[extropy-chat] an(other) Aussie visits Texas

BillK pharos at gmail.com
Mon Jan 29 20:46:51 UTC 2007

On 1/29/07, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> "'Outside the laboratory, scientists are no wiser than anyone else.'
> ...It seems much too pessimistic to say that scientists are literally no
> wiser than average, that there is literally zero correlation.  But the
> proverb does appear true to some degree, and I propose that we should be
> very disturbed by this fact.  We should not sigh, and shake our heads
> sadly.  Rather we should sit bolt upright in alarm.  Why?  Well, suppose
> that an apprentice shepherd is laboriously trained to count sheep, as
> they pass in and out of a fold.  Thus the shepherd knows when all the
> sheep have left, and when all the sheep have returned.  Then you give
> the shepherd a few apples, and say:  "How many apples?"  But the
> shepherd stares at you blankly, because they weren't trained to count
> apples - just sheep.  You would probably suspect that the shepherd
> didn't understand counting very well."

Fear not. Various polls have demonstrated that further education and
science training does make people much more sceptical about
pseudo-science and magical belief systems.

The Harris polls are the ones that get in the newspapers.


The Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans 2005
The table you want is about halfway down the page:

        TABLE 2

(Unable to paste - formatting scrambles)

But for example,
belief in Angels drops from 79% to 41%
belief in Ghosts drops from 50% to 22%
belief in astrology drops from 35% to 6%

But knowledge of science is still very poor in the US and Europe general public.
Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding


Some quotes from this report:

Surveys conducted in the United States and Europe reveal that many
citizens do not have a firm grasp of basic scientific facts and
concepts, nor do they have an understanding of the scientific process.
In addition, belief in pseudoscience (an indicator of scientific
illiteracy) seems to be widespread among Americans and Europeans.
Studies also suggest that not many Americans are technologically

Scientific literacy in the United States (and in other countries) is
fairly low. (Scientific literacy is defined here as knowing basic
facts and concepts about science and having an understanding of how
science works.) The majority of the general public knows a little but
not a lot about science. For example, most Americans know that the
Earth travels around the Sun and that light travels faster than sound.
However, few know the definition of a molecule. In addition, most
Americans are unfamiliar with the scientific process.


Another section in this report mentioned that most of the public get
their (limited) knowledge of science from television, rarely from
printed material.

And a footnote about pseudoscience says:
[33]  Various researchers have demonstrated that a continuing parade
of para-normal depictions in movies and psychic mediums on television
distort some viewers' perception of reality and thus fuel such beliefs
(Sparks, Nelson, and Campbell 1997; and Nisbet et al. 2002).


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