I just read a great guest blog post by Michael Wysession on the Scientific American Blogs page. I will start with the quote that got me:
It was 7:45 a.m. on December 21, 2012, and I was in the studio for St. Louis TV Channel 2 News. “Why are so many people convinced that the world is going to end today?” the anchorwoman asked, referring to the supposed ancient Mayan doomsday prophesy. I thought of talking about how precarious human civilization was – as Will Durant said, “Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice.” I thought about the five major extinctions of life over the past half-billion years, the most recent being the end of the Cretaceous, when a rogue object from space DID hit the Earth, on the Yucatan peninsula, which, incidentally, was the home of the same Mayans whose calendar was ending today.
Then I thought about the eruption of Toba volcano 74,000 years ago, which may have nearly wiped out the human species. And I thought about the long string of volcanic eruptions, rapid climate swings, tsunamis, droughts, floods, and other geoscience catastrophes that have routinely devastated the human population and prevented any one civilization from lasting very long. Then I thought about the nearly unbelievable changes that we humans were making to our planet, most certainly replacing the 10,000-year-old Holocene Epoch with the new Anthropocene Epoch. And I wondered how we would know at what point these human impacts would be severe enough to justify replacing the 65-million-year-old Cenozoic Era with a new era, the Anthropozoic Era, the sixth major extinction of life, brought about by the current dominant agent of geologic change on our planet (which is us).
But the smiling commentator who was interviewing me did not want to hear about geologic catastrophes, and I wondered how many viewers would have had the background to understand my answers. Americans get almost no high school education in the areas of Earth and space science. At that moment, the best thing I could talk about was how badly America needed the Next Generation Science Standards, , which are due to be released this spring and whose second public draft was released today. Americans have been duped by too many scams concerning our planet for too long. We need better science education.
When Dr. Wysession was asked a simple qestion, he was unable to answer in fear no one would understand him. This is the same feeling I get when people I meet ask me what I do. I think to myself, “how do I put this?”. When the person’s eyes glaze over, I know to stop explaining. The next thing out of their mouths is, “you must be smart”. I utterly hate this statement and cringe in disgust inside (and outside sometimes). I’m no smarter than the average person, in my opinion. I’ve only had the curiosity to want to understand the mysteries of Nature and the training to do so. There is no reason anyone else can not do the same. This reminds me of a graphic I posted a few hours ago from Jorge Cham‘s TEDx talk at UCLA:
There is a huge disconnect between science and the public. That is where the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) come in. If implemented correctly, students that will enter adulthood and the mass public at large will be better equipped to understand FACTS that scientists are speaking of and not have to take the world of a media outlet giving a bit of information they deem newsworthy from second or third hand sources. So, NGSS is a ‘do over’ of sorts for the U.S. And, it can not come a moment too soon.