Does Society Only Pay Lip Service to the Importance of Science?

egypthealing102Every field of science is based on concepts continuously growing and morphing from experiments in three key areas: physics, chemistry and biology. But rudimentary science goes back as far as the beginning of humanity; it can be found at any point in history. As Bronowski and many other scholars have argued, science is fundamental in understanding the universe and who we are.  But is science really a priority in our society? If the following give any indication: the type of nonfiction books that people read; what students choose as a major in university; what internet sites are visited, and who the heads of federal ministerial departments are; then the answer leans heavily towards no. Science truly matters to a very small minority in society. The rest, out of fear of being negatively perceived, merely pay lip service to its importance.

In The New York Times Book Review, in the midsummer list of 15 best nonfiction sellers, there were no science books. In their four children’s best sellers lists, 0 out of 40 books dealt with science. Meanwhile their paper edition had a list for top paperback trade fiction, one for manga books and a special list for religion, spirituality and faith but to the exclusion of science. Even the best sellers in the health list, which would presumably be based on some sound biology, instead included titles such as Aging Backwards, The 10-day Green Smoothie Cleanse, The Blood Sugar Solution 10-day Detox Diet  and Eat to Live. Online, in November 2015, the New York Times did have a science best-seller list, but topics featured geriatric medicine, the Wright Brothers, animal treatment, introversion, and economic “science”.

In 2009, 1 619 028 university degrees were awarded to Americans. Of these, only 17942 (a measly 1.1%) were awarded in the physical sciences which include 2 of the 3 fundamental sciences: chemistry (12 144 or 0.75%) and physics (4842 or 0.30%). Not surprisingly there has been a downward trend in the percentage of such degrees gained; it has fallen by some 60 percent.

Google trends is proud to tell us that in 2014 Canadians searched for science more than fiction, but if Canadians value science so much, why do Google’s trending topics in Canada list, not science, but athletes, sports teams, celebrities, diet, politicians, movies, recipes, musicians and technology? And when Canadians search technology their top searches are: the  iPhone 6 , Nexus 6, Samsung Galaxy S5, Windows 10, and the iPad Air 2. Is Google’s assumption about Canadians perception of science based on the fact that the top two Canadian “what are” searches in 2014 involved scientific topics (ALS and Ebola)? But that happened because for a brief time they were often in the news. Neither disease disappeared from the planet, but the peak in searches virtually vanished. If the interest wasn’t ephemeral, we would not have observed the following:iceBucketThere are 31 ministries in the Canadian federal government, one of which is science, but none of them are headed by scientists. The ministry of science itself is a junior state, subservient to the ministry of innovation, science and economic development. In the recently ousted government, the Ministry of Science and Economic Development was headed by an insurance professional with a philosophy degree. The current head of that ministry in Trudeau’s new government is a visiting professor with an MBA and a specialization in finance, while the Minister of Science herself has a doctorate in geography. The new government should be commended for adding Climate Change to the Environment Ministry, but the head is a lawyer. We are a long way from having a Mr. Spock as a main adviser to government.

So why is pure science not part of the everyday consciousness of most people? Has the public been turned off by those who have exploited it? Has it become too subservient to technology and economics? Is it too difficult to grasp? I don’t believe so. Exceptional perseverance and aptitude are only needed to advance science in exceptional ways. If well explained, most scientific concepts can be grasped by nonspecialists, but often vocabulary has to be acquired, and thinking and patience are needed. Meanwhile, there are an increasing number of escape avenues offered to everyone. They are alluring options that offer short term gratification for practically no investment in time or mental energy.  Given that entire industries profit from these ventures, and given man’s imitative and social nature, it is no wonder that pure science cannot compete for the attention of most minds in such a world.

Postscript:

CaptureThis almanac is in every public library in the continent. It devotes 23% of its “factual pages” to TV, movies and sports and only 3 % to science and 0.7% to environmental issues. It’s a “world” almanac, but it devotes 21.5 % of its pages to U.S. politics, history and population and only 10.7% to the other 195 countries on the planet

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