In my book Catastrophe: Risk and Return (2004), I examined the issue of scientific literacy briefly, pointing out that only a third of American adults (adults, not 15-year-olds) know what a molecule is, that 39 percent believe that astrology is scientific, that 46 percent deny that human beings evolved from earlier animal species, and that almost 50 percent do not know that it takes a year for the earth to revolve around the sun (many do not know that the earth revolves around the sun). These are amazing statistics, and yet, according to the materials I consulted, the scientific literacy of the U.S. population actually exceeds that of the European
Union, Japan, and Canada.
This is an excerpt of Richard Posner from the Becker/Posner blog. It’s not important that you know who these guys are, but they are big brains in the fields of Law and Economics. They kind of guys who have theorems named after them. http://home.uchicago.edu/~rposner/biography.
Sure, the “ignorance of the masses” is horrifying in this passage, but what really struck me is the thought that if youtake any one of these scientifically illiterate people — and even the ones who are also just plain ol’ vanilla illiterate — I bet they’ll catch a false moment in a story. You tell them a story that doesn’t make
sense, or have doesn’t have internal consistency and they’ll be on it in a moment.
They’ll pop right up with, “But wouldn’t do that — he hates his father!” or “No, Robin Hood wouldn’t do that. He gives to the poor and scientifically illiterate!”
It illustrates how hard making a good story really is. Story is inculcated into us at a very early age. Science, it seems, is not.