The 1507 Waldseemuller map was the first to identify North and South America by that name. The map recently went on display at the Library of Congress.
Jon Miller, a professor at Michigan State University, has been tracking scientific literacy for nearly 20 years. He presented his latest findings recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The good news: the percentage of Americans with basic scientific literacy has almost tripled in the last two decades. We are now second in the world, ahead of Japan and most of Europe. Only Sweden beats us out.
The bad news: it's not so much that we're so good, but that the rest of the world is so bad. Only 28% of Americans have basic science literacy. As the article points out, citizens are asked to make decisions on issues such as nanotechnology, stem cell research, climate change, etc. We need a basic understanding of the science behind these topics.
However, I must take issue with the last point the professor makes:
Surveys he did starting a year before the 2004 election found that the frequent debates about [stem cell research] ... actually left more voters undecided than they had been before the campaigning began.
I don't think that's a bad thing. In fact, I believe there's a very simple explanation: politicians often take complicated issues and boil them down to simple "soundbite" solutions, designed to get people to agree (and vote) with them. Learning more about any subject makes you appreciate how complex it is, and how very often there are no clear-cut answers.
I was amazed today when I cracked open my new copy of Harper's Magazine. In the Harper's Index feature I discovered this chilling fact about our dwindling world tiger population. There are about as many tigers living in the wild around the world as there are living as pets in the US?! That's simply absurd. These wild animals were not meant to be domesticated and keeping them as pets won't help grow their numbers in the wild.
However, searching around on this topic did lead me to a rather interesting blog focusing on the issues of conservation, specifically through the lens of finance. They recently highlighted China's unique efforts at tiger conservation, which involve breeding tigers in China and shipping them to a fenced-in preserve in South Africa. But most interestingly this blog focusses on some real world situations that can be solved within our current economic system. According to the blog's author:
Good intentions are not enough. We need business models that are financially, institutionally and technically viable, based on evidence, and provide incentives to encourage biodiversity conservation.