Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Re: Scientific illiteracy can kill the planet

Some blog followers may be interested in a recent discussion list post titled “Re: Scientific illiteracy can kill the planet” [Hake (2011b] reproduced below:

Art Hobson (2011) in his Physoc post “Scientific illiteracy can kill the planet” wrote [paraphrasing; my inserts at “. . . .[[insert]]. . . .”]:

“U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky). . . . .[[ and]]. . . . is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power . . . . .[[]]. . . . .. His scientific illiteracy - as reported in the NYT by Marshall & Lehmann (2011) - worries me. But the likely scientific illiteracy of the people who elected him worries me a lot more. . . .[[see the caricatures of a voter and Whitfield on page 13 of Hake (2011) near the panel “Scientifically illiterate voters elect scientifically illiterate leaders”]].... Physics teachers can and should help. We need to teach societal topics such as climate change and, more importantly, critical thinking in our introductory courses.”

And even more importantly work to upgrade the science/math education of prospective K-12 teachers.

In "Should the Culture of University Science Education Be Changed?"[Hake (2011a) I wrote [bracketed by lines "HHHHH. . . .":

In a recent Science article “Changing the Culture of Science Education at Research Universities” [Anderson et al. (2011)], thirteen biology research scientists, all Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellows, deplore the prevalent university reward systems that “heavily weights efforts of many professors toward research at the expense of teaching.” They advocate seven initiatives that might help to address “widespread concern about educating enough scientists and scientifically literate citizens." Of primary concern in this essay is Initiative #1: "Educate faculty about research on learning. . . ." This is especially important if faculty are to play a prominent role in adequately educating prospective K-12 teachers, who might then, in turn, enhance the science/math literacy of the general population.

In that regard, I review an essay “The General Population's Ignorance of Science Related Societal Issues: A Challenge for the University” [Hake (2000)] based on an earlier libretto The Science Illiteracy Crisis: A Challenge for the University [Hake (1989)], with the leitmotiv: “The road to U.S. science literacy begins with effective university science courses for pre-college teachers.” The opera dramatizes the fact that the failure of universities throughout the universe to properly educate pre-college teachers is responsible for our failure to observe any signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Honorary Member, Curmudgeon Lodge of Deventer, The Netherlands
President, PEdants for Definitive Academic References which
Recognize the Invention of the Internet (PEDARRII)

“As the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, Rep. Whitfield continues to advance an 'All of the Above' energy strategy that will employ Kentuckians and address domestic energy demands without unnecessary government regulation that results in higher energy prices, delayed resource exploration or stunted job growth. Rep. Whitfield is especially concerned that overreaching government regulations will have a negative effect on America's coal industry, which creates more than 134,000 jobs directly and supports 3.4 million jobs indirectly across the nation. In Kentucky, 17,900 jobs are created directly by coal.”
Whitfield's Energy Policy

“Paleoclimate data help us assess climate sensitivity and potential human-made climate effects. . . . . . goals to limit human-made warming to 2 deg C are not sufficient - they are prescriptions for disaster. . . . . Rapid reduction of fossil fuel emissions is required for humanity to succeed in preserving a planet resembling the one on which civilization developed.”
Hansen & Sato (2011) - Hansen heads the
NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

“With the world population now at 6 billion . . .[On 21 July 2011 10:22-0700 world population was 6,950,419,151 - see]. . . ., we are already consuming 40% of the world's photosynthetic energy production. Current estimates place a stable world population at about 8 to 10 billion by the late twenty-first century, assuming fertility rates continue to drop over the next several decades. Yet even at this reduced rate of population growth, we could eventually consume all of the planet's resources, unless we take action. Because of this overload of the world's resources, even today, over 1.2 billion of the world's population live below the subsistence level, and 500 million below the minimum caloric intake level necessary for life.”
- James Duderstadt (2000, page 20), President Emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan

REFERENCES [All URL's accessed on 20 July 2011; some shorted by]
Anderson, W.A., U. Banerjee, C.L. Drennan, S.C.R. Elgin, I.R. Epstein, J. Handelsman, G.F. Hatfull, R. Losick, D.K. O'Dowd, B.M. Olivera, S.A. Strobel, G.C. Walker, I.M. Warner. 2011. “Changing the Culture of Science Education at Research Universities: Universities must better recognize, reward, and support the efforts of researchers who are also excellent and dedicated teachers,” Science, 14 January, 331(6014): 152-153: online as a 172 kB pdf at ; supporting online references suggested by R.R. Hake are at [over 75 references and 90 hot links relevant to (1) Undergraduate Education Reform, and (2) Biology Education Reform.

Duderstadt, J.J. 2000. A University for the 21st Century. Univ. of Michigan Press; for a description see information at

Hake, R.R. 2000. “The General Population's Ignorance of Science Related Societal Issues: A Challenge for the University,” AAPT Announcer 30(2): 105; online as a 2.1 MB pdf at .

Hake, R.R. 2011a. Invited talk, “Should the Culture of University Science Education Be Changed,” Southern California Section of the AAPT, 14 May 2011, Pierce College, Woodland Hills, CA; online as a 3.2 MB pdf at and as reference #63 at The abstract and link to the complete post are on my blog “Hake’sEdStuff” at with a provision for comments.

Hake, R.R. 2011b. “Re: Scientific illiteracy can kill the planet,” online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at Post of 20 July 2011 to AERA-L, AP-Phys, Biopi-L, Chemed-L, CTP-L, Net-Gold, Physhare, Physoc, Phys-L, & PhysLrnR. The first few lines and link to the complete post were distributed to various discussion lists.

Hansen, J.E. & M. Sato. 2011. “Paleoclimate Implications for Human-Made Climate Change,” 20 July, online at; to appear in Berger, Mesinger and Sijaci, eds., Climate Change at the Eve of the Second Decade of the Century: Inferences from Paleoclimate and Regional Aspects: Proceedings of Milutin Milankovitch 130th Anniversary Symposium (Springer, in press).

Hobson, A. 2011. “Scientific illiteracy can kill the planet,” Physoc post of 19 Jul 2011 10:40:25-0500; online at To access the archives of PHYSOC one needs to subscribe : - ( , but that takes only a few minutes by clicking on and then clicking on “Join or leave the list (or change settings).” If you’re busy, then subscribe using the “NOMAIL” option under “Miscellaneous.” Then, as a subscriber, you may access the archives and/or post messages at any time, while receiving NO MAIL from the list!

Marshall, C. & E. Lehmann. 2011. “AEP Move to Stop Carbon Capture and Sequestration Project Shocks Utilities, Miners,” New York Times, 15 July; online at . . . . .[[AEP = American Electric Power, an Ohio-based utility]]. . . . The report quotes Whitfield: “ ‘I'm not really in favor of government subsidies for CCS or wind power or anything else,’ said Changing the Culture of Science Education (R-Ky.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power. He supports private pursuit of CCS, because it can provide jobs in the coal sector -- but not because it addresses climate change, which he says human activity is barely affecting. ‘I think human activity is contributing to it, but I think the amount we're contributing is so small,’ he said yesterday. ‘For example, that big volcano eruption in the Philippines spewed more carbon dioxide in the world -- into the atmosphere -- than all the activity prior to that in human history. So yeah, I think human activity is contributing to it, but I don't think it's something to be so alarmist about.’ ”

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