Last week I attended a seminar given by Dietram Scheufele regarding public perception of science and technology, specifically, nanotechnology. It was one of the more interesting seminars that I’ve been to this semester. Basically, Dr. Scheufele spoke about the intersection of public views on science and technology, especially nano, and how this intersected with (or more frequently, diverged from) the views of the scientists studying that field, as well as the policy decisions that were put in place.
One minor point of his that particularly resonated with me is how an individual’s perceptions are molded and shaped. In regards to nanotechnology, perhaps a few dozen people in the world have read more than seventy percent of the scientific literature on the subject. Thus, for nearly everyone on the planet, it would be enormously time consuming and inefficient to form any opinion on the subject first hand by studying all the relevant information yourself. I think he mentioned that this was even an expected and logical behavior based on economics considering time as a resource.
Anyway, the end result is we all have to trust the views of other who (we hope) are more educated on the subject than ourselves. This applies to any number of subjects, like the recent health care reform bill in the US, the health effects of cell phone radiation, evolution, religion … you name it.
And to me, what was surprising was that generally people had no desire whatsoever to educate themselves further to fill in the missing gaps in their knowledge. Perhaps I am some kind of abnormal person in this regard, but I generally want to better understand the world around me. I would simply wave this off as having different interests, but taking the health care bill as an example, people seem more than happy to keep their imperfect understanding despite the fact that changes in health care affect them greatly (myself included).
In essence, it confounds me that we humans, as a race, are so apathetic toward better understanding of the world around us.