Americans and Science: Get Your Shit Together
In June of 2012, 46% of the public believes God created humans in their present form sometime in the last 10,000 years. Thirty years ago, Gallup asked the same question and the results were 44%. So, more people believe that God created humans in their present form sometime in the last 10,000 years. So, as the science community becomes increasingly certain of this idea, the general citizenry of America, apparently, become increasingly uncertain. This is despite the best efforts of science popularizers and communicators like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, and others. A debate is peaking right now as Americans begin to think that we should no longer fund NASA. Take a look at the long list of items that NASA has brought us through its research to include MRIs, solar power, LEDs, artificial limbs, and the list goes on. They keep a database specifically for it.
As of the 111th US Congress, 8% of the U.S. Congress hold a Ph.D. in a science or medical field. With a large handful of those being in the medical field, science remains behind the power curve in the political game. This isn’t surprising, considering a driving feature of most scientists is objectivity. However, direct involvement in the political process is not the only way to have a political impact. The Congress should be seeking advisement from reputable scientists when making decisions on many relevant issues. On the upside, the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology offers advice “on technology, scientific research priorities, and maths and science education” for the executive branch. The previous rendition of this council was disbanded by President Richard Nixon in 1972 before being recreated in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. The Office of Science and Technology Policy was created by the Congress in 1976, but is, again, made for the executive branch. Since the Congress is the decisive force for many issues relating to science policy, it makes sense for them to have advisors ready when they are needed. The Congress, however, seems to disagree. They seem to hold themselves as the experts on science.
From 1989 to 2005, the number if US newspapers featuring weekly science-related sections shrank two-thirds from 95 to 34. Most remaining science related news turned to exercise/fitness — accounting for 28% of total science stories published. Out of the 8 major topics they covered, only 3 were not health related: intelligent design, global warming and astronomy. However, some were still relevant to hot topics in the political realm: HIV/AIDS, avian flu and stem cell research. In lieu of nonprint writing, news firms turned to the web as the new frontier for ad revenue. As a result, science news wasn’t in people’s faces as it was before. It became something you had to seek out because science topics rarely held the top stories spots. Still losing money, many firms began cutting specialized science writers and falling back to your day-to-day journalist. How many journalists understand advanced scientific concepts? So, a lot of reporting has lost accuracy and technicality. Looking at television, one out of every 300 minutes of cable news is devoted to science. One-third of 1% of coverage. In 2008, CNN cut its entire science, space, and technology unit. This comes back to losing accuracy and technicality in the story’s reporting.
Perhaps the public would be interested to learn, but they can’t just can’t find a highly accessible resource. While there are a handful of specialty publications like Popular Science and Scientific American that cater to more advanced reporting, they are less available to the public than daily news reporting. Many people across the country, and the world, take to the internet to help communicate science, but blogs and Facebook pages can only go so far. They can only talk about what the news reports, hopefully making it more accessible by the average American. No matter where you look, the problem is clear: in a time where Americans and public policy are becoming more and more affected by and dependent on science, they, in turn, are less and less informed about it.
Who is left to run the country?