This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Why is science important?

Why is science important? - Comments

Dhamma's Avatar Comment 1 by Dhamma

What a brilliant project!

I remember myself constantly asking my teachers why we had to learn this or that, and I never got good answers, so this project may help them.

Really, it's annoying how stupid some teachers are. Every time we were taught how to do something in e.g. maths and you asked why it was done in a certain way, you always got the answer "don't ask, just do". So I really think I wasn't taught the mechanisms behind the techniques, which is really sad.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 15:02:00 UTC | #380876

HenryFord's Avatar Comment 2 by HenryFord

Isn't it odd that schools so often teach what something is, rather than how you get to it. I have always loved history, but for a long time I was completely put off it by teachers. I had a number of different teachers over the years, due to moving schools, but there are two lessons I distinctly remember from two separate teachers. The first taught to always question the motives of the person citing the evidence, and the second was to question the evidence itself, whether it was primary, secondary or so on (Chinese whispers).

All other lessons I ever had on history were remembering names, faces, silly customs and stuff that was not important. All have been forgotten (not too disimilar to many science lessons). But those underpinning ideas of HOW we got to the good stuff has remained with me ever since. That's real teaching.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 15:08:00 UTC | #380877

DalaiDrivel's Avatar Comment 3 by DalaiDrivel

I wonder if school education would be vastly improved with compulsory reading of "Unweaving the Rainbow."

I'm would say that the history, the context, of science is more important than the science itself. RD has stated this in other words when he points out that many of us appreciate music without being musicians. With many of us being non-scientists, the merit of performing experiments in school without an explanation of their historical import is, and I think the analogy has been made before, like a description of an opera via pitch frequencies. I cannot remember how to work with electron valences and it doesn't matter now, but I know at least some of the history of the atom as postulated by Democritus, discovered by Dalton, and further investigated by Bohr etc... That I did not learn in school. I learned through books written by science popularisers.

Science is fascinating when its meaning is laid bare in the dynamic context of humanity's development, as an opera is fascinating and meaningful when it is conveyed in the dynamic context of story and song, as opposed to digitally transcribed.

To say that through science, we can state that we know something, is a profoundly powerful statement- I'm not quite sure how you could impress that enough. Every important question we have, science is the very best game in town to answer, having already done so or in the process of doing so. Every hope we have for a better world science plays a role in, technologically, philosophically or methodologically.

I speak for myself, but to view history, and to project the future, through mankind's gradual and ongoing mastery of science is extremely eye-opening, satisfying and invigorating.

I believe you can hook students with the accomplishments of science in developing humanity- as I say, in context- and as a testimony to the power and intrinsically justified pursuit of knowledge.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 17:28:00 UTC | #380892

InfuriatedSciTeacher's Avatar Comment 4 by InfuriatedSciTeacher

As an educator, I can speak to some of the reasons why the "how to get there" is ignored in favour of teaching the bare results, at least in American schools. Students are given a short period of time to master a wide variety of concepts, even in what should be fairly confined courses (biology, for example). As a result, teachers often cover a large amount of material with little or no depth beyond that required to pass whatever exam the state has set for the course, and this has become more widespread since Bush's NCLB act of 2002.
As for some teachers being stupid, I can't refute that. More likely your teachers were education majors, rather than majors in whatever field they taught. From personal experience with this, I know that science teachers in my state (NC) who major in secondary education only have to complete 50 credit hours of science courses, with more than half of it survey courses outside whatever discipline they choose. Compare that with a BS in Bio where they might complete 90 hours of science, with the difference coming in their specialised field. I co-taught Physical Science (Chemistry and Physics wrapped into a one semester course, don't get me started on the inanity of that) with a woman who had an undergraduate degree in meteorology... and a total of six hours in either subject (none in Physics whatsoever). The long and short of it is that science needs to be taught by people who have been exposed to and trained in science, with some education training, rather than the other way 'round.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 18:57:00 UTC | #380902

kyleclements's Avatar Comment 5 by kyleclements

" I want it to demonstrate that science is ... as significant as that of music, art or literature..."

I would say that science is MORE significant than music, art and literature. and I'm an artist.

unlike every other discipline, science is self-critical in a way that no other field is, and it is always expanding. Any scientist today knows more than Newton or Einstein ever did about physics, but today's artists/writers/musicians are still tackling the same ideas/themes.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 19:50:00 UTC | #380905

Alternative Carpark's Avatar Comment 6 by Alternative Carpark

Am I the only one that finds the concept of children living in the 21st century being unaware of the importance of science absolutely staggering?

