Reflections on scientific illiteracy

By Francesco Gonella

Dr. Gonella is a Professor of Physics at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy, who has worked in Canada (Laval University) and Japan (Tokyo Institute of Technology). He was Director of the International School on Emergy Accounting, Venice 2013 and 2015. Research interests include nano-structured glasses, environmental Physics, systems thinking, and higher education. Other interests are Baroque Music, Shodo (1st dan at the Japanese Federation of Calligraphy), and Foundations of Quantum Mechanics.

“Philosophers are people who know less and less about more and more, until they know nothing about everything. Scientists are people who know more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing.” –Konrad Lorenz

Modern scientific illiteracy arises from a number of causes. Modern science often requires an advanced background, making it inaccessible. And many basic scientific concepts are commonly misunderstood, such as Darwin’s Evolution Theory. But since most of the present global issues such as climate change are related to complex systems, the literacy gap is related to the set of conceptual tools pertaining to Systems Theory. Global problems can be faced only with skills, languages, approaches and methodologies that come from a systemic view, using tools that are neither strictly scientific theories nor pieces of technology. This kind of science literacy is needed in all decision-making processes concerned with complex, technology-based, and environmental systems, and in general with actions inspired by concepts like Sustainable Development, or Prosperous Way Down. Furthermore, systemic concepts like emergence, non-linearity, pattern, feedback, self-organization, criticality, and chaos that have a specific role in Systems Theory, are used as well within other contexts, including the everyday life language, with different meanings, giving rise to a further functional illiteracy. As David Goodstein observes, “Approximately 95 percent of the [American] public is illiterate in science by any rational definition of science literacy”, and there is little hope that the policy makers all come from the remaining 5% who are scientifically literate. Continue reading Reflections on scientific illiteracy