Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Science: In Good Stead

We are all too painfully aware how little average person knows about science...

In fact, and worse, it is not so much that an average person knows little about science as how little science an average person knows. Here I certainly do not mean deep and arcane branches of science like quantum mechanics, molecular biology, or clinical biochemistry. What I have in mind are centuries old friends of basic Newtonian physics, Mendelian genetics and suchlike. I should have really included Darwin's theory of evolution, but that is such a touchy topic that it's best left out of what I intend to be a brief and non-confrontational post. And, to boot, these topics are not very difficult to grasp either. I am sure an average person is perfectly capable of understanding them. What seems to be a problem is twofold. For one, there is this received "wisdom" that science is hard and not something and average person is capable of handling. Then, possibly more importantly, there is general unawareness of potential usefulness of basic general science in everyday life. And it is useful, and often in unexpected places. I'll give just one example: if you need to move a carpet a few inches on the floor using only one foot (e.g. you're holding up a table that sits on it with your other three extremities), do you push or pull? I won't even go into the waste that goes into filing - and then rejecting - patent applications that try to beat basic laws of thermodynamics (e.g. generating power by making water flow through a thinning pipe). So what is to be done? I think that early education must not just feed science to pupils (even if in funny and interesting ways). There should be a parallel effort (maybe even as a separate subject) to show children where in everyday, ordinary lives application of scientific knowledge can benefit them. Oh, and make basic science compulsory - and tested - throughout schooling.

Now, if I could only remember enough science to skip having to vacuum this Saturday...