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Why do some people not care about science?

Surveys on public attitudes to science regularly tell us that there are swathes of the public that simply seem to not care about science, despite our best effort to engage them. But perhaps the issue is…

Bored with science. Flickr/manwithbeard

Surveys on public attitudes to science regularly tell us that there are swathes of the public that simply seem to not care about science, despite our best effort to engage them.

But perhaps the issue is not with the public — the issue is with the question.

Recent research argues that there is no such thing as a public at large to engage (or leave disengaged), rather, individuals who cluster around issues to form multiple publics, and even counterpublics who diverge from consensus opinion.

With the Australian Science Communicators national conference kicking off in Brisbane yesterday, it’s a good time to reflect on what we know and don’t know from surveys and polls about science engagement.

A survey says

Another survey result. Flickr/Sean MacEntee

So what do we know? Every few years, a new survey on public attitudes towards science comes out showing remarkably consistent results. One fairly reliable statistic that usually receives attention is the proportion of the public that is interested in or engages with the sciences, and more importantly, the proportion of disengaged.

Arguably, one of the better known is the Eurobarometer which covers numerous aspects of public attitudes to science and technology in Europe (these have come out in 1977, 1990, 1992, 2001, 2005 and 2010).

Over the decades, the Eurobarometer has shown that about 15% of those surveyed have little interest in science. In a US study people do show a little more interest in environmental news and medical discoveries but a little less in generic scientific and technological discoveries.

Australia has not had a comparable long running survey, but a 2010 ANU poll on public opinion about science showed Australia fared better, with disinterest rates varying from 5%-10%.

What topics engaged people. ANU Poll, Public opinion about science

Better result, but it still leaves a feeling that a proportion of the population is disengaged with what is one of the cornerstones of our society.

Similar results were revealed in New Zealand in a commissioned Nielsen poll on Public attitudes to science (2010), where 9% of the population were assessed as disengaged.

Why disengaged?

The vexing question here is: why does the proportion of people disengaged with science, those seemingly uninterested in science, not change despite our continuing effort to bring them into the engaged fold?

This might be cause for a bit of soul-searching among those promoting science engagement.

Both Mathew Kearns and Rod Lambert recently suggested we should reconsider how we talk about science if we really want an engaged public. They also separately argue it is time to embrace debate and disagreement, and accept the inherently social and cultural aspects of science.

Clusters of concern

The answer, as we suggested earlier, is largely borne out of recent research in Science Communication and Science and Technology Studies (STS). It’s the idea that there is no such thing as a single public to engage (or leave disengaged), but rather, individuals who cluster around issues to form a number of smaller publics.

These created publics might well be engaged, but they are engaged with a particular issue or controversy such as coal seam gas, vaccines, climate change or cancer.

A public engaged in science but do they know it? Flickr/Beyond Coal and Gas

Members of this particular publics don’t consider themselves engaged with the topic of science, technology or medicine. They might well care about the science related to the issue, but only because they care about the issue. To that extent they are engaged with science but they may not think of this as an interest in science generally.

Sophisticated pollsters are aware of this problem, but being aware of this intellectual fact doesn’t stop headlines like “Chief scientist Ian Chubb says young people ‘disengaged’ from subjects”. Actually, the chief scientist recognised the problem well in his address to the National Press Club.

“Our younger generations appear to be disinterested - even disengaged from science – even though they use its applications every day: from their food, to their pens, to shoes, to clothes, to smart phones, iPods, televisions and laptops.” Professor Chubb said.

So what do we make of all this? Should we stop polling and surveying and acting as if ready-made publics exist and have attitudes? Not necessarily. But taking some suggestions from conversations happening in politics on the role of polling could be useful. We’ve come up with a few suggestions:

1 - Stop poll-gazing

While long-term trends in general attitudes to science are usefully compared (if Australia can support a continuing survey it will yield some interesting trends over time), polling on attitudes to particular areas of science probably shouldn’t be driving policy. We need to dig deeper into the social contexts where there is disagreement about how science and technology functions.

2 - Consider the “donkey vote” in polling for what it could mean

What does it really mean when someone claims they are “disinterested” in science? An interesting comparison is to the “blank”, “donkey” or “informal” vote in national elections.

In 2012 the French government decided to officially count blank votes as protest votes. Given voting is not compulsory in France, blank votes represent serious dissatisfaction with the election in general as opposed to not turning up.

By contrast, in Australia, the informal vote bundles both discontent and disinterest (as well as possible ignorance of the ballot process or bona fide mistakes) and is not counted. The donkey vote is counted, but as a vote, not as a protest. The challenge for the pollster is to distinguish just what sort of disengagement is at play here: is it disinterest or discontent?

We think this is an analog of discussions about disinterest in science.

3 - What is the goal of the poll?

One trend is to think in maximising terms; to get as many people as possible to tick the “very interested” or “moderately interested” boxes next to the “What is your level of interest in new scientific discoveries” question.

If more people tick those boxes, what does that really mean? Does it suggest better general education or a laissez faire attitude to controversial science, or even general approval?

Let’s talk further about what “attitudes to science” are considered good and what approaches to maximising those attitudes would be.

The conference

It is a heartening indication of the state of the field of research in science communication that we can tolerate a bit more soul-searching about why it is we want everyone to be interested in science.

As the science communicators meet for their 2014 conference this week, the very diversity amongst the participants shows that there is significant commitment to re-examining engagement.

We need to find better tools to do it with, but we also need better ideas with which to guide thinking about science in public.

Joan Leach is President of the Australian Science Communicators whose 2014 national conference is in Brisbane this week

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128 Comments sorted by

  1. Jack Arnold

    Polymath

    No fun in Science, no interest from students, no interest when those students become adults. Then pay peanuts to teachers, get monkeys as teachers. QED.

    The root of the problem is the NSW curriculum changes from the mid-80s when a Newcastle NSW Science Inspector proudly announced that he had taken "all that horrible counting and measuring out of the Science curriculum" because he personally disliked it.

    So, Science became yet another 'colouring in' subject rather than a practical making bangs & smells experience. No fun now in Science.

    Combine this with an on-going political decision to minimise teacher salaries and this outcome is almost guaranteed. Pay peanuts, get monkeys.

