Last night, the unlikely happened in Las Vegas, Nevada when Miss California Alyssa Campenella, a self-professed “huge science geek,” was selected to be the next Miss USA. The pageant appeared on my radar Friday afternoon when Bora Zivkovic tweeted that the Miss USA pageant contestants had been asked a science-related question, “Should evolution be taught in schools?”
Subsequently, much of the internet chatter focused on the contestants from states known for their anti-evolution policies such as Kansas, Texas and Kentucky. I decided to go the other route and find out which of these women supported the teaching of evolution. I was disheartened to find that only a few of them really understood the issue. Many were apparently unaware that evolution is currently taught in schools. And, most of them thought creationism or “the other side” should be taught, as well.
The pre-pageant interviews revealed how much work remains to be done in order to improve science literacy in America. However, Campanella’s answer demonstrated that she possesses a respectable appreciation and understanding of science.
The evolution issue is addressed in the second question in the video:
Her forthright and honest, not to mention scientifically accurate, answer established her geek status even before the pageant. She reinforced her geek credentials during the pageant by deftly answering a question about whether the U.S. should legalize the use of marijuana:
“Well, I understand why that question would be asked, especially with today’s economy, but I also understand that medical marijuana is very important to help those who need it medically,” she said.
“I’m not sure if it should be legalized, if it would really affect, with the drug war,” she said. “I mean, it’s abused today, unfortunately, so that’s the only reason why I would kind of be a little bit against it, but medically it’s OK.”
I believe in Campanella we will have a science ambassador representing us in the Miss Universe pageant come September and you better believe I’ll be supporting her. My only hope is that someone will get her to talk about science a little more so the next generation will know that beauty and intelligence are one and the same.
On Friday I’m off to Buffalo for these two back to back events, one at SUNY-Buffalo and one at the Center for Inquiry.
At 2pm (at the Buffalo campus) there will be a talk on “Unscientific America.”
Then at 7 pm, at the Center for Inquiry, there will be a talk on “The Science of Denial.”
The latter event has a Facebook event page, here, so say hello if you’re coming.
Look forward to seeing the familiar crew in Amherst/Buffalo….
Recently, along with Sci Am editor Mariette Dichristina, I appeared on the BBC Radio 4 podcast “Americana” discussing why the country has problems with science, and what we can do about it. It’s a really well produced show, and I encourage you to listen here.
It’s about 30 minutes long. I particularly loved the interviews with a bunch of really advanced Maryland high school science students, who are studying the coolest stuff–and communicate about their research in an absolutely incomprehensible way. They’ve learned jargon by age 18: Go USA!
Again, you can listen to Americana here.
Public concern about climate change, Gallup reports, is “stable at lower levels”—just 51 percent say they worry significantly about global warming, down from 66 percent in 2007. If you don’t think that the rise of an ever-more-assured climate denialism in Congress is tied to those numbers, you don’t know politics.
As usual, the latest survey also underscores the depth of the partisan divide on the climate issue. Democrats are 40 percentage points more likely to worry about global warming than Republicans, and 35 percentage points more likely to agree with scientists that global warming is human caused. Republicans, meanwhile, are 45 percentage points more likely to claim global warming is exaggerated in the news. Lovely.
P.S.: I’m about to head out of the country for a friend’s wedding. My blogging will probably be light to nonexistent for a week, but Sheril will be here…
I’ve been hanging out in Boulder, Colorado, this weekend, and saw a pair of bald eagles yesterday on a hike–and a lot of these little guys at right, which were everywhere. I also saw a golden eagle in a cage, presumably being rehabilitated. Plus, I got to hang out with the Bad Astronomer–so it has been a pretty good trip so far.
And now to business: The first seminar of the year at NCAR’s Earth System Laboratory will be on communication, as befits a growing interest in the topic here. I’m the speaker, and will be talking about our “Unscientific America” and what scientists can do to better connect with the society in which they’re embedded.
