Why Are American Kids Behind in Science?

Question: Why are American kids behind in science?

Bonnie Bassler: A personal view, so I think that 100 years ago or so, science was the domain of the hair professor, the sort of white male, old man that had all this prestige because he understood this thing that regular people could not understand, science. So there was this, it was not systematic, you know, this sort of feedback loop that was purposely started, that I am doing this rarified thing, right, you, the normal person, cannot get, you have to be Albert Einstein, you have to be whoever, and that mere mortals cannot cope in this world. And that has become, made it so that people are afraid of science, they think it is too hard, and then they also have this stereotype of this old guy, like why would I want to be like that? These guys were never athletes, right. And so I think that there is this stereotype of these boring asocial drones, that is who becomes a scientist, I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a dinner party and these are learned people, or anyone, where they say, "What do you do?" And I say, "Oh, I'm a geneticist" and the hand comes up and they say, "oh, in fourth grade, my teacher, and I couldn't learn science," blah-blah-blah, and I could not learn science from them on. If I were to say, oh, the Renaissance, oh, I never got the Renaissance, or oh, French literature, or, oh, businessman, uh, like I would be considered a moron, like why is it okay for our country or anyone to say I cannot do science? I mean science is what gives us the life we have right now. And it does not have to be biology, just think about computer science, I mean, those people are certainly text messaging, so they can do science. And I have to say, this is not particular to me, this is every scientist's nightmare dinner party, and we go to a lot of these. And it is so odd because it would be unthinkable for me to say, I just did not want to learn to read. Right?

Question: Are there any science heroes?

Transcript:Come on, how many heroes do you know in science? I mean, if an athlete were to walk down the street, you would instantly recognize him. My colleague, Eric Wieschaus, has a Nobel Prize and people in Princeton do not even know who he is. So I think that we don’t have heroes. And that is new, because in the 1950’s and earlier, Einstein was a hero; Salk was a hero; Fleming; those were heroes, and somehow culture has changed that it is not cool and heroic to do science. I think that is kind of a pity, right, and I don’t think it is just movies, I think it is a much bigger thing, it is what we have been talking about, that our entire country is turned off from science at a really early age for both religious and political and educational reasons, right? And then there is no way to grapple with that in popular-- the people who are going to watch the show are already self selected your show. To be able to say maybe I could learn something about science, right, and other families, they’re not going to watch this.

Recorded on: 6/17/08

 

Bassler explains the governmental, social, and cultural factors which turn children off to science.

The world and workforce need wisdom. Why don’t universities teach it?

Universities claim to prepare students for the world. How many actually do it?

Photo: Take A Pix Media / Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Many university mission statements do not live up to their promise, writes Ben Nelson, founder of Minerva, a university designed to develop intellect over content memorization.
  • The core competencies that students need for success—critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and cross-cultural understanding, for example—should be intentionally taught, not left to chance.
  • These competencies can be summed up with one word: wisdom. True wisdom is the ability to apply one's knowledge appropriately when faced with novel situations.
Keep reading Show less

Six-month-olds recognize (and like) when they’re being imitated

A new study may help us better understand how children build social cognition through caregiver interaction.

Personal Growth
  • Scientists speculate imitation helps develop social cognition in babies.
  • A new study out of Lund University shows that six-month-olds look and smile more at imitating adults.
  • Researchers hope the data will spur future studies to discover what role caregiver imitation plays in social cognition development.
  • Keep reading Show less

    New study connects cardiovascular exercise with improved memory

    Researchers at UT Southwestern noted a 47 percent increase in blood flow to regions associated with memory.

    Photo: Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images
    Surprising Science
    • Researchers at UT Southwestern observed a stark improvement in memory after cardiovascular exercise.
    • The year-long study included 30 seniors who all had some form of memory impairment.
    • The group of seniors that only stretched for a year did not fair as well in memory tests.
    Keep reading Show less

    Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

    A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

    ESA
    Surprising Science
    • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
    • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
    • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
    Keep reading Show less

    Learn a new language—super fast. Here’s how.

    According to a man that knows more than 20 languages, the key is to start in the middle.

    Videos
    • Canadian polyglot Steve Kaufmann says there is indeed a fast track to learning a new language. It involves doubling down on your listening and reading.
    • By taking the focus off grammar rules that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to remember, you can instead develop habits by greater exposure to the language. Kaufmann likens the learning process to a hockey stick.
    • In the beginning you make major progress as you climb the steep hill of the hockey stick, whereas the long shaft of the stick is the difficult part. Because you're not seeing day-to-day changes, you might lose motivation. So, stay the course by consuming content that interests you.