The real issue is what can we1 do about it. Alan Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of AAAS and Executive Publisher of Science, thinks he has the answer. Here's what he writes in an editorial "Bridging the opinion gap" ...
Speaking up for the importance of science to society is our only hope [my emphasis, LAM], and scientists must not shy away from engaging with the public, even on the most polarizing science-based topics. Scientists need to speak clearly with journalists, who provide a great vehicle for translating the nature and implications of their work. Scientists should also meet with members of the public and discuss what makes each side uncomfortable. In these situations, scientists must respond forthrightly to public concerns. In other words, there needs to be a conversation, not a lecture.Isn't that insightful? Here we are in 2015 and nobody ever thought of that before now! Can you imagine how much better off we'd be if scientists have only started speaking up 40 years ago, or even 10 years ago?
Scientists have been engaging with the American public about evolution for half a century and it has not worked. They've also been speaking to journalists.2
Fortunately, there are some people who have gone way past these naive views and actually thought seriously about the problem. Here's are the results of two questions from the survey.
I agree with those scientists. We are part of the problem because we are not doing a very good job of educating students in the ways of science. The long term solution is to do a far better job of teaching about science. We should not be graduating students from university who reject evolution and climate change. We should not be giving out degrees to students who fall for pseudoscience gobbledegook like homeopathy and astrology. If we do that then we are not doing our job as educators and survey results like these are not going to change in the forseeable future.
- Only 16% of AAAS scientists and 29% of the general public rank U.S. STEM education for grades K-12 as above average or the best in the world. Fully 46% of AAAS scientists and 29% of the public rank K-12 STEM as “below average.”
- 75% of AAAS scientists say too little STEM education for grades K-12 is a major factor in the public’s limited knowledge about science. An overwhelming majority of scientists see the public’s limited scientific knowledge as a problem for science.
Now, to be fair, Alan Leshner recognizes the problem even if he's wrong about the solution.
The public's perceptions of scientists' expertise and trustworthiness are very important, but they are not enough. Acceptance of scientific facts is not based solely on comprehension levels. It can be compromised whenever information confronts people's personal, religious, or political views, and whenever scientific facts provoke fear or make people feel that they have no control over a situation. The only recourse is to have genuine, respectful dialogues with people. Good venues are community clubs, science museums, science fairs, and religious institutions. Working with small groups is more effective than working with large groups.Perhaps he and some other scientists can sit down in small groups with Republican members of Congress and change their minds. Maybe you could do it in their churches. (Remember to be respectful when dialoguing with John Boehner.) Meanwhile, I believe that's not the "only hope." I think educating our young people is a better investment in time and effort even though it won't pay off for a generation.
1. I say "we" because the same problems exist in Canada.
2. Maybe Alan Leshner should have a little chat with Elizabeth Pennisi.