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    1. Billy Field

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Jack says the problem is "Then pay peanuts to teachers, get monkeys as teachers"....
      When it's public money, then the "EXCUSE" always seems to be "Money"....well "pay more"...and not management...
      So with 1 million unemployed due to COST of employment you say we need more phd's teaching infants and junior school kids skills reading and basic arithmetic?....clearly lack of early reading & maths skills etc with kids is a "MAJOR problem" if not THE main problem ...
      Do we really think any that CAN & want to teach (& unqualified with two degrees) ought not be be allowed teach? Is it more stupid laws for vested interests? ....
      Conversely anyone no matter how qualified that "can NOT teach well" ought be doing something else...And pronto!!!
      LET SCHOOL HEADS DECIDE not politics!

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    2. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Thoroughly disagree with this. My son is in his second year of high school (public) and has had a ball in science. He's been involved in robocup soccer (they had to build and program the robots) and had a ball at the Space Science Education Centre (http://www.vssec.vic.edu.au/) where they simulated a mission to Mars. I was so jealous!

      The science teachers he has had have been keen, excited and obviously don't worry too much about their pay level because they are passionate about what they are doing. We may be lucky with our school, but it's not all doom and gloom.

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    3. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Hi Colin, your son is lucky and likely in a metro area.

      Come to regional areas where many subjects are taught by the backbone of NSW Education Department, the multi-skilled casual teachers, who frequently have little or no pre-teaching Science experience.

      However, you have overlooked the historical fact that caused the underlying problem in Science.

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    4. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Wrong, Ballarat. But they are lucky (or maybe planned it that way) that the Earth Ed Centre is just over the road (http://earthed.vic.edu.au/). It was funded by a Victorian Government Science and Mathematics Initiative. Other centres are:

      Quantum Victoria (http://www.quantumvictoria.vic.edu.au/)

      Gene Technology Access Centre (http://www.gtac.edu.au/site/home.html)

      Victorian Space Science Education Centre (http://www.vssec.vic.edu.au/)

      Ecolinc (http://www.ecolinc.vic.edu.au/)

      Biolab (http://www.biolab.vic.edu.au/)

      Any school can use their facilities, and they also run programs at external sites. A strong focus is about providing skills and inspiration to the teachers, as well as the students.

      They've only been going since funding was announced in 2009, so it may be too soon to see what impact they've had.

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    5. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Well done, Colin. Keep up your parenting skills. The home has an enormous impact on young minds.

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    6. Sarah Glass
      Sarah Glass is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired scientist/technologist

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      We need teachers who are GOOD at teaching, passionate about what they do and great with the age group they teach. They may or may not have high qualification, teaching is a gift.

      There are many people who fit that category, but need to do something else in order to support their family. It is not that they don't want to teach.

      If you look at a country like Finland, where teachers are on a similar salary scale to lawyers, and doctors, the system is far better, pupils are better engaged and the whole experience is good for all concerned.

      I can never understand why Australia seems to blindly follow the US, rather than looking around the world and copying best practice. This goes across the board, not just education!

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    7. Tony Grant

      Student

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Agree 100%. One of my boys is doing his honours year in Physics at the University of Sydney...loved his public school and the teachers!

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    8. Tony Grant

      Student

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      We live on the central coast (regional) we can't complain. In the science department there were two with PhD's.

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    9. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Hi Colin, it appears NSW remains dragging its feet (as usual).

      About five generations of students have suffered under the 80s 'reformed Science syllabus' that took much of the practical work out of the laboratory based subject.

      Your recently established (2009) centres are an attempt to rectify the damage done by the 80s 'reformed Science syllabus'.

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    10. Craig Read

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      "teaching is a gift"

      I disagree. Like anything else, it's a skill. You may have personality traits that make it easier for you. But even those traits can be learned, exercised and nurtured.

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    11. Sarah Glass
      Sarah Glass is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired scientist/technologist

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      I agree Craig that ones talent can be enhanced by information, learning and mentoring etc., but I firmly believe that teaching (along with many other things) is a gift or talent that some people have and others don't.

      It matters not how clever you are, if you can not impart that wisdom, you cannot teach. Also, you may not be so brilliant, but you may be passionate and inspirational.

      We focus way too much on "information", "careers", "status" and so on and not nearly enough on passion and talent. There are many passionate and talented people who simply can't afford to teach and that is a tragedy.

      I feel strongly that this applies to many other areas too, it is one of the things so wrong with our modern society.

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    12. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Teaching is not a gift … many years of learning and training. Teachers in Finland are highly .. highly educated and trained.

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    13. Sarah Glass
      Sarah Glass is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired scientist/technologist

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      I am not suggesting for a minute that there is no training or education involved. But we have all had terrible, but well qualified teachers. One of my worst was a Phd and not a single person passed his subject.

      It is a talent just like being a musician or artist, manager or parent, some are inherently good and others are not. Some can improve with learning, others don't.

      My point is that we focus so much on the qualifications and so little on the aptitude. People with aptitude for teaching should be encouraged to take up the career and not discouraged by poor pay.

      Many of my daughters teachers were less than average, less than committed and hopeless at communicating - some were fantastic, inspirational and fun. Guess which subjects everyone loved and did well in?????

      They were all trained btw..

      I am sorry that you don't think that those amazing inspirational teachers are gifted, but I certainly do.

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    14. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      In some societies (for example, our aborigines) and contexts (for example, apprenticeships), older people pass on knowledge to younger people in all sorts of (informal) ways. The old saying "Those that can do, those that can't teach" has been replaced by "Those that have never done, are taught to teach what they have never done".
      A bit extreme, but the system of taking young people out of secondary schools straight into universities and then back into primary schools (taking the place of parents - "in loco parentis") or secondary school (expecting to be life / career mentors) takes no account of the potential of mature age people to be effective teachers and mentors. The problem with using these valuable resources today is that one must have three or four years of university study (at least $150,000 in lost income) to get the theoretical qualifications to get through the school gate.

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    15. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Colin,
      I was recruited by South Australia's Education Department and was standing in front of 5 classes of 30 or so juveniles in a week or so, without any teacher training / qualifications at all. I used to stand at the door as the kids filed in and decide what to teach them. Sometimes worked, sometimes not.

