Scientific literacy

As compared to the timescale of the evolution of species which usually takes hundreds of thousand years or even millions of years to be significant, the scientific revolution, by which humans started to discover how to use reason to understand the world, has been quite sudden. It's as if humans were not rational before, and then just become so. But, just like any new ability of a specie in evolution, it first appears as the ability of a minority of individuals, before eventually becoming a widespread ability by natural selection. Of course we have here another factor which helps speed up and spread the scientific revolution: communication and education (as there could previously be clever people too, but not in the right environment for their ability to be fruitful). This is a significant help, but it cannot make miracles, and the education process by which the rudiments of knowledge are shared, remains hard for many.
Several factors can influence the scientific literacy level: there are genetic factors (whose diversity is usually more important between individuals inside each ethnic group, than between groups); there are institutional factors (education policies), and cultural factors : how do people around (parents, teachers, TV...) value and treat knowledge.
A large majority of people are not interested to understand the world, or at least don't have the ability or motivation to dedicate enough intellectual efforts to do it successfully. So that's it; and before being eventually popularized, the development of knowledge, and the necessary processes of arguments and debates by which a new knowledge can be discerned and established, usually needs to be first proceeded among a small minority of clever people, in order to occur in a reasonable and meaningful way.

Let's take a little measure of the problem in the present world

Example of a document from UNESCO, presenting a comparison of scientific literacy by country, from a year 2000 study : table of contents - full text, in particular chapter 3 (archived): A Profile of Student Performance in Mathematical and Student Literacy

There we can note that Korea has one of the best scientific literacy levels, while its level of expenses in education is relatively modest. At least part of the explanation can be found in genetic factors, as this correlation between intelligence and origin is found (from wikipedia) both among ethnic groups inside the US where East Asians rank best, and between countries.

The US has a relatively modest rank in terms of scientific literacy, in between those of European countries, despite its prestige, available wealth, and the second most expensive education counted in PPP (purchasing power parity) after Austria, thus making it statistically appear as one of the most inefficient education systems in the world. This might be partly due to the fact that the American sense of business result in a trend that the purpose of schools is more to make money than to educate children. But there is also a very important cultural factor.
Indeed, minds in the US are not just naturally poor, but positively corrupted by a counter-culture.

(While I never went to the US, I heard confirmations: one of my relatives traveled to the US and reported this cultural shock; I also once heard a traveler from US say "in the US if 2 people bump each other in the street, they will have an argument; here it's OK").
A country of freedom and human rights ? First, a country built over a genocide. As a famous quote of disputed origin says "America is the first country to have gone from barbarism to decadence without the intervening period of civilization"

Here is a big report of cultural comparison between US and the rest of the world, explaining many things about what's wrong in the US, describing its culture as "Hype+Consumerism", and why its image as the land of freedom is a lie. Another famous report on the lack of freedom in the US, is Joe Stack's suicide note.

Another important aspect of the American counter-culture is the dominant role of religion. They dictate people to despise science (as described in that page already mentioned) and fill their minds with absurdities instead of any genuine understanding of the world.

After my math studies I considered where to work. I heard that many scientists from over the world go to work in the US because of the higher salary there, while the US themselves generate a smaller proportion of scientists from their own population.

(Sorry I'll mix general aspects of scientific illiteracy that can be found in many countries, with some specific to the US... I don't mean that things would be going well somewhere else, I just can't tell, but I know some things are also going wrong at other places such as my own country, France)

A forum thread on scientific illiteracy:
"There is a country wide disdain for knowledge (not everywhere, but a large enough population to make some impact). Intelligent folk are seen as "elitist" because so many people are plumb ignorant, so anyone smarter than them IS elite. Just look at how people chided Obama during the presidential debate for enunciating words and pronouncing Iraq and Pakistan properly.
Another problem is the cost of secondary education/college. If you want to get a decent college education, you need to either be an athlete (again, we push the importance of sports ahead of knowledge) or have rich ass parents.
"

Still over 40% of Americans believe that the Earth is flat young; many others believe in Intelligent Design and only a small minority of about 10% accept natural evolution.

