Scientific Literacy is a Basic Life Skill

What the vaccine debate can teach us about the importance of scientific literacy

On a parenting discussion board, one of the parents was discussing vaccines. She doesn't trust the government and so doesn't trust the government’s guidelines on vaccination schedules for her kid. And when presented with the evidence that the vaccination schedule is actually REALLY good and that kids and society benefit from vaccines she said this: “There are all kinds of studies that prove or disprove and it is hard to decide what to believe.”  In other words, in the face of evidence to the contrary – she is sticking to her decision.

I don’t want to get into a vaccine debate here. What I want to do is to debunk her comment that “there are all kinds of studies that prove or disprove and it is hard to decide what to believe,” because – that simply isn’t true. Anyone who is scientifically literate can figure out which studies to believe. It isn't actually all that hard to figure out which competing claims are reality based or not. It just takes a little effort to get the information and to see if there is any information debunking the claim.

Given the life or death nature implications of the vaccine debate it is clear that the scientific literacy required to judge whether any particular study is reality based or not should be considered a basic life skill.

Scientific Literacy

To figure out which competing claims are true and which are false requires a skill known as scientific literacy. Being scientifically literate is something you can learn if you make an effort to do so. To be scientifically literate means you know how to evaluate claims being made using basic science.

For instance, what constitutes a valid study? What do the statistics used in a study mean or don't mean? What constitutes a statistically significant finding? Scientific literacy also requires that you cultivate the critical thinking skills necessary so that you can recognize the most common logical fallacies and a few other thinking skills that involve overcoming personal biases in your own thinking.

Saying - it's so hard to figure it out - is a cop out. You are basically telling everyone that you are too lazy to think well and that you suffer from confirmation bias so you didn't bother to question a claim because you didn't want to have your opinions challenged by actual facts.

It's good this woman was willing to hear competing information, but having asked for that information she shouldn't have then claimed that it's too hard to figure out what is true and what isn't. It isn't too hard. You just have to put in a little effort. More if a claim confirms your personal biases as we all have our blinders.

To learn more about how to figure out if a claim is true or not – consider taking “Living Made Simpler –

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