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Scientific Illiteracy is Costing Us Dearly

As some of my readers may know, I was a schoolteacher before I became a doctor. And before I was a schoolteacher, I earned a degree in Zoology (a science), and before that, I was pretty much a science nerd my whole life. Makes sense, as my dad and his brothers are all engineers and construction types, guys who like to measure and cut and  fabricate and do it the right way, so that stuff doesn’t fall apart. 

Making stuff that doesn’t fall apart requires science. So does healing people. In fact, the entire fabric of modern civilization is founded on a huge and incredibly solid foundation of scientific knowledge, and its continued progress is quietly advanced by millions of people working to advance technology through the application of science. 

Nations such as China, Singapore, Russia, Germany (well, most of Europe, really) seem to understand this and they stress science education in their education systems from primary grades onward. Kids who do well in scientific disciplines in elementary school advance to special middle schools where they get further education and then they move on to the highest level of secondary education, where science (and math, the primary partner of science) is strongly emphasized. These nations have decided that their national interests, including their economic well-being, depends upon having a large population of persons who understand science. 

Not so in the United States. Science education prior to college in this country is sadly lacking, and it’s getting worse. 

Compared to our neighbor to the north, Canada, our high school science curriculums are pathetic. Canadian students have to complete three years of science class just to get a basic high school diploma. If they want to attend university, they need more than that. If they want to study engineering or sciences at university, they need at least 5 year-long science classes, and many kids will have 9 or more credits in biology, chemistry, and physics at the very least. 

American kids have to obtain 3 credits, if that. And the quality of the classes is almost comical. Let’s take chemistry for an example. (I taught chemistry at the high school level in Canada for 8 years, so it’s the subject I’m most familiar with.)  When my kids were in high school in Wisconsin, I reviewed the courses available to them. I was amazed to see that the Chemistry subject material being taught at the highest level was equivalent to what Canadian kids learn in 10th grade. And I know from my training that Canadian kids’ science education is about a year behind that of kids in European schools. And I understand from my teacher  colleagues that this applies to Biology and Physics as well. 

Think about it: this means that American high school graduates are 3 full years behind their European counterparts in the sciences. 

Let’s take it one depressing step farther: I was an adjunct insructor at a Midwest college for a couple years, teaching Pharmacology. This was supposed to be a 3rd-year level class, which means the kids taking it had to have at least 3 credits in sciences already, at least one of which was freshman Chemistry. I had to “dumb it down” for these kids as they did not have Organic Chem or Biochem background; nonetheless, I was amazed to find that most of my students had only a vague grasp of such fundamental concepts as hydrogen bonding, electron valences, and polarity, let alone more advanced (and necessary!) concepts such as chirality!

I concluded long ago that Americans are in large part scientifically illiterate. And it’s only going to get worse. 

The current Anthropogenic Global Warming hysteria is a classic example. The only reason this absurd hoax has gained a toehold in our collective consciousness is that Americans are simultaneously addicted to the greatest swarm of electronic “information” propagation in history (mainstream media and social media) while simultaneously being almost completely clueless about the fundamentals of science. 

Dr. Patrick Moore, a highly respected ecologist, gave a speech recently that I have posted on my Facebook page. In this short speech, Dr. Moore ripped back the curtain of obfuscation and lies perpetrated by the AGW alarmists and presented some very plain, very solid scientific facts that conclusively demonstrate that there is nothing whatsoever to worry about… except that the  powers that be may well wreck the global economy by buying into the lies. Dr. Moore just touches on the fact that the AGW hysteria could never have got off the ground if most Americans were not scientifically illiterate. 

As he points out, the popular view of ecology has gone from viewing mankind as an integral part of the global ecosystem to viewing our species as a blight on the planet which the planet would best be rid of. This is simply insane. If the people who believe this were in any way rational, they would immediately apply the logical solution to the problem and commit suicide. But they are not logical. Their eco-view isn’t based on science, it’s based on what they feel, what they believe. 

In other words, it’s become a religion. And apparently they want the rest of us, the ones who don’t believe as they do, to die first. 

Unfortunately, it may be too late to reverse this trend before disaster strikes. I am deeply concerned that this new anti-human religion is about to take a page out of the Koran and, following the examples of Islamist zealots, spawn a rash of ecoterrorism against the rest of humanity in the name of Gaia.

Troubling thoughts.  


