The Hubris of the Humanities
You need TimesSelect to read it, but Nicholas Kristof's op-ed today is very good. He points out that only 13 percent of Americans know what a molecule is, then writes:
But put aside the evolution debate for a moment. It's only a symptom of something much deeper and more serious: a profound illiteracy about science and math as a whole.
One-fifth of Americans still believe that the Sun goes around the Earth, instead of the other way around. And only about half know that humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs.
The problem isn't just inadequate science (and math) teaching in the schools, however. A larger problem is the arrogance of the liberal arts, the cultural snootiness of, of ... well, of people like me - and probably you.
What do I mean by that? In the U.S. and most of the Western world, it's considered barbaric in educated circles to be unfamiliar with Plato or Monet or Dickens, but quite natural to be oblivious of quarks and chi-squares. A century ago, Einstein published his first paper on relativity - making 1905 as important a milestone for world history as 1066 or 1789 - but relativity has yet to filter into the consciousness of otherwise educated people....
Without some fluency in science and math, we'll simply be left behind in the same way that Ming Dynasty Chinese scholars were. Increasingly, we face public policy issues - avian flu, stem cells - that require some knowledge of scientific methods, yet the present Congress contains 218 lawyers, and just 12 doctors and 3 biologists. In terms of the skills we need for the 21st century, we're Shakespeare-quoting Philistines.
I can't count the number of people I've met who seem almost proud of their ignorance of math and science. It amazes me. I have about as little formal training in math and science as you can get and still be a graduate of the University of Illinois, but I enjoy reading science-related books and learning new things. It's a shame how many educated adults have so little curiosity.