Inspiring Australia Day One (part two)

In which the reader will learn of divers observations by the feline Mr Robin Williams and a panel of experts

A survey in the late 80s on kids going into science was dubbed the ‘Nerds and Losers’ survey, this being the general perception of science-y type kids. A  provocative statement – ‘The Australian public isn’t engaged with science. Kids are stampeding away from studying science at school’.

But perhaps it’s not that simple. Perhaps the public is engaged, they just don’t know it. It’s a nice thought. It would be good if it were true. But one can’t help but think that an awful lot of people are engaged with science the way they’re engaged with gravity – it influences every part of their lives, but they don’t think about it or want to know about it.

Part of the reason for the putative disengagement might be that teachers of young kids lack confidence in teaching science by doing. But it’s quite remakable how engrossed they can become if a confident explainer gets them involved with building bridges with toothpicks and marshmallows. Yep. I can see that. I can see even better how involved they could get with a bottle of Coke and a pack of Mentos, but somehow I suspect that one will ALWAYS be off the curriculum.

More people claim to be interested in science than in sport, but their involvement with science tends to be about what concerns them personally.

Survey respondents say they’re proud of Australian scientists, and I hope it’s true, but somehow I find this worrying. Is the pride in local scientists another manifestation of the vulgar jingoism that sees the Australian flag draped around some beer-soaked bogan on Australia Day, before he repairs, staggering, to a ute bearing the immortal phrase ‘Fuck off, we’re full’? Oh god I hope not. I really, really hope not.

A slightly depressing bit of news. Students easily recognise pictures of Newton and Galileo, but show them a picture of Elizabeth Blackburn, or even the sainted Frank Fenner and they draw a blank. Maybe scientists are only cool when they’re history.

An interesting observation relayed from an Ockam’s Razor program with a guy from Deloittes – ‘the top business people of the future need training in science, because of complexity theory, because of chaos, because, above all, of the scientific method’. Big ups to the Deloittes guy. Dear god, I’m praising an accountant. Had to happen I suppose.

And a good analogy. ‘You need to look at science (specifically climate science  in this case) as being like the stockmarket. There are frequent fluctuations, but if you take a long view, it’s always possible to discern a long-term trend.

Another observation of some interest. People are more confident searching for information now, and find it easier to do, but they don’t have the tools to interpret the information they get.

A thought for getting kids interested in learning about science, from my own weary brain. ‘You know it’s right to question authority. Here are the tools to learn what and how to question’. No? Maybe just for the even nerdier losers (as that survey would have it) who end up doing philosophy?


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