Only 45% would vote for an atheist for president (ignoring the evidence that atheists are no less moral people than believers)

From a New Scientist article:
"Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals: true or false ? (...) A survey of 32 European countries, the US and Japan has revealed that only Turkey is less willing than the US to accept evolution as fact.
Religious fundamentalism, bitter partisan politics and poor science education have all contributed to this denial of evolution in the US, says Jon Miller of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who conducted the survey with his colleagues. "The US is the only country in which [the teaching of evolution] has been politicized," he says. "Republicans have clearly adopted this as one of their wedge issues. In most of the world, this is a non-issue."

From that page: (better verified reference would be welcome)


One day as I browsed a Web site of an American astronomy professor, I was puzzled to see he developed some pages about creationism and the age of the universe. What the fuss could be point of such a strange development ? It took me a moment to get this: that he had to explain some scientifc refutation of young earth creationism, because, well indeed, many of his new students were arriving to his lessons with the conviction that the earth was flat young, which made it necessary to bother bringing some refutations. This included facts about the size of our galaxy, with its center about 28,000 light years away from here; and the distance of the Andromeda galaxy, about 2.5 million light years, which means that the light we get from it, was emitted... 2.5 million years ago.

A forum thread starting with a message of disappointment of an American about his country.

216 Million Americans Are Scientifically Illiterate (Part II)

Here:
"There is a country wide disdain for knowledge (not everywhere, but a large enough population to make some impact). Intelligent folk are seen as "elitist" because so many people are plumb ignorant, so anyone smarter than them IS elite. Just look at how people chided Obama during the presidential debate for enunciating words and pronouncing Iraq and Pakistan properly.
Another problem is the cost of secondary education/college. If you want to get a decent college education, you need to either be an athlete (again, we push the importance of sports ahead of knowledge) or have rich ass parents
."

Here :
"More than half of the US population doesn't know that the earth orbits the sun or how scientists figured out that it does. Almost no one can explain what the phrase "orbits the sun" even means."
"In general knowledge of science and mathematics, U.S. 12th graders were among the lowest scoring students from the 41 nations that participated in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study"
"We've become burdened by the overwhelming amount of new knowledge and the perceived need to lay it all out. Over the last 50 years, K-12 science, mathematics, and technology curriculums have become ever-expanding accumulations of facts, vocabulary, and hollow activities. As long as some students can absorb and emit this information--usually without much mental processing--we call it "learning."
Today's science textbooks and methods of instruction, far from helping, often actually impede progress toward science literacy.They emphasize the learning of answers more than the exploration of questions, memory at the expense of critical thought, bits and pieces of information instead of understandings in context, recitation over argument, reading rather than doing. They fail to encourage students to work together, to share ideas and information freely with one another, or to use modern instruments to extend their intellectual capabilities."

"American adults flunk basic science":
Okay, Russia is no better:

Scientific illiteracy in Russia

In a survey [in 2011], 32 percent of Russians believed Earth was the center of the solar system; 55 percent said that all radioactivity is human-made; and 29 percent said that the first humans lived when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth.
From there:
Poll data about the acceptance of evolution in Russia is mixed: a 2005 poll reportedly found 26% of Russians accepting evolution and 49% accepting creationism, but a 2003 poll reported that 44% agreed with "Human beings are developed from earlier species of animals"), and a 2009 poll reported (PDF) that 48% of Russians who "know something about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution" agreed that there was sufficient evidence for the theory. (In comparison, only 41% of Americans agreed.)
The same 2009 poll indicated (PDF) that 53% of Russians agreed with "Evolutionary theories should be taught in science lessons in schools together with other possible perspectives, such as intelligent design and creationism," with 13% preferring that such perspectives be taught instead of evolution; only 10% agreed with "Evolutionary theories alone should be taught in science lessons in schools."

Now, public ignorance has practical consequences, for example on democracy, as expressed in this article: "That ignorant, stupid fool and his dumb vote", quoting the study "5 Reasons Humanity Is Terrible at Democracy". Reasons listed are:
And it has consequences on the development of religions too.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on religious people. Other remarks I liked from him was there from 10:12 to 15:26
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