Scientific Literacy and the Sociology of Science: New Frontiers for the 21st Century

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Henry ALLEN, Wheaton College (IL), USA

In 2016, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a major report about scientific literacy in the United States.[1] Essentially, they reasoned that scientific literacy is not just an individual asset, but rather a vital community resource in a complex society.[2] It consists of: (1) an appreciation for science; (2) a general understanding of its scope and promise; (3) a trust in its endeavors; (4) a realistic knowledge of its impact within social organizations or associations; and (5) tangible insight regarding how scientists produce empirical evidence and robust explanations. In sum, the report views scientific literacy as a social process with content shaped by contextual factors across and within communities. Foundational literacy, social structures, systemic factors, attitudes, and disparities all interact to generate scientific literacy in unknown ways at present. The authors of the report caution that existing research does not validate the notion that increasing scientific literacy automatically increases support for science.

In 2017, NAS published a second crucial report about communicating science more effectively.[3] Here, they invite researchers to probe effective methods or strategies for communicating the excitement of scientific investigation, for helping communities comprehend scientific findings, and for engaging diverse communities in the scientific realm. Once again, social factors were stressed explicitly, along with impediments related to the complications of learning science and processing its results. Of course, all of the aforementioned factors affect the formation, execution, and implementation of societal policies. The purpose of my presentation is to analyze these and other new frontiers in the sociology of science for the 21st century.

[1] National Academy of Sciences 2016.

[2] Ibid. The report reveals numerous technicalities and core research questions that must be explored to understand SL. While acknowledging methodological problems, it accentuates the strategic role of the social sciences.

[3] National Academy of Sciences 2017.