SCI-ART LAB

Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

                            "If you are scientifically literate the world looks very different to you"

Literate people living in urban areas are scientifically illiterate too! And we want to test this opinion of experts. 

It is a common misconception that people living in urban areas and those who are literate have good knowledge in things scientific. It is nothing but an illusion.

Yes, these people are good at using technology. But they learn it by just observing others! They don't have background knowledge on how to use the things they are using properly. With the result that they either misuse or underuse it. Anyway using technology more than others doesn't mean they are scientifically literate. And we have observed that most of the people in urban areas and literates with a degree are too highly scientifically illiterate!

Moreover, it was observed by volunteers of various science communication bodies working at ground level (like JVV) that people living in urban areas are highly superstitious too and follow several irrational things. 

Just because somebody knows a few scientific terms doesn't mean the person is 'literate scientifically'. Majority of scientists think scientific literacy has an interesting meaning. Let us now see what these scientists say about it.

"Scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity". A scientifically literate person is defined as one who has the capacity to:

* comprehend what counts as science and able to differentiate between science, pseudo-science and their relationship with culture
* understand. experiment and reason the basic scientific facts and their meaning
* ask, find, or determine answers using methods of science to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences
* ability to think critically and scientifically and use scientific knowledge in problem solving
* describe, explain, and predict a wide range of natural as well as technical phenomena scientifically
* read and perfectly understand articles about science in the press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions
* identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed
* evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it
* design scientific inquiry and experiments - describe and appraise scientific investigations and propose ways of addressing questions scientifically
* interpret data and evidence scientifically – analyze and evaluate data, claims and arguments in a variety of representations and draw appropriate scientific conclusions
* pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.
* appreciate it and be comfortable with science
* grasp the risks and benefits of science in an unbiased manner

The ability to engage with science-related issues, and with the ideas of science, as a reflective citizen is a difficult situation for a large number of the people even though they are literates. Most of the people in this country as well as the world are not willing to engage in reasoned discourse about science and technology in the right way.

How many urban literates can do the above mentioned things? Experience in dealing with these people tells us not many Graduates and Postgraduates in even science can follow this path of science!

Attitudes about science can have a significant effect on scientific literacy. Understanding of content and analyzing it lies in the cognitive domain, while attitudes lie in the affective domain ( part of a system that was published in 1965 for identifying, understanding and addressing how people learn).

Thus, negative attitudes, such as fear of science, can act as a filter and an impediment to comprehension and learning goals. Inability to think neutrally and critically about the content makes a person non-scientific.

What is the status of scientific literacy in India’s population? We do not have the numbers! Very sad! In fact, hardly any nationwide effort has been made to gauge the level of scientific literacy among the citizens of India. All that we can do right now is try to estimate the scientific literacy while interacting with people around at various levels.

That analysis doesn't give a very good picture. In fact, even with qualified people, the scientific literacy is poor and people of science find it extremely difficult to explain things scientific to them, make them understand and apply them in their day today lives in the way they should be done!

But there are many who see scientific literacy aligned with ‘knowing science’ and this view is particularly prevalent on the internet. There is a general agreement that the term ‘scientific literacy’ is used somewhat metaphorically. It thus goes beyond any notion of reading and writing. You read about cancer. You try to understand with a limited knowledge you have and try to interpret with a mind that is conditioned by things other than scientific. You get a peculiar sense of what it is - depending on your cognitive biases. But you think you know about the disease fully and feel you are hundred percent right!

But an expert sees things differently from you. And s/he can identify the loopholes in your understanding and knows your analysis and grasp is limited by various factors governing the process and therefore is not perfect! The world presented to many by their perceptions is nothing like scientific reality. That is what we mean by scientific literacy in our societies is very poor.

I will give some examples here. After reading my articles pvc-and-cpvc-pipes-should-not-be-used-for-drinking-water-supply  and can-rust-from-old-drinking-water-pipes-cause-health-problems  let me tell you how different people interpreted the things I mentioned in them.

A graduate in Agriculture sciences told me this when I asked him what he understood about my articles: Toxic chemicals leach into the water only when they are exposed to sunlight. PVC and CPVC pipes are safe when used inside a home and in the shade! Moreover, they are dangerous only when installed on roof tops when they are exposed to direct sun rays. When installed in balconies where slanting says fall on them, they are perfectly okay to carry drinking water!

Now where did all that come from? Did I mention these things in my first article? No! When I asked him to read my article once again he revisited it and told me these things are not there in my article. Then why did he interpret it in the way he did?

He told me he read somewhere that when sunlight shines on the earth at a lower angle (Sun closer to the horizon), the energy of the sunlight is spread over a larger area, and is therefore weaker than if the Sun is higher overhead and the energy is concentrated on a smaller area.

And only these words of mine caught his attention and got registered in his mind  because of his previous exposure to the piece of information mentioned above: Leaching increases with the increase of  temperatures during the day time when the Sun's rays fall on the pipes, if they are exposed to Sun's rays ( strangely, rest of the content in my article didn't pass through his mind!)

