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.