Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Mind the Gap

A month ago, I was discussing my research with a molecular biologist. I was surprised to discover she had no idea the integral role probabilistic models play in the design of telecommunications systems. She thought we could directly apply Maxwell’s equations.

Last week, a friend of mine was telling me about the construction of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and my first reaction was: what’s a hadron? In college, I took the bare minimum physics needed to be an electrical engineer, and I have all but forgotten Maxwell’s equations. The concepts needed to even understand vocabulary like hadron include the Standard Model, which I never learned.

Of course, most people do not go to college. I never even heard about the Standard Model during high school, but I did watch shows like the X-Files and various incarnations of Star Trek, which play on “theories” that modern technology came from aliens in Roswell. When such conspiracy theories are taken seriously, they are incredibly insulting to the scientists and engineers that contributed to these advancements.

Schools cover the history of science and technology up to Einstein and Edison. I doubt many people hear the names Schwinger, Feynman, Wiener, or Shannon. Absent this history lesson, is it any wonder that people would rather accept conspiracy theories on how these advancements came about?

If our education system does not reduce the gap between our cultural literacy and the frontiers of science and technology, people are bound to fall into equally imaginitive explanations of current advancements.


4 responses

  1. Rich

    “*Several* people never even go to college?” According to Wikipedia, only 27% of all adult Americans hold a post-graduate degree. I think that teaching more complicated subjects is the least of our problems.

    July 21, 2006 at 1:24 pm

  2. Krish

    I didn’t follow your point. Are you saying our goal should be to encourage more students to pursue post-graduate degrees rather than improve the education system that 73% of Americans end up with?

    Unlike the K-12 system, post-graduate education isn’t free, so this would be quite a challenge.

    July 21, 2006 at 5:43 pm

  3. Rich

    I think I accidentally linked in two points there. I would have put a paragraph between the two but this commenting feature leaves much to be desired. The last sentence was added in as an afterthought.

    July 22, 2006 at 2:33 pm

  4. Krish

    I think I got the first point, and I replaced the word several with most. I actually didn’t know the definition of several, but it reminds me of the Urban dictionary’s definition of assload.

    July 22, 2006 at 6:15 pm

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