Many people of all ages find it really hard to comprehend science and research! Others even are afraid of science! In this essay I will first present the causes and unfortunate consequences of this problem; then I will offer some ideas for countering its bad effects.
What causes the problem many adults have with reading and learning about science?
This very widespread difficulty chiefly involves at least 4 different causes.
(1) POOR EDUCATION! Most early instruction about science in schools only involves learning to regurgitate standard answers to standard questions. Science courses in primary and secondary schools are largely superficial, descriptive, and mainly involve memorization. Memory takes the place of learning and understanding, so interrelationships and reasoning are never presented. Hence, schoolchildren don’t learn about research as the basis for knowledge, and mostly forget about science as soon as classes are over.
(2) THE STRANGE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE! Most people are separated from research and scientists by the vocabulary of science. All 3 main branches of science (biology, chemistry, and physics) and each of their subdisciplines use specialized terms. Scientists do speak strange languages!
(3) SCIENCE AND RESEARCH ARE ENTERTAINMENTS! “Science news” is presented by most TV media as “gee-whiz entertainment”. Research is seen as being amusing, and scientists are considered by Hollywood to be weird and funny creatures.
(4) SCIENCE IS MUCH TOO DIFFICULT FOR ME TO EVER UNDERSTAND! Understanding science topics is viewed by many people as being beyond their capabilities. Science has nothing to do with their personal lives, so why waste any time trying to understand it!
Effects of these problems with understanding science!
Each of the foregoing causes directly creates some bad consequences.
(1) POOR EDUCATION! Students soon conclude that science has no role in their personal life. Definitions of key science terms are de-emphasized in school classes, and concepts often remain fuzzy; this readily leads to mistaken beliefs and wrong assumptions.
(2) THE STRANGE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE! Only a handful of special terms needs to be learned for understanding any aspect of science, but this task often makes adults give up even trying to read an article about modern science. This effort is essential, just as one cannot read a story written in a foreign language until some vocabulary first is acquired!
(3) SCIENCE AND RESEARCH ARE ENTERTAINMENTS! This is a very common belief, but nothing could be further from the truth! The fundamental reason why scientific research is so important is usually not explained. Today’s media are badly misleading people!
(4) SCIENCE IS MUCH TOO DIFFICULT FOR ME TO EVER UNDERSTAND! This false belief probably is part of the “dumbing down” of the US public, and serves to intimidate many adults. Even simplified materials on the internet will give a general understanding about science; dealing with math equations and learning lots of new terms are not necessary!
All these consequences reinforce each other! The end result is that science, research, and scientists are totally estranged from people (see: “On the Public Disregard for Science and Research” ), and are viewed as being utterly unimportant by most individuals (see: “What Does Science Matter to Me, an Ordinary Person?” ).
Is there any good analogy to this very general problem for science?
The answer to this question is, “yes”! All the difficulties described above also are found with learning a foreign language! Modern methods and tools for learning languages now are widely available, using recordings, educational media, computer programs for independent study, visits by native speakers, immersion experiences, etc. Some of these will be beneficial for adults trying to read and learn about science. Vocabulary is the first basis for learning any language, including the strange terms in science. Without learning some new words, the languages of science cannot be understood.
If children would be better educated about science, then adults will not see it as being incomprehensible. I have addressed defects in current science education for children earlier (see: “What is Wrong with Science Education for Children?” ). For science classes in primary and secondary schools, a short (30 minutes) illustrated guest presentation by a real live scientist (i.e., a “foreign speaker”) will add much interest and give a more realistic picture of science and research than can any textbook.
Other ideas for dealing with this common problem!
I offer 3 additional recommendations to individuals trying to deal with their problem of being afraid of science and technology. (1) Read first about small aspects and topics. It is not necessary to master some textbook for you to be able to understand brief media reports about science! (2) When starting to read a newspaper article, look up a few definitions and diagrams on the internet; that is very easy and will aid your efforts to understand! (3) Focus your efforts on current events in science, so you can jump beyond all the famous dead scientists and dry facts given in your earlier school textbooks and classes. (4) Seek information about some topic in science and research that concerns you personally (e.g., your health, your wealth, your community (e.g., purity of water supply), your forthcoming vacation (e.g., ecology, plants and animals, local food, etc.), your shoes (e.g., nature of the improved materials used), your nutrition (e.g., good or bad, quantity, hidden chemical poisons), your automobile (e.g., electric cars, driverless vehicles, production of gasoline from oil), etc.
I believe the general problem that it is difficult to teach adults who find science too difficult can be made easier by copying some of the educational practices used to teach foreign languages. Interactive teaching of both children and adults about how science is related to everyday life will help make the learning much easier. Individuals must be encouraged to be courageous and overcome their fear of science; after success, most will agree that understanding science is not impossible, and even can be fun!
In conclusion, you are indeed capable of understanding science, and your life will become more interesting! Give it a try! Don’t put it off until later! Try it today! The very first step often can be the hardest (see: “How Can I Take the First Step to Learn About Science?” )!
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