Rejection of science threatens to be epidemic

Rejection of science threatens to be epidemic

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Dr. Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2012

Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

“…There is a civic duty all citizens can exert to rectify the politics obscuring education: Cast our votes for candidates who sponsor proper schooling and support significant, not only profitable research. Escort out of office those who see fiction and facts compatible, or worship ignorance-based opinions as rightful views of equitable value to the empirical truth…”

Houston, we have a problem. And it has nothing to do with the explosion of an oxygen tank at 200,000 miles away from Earth that is threatening the lives of three astronauts cramped in a 1970s model of a spaceship, nor with an imminent meteor shower or solar radiation blast.

It is the rejection of science by elected officials and their constituents who, although privileged to grow up in a nation leading the most important quest of all, that of superb education and cutting-edge discoveries at prestigious universities, now dismiss the value of knowledge and of scientific realities essential to our existence.

And it is not only evolution that is rejected (my favorite topic, as a biologist and university faculty committed to education) but specifically space explorations, climate change research, stem cell studies, cloning and vaccinations.

The opposition resides, at times, on costs, a legitimate reason when prioritizing funding for billion-dollar projects like NASA’s Apollo (1960s-1970s), Shuttle (1980s-2000s) or International Space Station programs (1990s-2000s), but the resistance to the other fields is dubious under the economic justification (climate change) or relies on puritan thinking rather than on pro-health sincerity (stem cells, cloning and some vaccines).

 Figure above: Apollo rocket and lunar module at Cape Canaveral — photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2001.

Figure above: Suttle Model, International Space Station Training Facilities at NASA Houston — photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2011.

It is impossible to honor knowledge when a nation’s admiration for it vanishes, when its students rank 25th in math and 17th in science worldwide, or when the youth of 14 other countries reads more than our own, or when the term “professorial” becomes an insult or a reprehensible trait in a public figure, as if the sophistication gained by formal education were a malady that must be eradicated to ensure “equality” and fair share of omnipresent unawareness of all issues.

 

Figure above: World Reading Math Science Ranks Evolution Literacy — OECD PISA Database © 2009.

In the quest for attaining this absurd egalitarian recognition to low and high standards, the American colleges and universities have fallen into a pervasive grade-inflation. According to the Teachers College Record, a solid C was the most popular grade in the 1940s (35 percent), followed by B (below 35 percent), then by A (15 percent), and finally by D and F (above 10 and 5 percent, respectively). In the 1970s, the Vietnam War draft triggered a proliferation of A’s, which surpassed 30 percent. Today the A grade is fashionable (over 40 percent) and the “uncool” C is granted to only 15 percent of all college students — a situation accentuated at private institutions.

Figure above: Where A Is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading 1940-2009 — Distribution of grades at American colleges and universities as a function of time— Rojstaczer & Healy — Teachers College Record © 2010.

Figure above: National average grading curves as a function of time, 1960, 1980, and 2007 for public and private schools — Rojstaczer & Healy– Teachers College Record © 2010. 

But trivializing education can be suicidal in a competitive job market where only earning a bachelor’s degree would keep a U.S. worker out of poverty. Indeed, education pays by reducing unemployment and rising income, and The Bureau of Labor Statistics has examined these trends: 15 percent of those without a high school diploma remained unemployed during 2010 and, if employed, they earned only $450 per week. Those who graduated from college reduced their unemployment to 5 percent and, if employed, earned more than $1,000 weekly. Only holders of master’s degrees and above — professional and doctorate degrees — secured a job more than 95 percent of the time and earned beyond $1,300 per week.

Figure above: Education Pays: Unemployment and Median Weekly Earnings as Function of Education — Bureau of Labor Statistics — © 2011.

Although the crisis in the current educational system is multi factorial and complex, there is a civic duty all citizens can exert to rectify the politics obscuring education: Cast our votes for candidates who sponsor proper schooling and support significant, not only profitable research. Escort out of office those who see fiction and facts compatible, or worship ignorance-based opinions as rightful views of equitable value to the empirical truth.

What can we achieve if public officials and their electors treasure education? An overwhelming support to science and reason; in fact, if citizens advance from holding a high school diploma to graduating from college, societal concurrence with major research topics will increase: space explorations from 50 to 70 percent; climate change from 45 to 58 percent; acceptance of evolution from 21 to 74 percent; embryonic stem-cell research from 51 to 71 percent; therapeutic cloning from 64 to 73 percent; and childhood immunization from 79 to 91 percent (data from Space Policy Journal, Gallup, Pew Research Center, Georgia Department of Human Resources and Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research).

And going back to Houston, and specifically to NASA, our “competent sentinel” when cosmic menace approaches Earth, its terrestrial problem is now to secure $19 billion during 2012 — about 0.6 percent of the $3 trillion federal budget — and continue with the programs: science (planetary, astrophysics), aeronautics, space technology, exploration, space operations and education, the latter alone worth $138 million (click on NASA’s Positive Impact on Society). Indeed, world-quality research and education can be expensive; is someone willing to try ignorance? — © 2012 by Guillermo Paz-y-Miño-C. all rights reserved

Figure above: Space suit, International Space Station Training Facilities at NASA Houston — photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2011.

 

Figure above: Model vehicle for Mars exploration, International Space Station Training Facilities at NASA Houston — photo G. Paz-y-Miño-C — © 2011.



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