Does Science Matter?

Educators are fond of commenting that children are natural scientists. Children, they say, are born investigators. Discovery, speculation, questioning, trying things out, testing their senses, trial and error, and exploration – that’s what small children do all day. It’s how they learn and how they play. Curious then that these natural scientists are so often turned off by science as conventionally presented in school.

International comparison data frequently show that American children lose interest in science early on and that relative to other advanced nations few persist with science into college and career. Schooling too often seems designed to narrow the field of potential scientists so that by the end of twelfth grade all those natural scientist children have decided that science is not for them.It’s too hard, too unappealing, and unimaginative. It’s seen as being for the very few. The so-called smart kids. The textbooks are daunting in size and complexity, full of daunting multi-syllabic words that must be memorized for the test.

This is of course significant on many levels. To a large extent our future growth and prosperity depend on the confluence of innovation and scientific knowledge. Some may argue that our very survival as a species depends on applied ethical science. Not every student has to enter the fields of medicine, science or engineering. But all students need to see that as an option, need to have their natural love of learning and curiosity alive, and to see science as an exciting, accessible and necessary part of our world.

*When the Science Times turned 25 in 2003 it produced a celebratory edition including Does Science Matter? (NY Times November 11, 2003 William J. Broad and James Glanz). It’s an interesting article and provides a resounding answer to the title question – the first of 25 provocative questions that would engage the interest and attention of students of any age. Here are those 25 questions from the Science Times. Are they (still) the big unanswered questions? Or are some of them unworthy of serious attention? Which ones engage your interest? How would you go about seeking answers?

Does science matter?
Is war our biological destiny?
Will humans ever visit Mars?
How does the brain work?
What is gravity, really?
Will we ever find Atlantis?
What are our replaceable parts?
What should we eat?
When is the next ice age?
What came before the Big Bang?
Could we live forever?
Are men necessary?
Are women necessary?
What is the next plague?
Can robots become conscious?
Why do we sleep?
How smart are animals?
Could science prove there’s a god?
Is evolution truly random?
How did life begin?
Can drugs make us smart? Happy?
Could the genome be improved?
How much nature is enough?
What’s the hardest math problem?
Does the paranormal exist?

From the article:

Some experts warn that if support for science falters and if the American public loses interest in it, such apathy may foster an age in which scientific elites ignore the public weal and global imperatives for their own narrow interests, producing something like a dictatorship of the lab coats.

“For any man to abdicate an interest in science,” Jacob Bronowski, the science historian, wrote, “is to walk with open eyes towards slavery.”

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