In the last issue of The Scientist, Morris H. Shamos, emeritus professor of physics at New York University, cast a cold eye on the concept of scientific literacy. He argued that a more reasonable goal in educating nonscientists about science might be science appreciation. Like music and art appreciation, science appreciation might be fostered without requiring the mastery of technical details that experts need to know. Furthermore, Shamos noted, the appreciation of science by a large segment of our society would have a more practical result than the attainment of scientific literacy (which, in reality, will only be achieved by a few). “A citizenry that understands what science is about,” he wrote, “is less likely to be anti-science than one that has been forced into the mold of knowing about science” (The Scientist, October 3, page 9).

In my view, Shamos has made an important and timely distinction....

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