Fifteen-year-olds in Finland are tops in the world. In terms of science literacy, that is. That’s according to a survey soon to be released by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the summary of which can be found here. The survey data come from tests conducted in 2006 in 57 countries that together account for 90% of the world’s economy. The survey tested students on knowledge of science and ability to use scientific knowledge to address questions in daily life.
The USA, in contrast, comes in at (are you ready for this?) . . . number 29. Roughly in the center of the pack — behind Estonia, Slovenia, Latvia, and Poland, among others, but ahead of Serbia, Uruguay, and Kyrgyzstan. One would have to interpret this as a grade of C.
I surely have nothing against Finland — I’ve been there and it’s a beautiful country full of wonderful (and scientifically literate) people. But one has to ask: How can this be? The US is the richest nation on earth, home of most of the world’s greatest universities, first to put a man on the moon, the nation that invented the automobile, the airplane, the personal computer, the internet, the post-it note, you get the picture. Time was, this country was the mecca for aspiring scientists worldwide, and for the most part it still is. So why can’t 15-year-old Johnny figure out which end of the microscope to look through?
Forgive me for reflexively picking at this scab but might it have something to do with the dominance of hard-core ideologues that has spread like a cancer throughout this country’s national leadership over the last decade or two? America’s standing in this report is no surprise when candidates for the nation’s highest office can argue on TV with straight faces about whether the physical world was created in six days out of nothing a few thousand years ago. I will avoid the temptation to vent at length (again) about where this country’s religious fundamentalism, which is unique among the major industrialized nations, is leading us. But it is getting harder and harder to ignore the idea that it is a major factor behind the USA’s sorry showing in this report.
The hostility toward rational, evidence-based science that we hear about in the news every day regarding evolution, climate change, and so on are profoundly destructive to our long-term interests. This hostility has become an epidemic in the right wing of our national government and punditocracy over the last decade or so, and the infection is now clearly spreading to the next generation. We are beginning to reap what we’ve sown. And it’s not the trickle-down effect that Ronald Reagan had in mind.
When will we wake up and realize that we live in the real world, and that policies that ignore understanding of cause and effect in the physical world are not going to work, regardless of how much faith we have in them?
It’s a national disgrace.