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Assessing The Importance Of Being Scientific Literate Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5416 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This report is to provide a clear and comprehensible analysis on scientific literacy which is an idea that is so powerful and would change how a society will behave and develop in current time. The concept of scientific literate is being advocated in developing countries such as Thailand and advance countries like Canada and The United States as well. It will affect a society from economically, educationally, culturally, and politically point of view. Nevertheless, the impact of it on the future generation must be considered.

Questions to be addressed in this report include:

1. What is scientifically literate?

2. Should society be scientifically literate?

3. Consequences of not scientifically literate.

4. How to foster scientific literacy in a society and sustain it?

5. The importance of being scientifically literate and how it influences an individual.

6. Role of government, private institution, public citizen in pursuing scientific literacy.

7. Scientific literacy and democracy.

8. Influences of scientific literacy in the business world.

In general, a nation that possesses significantly scientific literate will successfully captures world attention and profits from the others in trading and exports of technology and science orientated goods and services. For instance, South Korea is the world most scientifically literate following on is Japan. Both of the nations are countries that invest heavily on the research and development sector and pursue advancement in technology to create a better future. Hybrid vehicles and low energy consumption electrical items are sector which being focus heavily as green technology is the future of technology.

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In order to be to be scientifically literacy, it requires efforts and time to attain in every individual. The most fundamental step is to inject this concept into the education system. Besides that, this report will outline the steps in order to reach minimal scientific literacy in every individual. Most importantly, to sustain the scientific literacy concept over time and make deep influence in the future generations.


What is the importance of being scientifically literate and its impact towards the society and future generation? In the 21st century, most of the countries start to rely heavily on the technology industry and usage of science. Phillips (2003) concluded scientific literacy is the understanding of science and its purposes; ability to judge scientifically and critically; ability to use scientific facts in problem solving and using evidence; knowledge required for intellectual participation in science-based problems; understanding the nature of science, including its association with culture; appreciation of and comfort with science, including its marvel and curiosity; knowledge of the threats and advantages of science; and ability to question about science or being skeptical and to deal with scientific expertise.

With the effect of science and technology in every aspect of our live, especially on the political and personal decisions that sustain the democratic economy system the society must be scientifically literate. In order to provide a better future for the next generations, creating a universally literate society is imminent. This includes the exposure and education not just in reading and arithmetic but also science, technology and mathematic. Hence, the 1st step towards the goal is assessing our current level of scientific literate of the society. An experiment conducted at Harvard University graduation depicts the scientific literacy of the students (Private Universe Project, 1989). In the study, young graduates were asked to answer this question: Why is it warm in the summer and cold in the winter? 22 out of 25 got the answer wrong. The society may not be scientifically literate as it suppose due to many factors also.

Through learning all the facts and theories behind the science we will be able to think on our own and critically. Why scientific literacy is considered important? The world is experiencing a rapid growth in population so the decisions we make every day have the tendency to affect energy consumption, natural resources, the environment, and ultimately our community. Individual decisions may not seem to make any difference, but with 7 billion populations worldwide, the magnitude of one wrong decision can be lethal to the Homo sapiens survival. However, creating a total scientifically literate nation is not an easy task to complete. It challenges and issues are many and take long time to address and require enormous effort and funds.


1. Conceptual overview.

Even though scientific literacy has gain attention over the years, this concept is still recognized as controversial (Jenkins, 1990, 1994). In addition, Venezky (2009) stated that the term scientific literacy can classified as liberty, justice and happiness. On top of that, there are different factors that would influence the interpretation of scientific literacy. Such as, the different purpose for advocating scientific literacy, different interest group that concerned with scientific literacy, and way of measuring aspects. In each of these factors carries different interpretations and perception towards the term. On top of that, Miller (2007) proposed that in order to understand the model of civic scientific literacy, it is essential to start on with an understanding of the concept of literacy itself. The fundamental idea of literacy is to possess a minimum level of reading and writing proficiency that a person needs to be involved in written communication and social life. In this context, civic scientific literacy can be understood as the level of understanding of science and technology a person needed to live in a modern society. In addition, scientific literacy does not imply an idyllic level of understanding, but just a minimal threshold level. This further implies every individual is able to be scientific literate regardless of education level.

Figure 1: A conceptual overview of scientific literacy

Graber et al. (2001) further organize the views as illustrated in Figure 2 reconsiders the balance between the different competencies. This view shows the need for scientific literacy is more important than knowledge and implements the component of values as a science education.

