Thursday, December 5, 2013

Identifying the problem: innumeracy or science ignorance?

In previous posts I said that many people who believe in Science™ (as opposed to people who know science) can't answer simple questions, like "what is the kinetic energy of a 2-ton SUV going 65MPH?"

An insightful person suggested that the problem might be due to innumeracy (which is bad in itself; read the linked book) so here's another version that requires no computation: which has more kinetic energy, the aforementioned SUV or a 1-ton car going 130MPH?

A sample of three people who believe in Science™ showed 100% inability to answer with explanation. (Explanation is necessary because a random pick will be right about half of the time.) Two of three picked the wrong answer (SUV) and the third "felt" the car was the right answer.

The question can be answered without calculation, as long as one knows how mass and speed relate to kinetic energy. We're not talking advanced science here: this used to be taught in the seventh ninth grade.

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Note: these posts have nothing to do with the wrong idea that scientists have faith in science in the same sense that religious people have faith in a deity. This is about people who don't know any science but like to invoke Science™ as a talisman or a prop.

Postscript: I'm compiling a list of questions to ask when faced with a Science™ believer, tagged by fashionable intellectual pursuit; after a round of testing, I'll probably post it.