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    16. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Robert it scares the life out of me to imagine that you had to "decide what to teach them" as the kids filed in. What school was that? What in heaven's name was the Faculty Head of that subject doing prior to you being allocated to that school? Where was the curriculum document … lesson plans … assessments … remedial work, etc before you even stepped into the classroom?
      That it "sometimes worked, sometimes not" is playing Russian roulette with students' learning. Wow!!! Shiver… shudder!!!

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    17. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Raine, I had a Ph.D in Chemistry, and had just returned from a year in France doing post-doctoral research, after working as Quality Control Chemist in Chrysler's engine manufacturing plant.
      I ended up teaching Matriculation Chemistry (and my students ended with the best averages of all the classes, including those of the Chemistry Senior Teachers), General Science, remedial Maths, English, French, Drama, Sex Education, and I had a "home group" of students for which I was responsible.
      In 1975…

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    18. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      I certainly was not expecting a cv from you, Robert. It's your very own words that elicited my shock ." I used to stand at the door as the kids filed in and decide what to teach them. Sometimes worked, sometimes not".
      Thanks for your lengthy explanation, though. … shiver.. shudder no more. Phew!!

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    19. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Raine, apart from blowing my own trumpet, I was trying to show that it is possible to have very qualified and experienced people who could be really excellent / atrocious teachers depending on the environment / support structures in place.
      As I said elsewhere, recruiting and training young people to become teachers is not without problems. In my case, I left teaching after a few years by parlaying my self-taught computing skills into a much better paid and challenging career in IT. I read somewhere that the resignation rates of experienced teachers to go to "better" jobs is quite high. Teaching can actually be a rather lonely and stressful job. When you "click" with a class of eager children it is great - but this does not always happen.

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    20. Donald Runcie

      retired

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Sarah, a point about Finland is that it has a much more homogeneous population than Australia. Would not this make it easier for teachers of any standard to get concepts across to their students? I do agree that teachers here should receive a more adequate .salary based on competence rather than years on the job.

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    21. Albert Rogers

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      If you are really good at presenting things, illustrating things, and persuading people to like them, teaching, alas, is not where you will be most financially appreciated. They want you in the advertising industry, which of course is essentially parasitic.

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    22. Albert Rogers

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Hi Colin I was lucky too, in a County Grammar School. The I taght there for three years, but was lured away by the fascination of computers- in the 1960s.

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    23. Cate Mack

      Retired teacher/now carer/traveller/thinker

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      Possessing a PhD does not a great teacher make.
      There were two where I last taught and yes, they were very knowledgable in their fields, however, one could not engage his students who ran amok, while the other was dull as dishwater with no flair for communication.

      The best teachers didn't talk too much (a huge mistake I reckon - just watch the students' eyes glaze over...), that have a particular clear point to teach and several methods with which to explain it. That way, each child picks up the point from his/her own angle (or learning style, as it is annoyingly referred to these days).

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  2. Geoff Clark

    Senior Lecturer at University of Tasmania, School of Architecture and Design

    I have to confess to being somewhat perplexed as to why everyone has to be 'engaged' with science. If you could see me now you would realise that I am utterly disengaged with fashion, but you would be hard pressed to convince me that that makes me somehow in need of salvation.

    That said, I can have an opinion on fashion - 'wearing your trousers around you buttocks with your underwear pulled up under your armpits is one of the most moronic 'fashion' behaviours I have eve seen'...but I still don't…

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    1. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Geoff Clark

      The frog in a pond thinks that the whole world is the pond and misses to explore the magnificent world beyond the pond.
      Scientific methodology gave birth to critical thinking. We talk about myopic views!!

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    2. Jeff Payne

      PhD in Political Science and Masters in Public Policy

      In reply to Geoff Clark

      I agree with your questioning of the underlying assumption of this article, Geoff, that everyone should be interested in 'science'. It is to claim that everyone needs to think like a scientist. There is an almost religious zealous to those who advocate the need to understand science, to think like a scientist. As Hegel observed, there is kind of conservatisms to modern scientific method which expresses itself as a kind techno-think. The danger of this thinking, as observed by Heidegger, is that it…

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    3. Sarah Glass
      Sarah Glass is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired scientist/technologist

      In reply to Geoff Clark

      It is hard to make any sort of judgement about a subject without at least an underlying understanding of the topic. I am not talking a degree in science, but it is disappointing in a country where everyone is reasonably educated, that so many people have so little idea about some scientific issues upon which the species survival may depend, and are happy to take the word of celebrities/politicians who have no understanding either.

      It is a hard uphill road to educate the masses me thinks!!!

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    4. Jeff Payne

      PhD in Political Science and Masters in Public Policy

      In reply to Geoff Clark

      I agree with you Sarah. But I don't think becoming a practitioner necessarily equips you with the appropriate tools to understanding the nature of science. Would you, for example, rely on the priesthood when considering the underlying features of Christianity? I would not!

      The important thing is to identify the limits science. Indeed, I believe that we need to clearly distinguish between science, technology and ethics. Science can answer questions of fact. Is the climate changing? What are the…

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    5. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Geoff Clark

      Agree, Sarah. But to teach effectively and contribute to a better understanding of the principles and applications of all things around us (science), the teacher needs to be well qualified in the subject matter. Enthusiasm and dedication can carry us only that far.
      That we are obsessed with celebrities and politicians who themselves are devoid of scientific literacy is a function of our media hosts and their attempts to dumb down knowledge for the masses.

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    6. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Geoff Clark

      I couldn't agree more Geoff. I often wonder why some people don't care about History, or Mathematics, or whatever. But what made me really nervous was this article's reliance on "recent research in Science and Technology Studies (STS)". I was while I was at uni, that Science and Technology Studies (STS) became fashionable, which started all this suspicion of Science in the first place. Remember STS is not actual Physical/Life Sciences, but an Arts faculty subject, which 'deconstructs science discourses, revealing epistemological privileges, which cause misogyny, racism, xenophobia, classism and stuff". It was STS which prompted the Sokal Hoax as a pro-Science hoax against the STS crowd,

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    7. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Geoff Clark

      Actually Raine, critical thinking was over 2,000 years old when scientific methodology was born.