I’m stopping by SUNY-Purchase, today, and at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, next Monday. Details here and here. In each case it will be to give the Unscientific America talk; here’s the synopsis:
It’s a staggering paradox. The United States has the finest universities in the world, and invests more money in scientific research than any other nation. Yet we’re allowing ourselves to fall behind in science education—and behind other countries, like China, in green energy innovation. Meanwhile, most Americans know very little about science, and often don’t even understand what they’re missing—or why science matters to their lives. No wonder we have unending battles over the science of global warming, the teaching of evolution, and whether or not to vaccinate our children. How could the U.S. become so…unscientific? And what can we do about it? How can we make science popular again, or even…sexy?
In this talk, Chris Mooney explains the reasons for the gap between science and the US public, and what we can do to bring these two worlds—both of which need the other—back together again.
That’s the question I pose in my latest post at DeSmogBlog:
Essentially, President Obama wants us to recreate the same sense of urgency, and the same national unity, but without the same fear of another competitor country, unless that country is supposed to be China—which, the President noted, recently “became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.” Okay, that’s something of a spur…but it is not, historically speaking, a Sputnik. (And, making China into the enemy is a very problematic notion.)
Obama wasn’t even speaking in a national security frame last night when he invoked Sputnik. He was speaking in an economic one. The sense of shared threat was displaced from an external other to our own economic problems—joblessness and deficits.
And that’s the real trick: Is the yearning for national unity, in the wake of Tucson, enough to overcome this chief non-parallel in Obama’s Sputnik analogy? Because undoubtedly, investing in more clean energy research, and more research in general, will spur jobs and innovation. But will we remember to forget our differences in the meantime? Is there some glue that will hold us together? Given the way politics now operate in the U.S., it’s hard to be so optimistic.
You can read the full post here.
My latest DeSmogBlog item is about a slam on our book Unscientific America that just appeared in a newsletter of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists–the group some will remember for giving the late Michael Crichton a “journalism award” in 2006 for his novel State of Fear. As the piece notes:
You can’t say the Crichton award was inconsistent: To this day, AAPG remains an organization that questions the seriousness of human caused climate change. Its website, for instance, has a policy statement on the matter that can be found here; while the language is somewhat careful, there’s a clear refusal to endorse mainstream scientific conclusions on anthropogenic causation.
I then go on to analyze the AAPG’s views and statements on climate, and its reviewer’s views and statements on our book–both of which are, shall we say, problematic. You can read the full post here.
You can watch it here. Starts at 10 am Eastern. Again, the title says “Do Scientists Understand the Public?”, the title of my American Academy paper, but really I’m going to be folding that question into a broader talk about our Unscientific America.
Yesterday, I flew into Albany where we landed on a snowy runway just as it started to really come down. I then made my way to Bard College where, for January, all first year undergraduates are required to participate in the Citizen Science program:
an intensive introduction to the sciences for all first-year undergraduate students, beginning in January 2011. Stemming from Bard’s recent efforts to revitalize science education within the context of the liberal arts, the innovative program is designed to take science learning beyond the laboratory and give students the tools, attitudes, and motivation to use science and mathematics concepts in their daily lives. The Citizen Science Program, required of all students in their first year at Bard, will be held over a three-week intersession period each January.
“In this nation, even first-class undergraduate institutions fail to adequately educate the nonscientist in matters concerning science,” says Leon Botstein, Bard College president. “This failure has become particularly acute as an increasing number of significant issues facing the country and world—including health and the environment—relate to matters of scientific analysis and policy. An entering first-year student should find a new and different way of training to be a scientist or engineer, and the undecided first-year student should be required to confront science in a way that could lead to a radical shift in interest and career.”
Hey I think I like this Botstein guy. Anyway I’ll be lecturing to the entire freshman class about our “Unscientific America”–in which the public doesn’t understand science and scientists don’t understand the public–and what we can do about it tonight. Meantime, here’s the view outside where I’m staying–incredibly quiet and peaceful: