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Steps and Missteps Towards an Emerging Profession  

Mercury, September/October 2005 Table of Contents

Making a comet
Courtesy of the ASP and Project ASTRO™.

by Andrew Fraknoi

Every few years, the National Science Board issues a snapshot of the state of science in the U. S. called Science and Engineering Indicators. The most recent (2004) volume makes for fascinating reading for those who enjoy nationwide statistics; it is available free on the Web at

The good news is that the public is overwhelmingly positive about science:

  • 85% say science and technology will make our lives better and our work more interesting;
  • 72% say the benefits of research outweigh any harmful results; and
  • 36% say the government is not spending enough money on science research (while only 14% say it is spending too much).

The bad news is that the public's understanding of science in our country is disturbingly low. The report concludes that less than 1/5 of adult Americans can be considered minimally science literate in the sense required for participation in civic society. Think about that — 80% of our fellow citizens are not really familiar with the basic concepts of science needed to vote intelligently on ballot measures. Only 22% of adults can correctly explain what a molecule is, for example. And two thirds of adult Americans cannot correctly explain the scientific method to an interviewer.

Teachers also have problems with science ideas. In a recent survey of Wisconsin school teachers who had signed up for a space-science enrichment program, fewer than 20% of the elementary teachers and fewer than 25% of the middle school science teachers knew, for example, that radio waves travel at the same speed as light.

Read the entire article (pdf format).

If you would like to receive our bi-monthly Mercury magazine, we invite you to join the ASP and receive 6 issues a year.


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