Science Matters

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1987, E.D. Hirsch created much interest with the publication of CULTURAL LITERACY in which he traced the decline in the ability of Americans, because of their lack of proper background knowledge, to read ordinary newspapers and magazines with understanding. Although Hirsch gave some examples from science, most of his material came from the humanities. Robert Hazen and James Trefil, scientists at George Mason University, share Hirsch’s concern that ignorance of basic knowledge has significant political and economic consequences for America, but they also believe that educators have failed to provide citizens with the scientific background necessary to cope with the world in which they live. In a democracy that is an advanced industrial society, such ignorance may lead to national disaster since, without a grasp of the sciences, the citizen cannot make informed decisions about such pivotal issues as nuclear power, genetic engineering, and global warming. Therefore the authors’ aim is to provide the general reader with the knowledge necessary to make intelligent judgments about public issues involving science.

Scientific literacy is a combination of basically simple facts and theories, not the specialized knowledge of experts. The need for such literacy has been well established. Hazen and Trefil present evidence that fewer than seven percent of Americans are scientifically literate. Surprisingly, such ignorance is not restricted to humanities...

(The entire section is 489 words.)