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Science Literacy

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Merriam-Webster says literacy is the “Ability to read and write. The term may also refer to familiarity with literature and to a basic level of education obtained through the written word.” The CIA Worldbook says that literacy is “the ability to read and write at a specified age.”

How well do you have to know a thing in order to know it? Is memorizing facts enough to be literate in a subject, or should you know how a thing works, or are both important?

The Christian Science Monitor has a 50-question science literacy test. But how many of these questions should you know?

How many questions did you answer correctly because of wording (for example, “What word, which comes from Ancient Greek words meaning “entire” and “Earth,” describes a supercontinent thought to have existed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, about 250 million years ago?” could be known by the dates, or could be translated with the help of the “entire-earth” parts).

Is it important to know that quarks exist and are super-duper-tiny parts of matter, or is it important to remember, “What term for an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter gets its name from a line in James Joyce’s 1939 novel ‘Finnegans Wake’?”

Does it matter that Gregor Mendel worked with pea plants, or that he basically founded the whole field and study of genetics?

How about Newton’s Laws of Motion? Does it matter which law is which, or that you can think of them all in some order?

So then, what is a good scale to evaluate science literacy, or any level of literacy?


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