The growth in what is called ‘compound scientific illiteracy is prompting my new campaign, BLUE Science, to tackle the problem of scientific illiteracy – which it claims is one of the biggest threats facing our society.
A recent Ofsted report (January 2011) on science teaching in schools highlighted how at primary level since 2007, the performance of the brightest pupils aged seven to 11 has declined. It reported how children’s grasp of science was often undermined by a lack of expertise among their teachers, which ‘limited the challenge for some more able pupils’.
The syndrome, which I call ‘compound scientific illiteracy’ – where a lack of science knowledge is helping to create further ignorance – is an urgent issue where the communications industry can use its skills to tackle.
I have written a 20,000 word free e book to promote the campaign for ‘Blue Science’.
Formally launched on this year’s Bluest Monday celebrations – the symbolically most depressing day of the year on Monday January 24th – the e book and new campaign will work to tackle the problem of scientific illiteracy by defining the problem as getting ‘science understanding of the public’.
The campaign aims to encourage non-scientists to become better consumers of science, junk science and pseudo science to avoid their being commercially or politically exploited by encouraging scientists to become better communicators.
The initiative stands for Better Learning Understanding and Education of Science and unlike other initiatives seeking to achieve public understanding of science – this new campaign will work from outside of the scientific community.
It argues that some of the causes of misunderstanding of science are actually caused by the way scientists think, act and re-act. By coming at the issue as non-scientists it aims to tackle ‘bilateral scientific illiteracy’ – an ignorance created by the scientific and non-scientific worlds failing to understand each other.
Despite growth in technology and science a number of indicators are highlighting a growth in scientific illiteracy with people knowing less about science with trends, such as less media coverage on science making the situation worse.
With the need for greater understanding of issues such as global warming and climate change, expanded use of nuclear power, and concerns on the use of genetically modified there has never been a greater need for the public to have a basic understanding of the science around them.
Yet, we have a classic chicken and egg conundrum to this problem. Scientists have the knowledge, the understanding of scientific processes, which need to be explained to the wider world. They own the treasure but not solution to how you get other people to understand and engage with where necessary. The paradox is that the very skills that equip scientists to gain greater scientific knowledge provide barriers to connecting with the outside world.
There is a need for non-scientists to take more of a lead in building the bridges between the outside world and science. We cannot just rely on the scientific community to make this happen.
The Blue Science campaign us calling for:
- More centres of learning to provide the equivalent of fast food of learning for adults on key scientific issues for non-scientists.
- More pro-active efforts from the communications industry to tackle the issue of scientific illiteracy.
- Scientists to recognise their discipline of rational, logical scientific thought can be a barrier in dealing in a world governed by perceptions, emotions, story telling and easily passed-on messages. By recognising this, rather than blame the communication failure on others, it makes a start to address the problem.
- The need to for members of the scientific community to treat with respect and courtesy those who may have different views form theirs.
- Focus efforts on responding to bad science on critical issues affecting humankind, lives, or commercial exploitation, rather than trivial scientific stories in the media – which readers probably do not believe anyway.
The campaign is looking to get established during the year ahead with a series of events, white papers, campaign web site, and projects culminating in a BLUE Science Day to play its part in tackling scientific illiteracy.
The first of the campaign white papers – ‘Why Science gets the reputation it deserves because of the way scientists think, act and re-act’ by Andy Green is available here. Why science gets the reputation it deserves
The e book is free but I am encouraging people to make a donation to a mental health charity.
What do you think about the need for a Blue Science campaign?
Is ‘scientific illiteracy’ a serious problem?
Could addressing the problem from outside the scientific community at least help make a contribution to the fight against scientific illiteracy?
Anyone interested in developing the work of BLUE Science please do contact me.