He thought this applies to the PVC pipes carrying water and therefore thought and understood in the way he did!

Now let us see how a civil engineer understood my article... PVC and CPVC pipes are okay to use for drinking water supply! Only the synthetic adhesives used to join them are dangerous. Chemists should identify safe adhesives so that we can use cost-effective CPVC pipes without any worry!

Again I had to ask the civil engineer to go through my articles the second time. After he did that I asked him ''Did my article say CPVC pipes are safe to use for drinking water supply?'' 'No' was his reply. 'Then why did he say that they were safe?'

He told me two things influenced his thought process here...(1) the cost effectiveness of CPVC pipes - they are cheaper than iron pipes and (2) he studied in his college about some of the chemicals ( like benzene, acetone, and methanol) I mentioned while talking about the adhesives but never heard about dioxines I mentioned when dealing with CPVC pipes!  So his mind ignored about the harmful effects of the chemicals he is not familiar with!  Very interesting!

The above mentioned people had some exposure to science and technology. But still they couldn't understand my articles in the way they should be understood! And now I am going to tell you how a person who had no science background perceived my articles.

This person is a lawyer. And it is important  to understand  the perception of a person of law because lawyers will have to grasp the forensic scientists' evidence in the courts in the right way to argue their cases and do justice to the innocent people. 

He read my article and asked me, "Both CPVC  and iron pipes are harmful for drinking water supply. So, what should we use? Clay pipes and steel pipes?"

Well his lack of exposure to some science like the above two persons made him follow exactly what I wrote in my first article mentioned above. His perception that CPVC pipes are harmful is right.  But despite  my mentioning that rust is okay when taken in small quantities like with drinking water coming through rusted pipes, he thought such water is not safe! Why?

He told me in his childhood his teachers and parents had told him that when injured by old, rusted nails, people would get  tetanus! 'The rusted pipes look ugly. How can water coming through these rusted pipes be safe?', he asked me.

Image result for rusted pipes/pics

So what the teachers and parents  told him in his childhood had stuck in his mind and influenced his perception! Ugliness of a thing influenced his thoughts and not the facts. Despite my mentioning that a bacterium found in dust is the real culprit here not the rusted pipes, he still couldn't grasp it!

My interaction with people who read my articles and listened to my talks and explanations made me realize even if your explanations are perfectly clear, people don't understand things you mention exactly you want them to be grasped.  Several things interfere with the processing procedure in their minds and people mix up things and perceive in peculiar ways! Scientists and Science communicators, we have a very big problem!

To solve this problem now I am asking people to forget for sometime everything they had learned earlier about the things I am talking/writing about and just concentrate and analyse them with clear and unbiased minds. Can they do it? Well, there is no harm in trying. Let me see whether I can succeed in making them understand perfectly things scientific in this way.

Now we invite people reading this article to honestly evaluate themselves whether they are really scientifically literate or not. Can you do the following things?

A person with Intellectual (Higher Order of Scientific Thinking Skills)...

1. uses concepts of science and of technology, does an informed reflection of ethical values, in solving everyday problems and making responsible decisions in everyday life, including work and leisure;

2. locates, collects, analyses, and evaluates sources of scientific and technological information and uses these sources in solving problems, making decisions, and taking actions;

3. distinguishes between scientific and technological evidence and personal opinion and between reliable and unreliable information;

4. offers explanations of natural phenomena testable for their validity;

5. applies skepticism, careful methods, logical reasoning, and creativity in investigating the observable universe;

6. defends decisions and actions using rational argument based on evidence; and

7. analyses interactions among science, technology and society.

Attitudinal: 8. displays curiosity about the natural and human-made world;

9. values scientific research and technological problem solving;

10. remains open to new evidence and the tentativeness of scientific/technological knowledge; and

11. engages in science/technology for excitement and possible explanations.

Societal: 12. recognizes that science and technology are human endeavours;

13. weighs the benefits/burdens of scientific and technological development;

14. recognizes the strengths and limitations of science and technology for advancing human welfare; and

15. engages in responsible personal and civic actions after weighing the possible consequences of alternative options.

Interdisciplinary: 16. connects science and technology to other human endeavours e.g. history, mathematics, the arts, and the humanities; and

17. considers the political, economic, moral and ethical aspects of science and technology as they relate to personal and global issues.

If the answer is yes, to all the points raised above, you are scientifically literate. If you can't do that even for a single one, you are not. In science, there won't be any "in-betweens". Sorry!

We would like to hear from you if you are a scientifically literate person. Contact us at kkartlabin@gmail.com
We want to see how many of you fit the bill of scientifically literate person. And please mention about your educational qualifications when you get in touch with us.

Look forward to hearing from the real scientific literates...

Some peopel asked me the Question why scientific literacy is relavant. Read here what I told them:  http://kkartlab.in/group/some-science/forum/topics/how-scientific-i...

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We are people  with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society, to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. Making science entertaining and accessible.

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