Saturday, May 26, 2007

Scientific Illiteracy

Do you recognize this as a sketch of the double helix that diagrams human DNA for which Watson and Crick won a Nobel prize quite some time ago? Gee, I hope so. At this point in our knowledge of science not recognizing it is like not knowing that + means to add and X means to multiply -- you throught it was a cross and a kiss? That too. But... you know what I'm talking about ... I hope.

In tomorrow's NY Times Book Review Steven Pinker, a wonderful scientist/writer from Harvard whose books I've enjoyed [mostly] reviews a new book called THE CANON by Natalie Angier, subtitled "A WhirligigTour of the Beautiful Basics of Science." It tells people what they should know about science here at the begining of the 21st century. Mr. Pinker writes: The costs of an ignorance of science are not just pracical ones .. there is a moral cost as well. It is an astonishing fact about our species that we understand so much about the history of the universe, the forces that make it tick, the stuff it's made of, the origins of living things and the machinery of life. A failure to nurture this knowledge shows a philistine indifference to the magnificent achievements humanity is capable of, like allowing a great work of art to molder in a warehouse.

Here's another double helix used by a graphic designer. I know some people really don't care about great works of art either, some are blissfully happy being innumerate and scientifically illiterate as well as other sorts of illiterate -- or they think they're happy about that ... but that "happiness" often includes superstitutions and utter befuddlement about their own medical condition and susceptibility to bad advice, including scams, coming at them from left and right. I really believe the more we know the better off we are, and that's true in spades about things scientific.

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