Aug
28
2007

The state of science education

The title of this YouTube video may be a little demeaning toward the French in general, but when I watched this, I couldn't believe it. It really shows a disturbing lack of regard for science and science education in the world. Are we destined for another Dark Ages?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Joe's picture
Joe says:

Arg! First, it is bad enough that that horrible show made it to France, but that they didn't know this very simple thing? And neither did a majority of the rest of the show's audience?

I am in a state of disbelief.

posted on Tue, 08/28/2007 - 11:39am
bryan kennedy's picture

Oh My God! Commmmeee oooon. I understand being nervous but I could have answered that question in French and I don't even speak it. Bummer.

posted on Tue, 08/28/2007 - 12:17pm
Joe's picture
Joe says:

And was that his wife at the end? Man, you can tell by the look on her face that she was not pleased at his lack of post-Copernicus scientific knowledge. Not pleased at all.

posted on Tue, 08/28/2007 - 4:14pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Are we sure it's real, and not doctored footage? It wouldn't be hard to fake a clip like that...

posted on Tue, 08/28/2007 - 1:17pm
Joe's picture
Joe says:

I'm dwelling on this too much and am probably branching too far here, but this makes me think of an "Act" from a fairly recent episode of This American Life. The audio can be downloaded from Third Coast International Audio Festival website - the story of Rodger Dowds - an unexpected winner of the Irish version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Rodger shows us how it's done (just wait through the audio intro to get to the story).

posted on Tue, 08/28/2007 - 4:26pm
Ben's picture
Ben says:

Wow, I wonder if he went to college...

posted on Tue, 08/28/2007 - 2:04pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I wonder if he went to grade school?

posted on Tue, 08/28/2007 - 3:16pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i wonder if he even whent to preschool lol!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

posted on Tue, 08/28/2007 - 4:07pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I see this as trivia. Once a year or so, the papers run an article showing that some huge percentage of the population doesn't know some basic fact. Yet life goes on. While I am certainly in favor of science education, I don't get too worked up about things like this. After all, how would my life be any different if it was the Sun revolving around the Earth?

Meanwhile, let us not discount the possibility that some portion of the audience deliberately answers the question wrong to throw the contestant off.

Just take solace from the fact that no one picked Mars or Venus.

posted on Fri, 08/31/2007 - 1:53pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Dang it! I thought Venus was the correct answer.

posted on Fri, 08/31/2007 - 2:59pm
Ian Kemmish's picture
Ian Kemmish says:

Nobody has pointed out that the correct answer is "none of them". The earth and moon both orbit around their common centre of mass (at least to a good approximation).

posted on Fri, 09/14/2007 - 7:00am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

This is correct. The Earth and Moon both revolve around what's termed the barycenter or center of gravity.

Here's a page with some animation illustrating the concept (scroll down to figure 7). The Sun and Earth (and the rest of the planets in the Solar System) experience the same effect in relation to each other.

However, when one of the bodies is significantly more massive than the other (e.g. Sun vs Earth or Earth vs Moon), and the barycenter lies within the space of the greater mass (though not at its center), then the effect to the greater mass is more of a wobble than a discernible orbit around that point and is subsequently negligible.

posted on Fri, 09/14/2007 - 10:59am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I was just in St. Louis, visiting a friend who happens to be a profesor at Washington University. While discussing a totally different topic, he made an interesting observation:

There are certain things which are important for everybody to know. For example: red means "stop," green means "go." It's really important for everybody to know that.

There are things which are not important for anybody to know. The precise number of bread crumbs on my kitchen counter after I finished buttering my toast this morning? The world will never know, and be no worse for the loss.

And then there are things which are important for somebody to know, but not important for everybody to know. I have no idea who the Prime Minister of Latvia is. (I'm not even sure if Latvia has a Prime Minister.) But so long as there are reference books and search engines, I can find out when I need to.

I suspect this information falls into that third category. I can go for DAYS without thinking about the Earth orbiting the Sun. In fact, I am hard-pressed to imagine how my life would be any different if it were the other way around.

Just to be clear -- I have nothing against science education. It's good to know stuff. Makes your life richer, helps you compete in a knowledge-based economy, helps you make informed social and political decisions, yadda yadda yadda. But it's impossible to know everything. You have to pick and choose. So, unless this guy is a science teacher or an astronomer, then I say, what's the big deal?

(P.S.: Aigars Kalvitis.

posted on Mon, 09/17/2007 - 9:09am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Come on, Gene. I'm not a science teacher or an astronomer and I learned about the workings of the Solar System in the 3rd grade - at a parochial school. I think the big deal is that it is basic knowledge or at least should be (unlike the Prime Minister of Latvia).

It's important to know this basic stuff. It makes us think and helps us solve problems and view things in a different way, and to question what someone else tells us as gospel truth or what we read in books. Otherwise, what's the point in learning anything other than how to interpret traffic signs and golden arches?

When you see that red light accelerating towards you at 30 miles an hour, how do you know who needs to hit the brakes, you or the stop sign? Basic knowledge will help you here.

And don't forget, this is the Science Buzz blog. Not the What Difference Does It Make As Long As I Can Eat Buzz blog.

posted on Tue, 09/18/2007 - 10:18am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

The parochial schools in Chicago were way better than the public ones, so I learned lots of stuff in 3rd grade, too. Some of it has turned out to be very useful in life. Other stuff, not so much. One thing I learned was not to sweat the small stuff. Sure, a trained mind is a wonderful thing. But minds can be trained in many ways. Given that the Sun is not coming toward me at 30 mph, and I would have no way to stop it even if it was, it doesn't rise to the level of essential knowledge. Just one thing you can specialize in.

And here I thought this was Science Is The Only Thing That Matters And Anybody Who Doesn't Have Instant Recall Of Every Trivial Fact Is To Mocked And Ridiculed Buzz. Which is a fun blog, but the URL is just insane!

posted on Tue, 09/18/2007 - 11:09pm
Joe's picture
Joe says:

I think I would have to agree with mdr on this one, the moon plays such a pivotal role in so many Earth systems that even rudimentary knowledge of it should be standard science stuff everyone knows, like we breathe oxygen, or that the Earth is round or the Pythagorean theorem.

posted on Wed, 09/26/2007 - 11:33am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

I don't think I've had to use the Pythagorean theorem since high school...

posted on Fri, 09/28/2007 - 11:21pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

I know I've used it a few times since high school. It's the kind of thing that comes in handy when my wife starts questioning the wisdom of my driving route.

Since she obviously wasn't paying attention during geometry class, I'm able to prevail in that particular situation using proven scientific knowledge.

And remember: a sense of self-satisfaction can make even the lumpiest of couches seem fairly comfortable.

posted on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 8:02am
mdr's picture
mdr says:

Joseph - you are a gentleman and a scholar!

posted on Wed, 09/26/2007 - 10:49pm
Steve H's picture
Steve H says:

I use it everyday when driving to work or anywhere to find the quickest route!

posted on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 8:43am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

OK, I take it back -- I now recall that I have used it for this purpose. But, it is purely academic -- the shortest distance from point A to point B is a straight line that never seems to follow the streets one actually has to use.

posted on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 12:24pm
chris hartke's picture
chris hartke says:

I've never used it

posted on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 8:45am
kelster's picture
kelster says:

I also have never used it!

posted on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 4:02pm
Magical Matt's picture
Magical Matt says:

Never used it, no reason

posted on Sat, 09/29/2007 - 4:54pm

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