Clearly, the whole education system needs to be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 20:08:00 UTC | #380908

Scep's Avatar Comment 7 by Scep

Science should be the base of our education system. It will lead to knowledge and transform into wisdom and this wisdom should guide our actions. Too many of us confuse wisdom with old traditional beliefs that have been given to us by pretending authorities. These old wisdoms are not based on evidence, truth and knowledge but on faith, tradition and authority. They have little value in today’s world. They even prevent us from realising the true natural miracle our existence really is.

That we are here at all on our pale blue dot is a miracle, but not in the sense that a supernatural God created us. The miracle of life is amazing and wonderful but it is a completely natural event. Those of us who have the strength, courage and time to reach wisdom via education and knowledge soon find out that there are no supernatural occurrences. We find out that everything is governed by the laws of nature and most is explainable through these laws.

And things that the laws of nature can’t explain will never be explained no matter how hard the pretending authorities and faith heads try.

Before Charles Darwin it made sense to believe in a supernatural God. After good old Charlie we started to realise, and today we know, there is only Einstein’s natural God, in essence the law of nature. There is absolutely no evidence for a supernatural deity and if one “knows” otherwise the evidence should be presented.

The door to a reason-based spirituality is wide open; it is called reality and truth.
The word truth has a variety of meanings, from honesty, good faith, and sincerity in general, to agreement with fact, reason and reality (the scientific truth).

We all live in the same realty space, so please be very skeptical if someone is trying to sell you his own custom made reality. Have the courage to be guided by truth, honesty and reason. It will liberate you.

Have the courage to believe in science.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 20:22:00 UTC | #380910

Alternative Carpark's Avatar Comment 8 by Alternative Carpark

Excellent video, by the way.

Du Sautoy better shape up or this guy will do his job for him.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 20:44:00 UTC | #380911

jonjermey's Avatar Comment 9 by jonjermey

Let me play devil's advocate for a moment and argue that it is far more important to learn scientific method than to actually learn vast numbers of the facts that make up current science. Not because there is anything wrong with them but because we only retain what we use, and for most of us chemistry, biology and physics will never be used enough to make them memorable; like the differential calculus and the dates of King Henry III, they will fade rapidly away to the Internet, where they can be looked up if needed. By the time scientific facts get into school textbooks they are usually a couple of decades out of date anyway.

Scientific METHOD, however, can and should be applied every day. Add in some logic and a selection of exposed fallacies, and you have a solid course in critical thinking which can and should be compulsory for all children before their thirteenth birthday.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 23:47:00 UTC | #380918

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 10 by Jos Gibbons

Did Adam-Hart Davis describe the MMR vaccine as a problem? I surely hope he didn't mean that! Maybe he meant MRSA ... At least such a strange mix-up isn't as bad as him being in the anti-MMR camp! I must admit, that bit worried me.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 00:17:00 UTC | #380923

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 11 by hungarianelephant

10. Comment #398326 by Jos Gibbons

Did Adam-Hart Davis describe the MMR vaccine as a problem?

MMR tends to start a lot of shouting rather than rational debate, but it could be a useful case study. Start with an acknowledgement that all drugs have side effects and get the class to understand that you have to weigh the benefits against the risks. Then move on to how you would go about evaluating the benefits and the risks. Allow broad, sweeping statements at first, then challenge them all. By the time you've done this with a few of them, most of the class will get the idea of what is going on. And in particular, what are scientific questions and what are not.

It isn't hands-on science, exactly, but it's rational analysis, which is just as important.

(After writing this, just noticed jonjermey's comment 9 - I completely agree, and perhaps this ties in.)

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 00:40:00 UTC | #380924

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 12 by Tyler Durden

Science is important otherwise the void is filled with nonsense!

Teen pregnancy and disease rates rose sharply during Bush years

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 02:18:00 UTC | #380935

John Locke's Avatar Comment 13 by John Locke

People not understanding the importance of science? It's simply science having bad PR

although i do hate the notion of "brand marketing" and the like, the trouble is that science has a terrible public image and needs a revamp. i say this as someone who has had a bit of a change in opinion (towards the more positive) over the past few years, with regards to science. And even then i would say that i have always had a fairly good understanding of science compared to average joe (which isnt saying much).

the thing is, much like Bill Hick's immortal quip about there being no positive drugs stories in the news, only slightly wacky or bad science (i.e. when something goes wrong) makes the news. i'm not someone who blames the 'evil' media and the politics of fear - they are just selling their stories - funnily enough things like this isnt very exciting news:

"in other news today; a man sucessfully used a microwave in gloucester. the result - super noodles..."

