October 12, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: "Science” Needs To Fall Out Of Its Ivory Tower


For some time now, I’ve read whining dissertations and essays about how “scientists” are disrespected today. For example, this article weeps about the casting of scientists in the role of bad guy (mostly, I might add, these are big, old, fat, white, guys) http://io9.com/why-are-scientists-always-the-bad-guys-in-movies-1643054457/all. As well, it several articles make it sound as if there is a general demise of the American way of Science,   http://www.alternet.org/education/results-are-america-dumb-and-road-getting-dumber, http://io9.com/npr-pulls-the-plug-on-krulwich-wonders-1640085459, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-schweitzer/ignorance-kills_b_5851052.html, http://io9.com/meet-the-new-underclass-people-with-ph-d-s-in-science-1644006710?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow. Usually this is attributed to George HW Bush, the No Child Left Behind Act, or Republicans in Congress who actively try and crush science in league with Christians everywhere who are wrong believers in Anthropogenic Global Warming and Evolution.

Often these diatribes miss the fact that Al Gore, the world representative of AGW (who, incidentally has no science degree, got a BA in Government, and avoided science and math at Harvard in favor of watching TV and playing pool), Bill Nye (who has a BA in mechanical engineering, and who began the Science Guy routine as comedic shtick on Seattle’s ALMOST LIVE! television show), the NCLB (which was, incidentally, a bipartisan bill whose most important supporter was Democrat Ted Kennedy), and Bush's refusal to support science education (“Bush signed into law H. R. 4664, far-reaching legislation to put the National Science Foundation (NSF) on a track to double its budget over five years and to create new mathematics and science education initiatives at both the pre-college and undergraduate level.”) are rarely, if ever, a complete expression of the aspects of the axe being ground.
Wild attacks of anyone who doesn’t toe some sort of ideological line exempts that bastion of the Liberal Left, National Public Radio -- which recently axed a long-running science program Krulwich Wonders. Is NPR "anti-science"? Nope. No rants. No imprecations. No threats. No claims that the Left is Once Again Disrespecting Science...just mute, weepy acceptance of the financial necessity of canceling a popular science program. The response might have been different had a Republican Congress cut funding to NPR.

The problem therefore, may not be the PUBLIC, but sometimes-myopic “real” scientists who seem to believe that their love of science popped out of nowhere and was never once nurtured by an elementary teach, a middle school teacher, or a high school teacher. Oh, that’s RIGHT, it must be that the scientists decrying the sad state of science in the US became a fan of science shortly after they got their BS, MS, or PhD…

So the impression I’m left with is that the jobs that all elementary, middle school, and high school science teachers (as well as those in Community colleges and anyone who has less than a PhD) – have done are meaningless and all such teachers are inefficient buffoons. The only real “science fans” in America today are the white men (and token minorities like establishment-acceptable women and blacks) with BSs, MSs, or, (the REAL lovers of science) PhDs…

But there may in fact, be dissension in the ranks. In a fascinating, but (I have no doubt) rarely cited article, Dr. David Goldstein (professor of Physics and Applied Physics) has this to say:

“The great corporations have decided that central research laboratories were not such a good idea after all...The economy has gradually transformed from manufacturing to service, and service industries like banking and insurance don't support much scientific research...jobs are scarce for recent graduates...academic expansion is finished forever… since it takes scientists to identify prospective scientists [this] accounts for the very real problem that women and minorities are woefully underrepresented among the scientists, because it is hard for us, white, male scientists to perceive that once they are cleaned and cut and polished, they will not look like us…science education is for the most part a dreary business, a burden to student and teacher alike at all levels of American education...Above all, it resolves the paradox of Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates. It explains why we have the best scientists and the most poorly educated students in the world…we scientists must find a way to teach science to non-scientists...The frontiers of science have moved far from the experience of ordinary persons [and] we have never developed a way to bring people along as informed tourists...The long era of exponential expansion ended decades ago, but we have not yet reconciled ourselves to that fact...Today's scientific leaders...are mostly people who came of age during the golden era, 1950–1970...the era of scientific elites and scientific illiterates must learn to face reality, and admit that those days are gone forever.” (CalTech 2002)

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