Figure 2: The Graber model for scientific literacy

Graber s model for scientific literacy can be perceived as interrelates with human rights, education, gender equity, and tolerance. A further view for scientific literacy determined as the general aim as achieving societal requirements, such as learning to deal with social issues and to make rational decision base on evidence. Shamos (1995), however reject any definition of scientific literacy. He defines scientific literacy as promoting skilled consumers of science with the talent to gain understanding or knowledge from experts.

In general view, scientific literacy is the understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for individual decision making, involvement in civic and cultural affairs, and economic production. Scientific literacy allows a person to ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from inquisitiveness on everything happening around. It also means that a person has the capacity to explain, clarify, and predict natural phenomena. Apart from that, individuals will exhibit scientific literacy in different behaviour, such as correctly using technical terms, or applying scientific concepts.

In school level, Bybee (1997) has proposed that scientific literacy to be considered in four functional levels. First, nominal which refer to individual can recognise scientific terms but do not understand the meaning thoroughly. Secondly, functional which means using scientific and technological terms but only out of context such as in school examination or test. Thirdly, conceptual and procedural that requires the individual to demonstrate the understanding of the relationship between concepts. Last, multidimensional which includes developed perspectives of concept in science and technology in addition with the nature and role of science in application in personal life and society. Hazen (2002) concluded that the difference between doing science and using science. He argues that “scientific literacy is a mix of concepts, history, and philosophy that help you understand the scientific issues.” Other definitions argue for a more comprehensive knowledge of science, but this general idea uses the less difficult definitions proposed by Miller and Hazen.

2. Should society be scientifically literate?

Scientific literacy in the general public has come in a period of decline. Opposite to common perception, advanced communities are starting to feel the shortage of bright scientists supporting the scientific world. The extensive usage of technology causes human to neglect the value of science. Nowadays, science is everywhere and modern living standards are based on science too. However, scientific literacy in our society is inadequate. The educated people have no interest in science, not to mention the uneducated population. And the reasons is because the flaws in our education system.

Science is important in a society because it has brought many advantages to a society. For example, the invention of steam engine by James Watt propelled the Industrial Revolution and boosts the nation economy, wealth, social living conditions, income level, and many more. Science is the ultimate tool to forge a modern society and the community must be scientifically literate to cope with the advancement. Espinosa (n.d.) stated the reasons why society is not longer interested in science anymore. In the study, Espinosa suggest that science should the school curricula since early the education. In this context, astronomy has an important role to play in educating scientifically literate society. Astronomy is ideal for teaching children numbers, day-night cycle and act as an initial exposure of science. Besides, astronomy will show them the importance of mathematic, geology, chemistry, physics or even biology in the later stage. Indeed, astronomy is a perfect anchor and astronomy has also interested Mankind since the ancient time.

Being scientifically literate allows us to understand the reasons behind a technology or occurrence of a natural phenomenon. Therefore, science is important for the society and especially in carrying an efficient economic human activity such as plantation. The correct method of harvesting will yield more products and producing more income for those ordinary farmers. Science is an important part in human evolution and improvement in quality of life. People should aware and understand of its cultural and political impact as well. Government should scientifically educate the general population, so that every person is ready for the future.

An example of most scientifically literate nation is South Korea and following is Japan as illustrated in Figure 3. The research is conducted by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in determining the scientific literacy for economical and educational purposes. Miller (2007) outline that in developing an assessment of civic scientific literacy, it is vital to create a measure that will be functional over a period of years and that will be adequately responsive to capture changes in the constitution and composition of public understanding towards scientific literacy.

South Korea and Japan are known countries that focus on technological advancement and development. According to most a recent study by European Commission, Meyer (2009) stated that Japan uses 3.39 percent of its GDP on research and development, while South Korea uses 3.23 percent and the United States spends 2.61 percent. In the contrary, China spends just 1.42 percent of its GDP. The amount of science and technology researching projects in Europe is growing, but the European Union is still slow comparing with the research and development investment targets of Japan and South Korea. If a nation is not scientifically literate, it may face problems like inadequate professional personnel or lack of research and development. Japan and South Korea that determined to be pioneering in the research and development field is gaining profits by selling their technology to the world. For example, car manufacturer, Toyota hybrid vehicle, Prius is favor by many western countries especially the United States. In addition, world’s most popular consumer electronics brand, Samsung from Korea capture the world consumer demand in electronics products. Undeniable, the scientific literacy in Japan and South Korea contributed in their success.