In addition to this, papers (particularly) report a constant stream of random results from investigations from around the world, to those not able to scrutinise by reading between the lines or investigating further, it seems like an endless string of contradicting "scientific research". a good example is coffee - one minute it is proclaimed as healthy, the next as unhealthy by the papers, but taken out of context. it may well be healthy (with regards to alzheimers - actually the caffeine in it - thus showing the twisting of the story) but unhealthy for those with high blood pressure (because of the subscript of the fact that many people have it with cream and or sugar for example) - but to a casual observer coffee is healthy one minute, unhealthy the next - so people dont trust science.

on top of all this there is the tendency for some scientists to be snobby - when pushed some of my closer science-based degree-qualified fiends can be very condescending to those who dont have a thorough science education - even if they completely understand the discussion at hand.

sorry for a waffle but felt it needed saying :)

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 02:25:00 UTC | #380937

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 14 by SaganTheCat

John Locke

yes it did need saying

the media is totally to blame. there was a time when you had people who were into science (bit nerdy) and people who weren't (didn't care)

nowadays we live in this new-age of endarkenment, fully supported by the media where you now have the nerdy types and the anti-nerds. the ones who don't get science but feel empowerd to have an opinion on it.

I've received comments such as "science is a bully" (in reference to the Simon Singh case) without any irony. anti-science has the victim mentality of all bullies so justifies its attack through misrepresenting scientific news and creating a culture of fear (that can be eased with herbal remadies)

there's even a new language of anti-science. Nature used to be what science studied but nowadays you can sell any old crap by insisting it's "natural" (i.e. unsullied by the hand of nerd).

this morning for example, there was some non-news story about ice cream vans where the erporter fed his interviewee with the line "of course all your ice cream is natural so it's good for you isn't it£"

Personally I do blame the media even if you don't.

it's all very well saying they just report the news but they do it without responsibility. There was no front page shock-horror story about the bad-science that led to the MMR scare, no scary prediction of a future of increased deaths due to measles, just a small story. meanwhile today, children die of measles

Science is knowledge. With knowledge you can dispel fear. without fear you're not very easy to control so it's no wonder there's rarely been a political need to ensure science is reported accurately

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 03:53:00 UTC | #380946

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 15 by God fearing Atheist

14. #398351 by CaptainMandate
"of course all your ice cream is natural so it's good for you isn't it"

"Have a few of these Amanita Phalloides (death cap) mushrooms, they are perfectly natural, so must be good for you!"

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 04:20:00 UTC | #380948

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 16 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #398351 by CaptainMandate

The media probably causes more trouble than, say, bad teachers. One especially annoying thing is when they take every study, which a scientist would summarise by saying "In this experiment there was a significant correlation between A and B, which is interesting, raises some questions, and so further study is needed, especially to see if this correlation is replicable", and giving the bluntest interpretation they possibly can, one which the scientists themselves aren't giving. One interpretation is they want sensationalism for their headline, and they do want that in general, so it's a plausible explanation. But the side-effect of their doing this all the time with science, namely that science seems so willing to change its mind that people think it's shown to be untrustworthy by its own fruits (especially, for instance, with what causes cancer), serves the interests of many journalists, and I suspect some want to create this long-term effect on people's opinions. It may be the biggest impact on the public's views they ever have. I guess sensationalism serves the anti-science lobby best of all. But I hate them for it!

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 04:23:00 UTC | #380949

John Locke's Avatar Comment 17 by John Locke


Agree completely. i think you are right pointing out that the media have a responsibility. i was more dismissing people who talk of a fear-inducing media as if they sit in their offices cackling at new ideas of scaring the public that they conjure up. this is missing the point - they just sell stories and make things as interesting (exagerrating i'd say) as possible, and bad/scary news is more exciting.

i think in order for science to get a better understanding in the wide sense we need to return to the older definition of science - like Georges Sorel's "little science" - but in a positive manner. this means pointing out that other subjects - humanities particularly - do actually follow a scientific method of sorts.

science is investigation into the world we live in, be it society or nature, and so it is imperative that science be presented as understanding itself and not just men with white coats concocting in laboratories - the "nerds".

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 04:24:00 UTC | #380950

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 18 by SaganTheCat

Thanks GFA

just so long as they're not made with "preservatives"

I won't let any child of mine eat something that's been preserved from rotting in any way

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 04:25:00 UTC | #380951

John Locke's Avatar Comment 19 by John Locke

organic wine makes me laugh - no preservatives or pesticides - oh wait except the sulphites that are needed so it can travel more than 5 miles from the vinter...