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So you didn’t use algebra today… Oh, really?

I came across a meme on Facebook the other day that said, “Just checked, and I didn’t use algebra once today.”

The implication of this facile message is that algebra–and by extension, any subject you didn’t like when you were in school–was a pointless exercise, a useless time-waster, a needless instrument of torture that you were forced to endure by a cruel and unfeeling education system.

But nothing could be further from the truth!

In the first place, despite the fact that you didn’t notice it, you used the skills you learned in middle-school and high-school algebra dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times today.  I know, I know… you didn’t use a single x, y, or = sign, you didn’t solve a single quadratic equation, you didn’t follow a single identity equation to its logical conclusion even once. But that’s not the point. Multiple times today, you used the skills you learned in algebra unconsciously, because you were busy thinking about other things. And what you really learned in those tedious algebra classes was how to think.

I discovered this crucial fact in 1976, when I was in university. I had completed by B.Sc. degree in Zoology, and realizing that my degree was worthless in terms of finding gainful employment unless I went on to graduate school, I elected to take a second degree in Education. This entailed a single year at the time, which involved a year of Education classes that I thought were ridiculously easy at the time, and essentially worthless except that they would get me to my goal, i.e., a teaching certificate and a decent job. But after only a couple of days in class, I became fascinated by the process of how kids (and adults, to some degree) learn, and what the benefits of learning are.

To cut to the chase, algebra teaches kids incredibly useful skills that they need to function in a complex society. Among these are such essential skills as higher-order pattern recognition and the most critically important cognitive skill of all, logic.

Algebra teaches us, by recognition and repitition, the process of logical thought. If a, then b, and if b, then c,, means that by logical extension, if a, then c. 

“Oh, yeah, everybody knows that,” the simpleton scoffs.  

Well, everybody does not know that. If they did, we wouldn’t be facing a crisis of unemployment and personal economic disaster all over the country. Huge numbers of Americans are not employable because they don’t employ anything above the most rudimentary logic in their lives. Sure, they understand if a, then b. But that’s about it. “If I don’t get some money, I won’t be able to eat.” Which is about as complicated as the untrained mind can function. The extension of logic that gets someone from Premise A to Conclusion C, let alone Conclusion F, G, or Z, is beyond them. So they can’t perform the higher-order functions necessary in any form of skilled labor.

Logic is essential to the application of the mind to complex processes. People who are incapable of using higher-order logic are cognitive cripples. And since our nation has advanced to being a highly technological civilization, we can’t afford to allow our schools to keep spitting out cognitive cripples and falsely calling them High School Graduates.

If every American knew that, and applied that process to life, we wouldn’t be in the mess America is in today. We would have an ample supply of educated, disciplined thinking people to fill our workforce. And we would have ample jobs to employ them. But we don’t have those things, in no small part due to the fact that the ignorant and evil-minded among us have been crying for 50 years that algebra is a tool of the bourgeoisie, or that algebra is not needed in “real life”, or that it is a tool of the white man to oppress the man of color. So we have dumbed down our schools. We have made algebra “optional”. We have eliminated the most important tool for teaching our children logic that we have in our arsenal. And as a result we have a population led by emotion, by impulse, and by the cult of celebrity… all of which would be impossible to imagine if logic had not ceased to be at the core of our collective consciousness.

This is very dangerous for America.

America is supposed to be a nation of laws, and all of us are equal before the law. And by logical extension, if that principle is undermined, the foundation of America is in jeopardy. It’s simple logic. And we ignore that logic at our peril.

Think about this example: if someone violates National Security law with their private communication, that person is by definition a criminal. If a, then b, right? And if someone violates that law, in fact commits a felony by their action, that person is by definition a felon, right? If b, then c, right? Okay: so if that person violates the law, s/he can and should be prosecuted, convicted, and face all the consequences of being a felon, right?

Sure! You say.  And I agree with you. Even if that person is a good person, who has done a lot of good, if they violate such a serious law, they should face the consequences. And that is exactly what happened to General David Patraeus when he violated our National Security laws.

But Hillary Clinton has by her own admission commited the same violation if not worse, and it seems she will not be held to the same law as General Petraeus was. She is by all logic a felon, pure and simple. And our laws say that a felon cannot vote, and cannot hold public office. Yet she is at this time the front-runner for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency. This defies logic!

And this is very, very dangerous for America.

Disparage algebra at your peril, people.