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    8. Sarah Glass
      Sarah Glass is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired scientist/technologist

      In reply to Geoff Clark

      Well in answer to both Raine (lovely name!) and Jeff. I think sound knowledge of ones subject is indeed a prerequisite for any teacher, no matter the subject.

      My own learning experience (a long time ago), was that an inspirational science teacher found me (who had an enquiring mind) and amazed me with the wonders of the Universe. It was not what my parents wanted at all, and maybe it wasn't even my main talent (I should have been a musician!!). But this wonderful teacher sent me off on a quest…

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    9. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Geoff Clark

      Whilst it may be true that science can provide credible answers to myriad extant questions not already put to bed, we must not simply infer from this that someone [anyone] who professes to be a 'scientist' has said answers to anything at all. At best they can only provide answers which may be considered as being acceptable [or not acceptable] at that particular point in time.

      "We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning…

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  3. Robert Molyneux

    Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

    Surveying people about whether they "care" about "science" seems to be rather abstruse. Equally valid would be surveys about whether they care about "mathematics" or "engineering" or "information technology" or "language". In other words, the foundations of modern technological societies are implicit in a lot of domains - whether you care / know about them is another matter.
    "Caring about the environment" could involve all sorts of dimensions. For example the Coal Seam Gas issues include geo-engineering…

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  4. Billy Field

    logged in via Facebook

    Is it really "disinterest" or is it kids get "left behind" being pushed through grades at school? We ought consider having a "unit based" school system not "age based" i.e. students progress only through passing through each incremental step of learning.
    We ought develop computer programs that teach ....can be FAR clearer, BETTER, easily reviewable..& more easier to understand lessons can be given with :quality control" ...ALSO the computer is always available to teach AND infinitely patient…

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    1. Billy Field

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Billy Field

      make that "more easily understandable" lessons....if thats event right also, Ha!

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    2. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Billy Field

      "...and more, more easily understood lessons..." would be more or less easily bl_under'stood Billy. ;^)

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    3. Tom Fisher

      Editor and Proofreader

      In reply to Billy Field

      We tried unit-based, outcomes-based curriculum consistent with post-compulsory learning, Billy.

      It was canned by the teachers unions because it was more work for them.

      Since then schools are being funded and encouraged toward independence.

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  5. Cate Mack

    Retired teacher/now carer/traveller/thinker

    Interest in science began for me as a child and I didn't know it was science.

    I wanted to know the how and why of everyday things I saw. e.g., filling milk bottles with differing levels of water to get different pitch when struck (age 6,7), seeing seeds with wings twirl to the ground, mixing Ajax with liquid medicine (both white) and getting blue - chemical reaction indicator.

    Always interested; some questions answered by my father - then years later in high school, with ok teachers to exceptional ones, answers found and always interested. It's part of one's make-up, like fascination with sport!

    So in my humble opinion, having thought about this topic, spoken to friends and family over the years, I think an enquiring mind is essential in the first place.

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    1. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Cate Mack

      "Interest in science began for me as a child and I didn't know it was science".
      Well said, Cate. That is exactly what science is … all about us and the universe. A collection of knowledge about what, how, why things are the way they are about us and our near and distant environments. Science is about the cultivation of an enquiring mind. It starts in the home.

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    2. Cate Mack

      Retired teacher/now carer/traveller/thinker

      In reply to Cate Mack

      Glad you see my very simple point amid all these erudite comments, Raine!

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  6. rory robertson

    logged in via email @gmail.com

    Joan and Fabien,

    Here's an important problem. The Group of Eight promotes itself as devoted to excellence in research yet it turns out that there is no competent quality control when it matters. The Go8 receives hundreds of millions - even billions - of dollars worth of funding from taxpayers yet it does not retract extraordinary faulty "peer reviewed" research its overconfident scientists self-publish on the formal scientific record; nor does it correct obvious false information they pump into important public debates. In my opinion, everyday people are right to lack confidence in Go8 science: http://www.australianparadox.com/pdf/quickquizresearch.pdf

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  7. Joy RIngrose

    Retired Maths/Science teacher

    The 2010 ANU poll shown here indicates that people are far less interested in hearing about sport than they are about science issues, yet on the ABC TV news up to 50% of the news bulletin is devoted to sport. Unfortunately, for many years, because industry competes for people competent in physics and chemistry, many people have been trained to teach science who never did applied science at secondary level. If we want analytical thinkers teaching our children science then as a society we need to pay their university fees and bond them to teach for several years afterwards. I was lucky that this was the case when I trained, and many rigorous teachers, including myself, stayed in the system after being bonded to teach for 3 years.

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  8. John Smithton

    Consultant

    Hang on, when I looked at the 2010 ANU graph, people were more interested in science than is music, politics, sports and films. And when we look at this list of issues, the top three iissues all relate to science.

    I agree the science literacy is an important question, and Australia will pay a price if we lack this. I would also say the same about statistical literature (while noting that statistics is a branch of science) , and being able to draw a reasonable interpretation from data.

    Which in this case is that Australians appear to be much more interested in science than in politics, sport, films and music. Sounds like a reason to celebrate to me... or at least a reason to reconsider some parts of this article.

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  9. Chris Buchli

    Music Tutor

    I don't think everyone needs to care about science. I do care, but if my neighbours don't, then so what? Humanity is living off the inventions/discoveries of relatively few people (in contrast to the number of people who ever existed), and things go along okay.

    Now, if everybody did care about science, in the sense that they were engaged in it, presumably not at the expense of other things, then the world would surely be a better place. But the world will get along just fine without everybody caring about science.

    Contrast this with the view that everybody should care about farming. We all eat, so it seems we should care. But if I don't care about farming while others do, there will still be enough food for everybody.

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    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Chris Buchli

      Many times people do in fact know that which they say they don't know. It's just that they, entirely of their own volition, delude themselves in believing that they don't know this simple fact and many another besides. Just think of all the people who can always remember to utter word-perfect, "I forget". How is it that these people never forget to say those two words, when if they did actually forget how to say them, then they'd be well on the way in assisting themselves to recall exactly what it…

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    2. Tom Fisher

      Editor and Proofreader

      In reply to Chris Buchli

      When I was raising kids, with one of them and his mates in PEAC and since then graduating with Honours in their various fields, I refused to answer their questions.