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 04:30:00 UTC | #380953

debaser71's Avatar Comment 20 by debaser71

I don't think the problem is with schools or teachers...although, of course, there are some bad ones out there. The problem is that there are powerful forces out there with anti-science agendas.

Maybe I am the exception but I've had nothing but good experiences with publics schools. From my own schooling, to my mother's teaching, and now to my children's learning. I also teach my children; I don't rely on the schools to do that for me. School is a help but it isn't the be all end all to my children's education.

Also, for me, I never was interested in the history of science, or how some particular scientist discovered something. I just wanted to get right to it and learn about the why's and how's. Although today I am interested in learning the history of things. I guess it's that I want to know how and why first, then learn about the details of the history and discovery process.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 04:45:00 UTC | #380955

Shiva's Avatar Comment 21 by Shiva

Awesome initiative!

This is surely welcomed by me :D

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 05:14:00 UTC | #380958

friendlypig's Avatar Comment 22 by friendlypig

Great video, although it did take an hour to download!

The press carry a lot of responsibility for the way in which they present their slant on science. In the UK we all know how the discussion on the MMR vaccine was distorted several years ago and still causes ripples today.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 05:18:00 UTC | #380959

Vanitas's Avatar Comment 23 by Vanitas

Fascinating video. Amazing job, Alom.

Sometimes it just makes me angry though, when the question is asked "what's the point of this?" What's the point of art? of music? of sports? Why is it only science that has to have a point?

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 06:04:00 UTC | #380962

hungarianelephant's Avatar Comment 24 by hungarianelephant

19. Comment #398358 by John Locke

AFAIK organic wine isn't allowed to contain added sulphites - all wines have a small quantity of naturally occurring sulphites anyway, and these are allowed. That's certainly the rule in countries which take food labelling seriously. Probably not France then.

Even more off topic, sulphites are the largest barrier for people who think they don't enjoy red wine. Their palate detects a sharpness, or they might even get the sneezes. The solution is ever so simple - pour the wine into a large jug, then pour it back through a funnel into the bottle. Most of the sulphites will dissipate. It also aerates the wine, which is rarely a bad thing anyway, and softens up a tough old claret nicely.

See, science is important.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 06:14:00 UTC | #380967

John Locke's Avatar Comment 25 by John Locke

Re: Hungarian Edmunds

I knew wine contains sulphites naturally but surely if none were in the wine would go off? i know someone who has a small vinyard in italy but doesnt bring the wine here cos he says it wont travel unless sulphites are added which he wont do. anyone with more knowledge on this know how they manage with organic wine? or are sulphites for the wine exept from organic classification as they are added after the process - the vine's soil may be certified organic, so they market it as oranic wine....

i will have a gander next time im in the supermarket and see if theyre being sneaky... :)

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 06:51:00 UTC | #380972

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 26 by SaganTheCat

I shall do a little research later tonight

We have a bottle of organic tempranillo at home (co-op exclusive. it's very nice) so i'll check the ingredients

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 06:59:00 UTC | #380973

Lemniscate's Avatar Comment 27 by Lemniscate

I thought this video was excellent. I don't agree with the AQA curriculum guy, though. The exams set just don't come up to scratch: There was an interesting report by SCORE on the quality of GCSE science examinations.

And this is what schools work towards in their science classes.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 08:53:00 UTC | #381002

Scep's Avatar Comment 28 by Scep

jonjermey, you write:
“…it is far more important to learn the scientific method than to actually learn vast numbers of the facts that make up current science.”

You are right on.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 09:23:00 UTC | #381017

Steven Mading's Avatar Comment 29 by Steven Mading

One of the depressing signs of lack of basic science knowledge: Packaging on "organic" (and I'll leave out the whole argument about what the hell THAT is supposed to mean) fruit juice that says in prominent lettering "Chemical Free!!".

No chemicals?


Not even a little dihydrogen monoxide? Granted, while dihydrogen monoxide can be fatal if you breath enough of it into your lungs, is the primary component of acid rain, and our sewage treatment systems dump tons of it into our rivers every day, I don't mind having some in my drink.

If science education was treated with the same respect as, say, literature, then putting the prominent label saying "chemical free" on your product would not help sell it. It would make people call you a moron.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 11:18:00 UTC | #381061

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 30 by Jos Gibbons

The video is available from but,if you're not registered with Vimeo, the high-quality MP4 version they offer is unavailable. I'm settling for downloading an FLV from Does anyone know a way to do better quality-wise? If not, at least I've shared with you all a way to download this film.

Tue, 21 Jul 2009 12:37:00 UTC | #381081