Science literacy and illiteracy according to the US National Academy of Sciences is hosting a commentary by Mike Klymkowsky on the recent report (Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences) published the US National Academy of Sciences in an Oct. 18, 2016 news item,

Scientific literacy – what it is, how to recognize it, and how to help people achieve it through educational efforts, remains a difficult topic. The latest attempt to inform the conversation is a recent National Academy report “Science Literacy: concepts, contexts, and consequences.”

While there is lots of substance to take away from the report, three quotes seem particularly telling to me. The first is from Roberts [D. A. Roberts] that points out that scientific literacy has “become an umbrella concept with a sufficiently broad, composite meaning that it meant both everything, and nothing specific, about science education and the competency it sought to describe.” The second quote, from the report’s authors, is that “In the field of education, at least, the lack of consensus surrounding science literacy has not stopped it from occupying a prominent place in policy discourse” (p. 2.6). And finally, “the data suggested almost no relationship between general science knowledge and attitudes about genetically modified food, a potentially negative relationship between biology-specific knowledge and attitudes about genetically modified food, and a small, but negative relationship between that same general science knowledge measure and attitudes toward environmental science.”

"Flat Earth” The Flammarion engraving (1888) Wikipedia [downloaded from]

“Flat Earth” The Flammarion engraving (1888) Wikipedia [downloaded from]

The commentary was originally published on Klymkowsky’s Oct. 16, 2016 posting on Sci-Ed, a Public Library of Science (PLOS) blog where you find a list of references including one for D. A. Roberts at the end of the post,

… what is added when we move to scientific in contrast to standard literacy, what is missing from the illiterate response.  At the simplest level we are looking for mistakes, irrelevancies, failures in logic, or in recognizing contradictions within the answer, explanation or critique. The presence of unnecessary language suggests, at the very least, a confused understanding of the situation.[3]  A second feature of a scientifically illiterate response is a failure to recognize the limits of scientific knowledge; this includes an explicit recognition of the tentative nature of science, combined with the fact that some things are, theoretically, unknowable scientifically.  For example, is “dark matter” real or might an alternative model of gravity remove its raison d’être?[4]

For me, one of the more intriguing ideas Klymkowsky explores is scientific illiteracy in the scientific community (from the Oct. 16, 2016 PLOS posting),

There are also suggestions of scientific illiteracy (or perhaps better put, sloppy and/or self-serving thinking) in much of the current “click-bait” approach to the public dissemination of scientific ideas and observations.  All too often, scientific practitioners, who we might expect to be as scientifically literate as possible, abandon the discipline of science to make claims that are over-arching and often self-serving (this is, after all, why peer-review is necessary).

A common example [of scientific illiteracy practiced by scientists and science communicators] is provided by studies of human disease in “model” organisms, ranging from yeasts to non-human primates. While there is no doubt that such studies have been, and continue to be critical to understanding how organisms work (and certainly deserving of public and private support) – their limitations need to be made explicit, while a mouse that displays behavioral defects (for a mouse) might well provide useful insights into the mechanisms involved in human autism, an autistic mouse may well be a scientific oxymoron.

Discouraging scientific illiteracy within the scientific community is challenging, particularly in the highly competitive, litigious,[5] and high stakes environment we currently find ourselves in.[6]  How to best help our students, both within and without scientific disciplines, avoid scientific illiteracy remains unclear, but is likely to involve establishing a culture of Socratic discourse (as opposed to posturing). ….

I recommend reading the commentary in its entirety. You might also want to check out Klymkowsky’s website here.

Finally, the US National Academy of Sciences report, Science Literacy: Concepts, Contexts, and Consequences is available as a free download.

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