Chronology Current Month Current Thread Current Date
[Year List] [Month List (current year)] [Date Index] [Thread Index] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Prev] [Date Next]

Re: [Phys-l] OFF-TOPIC: Basic scientific literacy

Hi all-
Since I don't really know what science is, although some people seem to claim that it includes astrology, I won't join the pontification on what everyone should know, and why. I do have a couple of modest hopes, mostly concerned with traffic safety:

1. Illinois teaches that a safe following distance is 2 seconds interval. Few citizens or police officers have worked out that this is equivalent to about 1 yard separation for each mile/hr of traffic sppeed.
So why don't we have more rear-enders, because almost no vehicles observe that distance?. Well, I checked with the Illinois Secretary of state,
and it turns out that we do, although the ones not involving personalo injury aree not reported in the local press.
Also, how is the 2 second interval related to reaction time?
An what happens between the time the following driver sees the flashing tail light on the car in front, and the time the brakes are applied - in my classes my experiments suggested a minimum of 1/4 s?

2. What is the ``science'' behind teen mortality on our highways? I can only guess at this, but her's my guess. The human brain does not develop its reasoning capacities until about age 25. Up until that time, young humans merely imaitate their elders and other objects that can be copied - from real life or fiction. Understanding of human intellectual devolpment may play an important role in preserving the lives of our young people.

3. Global warming. Need I say more?
4. How much does ethanol from corn help the environment?
5. What are the down sides of the present administration's proposal for a Hydrogen economy?

On Mon, 15 Dec 2008, Marc "Zeke" Kossover wrote:

 From: "LaMontagne, Bob" <>
Most of my adult friends and acquaintances
do quite well in life knowing none of the items on this list.
I really don't understand why we spend so much time teaching science to
the general population. Please don't respond by saying that it makes
them more responsible citizens and better informed voters.

To some extent, two philosophies of science education exist.

1. Science for Everyone. Everyone benefits from learning science just as everyone benefits from English or history. The trick is to find the methods that best teach the most important ideas to the broadest range of students.

2. Talent Search. High school science classes are a talent search for the kids that will become the best scientists. Classes should encourage and educate them even if it means that other students learn less or nothing.

The US as a country is definitely in Camp 1. Everyone takes science and all the other classes.

Many European countries are in Camp 2. Students start majoring in a discipline in what Americans consider high school.

Most teachers fall somewhere in between. I'm closer to Camp 1 and spend some of my time doing public demonstrations of science for no pay. I think that it helps, but it might not. On the other hand, I run a robotics club that is closer to Camp 2 as I go around inviting students that I think will be good at science to become members.


Knowing science has advantages. It makes it harder to be deceived, especially in car ads. It can prevent you from burning down your house when you rewire it. It can make the world seem more marvelous and less mysterious.

But hey why believe me? I use science all the time. The house I once owned in New Orleans survived Katrina and took no water from above or below. I know how to read a US Geologic Survey Quad. I wasn't taken for a ride in the housing boom because I can do math. I don't own a house in SF, but I do understand what will help it survive an earthquake and how I should be prepared.

Marc "Zeke" Kossover

Forum for Physics Educators

"Trust me. I have a lot of experience at this."
General Custer's unremembered message to his men,
just before leading them into the Little Big Horn Valley