Figure 3: Scientific literacy by country (OECD)

Also, acquire from the National Science Foundation (NSF) document Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 in Figure 4, a survey that is designed to evaluate scientific literacy. Countries participating include: the United States, 25 European Union countries, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China, and Malaysia.

Figure 4: Survey questions from Science and Engineering Indicators 2006. National Science Foundation

The results of such surveys are promising. The majority of respondents from all countries except China properly recognized the first statement about earth s core temperature as exact. Though, fewer than 50% of respondents from all countries correctly identified the lasers as false and the statements about electrons as true. Only respondents from the United States, the European Union, and Japan scored higher than 50% in correctly identifying question three concerning radiation as incorrect. In the other hand, the United States was the single nation able to achieve higher than 50% in accurately state out that antibiotics do not eradicate viruses.

3. Why constructing a scientifically society?

Generally the public perceive scientific literacy brings positive effects to the society. However, there are only few reasons for advocating scientific literacy being highlighted by the public (Thomas & Durant, 1987). In this part, a number of familiar points of view will be suggested in support of scientific literacy. These arguments for promoting scientific literacy, which are based on Thomas and Durant (1987) and Shortland (1988) can fundamentally be grouped into a macro and micro view.

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In the macro view, the first common reason for advocating scientific literacy is the bond between scientific literacy and the economic well-being of a nation. It is believed that national wealth relies on the nation s capability in competing successfully in international markets. Meanwhile, the international competitiveness depends on the national research and development policy and programmes. Highly developed countries will be able to capture investor from other countries due to its ability to provide quality supply of scientist, engineers, and highly-trained personnel to conduct research and development. In the same time, to exploit minor niche markets. However, only nations whose general public possess a proper level of scientific literacy will be able to sustain the environment. In addition, scientific literacy will facilitate individuals to contribute more intelligently and efficiently in the productive sector of the economy (Walberg, 1983). Therefore, scientific literacy can be regarded as an essential human capital that manipulates the economic well-being of a nation in various factors.

In addition, associated to the economic perspectives, a higher level of scientific literacy among the population will promote greater support for science itself. This is due to the injection of new recruits that attracted to science (Shortland, 1988, p. 307). Another factor in which society benefit from the influence of greater scientific literacy is the public s expectations of science. The better and clearly the public comprehend about the objectives, developments, and capacity of science, the less likely the public will be to receive unrealistic anticipations of science. While unrealistic hope may result in loss of confidence and eventually withdrawal from being scientifically literate. In other words, this also prevents the public from being easily con or believing untrue myths.

Prewitt (1983) supported this argument by emphasizing on democratic practice in a nation. An effective government will only be constructed by voter that is scientifically literate so they able to make meaningful involvement, engage with political processes, and participate in suitable social change. There is also an argument in the context of science and culture. Thomas and Durant (1987) quoted that [t]he general health of a nation in which science is practiced depends on the effective integration of science in the wider culture. According to Thomas and Durant, the science is being perceived by the public as the essence of technicality and specialization. The separation of science from the wider culture may lead the general public fail to understand the science properly as it contradicting from their origin culture and practices. Such as religion that are often contradicting with science since the emergence of science or Renaissance period in the Europe. In consequence, the public may feel fear in accepting science in their society and creating confusion. Hence, increasing scientific literacy of the public would create a suitable environment for the public to be productive and healthy.

In the micro view, scientific literacy reflects on individuals. It is believe that improved understanding of science and technology is beneficial to individuals living in a science and technology orientated society (Thomas & Durant, 1987). Personal decisions, such as diet, smoking, healthcare or safety in the home and at work, should be aided by reasonable level of scientific literacy so that decision made will be useful. Extensive knowledge on the foundation of science and facts enable the individual to indentify and reject pseudo-scientific information. An unaware public is exposed to misleading information on, for example, medicine. (Royal Society, 1985)

With the widespread scientific literacy among the public, it will create a citizen that is confident and capable to deal with science and technology related matters that arise in their daily life effectively. The employment issue of the people is the very important area that will benefit with scientific literacy. As the economy becoming more knowledge-based, the demand of quality human resources is increasing at the same time and also an important economic asset of modern science and technology societies (Brooks, 1991). Therefore, individual with adequate knowledge will be in a advantageous position to exploit new and better job opportunities. In the same time able to take full advantage in developing technical skills in work place (Thomas & Durant, 1987).

