Saturday, January 20, 2007

Scientific Literacy

Over at Uncommon Descent, DaveScot notes that from 1995-1999, there was a sharp increase in scientific literacy according to this survey.

Various speculations are being tossed around as to the cause of it. DaveScot speculates that it may have been due to the increased availibility of internet access beginning around that time. User russ suggests that it may be the result of more channels with strong science programs like PBS and Discovery Channel. At Reasonable Kansas, FTK implicates Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box... which didn't come out till 1998.

Anyone else have any idea of big events that could have lead to this increase?

Regardless, we can be pretty certain that it has nothing to do with Intelligent Design like proponents would like to claim, given that ID didn't come on the scene in any major way until 1999 when it was first implemented in Kansas.

10 comments:

Paul Decelles said...

The improvement is nice but as the original study notes in the very last sentence:

"We should take no pride in a finding that four out of five Americans cannot read and understand the science section of the New York Times."

Jon Voisey said...

I agree completely.

If 4/5 of Americans can't even correctly define the term "theory" or list the steps in the scientific method, a 6% gain in a decade isn't about to help.

Meanwhile, I'm interested in seeing what's happened to science literacy since 1999. Given that NCLB was instituted shortly thereafter and forces schools to rely on rote memorization (which doesn't last long), I expect that science comprehension has taken another large hit as a result.

TheBrummell said...

Random noise? Insignificant statistical error? Poor survey design?

I haven't read the study; I refuse to follow any link to UC. Can somebody point me to it via another source? I'd like to read their methods, as I suspect the statistics are not as robust or sensitive as some may claim.

Jon Voisey said...

The second link is to the original article they're citing. No need to go through UD.

aka...Forthekids said...

Hey - How about Darwin on Trial? Now we're talking 1993.

TheBrummell said...

Thanks for pointing out your link - I should have seen it.

I just read the study, and I'm not particularly impressed. I'm pretty convinced the trend is real enough, but I'm not convinced of the basic measurements.

Miller never really describes in detail how "scientific literacy" is measured. He defines it, fairly loosely, using three criteria, but he never says exactly how each person being assessed was measured.

1. an understanding of basic scientific concepts and constructs, such as the molecule, DNA, and the structure of the solar system,
2. an understanding of the nature and process of scientific inquiry, and
3. a pattern of regular information consumption (Miller, 1998).


OK, now how does one actually quantify those variables?

This reads like a general-audience summary of a peer-reviewed paper.

I found the most likely actual methods paper, his own work from 1998. There's an error in his reference list: it's on page 203, not page 1, of volume 7 of Public Understanding of Science. It's a 20-page PDF; I've got other things more urgently in need of me reading, but from the abstract this looks like a real paper.

Jeremy said...

"Anyone else have any idea of big events that could have lead to this increase?"

The National Science Education Standards were first published in 1995. They provided one of the first coherent visions of what it means to be scientifically literate. By describing what all students should understand and be able to do in science, they paved the way for curriculum reform across the country during the mid-to-late nineties.

Keerax said...

I'm a little late but I blame the internet before it was filled with crap.

TheBrummell said...

Thanks for pointing out your link - I should have seen it.

I just read the study, and I'm not particularly impressed. I'm pretty convinced the trend is real enough, but I'm not convinced of the basic measurements.

Miller never really describes in detail how "scientific literacy" is measured. He defines it, fairly loosely, using three criteria, but he never says exactly how each person being assessed was measured.

1. an understanding of basic scientific concepts and constructs, such as the molecule, DNA, and the structure of the solar system,
2. an understanding of the nature and process of scientific inquiry, and
3. a pattern of regular information consumption (Miller, 1998).


OK, now how does one actually quantify those variables?

This reads like a general-audience summary of a peer-reviewed paper.

I found the most likely actual methods paper, his own work from 1998. There's an error in his reference list: it's on page 203, not page 1, of volume 7 of Public Understanding of Science. It's a 20-page PDF; I've got other things more urgently in need of me reading, but from the abstract this looks like a real paper.

aka...Forthekids said...

Hey - How about Darwin on Trial? Now we're talking 1993.