Not my usual sort of post but I really wanted to write about this, I promise to post a pretty picture soon to make up for my rantishness.
ABC news recently reported that scientific literacy was poor in Australians, with 30% of people believing dinosaurs and humans cohabited the Earth at the same time.
As sad as this is, when the story comments were inevitably hijacked by Creationists, they were unwittingly aided by no less than Dr Cathy Foley, president of the Australian Scientific and Technological Societies. In the article, Dr. Foley had either chosen her words poorly, or was misquoted when she said:
“Unfortunately 30 per cent of Australians think reptiles or dinosaurs and humans were alive at the same time, for example, which is probably something I guess worries us.”
Emphasis is mine. Of course reptiles are still around now, something people with a beef with evolutionary theory were quick to point out. I can only hope the survey wasn’t as poorly worded.
So why am I going on about a little gaffe in a story that would have been a poor fiftieth choice after everyone had clicked on the latest tidbit about Lindsay Lohan not getting a pillow in prison?
Because science needs to remain relevant in a world awash with information. We have no better tool at our disposal for understanding nature yet it’s poorly understood, or worse, distrusted by a significant proportion of society.
Then of course, when it comes to Evolution there’s a definite movement in opposition from people to whom the very notion is against their belief system. These people make the most headway when science is poorly understood in the first place.
So little stumbles from prominent scientists become easy sources of misinformation.
More than ever, scientists need to make sure they have their facts straight, especially when dealing with the media and with something outside their direct field of expertise.
(even more so when you get this sort of nonsense going on in Australian schools)