Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Lo, The Age of Ignorance is Upon Us. Rejoice!

I am not a scientist. I have a strong interest in science and what the process can tell us about the world and ourselves.
There's no doubt that we're entering a new era of spin and counter-factual information in the public sphere in terms of the use of history, as we see every day from the whack-a-doodles on the right. But when it comes to science there's no need to distort; most people wouldn't even recognize the funhouse mirror version of the issues. It suffices to say the science isn't all in. (I'm looking at you, Intelligent Design crowd.)
Which brings us to today's comments from the Observer: The new age of ignorance | Review | The Observer

Given that science informs so much of our culture, and so many of us have such patchy knowledge, it is surprising that such embarrassments are not routine. It's half a century since CP Snow put forward the idea of the 'Two Cultures', the intractable divide between the sciences and the humanities, first in an article in the New Statesman, then in a lecture series at Cambridge and finally in a book. Back then, Snow, who was both a novelist and a physicist, used to employ a test at dinner parties to demonstrate his argument.

'A good many times,' he suggested, 'I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice, I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold; it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of: have you ever read a work of Shakespeare's?'

The implications of this, and the resultant general scientific illiteracy, she believes, are possibly catastrophic. Forty-two per cent of Americans in a recent survey said they believed that humans had been on Earth since the beginning of time. 'A geophysicist friend suggests we are at a critical crossroads just like the start of the Renaissance,' Angier says, 'where you couldn't just leave reading and writing to the kings and priests anymore. Ordinary people have to keep up. In the world we live in, the new economy, you have to become scientifically literate or you will fall quickly from view.'
And for a laugh:

The Panel | Review | The Observer
The Panel We asked three writers, three scientists and two broadcasters to answer six basic scientific questions, and their answers appear to confirm the arts/science divide

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