      I'd say, no you already know the answer, which with such a bright bunch turned into a heck of a lot of fun.

      Quickly, through logic and deduction, the answer would simply pop out and I'd say, "Ha! There! I said you knew the answer already!"

      "If you didn't know the answer; if it wasn't already inside your head, where did it come from?"

      Except, it doesn't work unless they've been out in the world making their own observations, their growing minds sucking up information like sponges.

      A lesson on the importance of teaching children the basics of enquiry, not giving them 'the answer' (what's the question?) but making them work for it.

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    3. Chris Buchli

      Music Tutor

      In reply to Tom Fisher

      I agree, Tom. I would like to clarify that when I say it doesn't matter if everyone is engaged with science I mean that it doesn't matter if everybody is a scientist, in the professional sense.

      Anyone who is anyone should be equipped to engage in an enquiry into their world. Although, I'd suggest this probably shouldn't be done by having people find the answers within themselves as often these answers are completely fallacious. I do see your point about encouraging people to think for themselves though.

      In this case, enquiry doesn't make you a scientist - it's something that scientists do. It's something everyone should do, it's just that scientists do it for a living. Everyone has something to learn from the scientific method but this doesn't mean that everybody needs to 'engage' with science. Science is not the scientific method; science uses the scientific method.

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  10. Gerald Frape

    Lecturer, Institute of Environmental Studies at UNSW Australia

    Relate firstly to the 'issue' that matters to different publics rather than the generic 'science'. Having achieved resonance with the public about the 'issue' then relate it to 'science'.

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  11. John Crest

    logged in via email @live.com.au

    What proportion of people are disengaged in <insert any topic>?

    Without knowing the answer to that question, understanding that for science it's about 15% is not really helpful (ie, is that "about right" cf topic X?)

    Further, to what extent does it even matter that 15% are disengaged? Do these people become (in any meaningful or practical way), "anti-science?

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  12. david menkes

    associate professor

    Promoting public interest science is a laudable goal, but it's important to distinguish declared interest from real engagement with scientific principles --notably including openness to results that may challenge or discredit a favoured hypothesis. The key problem, in my view, is that human nature often gets in the way, for example when cherry-picked 'scientific' results are used to justify or buttress prior beliefs. Voltaire put this rather well:
    “The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.”

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  13. Andrew Sweeney

    Company Director

    An interest in science requires an intelligence well above average. Most people are of average intelligence or slightly above, by statistical definition. Therefore most people don't have the major requirement to be interested in science.

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    1. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Andrew Sweeney

      Above average intelligence is not needed. It may be helpful in becoming a successful scientist, but is not necessary to be interested in science. Curiosity is a more important trait, as is a willingness to learn (no matter what level of "smart" you're at).

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    2. Daniel Verberne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Andrew Sweeney

      Hugely agree with you Colin. I'm of average intelligence, but curiosity is a strong motivator to seek out knowledge - I think its a valuable attribute.

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    3. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Andrew Sweeney

      Andrew it does not require much to understand or acknowledge that Creationism is not science, that the earth is not flat, that we have days and nights and seasons due to the spinning and rotation of the earth around the sun. The use of levers, the flow of electricity and its uses, the impact of electro-magnetic fields, the magnetic properties of magnets and speed travel, the absence of light as darkness, how our senses work, that excessive carbon dioxide is causing green-house effect, how musicians…

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    4. Michael Field

      logged in via email @gmail.com

      In reply to Andrew Sweeney

      I don't agree that science requires 'more than average intelligence' (whatever that is) any more than any other field. In fact this perception is a real problem for the dissemination of scientific understanding because non scientists can see scientists making exaggerated claims and acting for special interest groups every day of the week. Just like the rest of us they can suddenly appear very unintelligent when they put one foot outside their own very specific area of expertise.

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    5. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Andrew Sweeney

      Replace "science" with "rationalism" and "objectivity" - average people are perfectly capable of being rational and objective at least some of the time. And they pick up on "scientists" straying outside their specific area of expertise .not because they know the "science" / opinion is wrong, but because they have a broad understanding of rational and objective / evidence-based argument. Or at least, their schools should have prepared them to do so - and that nice Mr Murdoch is very keen to help too.

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    6. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Andrew Sweeney

      Daniel, you may be interested in "The Dunning-Kruger effect".

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

      Too often, Charles Darwin is misquoted when many of those who attempt quoting his "gem" omit the word "does", which gives his quote an entirely different meaning. It never "does" any good to omit "does" because Darwin actually said:

      "Ignorance more often begets confidence than does knowledge."

      Trying to measure [that's actually measure it, not just acknowledge it…

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  14. Mark Skinner

    logged in via Facebook

    90% to 95% interest in science seems pretty good.

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  15. Geoffrey Sherrington

    Surveyor

    Keep repeating "It's the data we need, not the message".

    Many people have come to mistrust spin put on scientific data.
    Specialists seek the original data, above the interpreted data.
    There is a whole industry communicating the science and another discussing the suitability of 'adjustments' to the raw data/science. They are mostly superfluous.

    Some people who care about science are dissuaded from contributing to its advancement. Of course their interest will lessen.

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  16. john tons

    retired redundant

    As the article states the problem is with the nature of the question. I venture to suggest that scientists themselves are not especially engaged in areas outside of their immediate area of interest or expertise. It would be worthwhile to develop a survey that seeks to determine people's level of understanding about science and technology - this could be in the form of say 20 questions straddling the various science disciplines. Each question to be followed up with a question asking whether or not people regularly read articles dealing with that particular topic. I suspect that we will discover that people are far more engaged then people seem to think.

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  17. Peter Boyd Lane

    geologist

    of more concern are those people who actively denigrate science and scientists, not because they understand the process yet disagree with the findings, but do so based on politics. I have quite a few conservative "friends" who fit into this category (however conservatism is not prerequisite) and who are the biggest chest thumpers in deriding climate change yet refuse point blank to look at the science. Without even considering it, one simply said it was crap.