During the World War 2, the Nazi Germany slaughtered about 6 million Jews under the command for Adolf Hitler (Holocaust Encyclopaedia, n.d.). The Holocaust was an organized, state-funded discrimination and massacre of about six million Jews by the Nazi regime. They believe that Jews are “Untermenschen” (inferior people) and should be eliminate. The Nazi racial ideology of “inferior people” is an example of non-scientifically proven theory. The poor scientific literacy among the Nazis caused the death of millions in concentration camps. Given that the Nazis able to view and justify the idea of inferior people the Jews should had survived the massacre. In addition, Locke (n.d.) quoted all men are created equal in his view and all men have the rights to pursuit their happiness. His statement also supported by the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson in The Declaration of Independence.

Miller (2002), who had been assessing the scientific literacy of society for over 30 years, emphasizes the significance of “civic scientific literacy” in present society that depends heavily on the invention and usage of science and technology. He strongly believes that in the future or now the society requires a population that is reasonable knowledgeable in the field of contemporary scientific and technological topics so that the democratic process will be able to function at the correct behavior. In a democracy, the public will have both indirect and direct influence on the formation of public policy. During elections, citizens elect their desire politicians and vote on individual ballot items. Meanwhile, the ballot choices could include issues that related to science, such as pollution, recycling, natural resources, energy, and endowment for research and education. There are several factors that will influence a public opinion and justification. Such as education, environment, politics, and individual experiences. While such factors are influential, when politics clash with scientific issues, fundamental scientific literacy is a must for an informed decision making process. Science does not always offer simple answers and might call for a complicated understanding of terms and ideas to interpret. Political debate, rather always rephrases scientific issues to the worthlessness. Only an audience with the ability to comprehend and to filter the information being feed or bombarded able to form well considered judgments.

There are number of solid reasons for promoting scientific literacy for both the general public and the individual good. The purpose for promoting scientific literacy is not only reliant on the benefits, but is also influenced by ideological and philosophical reflection (Champagne & Lovitts, 1989). Therefore, promoting scientific literacy would bring greater benefit for the current and future generations and propel the humanity towards a better future and technology.

3. How to create a scientifically literate society?

The world is now increasingly influence by the expansion of science and technology. Hence, achieving scientific literacy is vital as an educational outcome for the development of society. This increasing demand of scientific literate communities requires them to engage, deal with ideas and applications of science. In order to address this important question, clarifying the idea of scientific literacy and construct a common comprehension toward the idea is essential. Citizens that are scientifically literate will be able to utilize their knowledge in science to meet their social and personal demands (Murcia, 2005).

Without an acceptable level of scientific literacy, they might unable to understand and appreciate the fundamental of science, its interaction with society, roles, values, and shaping of humanity s future. The science is a continuing developing discipline and borderless hence being scientific literate may only need a minimum understanding on the ideas. These concepts will endure rapid change and have impact on the society throughout at least for few years. For instance, the genetic research is a field that constantly changes with events such as stem cell research and cloning.

So, what is the most effective method to engage the society in scientific literacy and eventually encourage them to contribute in the development of scientific literacy? In order to incorporate the way of thinking, the assumptions and values inherent in the building of scientific knowledge, understanding of nature of science is an essential part of scientific literacy. Hence, Murcia & Schibeci (1999) proposed a set of themes that would represent a promising view of nature of science, which is also consistent with the contemporary science philosophy and practice.

1. Scientific knowledge has an impermanent position and should not be accepted as absolute truth.

2. New scientific knowledge is formed as a product of creativity and imagination joined with techniques of scientific inquiry.

3. Science develops through ongoing research and critical questioning.

4. Science is active and ongoing, not a stagnant gathering of information.

5. Scientists and the scientific community usually exhibit the professional standards of openness of mind and integrity.

The themes suggest that scientific results and knowledge should be considered critically and not perceived as the rigid fundamental of science. Thus, science is essentially a vibrant, human activity that conducts through critical questioning and constant research tied with reasonable imagination.

First of all, engaging an individual attention, desire and interest to find out more about daily activity of science interacting with society is a crucial step toward developing scientific literacy. Real world investigations will provide opportunities for instilling scientific literacy as they able to see different forms of knowledge from various fields that would relate to each other. Through connected and interrelated study activities, the values and assumptions underlying the scientific literacy and how the science will interacts with the society concept will be explicit.

