Science’s Slump

Science in the United States is in trouble. ‘The numbers
indicate that the American scientist population is not healthy,’
writes Marc Zimmer for
Inside Higher Ed, ‘especially not in
comparison to scientists in other countries.’ Only 13 percent of US
graduate degrees are in the sciences, as opposed to 40 percent of
degrees in Japan, South Korea, Sweden, and Switzerland. Numbers
like these make Zimmer wonder if the American scientist is quickly
becoming ‘an endangered species.’

The blame for science’s drop in popularity, according to Zimmer,
can be squarely placed on a culture that does not respect the
‘authority and autonomy of science.’ Creationism and other
‘pseudosciences’ are undermining the institution as a whole, and
Americans just don’t seem to care. ‘There are no modern Einsteins,’
Zimmer points out, ‘gracing the cover of Rolling
Stone
.’

That may be because we’re too distracted to pay attention to
science. So says James Watson, who helped discover the double
helix, in a panel of ‘celebrity scientists’ hosted by the
Observer. Watson questions whether he
would have been able to make his famous scientific breakthroughs
with all the infotainment diversions beguiling students today.
‘It may be that entertainment culture now is so engaging that it
keeps people satisfied,’ said Watson. ‘We didn’t have that.’

Instead of blaming entertainment and the media, Chris Mooney,
the Washington correspondent for
Seed, writes that scientists themselves
should take responsibility for the declining popularity of their
field. Mooney believes scientists are ‘failing to communicate’
effectively to the public when it comes to complex but important
scientific issues. Take, for example, the clarity debacle
surrounding global warming. In spite of an ‘ever-increasing
scientific certainty’ on the human causes of climate change,
Mooney writes that many Americans still do not understand the
issue, nor do they rank it as a high priority. Scientists should
do a little of what they do best — research — to discover the
most effective ways to convey their ideas, so that their
analysis can actually inform and influence public opinion. ‘Not
only is it the right thing to do’ according to Mooney, ‘on
global climate change it’s something we must do, before
it’s too late.’

Go There >>
Are American Scientists an Endangered
Species?

Go there too >>
The New Age of Ignorance

And there >>
Emotional Rescue

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