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    1. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Peter Boyd Lane

      To be fully participating and fully engaging in this modern world a reasonable understanding of scientific knowledge is necessary.
      A professor in literature recently bought a "magnificent house" at an affordable cost, unaware of the enormous health impact (radiation) he was putting his young family; the house was very very close to a massive electric power grid. Scientific literacy?

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    2. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to Peter Boyd Lane

      Oh so true!!!!!

      I have one who runs around with a 'letter to the Telegraph'! Which to his mind refutes everything pro climate change. Another who flashes a copy of a newspaper pic of floods in Brisbane in the 1890's.
      Proof positive that climate change is 'crap'!

      Akin to the situation in the States where 'creationism' is still widely taught

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    3. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Peter Boyd Lane

      Not many people in Australia would admit to being friends with Jud.. Gillard, either Jack. '
      Let's let sleeping dogs lie … and get back to the topic at hand.

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    4. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Peter Boyd Lane

      Truth be told Raine, if only Abbott could bring himself to lie like a sleeping dog...and not be seen as having but Left a lot of faithful mutt_erings in his wake.

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    5. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Peter Boyd Lane

      Hmm .. funny!!
      I have just began to like him … let me enjoy this nirvana for a while … be kind!! Shhhh.

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  18. Janeen Harris

    chef

    5% to 10% of people being disinterested in science is not a problem, unless those people are running the parliament as they are at the moment.

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  19. Grant Preller

    logged in via Facebook

    I don't think it is so much 'disinterest' but rather a lack of confidence by the public with the constant bombardment of sensational media reports supported by unsubstantiated scientific theory. 'Global warming' aka 'climate change' is one classic example of conflicting theory distributed through mass media where reports are riddled with exaggeration and doomsday prophesy that many people today simply ignore as background noise.

    Is climate change a problem? Yes...
    Does anyone seem to know what…

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Grant Preller

      It helps if you can distinguih between science and propaganda. Undeniably, both make a 'noise' but, if you are able to make that distinction, you won't end up as confused as you seem to be.

      It's not really that hard - the first step for ther layperson is to find reputable and reliable sources.

      For example, if you want a clear picture on the reality of climate change and how things are unfolding, all you need to do is pick one or two good sources, perhaps:
      1. The World Meteorlogical Organisation…

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  20. Chris Ansted
    Chris Ansted is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired

    I'm surprised and heartened by the ANU survey results relating to Australia. Specifically, it's good to see interest in science is higher than that in sport, film and music, not that these topics are without importance, but the relative importance given science is good to see.
    A minor point of English usage: do the authors (and Ian Chubb for that matter) mean disinterested or uninterested when they use the former above?

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Chris Ansted

      I think we lost the battle for 'disinterested' some time ago, Chris. Fortunately, English having so huge a lexicon, we can still fall back on 'impartial'.

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  21. Don Aitkin

    writer, speaker and teacher

    It would be lovely if the writer could remember that lack of interest is not a characteristic of 'disinterested' people (those who have no stake in the issue) but of 'uninterested' people.

    Having got that piece of pedantry off my chest, I join with those who wonder why it is important that people generally are interested in science. Quite a substantial proportion of citizens are not much interested in politics and government, others don't care about sport or fashion or literature or the theatre. We can't be interested in everything!

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  22. Raine S Ferdinands

    Education at Education

    "Science is a pure, disinterested exploration of nature"R Jones.
    The general public has a misconception about Science; that it is a nerdy subject, that it is about laboratories, experiments, schools and universities. This is where scientists and bodies associated with science have let us all down. Scientists by and large are poor communicators and often shy away from the media and public arenas; unlike our sportsmen/women. Our media hosts (like the general public) are science shy and sport crazy…

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    1. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      "Science is a pure, disinterested exploration of nature"R Jones.

      Disinterested? Never. I got into science because I was fascinated, interested, curious etc. You have to be interested in what you are doing and why, or else it becomes repetitive tedium, which is what puts people off science.

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    2. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      "Disinterested" means unbiased / not caring / not affected...
      "Uninterested" means not interested / bored / could not care less...
      Whoever R Jones is, he does not understand English nor Science.

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    3. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Depends entirely on when R Jones made the quote (and I can't find any reference). Disinterested was once commonly interpreted as "unbiased", but is now commonly interpreted as "uninterested". Word meanings change over time, so a date for R Jones quote would be helpful. Either that or he (?) was a language purist.

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    4. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Ah… well .. point taken, mate. Like the original term "lucky country" by Horne … yes .. everyday casual usage can cloud original meaning.

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    5. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Colin, very true - your link shows the evolution (now there's a word!) of the meaning. However, I think your (and my) experience of science shows that regardless of the meaning-shift, he is wrong. You and I (and I use these pronouns advisedly, Reine!) discovered the sheer joy of finding out about our natural world, and even sometimes influencing it, or discovering it has shaped our (your and my) ends, as Shakespeare might say.

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    6. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      A famous Professor of Physics (Uni of Minnesota, USA) and author of 'Physics as Metaphor' and 'Physics for the rest of us'. He is a super … fabulous scientist and author of several other books. We are mere mortals in relation to Roger S. Jones, Robert. Some of us merely love to correct spellings and pronouns…. no concept of big ideas. LOL

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    7. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Raine, your first sentence has no verb. Verbs are even more important than pronouns usually.
      I think we are all mere mortals, especially Roger S Jones who died in April 2011. Have you read his books?. They seem to have been rather poorly reviewed on Amazon, although I note he was well received as a teacher in his university.

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    8. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      I simply asked if you had actually read his books? The extracts I read seemed a bit turgid.

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  23. George Sawyer

    logged in via Facebook

    A lack of interest/science facts allows you to feel life instead of knowing life.

    Unfortunately, a portion of the populace carries this ignorance into the voting booth and saddles the rest of us with their erroneous opinions of reality.

    I don't care to hear your feelings on global warming....especially since they are going to kill us all.

    Thanks a lot!

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    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to George Sawyer

      George, have you ever felt that some people, for the life of them, just can't resist giving you a knowing look?

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  24. Daniel Verberne

    logged in via Facebook

    My experience, working in the IT industry is that many people have an interest in science, but there is also a worryingly-high respect for religious beliefs and other claims I'd consider at best, pseudoscientific.

