Survey shows need for science literacy

By Serena Moy

Students might need to become scientifically literate to succeed in society.

NIU Political Scientist Jon Miller surveyed 2,000 American adults and found 19 out of 20 are scientifically illiterate, meaning they are unable to identify basic scientific terms.

Many students do not work hard enough in school to learn scientific terms, Miller said. “Students that don’t work hard don’t learn science, math or history,” three subjects involving scientific terms.

Citizens should learn scientific terms because they might become everyday terms as technology grows, he said.

Miller said solutions to scientific illiteracy begin by reviving and stimulating interests in science and math education in the United States.

Assistant Chemistry Professor David Ballantine said it is important to get students interested in the beginning, starting in grammar school and high school.

“When students get out into the real world they should at least have a little knowledge” of math and science, Ballantine said.

Physics Professor Axel Meyer said the world is not too complicated and principles of math and science are used to help people survive.

Ballantine said students stay away from math and science partly because of the way it is taught and its difficulty.

“Some are like moles, they stay underground and don’t come up and see what’s going on in the world,” Meyer said. Students are not interested in math and science because they often feel there is nothing in it for them, he said.

Miller said there are three criteria for scientific literacy, and the first is to understand the process or methods of science.

This includes open-ended responses about subjects such as scientific study and the scientific basis of astrology, he said.

A minimally literate person would know scientific study is the process of theory building and testing and astrology is not scientific, Miller said.

“You can’t prove a theory true, you can only falsify it,” he said. “Science is theory building.”

The second criterion is understanding basic scientific terms and concepts, he said. Individuals must comprehend basic terms like molecule, cell or gravity because understanding these terms helps to understand scientific results, he said.

The third is the understanding of science and technology in society, Miller said. Knowledge about computers, antibiotics or radioactivity would help a person cope with technology, he said.