we're in trouble! - (2 points)

David G. Rhodes rhodes at MODEL.PHR.UTEXAS.EDU
Tue Jun 28 13:14:57 EST 1994

Citation: The Scientist _8_(13); page 3 (issue of 6/27/94)

In case you don't subscribe, the upshot of the article is that even though
(in a survey of 1255 respondents polled by AMNH) 76% of adult americans
"enjoy learning about science for its own sake" (22% disagree) and 68% feel
that "science will solve many of the world's problems" (29% disagree),
about 1/2 "understand less and less about what scientists are doing today"
and 59% feel that "science poses major risks to humanity" (37% disagree).
 With numbers such as these, it's not surprising that research budgets are
not viewed as 'sacred' by our representatives in Washington.  If half of
the constituents don't know what we're doing and well over half are afraid
of it, research is a prime target for 'the axe'.  The education process
must go beyond our labs and classrooms.  Not only should we strive to
educate our body politic, but we must try to help the 'public' (and he is
us) understand the rationale and potential benefits of what we do.

In addition to the data above, the survey found that:
46% do not believe that humans evolved from earlier species of mammals
65% don't know how many planets are in the solar system
87% can't identify a cause of ozone depletion
Another study cited in the article reports similar results for the
evolution question (41%) and found that:
41% do not know that DNA regulates inherited characteristics of plants and
    animals (is there a correlation??)
92% cannot identify causes of acid rain.
(Just for the record - I believe that at least some of our educational
system is capable and is helping to address the situation.  In a
non-scientific survey of an 8 year-old, an 11-year old, and a 14-year old,
the responses were 67% correct on each question.)
The real questions are
(1) why is the public so misinformed or ill-informed?
(2) what can our community do?
(3) is the 'educational system ltd.' doing all it can? (i.e. how many
    12-13-year olds would answer correctly?)
We can't cram it down people's throats - the surveys also found that only
60-65% of the respondents expressed intrerest in specific areas of science.
On the other hand, while I don't recommend door-to-door proselytizing, we
should welcome every opportunity we encounter (and create a few of our own)
to inform and/or to share our enthusiasm.

Thanks for listening...

| David G. Rhodes                   | RHODES at MODEL.PHR.UTEXAS.EDU   |
| Pharmaceutics Division            |                               |
| College of Pharmacy               | Phone:(512)471-4681           |
| The University of Texas at Austin | Fax:  (512)471-7474      }:)  |
| Austin, TX   78712-1074           |                               |

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