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Ohio State professors discuss science literacy at forum

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Ohio State professors discussed how “science literacy” touches lives at the LiteracyForum@OSU Winter Forum 2011 at the George Wells Knight House on Friday.

Science literacy involves the ability to understand what scientific discoveries mean and how to communicate in the language of science, according to the April 23, 2010, issue of Science.

The “Literacy in Science” forum allowed the seven professors from disciplines, including education, biochemistry and university communication, to discuss issues surrounding science literacy amongst themselves and with an audience comprised of OSU faculty, staff and students.  

“We’re trying to get people who work in science in different ways, including people who are researchers, some who have more public roles, some who write about science, several who teach about science, to get them to reflect both on their own work in science and on each others work,” said Harvey J. Graff, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies and LiteracyStudies@OSU program director. 

Several studies have attempted to gauge the degree of scientific literacy among the public. One study showed an increase in scientific literacy in the U.S. from 10 percent in 1998 to 28 percent in 2008, said Earle Holland, assistant vice president for research communications in the Office of University Relations.

“Two out of every three Americans are scientifically illiterate,” Holland said. 

A common misconception is that if you know something scientifically then it is fact, said David Haury, associate professor of science education in the School of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Human Ecology. 

“That’s exactly the opposite of what science is,” Haury said. “The outcome of scientific inquiry is more questions.”

Approaches to science education are evolving, Haury said.

“Now we’re understanding that really the important thing is not so much learning the technical procedures (in science class), but learning how to develop and construct ideas, how to find information, how to bounce your ideas off peers, and report what you think you know to others,” Haury said.

But education is not the only obstacle in improving science literacy. Another aspect is how receptive the public is to scientific information.  

“There is another component (of science literacy) called receptivity – that part of science literacy we are all born with,” said Caroline Breitenberger, associate professor of biochemistry and director of the Center for Life Sciences Education. “Every little kid is asking ‘Why?’ and that’s a budding scientist. I think that part we can and should encourage more.” 

 

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