    Part of the problem comes back to a misunderstanding of how the scientific method proceeds and what constitutes 'evidence' - couple that with the individuals' childhood with a particular religious faith and voila, a narrowing of the topics they are willing or comfortable to apply scientific thinking to.

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    1. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Daniel Verberne

      Check the number of people who believe that dinosaurs and mankind were contemporaneous. Check the number of "virgin births" that occur in the USA every year. Check Richard Dawkins tirades against children being subjected to religious hocus pocus.
      BTW - the chart in the article shows that really there is nothing to worry about. People are interested and engaged in all sorts of mind-expanding topics, and could not care much about sport!

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Daniel Verberne

      Well, they SAY they are (you would, wouldn't you?) but I wonder how far that is carried out in practice...

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  25. Tony Grant

    Student

    They say it pays to advertise...the media do a wonderful job for "vested interests"...Murdoch et al on anything that isn't business friendly? From "shock jocks' to promotion of "anti" everything, the Abbott lead opposition and now government are the reasons why "science" is considered...questionable and unreliable!

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  26. marioPS

    logged in via Twitter

    This article is asking the wrong question, measuring the wrong metric, and ignoring the obvious.

    When I had 3 pre-teenage children living at home (with the wife & I), if you commissioned a survey entitled "Do you care about vaccination", you would have had over 50% of those surveyed not only not interested, but violently opposed!

    It's up to the adults in charge to look at, understand and 'care' about the science. While we can empathise with those not mature, educated and/or rational enough…

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    1. marioPS

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to marioPS

      erm - that was meant to read 'the moon is made of cheese' ... or maybe 'the moon is mad at cheese'?

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    2. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to marioPS

      "with the wife & I" should be "with the wife and me" or "me and my wife" or "me and the wife".

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    3. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to marioPS

      O' don't be pedantic, Robert. marioPS's original statement is correct: "wife and I". NEVER never "me and my wife or me and the wife". The latter is colloquial spoken language. Written is always "my wife and I, my friend and I (not me).
      It is utterly distasteful and rude to correct grammar here when it is all about simple communication of ideas. If you do wish to correct, at least be knowledgable with your own grammar.

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    4. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to marioPS

      "with the wife & I" should be "with the wife and me" or "me and my wife" or "me and the wife".

      Not "me and the old cheese"?

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    5. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to marioPS

      Sorry Raine / Education, but as you ought to know, the subject of a verb is as per "My wife and I did something" or "I and the wife did something" - very simple - leave out "the wife" and you get "I did something" - correct English.
      The object of a verb is as per "Someone did something to my wife and me" - leave out "my wife" and you get "someone did something to me" - again, correct English.
      The aversion to the correct use of "I" is simply because some people think it shows some sort of (non-U) ego-centrism. As an English teacher years ago, I remember the delicate problem of teaching children that "youse" - as in Jeff Fenech's famous call "I love youse all" - was not, in fact, correct English even if their parents insisted it was. A related problem was to teach them that "going to the bathroom" (ie, pissing and shitting) could lead to someone taking the piss!

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    6. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education at Education

      In reply to marioPS

      My friend and I watched a movie. Even Judge Judy corrects this often. All my life my language teachers insisted on this. In England this was the norm. The Cockneys spoke "me and my wife". Spoken English without grammar is OK but I still cling to "my wife and I" .. nothing to do with egos, Robert. And you should stop chastising people for expressing a point in any way they feel comfortable. A little knowledge can be dangerous. A prof of English who is within my household agrees with me … "my wife and I" mate. Gee … what about spell check? want to point that out, too. LOL

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    7. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to marioPS

      A movie was watched by a friend and me. Cockneys don't say "me and my wife" - they say "me and me missus". Spoken English without grammar is OK, provided that everyone can get pissed and take the piss out of each other. "Ego" is not the same as ego-centrism. Admit it - you feel a little frisson of naughtiness when you use "I" correctly in case people think you are being conceited / self-centered.
      A problem with allowing grammatical errors to be published uncorrected is (a) it reveals that sometimes…

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  27. David Pearn

    Follower

    The fundamental problem, to me, is the fact that the publishing industry is the humanities heartland.
    There are no engaging science writers in the general media compared to those in 'social' media, obsessed with personality award ceremonies, general entertainment gossip, politics and business, including sport which is now all about money.
    Publishers appear to think that only embarrassingly boring 'geeks' would want to read a science based story even if the planet is living on borrowed time.

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    1. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to David Pearn

      "If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn".

      Traditional publishing (newspapers, magazines, journals, books) is only one way to reach an audience now. Try searching for science blogs (eg http://scienceblogs.com/) on the web and be prepared to spend a long time scanning them all. One of the more popular pages is IFLS (I F***ing Love Science). Their Facebook page has over 10 million likes. They're snippets of stuff, rather than deep and meaningful texts, but there are often links for the curious to follow.

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  28. Sue Ieraci

    Public hospital clinician

    The results of the 2010 ANU poll are interesting - they suggest that Aussies may not be disengaged from science in the real world.

    Are other interests in society using the same data and lamenting: ''Why are so many more people interested in health breakthroughs, environmental issues and technology than music or politics?''

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  29. June Fitzsimmonds

    logged in via Facebook

    I have a question. About the time when Little Bush was President he was having a battle over whether all teachers should only teach content that was experimentally based. At the time I think he lost the argument with the Unis. I was doing my degree in psychology at the time (as a mature student). Later after doing a MAPS I was doing sessional tutoring. I decided that I would like to do another Masters to improve my teaching. I was only taught one thing that was experimentally based and I gave up.

    So. How much is the theory of education experimentally based now and might this be the problem?

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    1. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to June Fitzsimmonds

      June, one name - Piaget.
      A wonderful explanation of the differences between children, juveniles and adults. Easily demonstrated experimentally by parents and teachers with their children to see how they mature / developed, if ever.
      I once read a story to a class of 13 years olds - I think it was a parable about altruism / hypocrisy where one party (a fox?) was tricking another (a rabbit?) with some sly words - bit like Abbott before / after the election, but I digress.
      Anyway, the class then debated the meaning of the fox's words and the story. About half were "concrete thinkers" (took the fox at his word) and the other half were "lateral thinkers" (could see behind the lies / spin / spiel) The two sides looked at each other as though they had encountered aliens. BTW "Lateral" is not the right term. Google Piaget for a full / better explanation

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    2. Michael Hay

      retired

      In reply to June Fitzsimmonds

      I am off on a different tram. If we counted up the socially disengaged, the school dropouts, the sports fanatics, we would probably end up with the calculated 9%. Why not let then be? If a person (of any age) is disinterested in snowboarding does that make that person somehow odd? Same with Science, or the English Language, or History.
      Horses for Courses, you writers. Do not try to engage the uninterested, you will only get illogical argument and, if you push your barrow hard enough, antagonism to your chosen interest.
      The world is full of individuals - we are not a composite species.!

