22
For Public Understanding of Science
Leon E. Trachtman, in a recent essay, questioned the assumptions underlying the usual consensus that keeping the public informed on science is a good thing in a democratic society.He lists the assumptions as follows:
1. Knowledge is simply a good thing in itself.
2. People will be able to make more intelligent, personal consumer decisions if they have more knowledge of science and technology.
3. The very structure of a democratic society depends upon the existence of an enlightened citizenry. The political and social behavior of this citzenry in voting, in influencing elective and appointed officials, and in engaging in political and social activism, will be more constructive for society if it is informed by solid scientific understanding.

As far as assumption one is concerned, Trachtman says: "With this claim I have no argument, but it can hardly be the basis for the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually as part of a deliberate policy of informing the public about science."

In a nation whose chief executive has just advanced a budget that allocates a quarter of a trillion dollars in one year to weapons of war, a few hundred thousand dollars for science education would seem trivial, especially if the other two assumptions hold up, but we all have our priorities, and I hesitate to expect others to live with mine.

As far as assumption two is concerned, Trachtman feels that the vast amount of information spewed forth by the media, much of it self-contradictory, leaves the public confused and unable to come to any decisions as to what to buy or how to live.He says, concerning the citizen, "If he were completely uninformed and simply followed the advice of his doctor or an appropriate government agency to eat a moderate and balanced diet,he would almost certainly be as well off."

-107-

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The Roving Mind
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Roving Mind *
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword Isaac Asimov: Science Popularizer, Skeptic, and Rationalist xi
  • A Celebration of Isaac Asimov — a Man for the Universe xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I the Religious Radicals *
  • 1: The Army of the Night *
  • 3: The Reagan Doctrine 20
  • 4: The Blind Who Would Lead 24
  • 5: Creeping Censorship 27
  • 6: Losing the Debate 29
  • Part II Other Aberrations 30
  • 7: The Harvest of Intelligence *
  • 8: That Old-Time Violence 37
  • 9: Little Green Men or Not? 40
  • 10: Don'T You Believe? 43
  • 11: Open Mind? 47
  • 12: The Role of the Heretic 49
  • Part III Population *
  • 13: The Good Earth is Dying *
  • 14: The Price of Survival 66
  • 15: Letter to a Newborn Child 72
  • Part IV Science: Opinion 74
  • 16: Technophobia *
  • 17: What Have You Done for Us Lately? 84
  • 18: Speculation 88
  • 19: Is It Wise for Us to Contact Advanced Civilizations? 92
  • 20: Pure and Impure 97
  • 21: Do We Regulate Science? 104
  • 22: For Public Understanding of Science 107
  • 23: Science Corps 110
  • 24: Science and Beauty 113
  • 25: Art and Science 116
  • 26: The Fascination of Science 120
  • 27: Sherlock Holmes as Chemist 127
  • Part V Science: Explanation 132
  • 28: The Global Jigsaw *
  • 29: The Inconstant Sun 139
  • 30: The Sky of the Satellites 151
  • 31: The Surprises of Pluto 157
  • 32: Neutron Stars 160
  • 33: Black Holes 162
  • 34: Faster Than Light 165
  • 35: Hyperspace 169
  • 36: Beyond the Universe 175
  • 37: Life on Earth 183
  • Part VI the Future 188
  • 38: Transportation and the Future *
  • 39: The Corporation of the Future 200
  • 40: The Future of Collecting 208
  • 41: The Computerized World 214
  • 42: The Individualism to Come 228
  • 43: The Coming Age of Age 237
  • 44: The Decade of Decision 244
  • 45: Do You Want to Be Cloned? 251
  • 46: The Hotel of the Future 256
  • 47: The Future of Plants 262
  • 48: Bacterial Engineering 266
  • 49: Flying in Time to Come 272
  • 50: The Ultimate in Communication 278
  • 51: His Own Particular Drummer 285
  • 52: The Future of Exploration 295
  • 53: Homo Obsoletus? 300
  • 54: Volatiles for the Life on Luna 307
  • 55: Touring the Moon 312
  • 56: Life on a Space Settlement 317
  • 57: The Payoff in Space 324
  • Part VII Personal *
  • 58: I Am a Signpost *
  • 59: The Word-Processor and I 334
  • 60: A Question of Speed 337
  • 61: A Question of Spelling 340
  • 62: My Father 344
  • Acknowledgments 348
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