WASHINGTON – U.S. adults perform comparably to adults in other economically developed countries on most measures of science knowledge and support science in general, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. However, attitudes toward some specific issues, such as climate change or genetic engineering, may be shaped by factors such as values and beliefs rather than knowledge of the science alone. Despite popular assumptions, research shows that increasing science literacy will not lead to appreciably greater support for science.
The committee that conducted the study and wrote the report said that science knowledge is only one component of science literacy, which also encompasses understanding scientific practices, such as forming and testing hypotheses, and understanding science as a social process, such as the role of peer review.
“Historically, assessments of science literacy have focused on individuals, but we see now that communities can engage in science and produce scientific knowledge in a way that transcends any individual’s ability,” said committee chair Catherine Snow, Patricia Albjerg Graham Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Furthermore, the structural features of a society can impede or enhance individuals’ or communities’ development of science literacy.”
Communities can demonstrate science literacy by leveraging individuals’ diverse knowledge and skills to achieve specific goals, the report says. For example, AIDS activists in the late 1980s to early 1990s developed scientific knowledge to demand modifications to drug-testing procedures and drug-approval policies and worked together to successfully advocate for expediting the delivery of drugs to consumers in health emergencies. In addition, communities can meaningfully contribute to science knowledge through engagement in community action, often in collaboration with scientists. For instance, activists in a community may work together to detect and address links between environmental hazards …