Why Do I Have to Know This Science Stuff Anyway?

It’s important to be scientifically literate. Everyday Einstein shows you why.

Lee Falin, PhD,
July 11, 2014
Episode #107

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Something you may hear a lot when teaching science is, “Why do I have to know this stuff? It’s not like I need to know the atomic weight of Xenon in real life.” If you’ve ever asked or been asked a similar question, this episode is for you.;

The Big Secret

Here’s the big secret that your science teacher probably doesn’t want me to tell you:

Unless you’re a scientist, you probably don’t need to know the atomic weight of Xenon, or which direction on the periodic table is more electronegative, or the most common properties of alkaline earth metals. Ditto for the equation that predicts the amount of velocity a ball has when rolled down an inclined plane, the formula for the ideal gas law, or the names of the various amino acids that make up proteins.

So if that’s the case, why bother learning this science stuff at all? While there might not be any real need for you to memorize science trivia like the atomic weight of Xenon (which you can easily look up whenever you need to), there is a huge need for everyone to be scientifically literate.

So what’s the difference? Let’s look at a few examples.

The Dihydrogen Monoxide Hoax

Over the years, many politicians, concerned citizens, and media outlets have fallen victim to a hoax involving the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. The hoax usually starts with someone discovering that their water supply, consumer goods, or even the very air we breathe has been contaminated with dangerously high levels of dihydrogen monoxide.

That sounds serious right? Isn’t that the stuff that comes out of broken kerosene heaters and kills you if you breathe in too much of it? No, wait, that’s carbon monoxide. Maybe it’s that stuff that burns your skin on contact...wait, no, that’s hydrochloric acid. Whatever it is, it sure sounds dangerous--dangerous enough for politicians in many countries over the years to suggest that it be either banned or severely regulated.

Imagine how silly they feel when someone inevitably points that dihydrogen monoxide is just another term for plain old water.