Productive Policy Depends On Public's Understanding Of Scientific Issues

Understanding Of Scientific Issues In our democratic society, in which scientific and technological controversies crowd the public agenda, the American people often are asked to make judgments about unfamiliar, complex issues. On many such issues, the scientific community cannot detail with certainty the likely outcome of many trends or policies. When experts disagree, how can the public acquire enough knowledge to participate thoughtfully in developing policy responses to such controversies? A

John Doble
Jun 23, 1996

Understanding Of Scientific Issues In our democratic society, in which scientific and technological controversies crowd the public agenda, the American people often are asked to make judgments about unfamiliar, complex issues. On many such issues, the scientific community cannot detail with certainty the likely outcome of many trends or policies. When experts disagree, how can the public acquire enough knowledge to participate thoughtfully in developing policy responses to such controversies? And if the public is not involved, what are the implications for society?

The issue is often debated in the scholarly community. Some maintain that reasonable involvement by a public that is, on the whole, woefully lacking in scientific literacy is impossible. Jon Miller, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, argues that only the roughly 20 percent of the public who are comparatively well-informed about science-the "scientifically literate"-have the requisite background, understanding, and level of interest to...

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