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    3. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to June Fitzsimmonds

      Re Piaget - this looks good.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Piaget#Stages
      The "concrete operational stage" and "formal operational stage" is where children diverge between about 11 and 16. It is not related to intelligence per se. My (rude) opinion is that many people do not advance past concrete thinking, regardless of their intelligence and age. Engineers particularly can have all sorts of skills but cannot "think outside the square". Could also be correlated with Murdoch's followers?

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    4. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to June Fitzsimmonds

      Michael, I must protest ... there are four general ways that people learn depending on their personal preference. experience, background & topic, with the four often used to varying degrees in the same lesson.

      1. Visual learning, the readers, about 26%; 2. Audio learners, often the Mathematicians, about 24%; 3. Kinesthetic learners, the sports jocks about 24%, and 4. Dissemblers, the individuals who prefer to take things apart to discover how they work before they put the thing back together…

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    5. Jack Arnold

      Polymath

      In reply to June Fitzsimmonds

      Read the entire theory Robert, it is very good and easy to apply in any educational circumstance.

      Be careful with Rupert, he has made a habit of proving people wrong for the last 60 years.

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    6. Michael Hay

      retired

      In reply to June Fitzsimmonds

      Success as measured by wealth and social position.! Surely there must be a modicum of intellectuality to be put in here?
      If a student does not wish to learn, I agree that that student should be allowed to become an entrepreneur - if he has the ability. It is the lax student who does not have the ability that I was referring to.

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    7. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to June Fitzsimmonds

      Jack, "dissemblers" are liars. As in "Tony Abbott dissembled regarding his real intentions".
      I assume you actually mean "dis-assemblers". My mother was always amazed when I took household gadgets apart and reassembled them as they seemed to continue to work despite the extra bits and pieces left over.
      You might like to internalise "I hear, I forget, I see, I remember, I do, I understand" - quite a good statement of the mixes of approaches to passing on knowledge.

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  30. Albert Rogers

    logged in via Facebook

    Let's face it, science takes actual mental work. Bertrand Russell said of one particular popular foolishness that "Three minutes thinking about this should convince anybody that it' nonsense, but thinking is arduous and three minutes is a long time." In other threads of these conversations I have encountered comments that treat radioactivity as an infinitely dangerous occurrence. Or are ignorant of the fact, easily established, that alpha radiation from "natural" radon is exactly as dangerous, per emission event, as that from "synthetic" plutonium.

    But you have to know the difference between a million and a billion, andsome people in the US Congressdo not even realise that carbon dioxide gas has weight. That fact was established late in the 1600s by Evangelista Torricelli. He invented and explained the barometer.

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  31. Albert Rogers

    logged in via Facebook

    The really scary thing is that people in democratic countries who hang on to their scientific ignorance still go to the polls. Worse yet, far too many of them get elected, or in the USA even appointed to the Supreme Court.
    Everett Koop wasn't a lawyer, and was widely considered a conservative, but he was an honest scientist and it's a pity he was not eligible, presumably, for the Supreme Court.

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  32. Rotha Jago

    concerned citizen

    Most comments on this subject focus on schools and teachers as makers of the reputation of science as a subject, and therefore the public's knowledge and interest in science.
    I feel the major influence is from advertising and media.
    "Science" is trotted out as a way of pressuring and manipulating the population.
    Scientists who labour at lab benches trying to discover some new drug are seldom interested in health, just in the minutia of some bodily process, so that it can be manipulated.
    The Scientific…

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    1. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to Rotha Jago

      "Most comments on this subject focus on schools and teachers as makers of the reputation of science as a subject, and therefore the public's knowledge and interest in science.
      I feel the major influence is from advertising and media."

      Rotha,

      As in your case, the major influence on children's education should be the parents, but that is not so much the case these days. My kids were exposed to science from day 1, as both my wife and I are scientists, and also have a strong interest in citizen…

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    2. Robert Molyneux

      Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

      In reply to Rotha Jago

      Rotha, I must ask: how do your and your children's teeth compare with their peers?
      Are you in one of those fortunate communities where the gummint has arranged for fluoridation of drinking water? Or in one of the regions where the ground water naturally contains fluoride? In other words, are you against fluoride pills (I agree, a possible waste of money) or against "artificial" fluoridation, or in apprehension of "natural" fluoridation?
      When I was in secondary school "hard sciences" were the go (I studied Chemistry, Physics and Geology) with lots of Maths (I studied 2 units in Matriculation). "Soft sciences" (Biology, Botany) were studied by girls and maybe farmers' sons. As it happens I am now very interested in life sciences, and wish I had been exposed to them more. Economics is another area that I was never exposed to at school - a great failing, I think.

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    3. Rotha Jago

      concerned citizen

      In reply to Rotha Jago

      Colin, I applaud your family interest in and dedication to science.
      My own interest is in encouraging people to think for themselves even if they get it wrong. To continue to read and inquire is, I feel the way to pick your way through the mixture of lies, poorly explained half truths and erroneous statistics which is daily passed off as science in the media .
      Robert , when I wrote that I threw away the fluoride tablets, I did so after reading "Fluoridation and Truth Decay" a slim volume which…

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  33. Tom Fisher

    Editor and Proofreader

    I continue to wonder about this somewhat obsessive worry about people not caring about science, or more commonly it seems not believing scientists.

    Ordinarily, notions of caring and belief are associated with religion, and it seems peculiar to me that the two are so unquestioningly conflated while at the same time explicit controversy rages between them.

    One begins to wonder what reason there is for something called 'science' to so stand in the way of ordinary access to empirical reality, to…

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