. I could easily answer all and I am not a “scientist” by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve noted this when helping my son with his science homework. Many times I’m able to explain certain concepts simply because I happen to have integrated that little tidbit of knowledge in my musings long ago. Sometimes the depth of my knowledge amuses him but I don’t feel it’s particularly noteworthy. Interestingly, The Audacious Epigone’s statistical dissection refers to the constant as “scientific literacy” because essentially, this is very much a measure of that. Of literacy.

Basic knowledge of the scientific facts in this GSS list is not a proxy for IQ. The statements measure common intelligence adequately, but what it measures most keenly are levels of ignorance. I can answer or explain these statements accurately, without reference, not because I am such a rare intellect. The only reason is because for my entire nerdy life I have been driven by curiosity and I covet knowledge. I read and read and read, and in between, I watch documentaries of every sort dealing with matters of science. I enjoy a wide swath of scientific subjects and I’ve familiarized myself with a vast array of the guiding principles of science.

Above all, the GSS survey measures ignorance. It uncovers superstition and lack of curiosity. More than anything, it highlights mediocre intellectual involvement. Slightly intriguing is that Asians lagged behind Whites by an uncharacteristically broad margin. This is explicable by the fact that this measurement of scientific literacy in the study represents a holistic curiosity which has been sated by immersion in books, television, movies, magazines and the internet, which fits the White profile, whereas Asians are typically narrowly focussed on a single field or study which saps all their curiosity and intellectual energy away, thus preventing them from seeking “non-beneficial” knowledge. There is a vicious strain of utilitarian motivation when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge by Asians. In other words, that which is not beneficial to long-term goals and aspirations is cast aside. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a White phenomena. Blacks and Hispanics, on the other hand, are overly enamored of mythologies and superstition and this intrudes into their motivation to learn about the nuts and bolts of the physical laws of nature which steer their magic.