In the new version of the Unscientific America talk, I also tried to make more explicit the reasons why we think “scientific literacy,” broadly defined, is essential to American democracy, and something every citizen should strive for. What’s so great about it? Well, here are my answers:
1. Knowledge is a good in and of itself. The more anyone has of it, the better.
2. Empowerment: The more Americans know about science, and the methods of critical thinking about evidence that it imparts, the better off they’ll be when it comes to making choices in their own lives, e.g., in the medical arena.
3. Citizenship: The more scientifically literate our citizens are, the more they’ll be able to access and engage with the scientific aspects of key public policy issues like climate change.
4. Policy: There is a reality out there, and we need our decisions to be aligned with it. Ultimately, 3 should lead to 4, as more citizen engagement with science reverberates in the decision-making process. And that’s what matters most of all.
Any questions or objections? Or does that about encompass it?
I think that traditionally, most of the emphasis in “scientific literacy” discussions has been on 1 & 2. What I like think is different about the approach that we take in Unscientific America is that it much more strongly stresses 3 & 4.