The most common thing people would tell me when they found out I worked at NASA was “I used to love science when I was a kid.”
They used to love science.
Lots of people used to love science but somewhere along the way, they started to believe they weren’t “smart enough” or weren’t “good at math” or weren’t “a science person.”
More than twenty-five years ago, Carl Sagan estimated that 95% of American adults were scientifically illiterate. By that measure, Americans lacked the ability to understand the scientific method and quantitative observations. It also meant lacking a basic understanding of physics, chemistry, biology, geology and ecology. Even today, Americans of all ages and genders still have an abysmally poor understanding of how the world works. And since the American public is politically polarized, citizens lack awareness of how science impacts politics, policy and our future. This is a problem because personal decision-making as well as participation in civic and cultural affairs requires knowledge of scientific concepts. According to the Pew Research Center, 33% of Americans reject evolution and think the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and 20% say that the sun orbits the Earth instead of vice versa.
There are many reasons why people drift away from the type of critical thinking that science requires. Perhaps you were told you weren’t smart, or you didn’t see yourself in the rigid stereotype of what a scientist is supposed to be. Or maybe because of gender or ethnicity, you felt bullied or marginalized.
Sadly, the stereotype that scientists are evil bad guys or nerds who never get laid still exists. A brief Internet search for scientists in movies comes up with the solitary Doc Brown from Back to the Future, the mad Dr. Jekyll, Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove, power hungry megalomaniac Lex Luthor and the diabolical C.A. Rotwang from Metropolis.
Some people were turned off by science, others were left behind. The result has been the same though; they either became apathetic or openly hostile toward the scientific process and the scientific community.
But I believe the passions, curiosity, questions and awe that we all felt as kids can be reignited and channeled into knowledge, self-confidence, activism and engagement that can make daily life better. People want to participate. People want to feel smart and useful. People want to contribute. People want to understand the science, the policy options and the solutions so they can feel empowered. You can be one of them.
We can’t wait around for scientists or the Government (our often ineffective and conflicted Senate and Congress, not to mention our local governors and representatives) to come and save us. We need to save ourselves. We need people like you to help shape public policy and participate in global solutions.
Our society needs everyone to join the movement of millions of science enthusiasts, a diverse group representing every age, ethnicity, country and education level who have the common desire to participate. So let’s stop separating people into science people and non- science people. Let’s replace the term “non-scientist” with “citizen scientist,” and “science lover.”
I envision a society that celebrates science, where each individual enjoys the opportunity and the intellectual confidence to participate in important scientific discussions that impact all of our lives. I envision a society where all people feel confident and comfortable exercising and celebrating their intellect in public regardless of gender or race or body type or personality type or any other factor. I envision a society where decisions are made using sound evidence and scientific based reasoning and where science is a relevant and necessary part of daily life.
- Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) – Science Magazine
- England coronavirus testing has not risen fast enough – science chief – The Guardian
- Coronavirus Tests Science’s Need for Speed Limits – The New York Times
- Trump Falsely Distorts New York Times COVID-19 Science Story – FactCheck.org
- This is the brightest supernova ever seen – Science Magazine
- Coronavirus Today: Science will save us – Los Angeles Times
- Italians stuck at home are measuring light pollution for ‘science on the balcony’ – TechCrunch
- ‘Oumuamua might be a shard of a broken planet – Science News
- College of Arts and Science converts thriving academic programs to departments – Vanderbilt University News