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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Outside view: Not rocket science

The Everett Herald The Spokesman-Review

The following editorial appeared last Wednesday in the Everett Herald.

American adults have just as much trouble as school kids grasping basic scientific concepts. More than anything, their own apathy is to blame.

Science and math have long been problem subjects for high school students, who continue to score poorly in them on standardized tests – only 38 percent of all 10th-graders met the WASL standard for science and only 54 percent met the standard for math in the 2005 school year. And most people don’t try to improve their knowledge as adults.

It’s not as though basic science information is in short supply. Newspapers publish lots of science news, and there are several easy-to-read magazines devoted to science, technology and the environment. The particularly intrepid can peruse a nearly unlimited supply of scientific journals and technical papers on the Internet.

Excellent books and television programs that delve into scientific topics aren’t exactly flying off the shelves or eating up viewer shares.

Greater basic familiarity with science would do more than produce quiz show contestants. According to a report released by the National Science Foundation, Americans think that the government should do what it can to keep ahead in science and technology research, even if they don’t want to take the time to learn about what the research is actually going to do.

But understanding science is as much a part of being a good and effective citizen as voting and obeying traffic laws. Two of the most important public policy issues of the past few years have been climate change and stem cell research. Some legislators, lobbyists and activists try to frame environmental issues as an economic problem and stem cell research as a moral one. If the public had a better grasp of science, the focus of those debates might shift.

Even if that didn’t change the outcome, Americans would have more ways to think about these issues.A critical goal, of course, is to have people develop an affinity for science at an early age. Educational priorities should reflect that, ensuring a well-rounded grounding in science that would inspire continued self-education. For once an appreciation of science is gained, the wonders of nature are enough to capture and hold the imagination, and make the mind hunger for more.

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