Monday, September 14, 2009

The Death of Science

The children born on December 31, 1999 were very fortunate. They can say are unique as they were the last children of the millennium. While I can not say that I was born on that fateful New Year’s eve, I too can say that I am of a rare breed and amongst the last of my kind for I am a student of science.

I am proud to have studied science and learned how the world works. But I am incredibly saddened by continuing decrease of students pursuing science degrees in America. America boasts many of the finest science universities in the world, but it boasts fewer and fewer home-grown scientists. Many of America’s top scientists are in fact foreign born or first generation immigrants. In the last three years, out of the 20 Nobel Prizes awarded in physics, chemistry and medicine, only 8 of the recipients were born and raised in America, and of the 8, one was a first generation immigrant.

More and more, we are finding our science programs, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, filled with students from India, China, and Europe or from first generation immigrants. For example, at Dartmouth College, there were approximately twelve physics majors the year I graduated. Approximately 30-40% of students were either not from the US or were from first-generation immigration families in a college where approximately 6-8% of students are not American or Canadian.

If it was just that American students are not choosing to study sciences at college, I wouldn’t be too concerned as students should pursue what they are passionate about. The lack of American students pursuing studies in the sciences is but a symptom of a much more serious issue – a declining interest in science.

Despite the fact that science and technology dramatically define the world, many American students are never taught basic things about science (even non-controversial things such as Newton’s Laws), nor is a passion for science ever encouraged. Even more frightening than the fact that not all students are taught these basic things, is the fact that the scientific method itself is rarely taught anymore (or at least not ingrained into students). The procedure of hypothesis, controlled test, and conclusion, which has dramatically altered the way we live our lives and the way we understand the smallest microbe to the largest galaxy, is unknown to many Americans.

In a country that boasts the world’s best universities and best scientists, why is it that so many can not describe what the scientific process is?

1 comment:

  1. Maybe because people feel the world has become so complicated and supportive social networks -such as a coherent family- have become exceptionnal, and emotionnal needs drive people towards religion. That in turn makes technical, scientific thought appear socially unsatisfying. The scandal is that the USA is the only country I know of where people still squabble over creationism, intelligent design and evolutionism. Europeans shake their heads in disbelief when they read such things.