Science Literacy and Pseudoscience

A recent blog post “Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience” got me thinking about a topic of deep personal concern. As head of the National Science Teachers Association, one of my overarching goals is to improve science literacy in the United States—providing students with a solid science foundation so that they are better consumers of science and able to make informed decisions in both their personal and social lives. I’ll be speaking on this topic at SXSWedu next week (“Answering the Nation’s Call for Science Literacy”), so this blog post came at a particularly pertinent time.

The author posed the question: “It’s all pseudoscience—so why are some kinds of pseudoscience more equal than others?” We can’t express dismay when we hear that 26% of us think the Sun revolves around the Earth, while being comfortable with the fact that a growing number of us think that astrology is science. I myself see incredibly intelligent people, who would be quick to speak up against climate deniers and anti-evolutionists, accepting the outlandish promises offered by food labels. So, how do we combat a common, perhaps insidious, level of acceptance of pseudoscience in some aspects of daily living?

Science is a discipline, not a convenience store—you can’t pick and choose what you want when you want it and then go back for the staples later. As a science literacy advocate, I believe the best chance we have to promote good science is to build a fundamental understanding from the beginning. Last year scientists and educators came together to define a new path for education—the Next Generation Science Standards. These standards are built around the practices of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and interlinked to literacy and the arts. As we begin to implement these standards nationwide, teachers will have the tools they need to help students understand that just as we need to understand science to serve as good stewards of planetary health, so too must we understand science to keep our bodies healthy.

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