June 22, 2006

Bridging the Gap; Erudition #7

Here's another great post from Edge: The Third Culture about Physicist Lawrence Krauss and his plea to the Catholic Church to keep Pope John Paul II's convictions about science and evolution whole.

An excerpt from "How Do You Fed-Ex the Pope?":

"I knew The Times was planning to write a story on the letter," Krauss says, "so I knew I had to get it to the Pope before the Times ran the story. I discovered that the Pope had an email address, so that was very helpful. Most of the difficulty in trying to write the hard copy letter was trying to figure out how to address the Pope, both literally and metaphorically what do I call him? And where do I send the Fed-Ex?"

"I found what I thought was the right address, and the right salutation, and I got it off in a Fed-Ex box but I realized I forgot to put the attachment in the Fed-Ex box. I went back to the box and waited for the Fed-Ex driver and had it all made up, new attachments and everything, ready for him, and said, "please let me just put these things in. This is important; it's going to be in the Times tomorrow, it's going to the Pope and it's about evolution".

I quickly found out the Fed-Ex driver was a creationist. We had a long discussion. At the conclusion, I said, "please send it". He replied: "Of course I'll send it. Believe me, I take my job seriously."

Krauss goes on to describe his own difficulties with communicating science to the public, saying:

"This all comes down to the failure of our educational system to provide students with a well-rounded education. I spend a lot of my time when I'm not doing science, talking to people about science, and trying to get them to understand it and be interested in it. One big problem is that most middle school science teachers don't have any science background. Equally serious is the fact that the people that we label as cultural role models, as intellectuals, are proud to proclaim their scientific illiteracy. This is equally important because you've got all these bright young kids who are looking at role models, and the role models often aren't scientists are in fact often anti-scientists. And I think that is a huge problem."

I agree (I shared my own misgivings about communicating science a couple weeks ago). Sometimes it's like pulling teeth. You really want people to understand why something is important, why science is important, how interesting it can be, but it's very difficult, especially if this anti-science has been ingrained in them from elementary school.

What have science classes been like for you in the past?

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