Procastination Science Reading (June 12/2006)

I thought it would be kind of interesting to try and showcase a few links from the types of journals and publications that take less than academic stabs at science writing. It's the sort of stuff that interests me to no end, because if you read through "Public Understanding of Science" type studies (a really misfortune label since this causes the acronym PUS to be flitted around), you hear some negative stuff about how the scientific literacy of countries like the UK and USA generally hover around 20% or so.

Now granted, defining scientific literacy is a weighted chore, and maybe something I'll get into later, but man, is that 20% freaking you out as much as it is freaking me?

Which brings me to the links below - the type of which will probably be showcased from time to time. Here, the bottom line is that some are sort of pieces that the other 80% might take a gander at, because they are funny, or wierd, or different, or melodramatic, or esoteric, etc. I say whatever works, right? - whatever works...


Percentage of American adults who are scientifically literate, 1988 - 1999. Also, a graph for the sake of including a graph in this post.

On Global Warming by Chad Harbach, n+1 issue 4.
O.K. this is your standard serious essay but quite lovely in the way it is written. This is the first time I picked up this literary journal and I gotta say, I'm quite liking it...

Non Book Review: Mammal - Dolphin, delphinidae by Amanda Gersh, The Believer, July 2003.
...Although not as much this magazine, which I would have to say is one of my favourites. I actually end up reading articles on poetry and the like, which is really really strange. Of course, they occasionally have the odd science centric piece - almost always great. Plus Meehan is like one of the nicest editorial folk I've ever dealt with.

UNTITLED by Lena Webb, (Convergences Contest Winner No. 13).
Ah... talk about procastination... Consider that a warning before you head over to that site. McSweeney's is actually the place where Ben and I kind of started corresponding on things of the science writing nature.

More like this

But what does it mean, to be scientifically literate? I'm not sure how we get beyond the valid observation that "defining scientific literacy is a weighted chore" and straight into the concern over 20%. Is that fair?

I have a friend who just wrote an entire dissertation on the science education movement for increasing scientific literacy. Maybe she can weigh in on this. Let's call her "jane l." to protect her anonymity. Or that may be too obvious. We'll say "j. lehr." Although it seems she's "away from her desk today."

Speaking of, this guy's good:

Yeah, it's a tough one to box up. The types of definitions I see tend to be broached in references like this one, but to be honest, most times, I make (likely incorrect) judgements on scientific literacy by the words that come out of people's mouth when I interact with them in the context of a teacher, a consultant or just plain old well-meaning citizen of my community.

I wonder if this is part of the problem, in that these types of PUS studies, to the scientists brought up on hard sciences anyway (like myself), seem so vague and ethereal sometimes - which is maybe all the more pertinent since generally we're the same folks who don't often step up to the science communication plate.

By the way, isn't Jim Stallard (of the link you provided) a science writer?

You are right that Jim Stallard is a science writer, and a humor writer, and a top shelf one at that. I shoulda made the connection clearer above. Also check out his HoneyBee Waggle Dance Reviews. I don't know him, but apparently our Seed-related Christopher Mims does. I don't him either (yet?).

And on the literacy thing, I guess what I wonder is what we're after when we go after scientific literacy? What are we pointing to and hoping to achieve? Why don't we want better literary literacy, or historical literacy, or political literacy, or constitutional literacy, or "3 guys commit suicide and we'll claim to be personally offfended by it and this has to make you think just what the ___ is wrong with this world" literacy?

I realize this is scienceblogs, so that's a reasonable enough explanation for asking about it I'm just asking at a more general level, not asking because it's a surprising question.