After reading these two posts by ScienceBlogling Sheril (and the many comments) about scientific literacy, I suppose I’m in the minority about what scientific literacy. Unlike most of the commenters, I think scientific literacy revolves primarily around a core set of knowledge, and not ‘critical thinking skills.’ More importantly, to combat anti-science, facts are vital.
Now, that core set of knowledge should include a basic understanding of what hypothesis testing and the scientific method are. But, in my experience, stupidity regarding science (no need to be polite about it) stems mostly from scientific ignorance. Consider the woo/pseudo-medicine that Orac and others rail against.
If you don’t know any chemistry, the basic assumption of homeopathy–that water can have a molecular memory–could make sense. Throw in enough big, sciencey-sounding words, and it almost resembles science. Except that it’s utterly ridiculous. Or the snake oil cures that claim to prevent/cure AIDS by ‘boosting the immune system.’ If you’re infected you want to boost the immune system, right? Unless, of course, it’s your immune system that’s infected (as is the case with HIV/AIDS).
And creationism is perhaps the extreme example of this: it is willful ignorance: that is, choosing to ignore facts and knowledge that contradict what you believe. No ‘critical thinking component’ of any course is going to change that; often, a major life changing trauma is required.
Yes, people need to have a basic understanding of how science works. But the basic facts do matter.
In other words, a scientifically literate person not only understands the scientific method, but also knows some science.