I’m a science educator. I often think, nay obsess, on how I can do my part to help bring more scientific literacy into everybody’s daily life. In a recent blog post entitled The Myth of Scientific Literacy, worthy of a read, Dr. Alice Bell opines that if we (scientists, educators, politicians) are going to plead the case for increased science literacy, then we should do a better job of defining just what we mean by “science literacy.” She says:
Back in the early 1990s, Jon Durant very usefully outlined out the three main types of scientific literacy. This is probably as good a place to start as any:
- Knowing some science – For example, having A-level biology, or simply knowing the laws of thermodynamics, the boiling point of water, what surface tension is, that the Earth goes around the Sun, etc.
- Knowing how science works – This is more a matter of knowing a little of the philosophy of science (e.g. ‘The Scientific Method’, a matter of studying the work of Popper, Lakatos or Bacon).
- Knowing how science really works – In many respects this agrees with the previous point – that the public need tools to be able to judge science, but does not agree that science works to a singular method. This approach is often inspired by the social studies of science and stresses that scientists are human. It covers the political and institutional arrangement of science, including topics like peer review (including all the problems with this), a recent history of policy and ethical debates and the way funding is structured
On the first point, I do think that there are some basic science facts which should be required fodder in K-12 education. From my field alone, people should not only know that Earth orbits the sun, they should know that our year is based upon the time takes Earth to complete the journey. Don’t laugh. On my last birthday, when I told folks that I’d completed another orbit of the Sun, a distressing number of them did not understand the implication and, upon further questioning, didn’t know that Earth’s orbital period was the basis of one year. K-12 students should know that the Moon orbits Earth, why it goes through phases, and given it’s significance (in particular for several religious holidays), that our month is based upon that orbital period. Finally, everybody should know why we have seasons.
Just finishing its first season on BBC America is Primeval, a british sci-fi adventure series that shows how monster-of-the-week is really done.
In recent years, science fiction and fantasy shows have generally tried to steer away from plotlines that involve creatures appearing, then terrifying and/or eating bystanders, and then being dispatched at the end of the episode once the cast has figured out the creatures’ main weakness. This plot formula is only for the start of season one, the thinking goes, when audiences need self-contained stories to introduce them to the cast and the show’s milieu. The real meat happens later, as multi-episode arcs and more complex character development are brought in, and monster-of-the-week episodes, with their limited formula, go to the bottom of the story pitch pile. Primeval explodes this thinking by having a show built firmly around the monster-of-the-week device, while still advancing engaging season-length arcs and furthering clever character development.
The latest installment in the Stargate franchise has arrived: Stargate Continuum. After the Stargate: SG-1 TV series was cancelled in 2007, the producers opted to bring back the cast in a series of direct-to-DVD movie releases (also available on iTunes and Blu-Ray). Perhaps surprisingly, even after 10 seasons of the original SG-1 and four seasons of its spin-off Stargate Atlantis (the fifth season is currently airing), the Stargate universe feels far from played out, as demonstrated by Continuum. In the Stargate universe, planets throughout the galaxy are linked by a network of wormholes created by the stargates, artifacts of a long-departed civilization. The U.S. Air Force has one of these gates, which it keeps stashed beneath Cheyenne Mountain. Teams sally forth through the gate to explore alien worlds. The producers have done an excellent job of expanding the premise of the original 1994 movie that launched the franchise.