Scientific Literacy is a necessary life skill. It isn’t optional anymore. To be an active citizen and to make sense of your health care choices – you must be scientifically literate. So, a) what does it mean to be scientifically literate and b) how does one become scientifically literally.
First – a definition: “Scientific literacy means that a person can ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena. Scientific literacy entails being able to read with understanding articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions. Scientific literacy implies that a person can identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed. A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately. “(National Science Education Standards, page 22)
Or to put it more bluntly – a scientifically literate person knows how to evaluate claims being made to know what is true and what is false. This has wide ranging implications for all aspects of life, from health care, to jobs, to politics and more.
In many cases scientific literacy is a life and death matter and it is not a joke to not know what is scientifically true and validated.
When people aren’t scientifically literate they make bad decisions. Those bad decisions can obviously cause personal harm and even death (see What’s the Harm for all the ways people who don’t think scientifically harm themselves http://whatstheharm.net/)
Bad decisions taken by groups can have far ranging consequences for the entirety of society. Pretty much every major civilization that failed, failed because of bad decision making. For those of us who would like to not only live, but live well – we view scientific literacy as the foundation of all good decision making.
Deborah Howell – at the Washington Post – wrote an opinion on – how to make sense of science reporting. Consider this your first lesson in how to be skeptical of science reporting – and really all reporting. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/05/AR2008120502959.html
- Double check your sources.
- Always try to read the source material to make sure that the headline matches the actual findings
- Look for contradicting information
- Stick with facts and not with opinions.
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