Our Own Technological Illiteracy

Serious concerns about the general public's lack of technological know-how were highlighted by a National Academy of Engineering report earlier this year.1 It began: "Although the United States is increasingly defined by and dependent on technology and is adopting new technologies at a breathtaking pace, its citizens are not equipped to make well-considered decisions or to think critically about technology. As a society, we are not even fully aware of or conversant with the technologies we use

Richard Gallagher
Nov 24, 2002

Serious concerns about the general public's lack of technological know-how were highlighted by a National Academy of Engineering report earlier this year.1 It began: "Although the United States is increasingly defined by and dependent on technology and is adopting new technologies at a breathtaking pace, its citizens are not equipped to make well-considered decisions or to think critically about technology. As a society, we are not even fully aware of or conversant with the technologies we use every day. In short, we are not 'technology literate.'"

Let's bring this issue closer to home. Substitute "the United States" and "citizens" with "biological science" and "researchers," respectively. Now, are the statements still true? Are biologists ignorant of the technology that underpins much of the recent progress?

Unfortunately, we don't know. Anecdotal evidence aside, no analysis exists (that I could find) that details what scientists know, and don't know, about technologies they...