Scientific Literacy: What It Actually Is Part 1

Scientific literacy is obviously needed in the world today but it’s presence is not necessarily as easy to measure as the percent of population that can read or write. The definition of scientific literacy depends on which scientific facts you perceive as important and whether the beliefs of the layman count for anything.

It’s fair to say that knowledge involved in scientific literacy then must be broad in scope and involving an idea of how the process of science works. But also a complete understanding of each concept is not expected. Yet I will argue that something else is expected; adherence to the status-quo of knowledge.

My mom’s friend believed that Newtonian Gravity explained the cosmos and had not yet superseded by a more complete theory. Another person I knew was well up to date on the latest theories of the origin of the universe and gravity but did not believe in evolution. Evolution is central to scientific understanding of everyday life, but the minutiae of gravity is not. In one sense the latter is more scientifically literate than the former. OECD defines scientific literacy as the ability of people to apply scientific knowledge to understand phenomena but the person who is clearly quite up to date on most sides of science puts holes in this definition. Nor is the ability to apply scientific method to a problem a great way of defining scientific literacy because knowledge of scientific method does not necessarily lead to rational outcomes. Many creationists think that their theory is scientific and results may very closely resemble scientific method.

Since literacy is defined as ‘competence or knowledge in a specified area’ it would be thought that literacy would be improved by greater exposure to science. A person cannot become less literate by greater exposure to a subject. But it seems that scientific literacy of an individual can actually regress if they are to buy into dogma or delusion, as the one individual above did. Literacy in any other subject doesn’t work like that, one doesn’t forget to read because he is exposed to more reading. A person does not become less literate in literature for like Twilight. So I hesitate to call ‘scientific literacy’ as anything with any sort of validation. Literacy does not encompass a persons views of a subject of their reasonableness .

Scientific literacy is more a euphemism for knows when to ‘trust the right sources’. Science is too complex for people to understand without investing large amounts of time and an idea of the basic principles will not illuminate anything but the most basic phenomena to the layman. Instead it is trust the biology to the biologists and medicine to the doctors. Trust authority and stop listening to the pope.

A person is scientifically literate if:

1) They accept theories that a reasonable person would think of as true. Even if sometimes this means putting blind faith in ‘experts’.

2) They can understand and apply these theories to identify pseudo-science.

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