we're in trouble! - (2 points)

Paul Schlosser SCHLOSSER at ciit.org
Tue Jun 28 17:16:43 EST 1994

> about 1/2 "understand less and less about what scientists are doing today"

Was there ever a time when more than half the populace *really* understood
what scientists where doing at the time?  Sure, it's easy to say "I understand
what those rocket scientists where doing 20 years ago, but I don't understand
all this DNA stuff,"  [actually, make that 40 years ago] but I expect that if
we tested true *understanding*, as opposed to knowing what the objective is, I
doubt that it's much worse than in the past.  Now there are many more 
scientists today than 40 years ago, so it's harder for 1 non-scientist to keep
track of all the research and what it's supposed to be good for.  People used
to think that you wouldn't be able to breath on a train going over 20 mph (or
some such).  How many among the genereal populace *understood* the development
of computers at the time when they where first introduced?

Don't get me wrong.  Some of these statistics are frightening, and we do need
to make sure that the public has an appreciation for the potential benefits of
our research.  And the understanding of general scientific principles and
theory looks quite bad.  But except for some relatively brief periods in
history, I think that scientists have generally been a misunderstood and feared
lot.  We mess with things that we don't even understand completely ourselves
(if we understood them, that would be technology, not science).  And the 
science now requires deeper levels of understanding (more specialization) to
break into new ground.  It is simply not possible for *anyone* to understand
the same fraction of scientific knowledge today that they could have understood
20 or 40 years ago, simply because there is so much more of it.

Yes we have to do a better job of 'marketing' our research, and pointing out
all of the benefits from past research.  And a certain level of understanding
among non-scientists should be promoted.  But given the ever-increasing body
of knowledge in all sciences, and the ever-increasing rate at which we add to
that body (because there are more scientists) I think that the "knowledge
gap" is bound to grow.  The real question is, how to deal with that gap?

schlosser at beta.ciit.org

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