Natural curiosity can be the driving force in learning essential foundational habits such as observing, investigating, measuring, questioning, using scientific language to describe experiment and constructing informed decisions based on scientific ideas. Through making informed decisions, individual will tend to build introductory understandings of the vibrant, creative and tentative nature of scientific research. In this way, they would develop critical thinking or questioning skills to appreciate the role science that in need for solving personal problems or dilemmas. Reading and interpreting non-fiction science content is also an integral section of context in instilling scientific literacy. Through reading simple newspaper articles related science or applications of science in daily life will enact an individual curiosity of the science in it. Science in the media will create an important motivation for investigation as it will exhibit the dynamic personality of scientific knowledge and the call for critical questioning. Meanwhile, individual will create awareness in evaluating information and claims that are being made by the author. Murcia (2005) supported this view that individual will gain stimulus for inquiring, questioning and participate in discussion about the topic critically when introduced to scientific related articles.

Figure 5: Sources used for attaining science information. (National Science Foundation)

Figure 5 is a study on resources used for obtaining scientific materials. Options consider are internet, books, television, magazines and newspapers. The internet clearly shows a dominant percentage among the options for both the year 2001 and 2004. The internet is a reliable and efficient alternative in promoting scientific literacy. Due to its versatile characteristic, internet can be used in everywhere provided an internet connection and a computer or any electronic devices that is capable of internet browsing. The tremendous growth of internet over the years also serves as a reason why internet is worth to consider. In addition, as an increasingly important researching tool, it is user-friendly, interesting and covers wide area of material. The internet also allows distance learning technology and able to bring large audiences around the world together. Hence, it can also strengthen the relationship between outside institutional and formal education. Most importantly, internet is a tool that able to aid the community in learning and spreading of scientific literacy materials. Hence, creating a website or forum which focuses on discussing scientific issues and problem will attract people to visit and contribute their opinions regarding to specific issues.

Increasing the public awareness on the issues is important as well. The media, researchers, research institution, university and industry as well have a role to play. They must ready to communicate and engaging in debate on scientific issues in a professional manner and comprehensible for the public as well. Their honest explanation on the benefits and limitations of scientific issues will clarify the public and increases the scientific literacy. In order to do so, relevant information must be made available to the public in the easiest way as possible. Internet is the perfect candidate for the job. Creating a database of press release, images, background information, details of events and science journal for the public is a way of creating awareness in scientific development. Alpha-Galileo is an example of internet service that provides tailored information to the media. Apart from that, organizing international forum, including online forum will facilitate the exchange of information and popularize scientific issues.

Democracy needs citizens to have a certain technical and knowledge to be part of it. Besides, a pool of scientists and engineers are essential in creating a social-economic development and improvement. It is therefore necessary to induce scientific knowledge to young children. Meanwhile, encouraging them to embark on a scientific career and provide necessary aids. Also, not to neglect individual who has started on scientific career. Approving endowment for research and development will certain promote the development scientific research sector. This also helps them to retain their enthusiasm and motivation in conducting tedious research.

Education system itself is a vital factor that influences the scientific literacy of a society. Therefore, teaching method in school must be reviewed because the impact on the student will directly reflect how they behave after completing education. Hence, teaching method must be designed to stimulate interest such as establishment of innovative projects. Experts views on policy should be convincing but the public opinion must not be neglected. A dialogue with the citizen will create a mutual understanding between the official and public and foster quality policy. Though information gathered from different stakeholders including media, citizens, research organizations and enterprises the authority will able to see the general idea.

Producing gender equality in science is vital as well in promoting scientific literacy. In the history of science, research often fails to take specific needs of women into consideration. According to European Commission, female represent 50% of the student population but only 10% is in senior position in academia and industry. This may due to conservative way of thinking in the population upbringing.

However, the rapid growth in scientific and technological progress can create serious ethical question that would concern every individual. These questions may also have the potential implications for future generations also. Therefore, a systematic information facility on ethical issues in science is needed. This facility will provide information on legislation, codes of conducts, debates and practices. Meanwhile, the researchers must have integrity in conducting research. They should use good scientific practices including research integrity. Providing model courses and training modules will raise the awareness of researcher in field of ethics also.

4. The impact of science in the business world (scientific management).

In scientific management, the principle object of it is to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer and employee. The prosperity does not only consist of wages but more importantly is the development of each employee to his condition of maximum efficiency. In a traditional type management process, the success of a business depends almost completely on the initiative of the employee. Taylor (1911) outline that the initiative of employee is obtain with total uniformity under the old system in his work of scientific management.


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