Friday, December 16, 2011

The Ultimate Goal

December's Scientiae will be hosted by yours truly. I asked bloggers:

"What is your ultimate career goal? Do you want to win the Nobel Prize? Cure cancer? Build a better mouse trap? What is it that you want to be remembered for career-wise?"
This past summer, I attended (and help organize) a conference on science education at the post-secondary level. The banquet had Adam Bly, founder and CEO of SEED Media Group, as the guest speaker (if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, DO IT!). His entire talk was inspiring - it was almost like a religious experience for me. He makes his living being a big thinker and to get others to think big too. The part that hit me the most was when he challenged delegates to re-imagine their approach to science literacy:

“What if our goal was not the training of thousands of scientists, but rather the education of seven billion scientifically literate citizens?"

This summarizes my ultimate career goal to a "T". When it comes right down to it, many outreach programs are all about recruitment. I get it - we want the "best and brightest" to study in our research area, to continue to grad school, and eventually become scientists or professors.

But, in my mind, this is not what's important. Why should we focus on such a small number of people? For example, there are only about 300 professional astronomers in Canada of a population of 34.7 million. That's 0.00086% of the population. That's not what you'd call a large reach.

To me, science education and outreach is all about creating a scientifically literate society. All 34.7 million in Canada, and all 7 billion (and counting) in the world. I want everyone on this planet to be able to read a news story about "proof" against evolution or global warming and be critical. I want every patient to not take whatever their doctor says as the end-all-and-be-all advice for their health decisions. Hell, I want people to stop using "astrology" when they mean "astronomy".

Is this goal too lofty for one person? Most definitely. Is it something I'm passionate enough to dedicate my (work) life too, to try and change the world one person at a time? Absolutely.

I'm not the type to have "causes". I don't get riled up about politics or religion. In fact, I'm one of those people who can see many sides to many issues, and generally accept the viewpoint of others. But, when it comes to the understanding of science - especially when public opinion matters more and more and when governments are making decisions on what science to fund and what to cut - the level of scientific literacy has to be raised in our world.