Discovery Guides Areas


Scientific Literacy
(Released September 2007)

  by Carolyn Scearce  


Key Citations

Visual Resources

News & Scholars



Science literacy has been increasing in the U.S. over the last 15 years. Still, we are a long way from the vision of universal scientific literacy. K-12 education still offers the greatest hope at reaching the largest audience for upcoming generations. But we are still waiting to see the results of the reforms anticipated in movements such as Project 2061 and the National Science Education Standards. Issues these reforms must address include attracting and keeping qualified teaching staff and confronting the discrepancies in education among differing social, economic, and ethnic groups.

graph showing effects of different factors
Figure 5: Factors contributing to public scientific literacy.

College education can help relieve some of the slack through the teaching of science courses to non-science majors. However, college classes provide no benefit to those who do not attend college. Many of those groups who already lag the farthest behind in knowledge of the sciences at K-12 level are also less likely to attend college. Furthermore, in order to help fill the growing need for a scientifically and a technologically literate work force, it is important to stimulate interest in science knowledge at an earlier age.

The internet is a promising resource for the promotion of scientific literacy. It is well worth the effort to capitalize on the interests of this growing audience. The internet is a versatile tool that can be used both in the classroom and as a resource for life-long learning. Since the internet has become an increasingly important research tool, it is important to provide easy to find, interesting, high-quality scientific material-in order to best promote scientific literacy. The internet and other distance learning technology can provide the capacity to bring together large audiences that would not otherwise easily communicate with each other. It can strengthen the bonds between formal education and outside institutional resources such as museums. And it can aid in forming the bonds of a community of learning.

graph of information sources
Figure 6: Sources used for attaining science information.

The United States has demonstrated that a commitment to life-long learning can in part make up for the deficiencies of insufficient education. With the fast pace of information acquisition in modern society, the maintenance of scientific literacy requires an audience tuned in to new discoveries and new insights. Our best chance to create a society that is truly scientifically literate rests not on one education program, one resource, or on reaching one audience. It involves strengthening education at all levels, using all resources one can obtain, and capturing as broad an audience as possible.

© 2007, ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved.

List of Visuals


  1. Dizikes, P. (2006). Civic Science. The Boston Globe.

  2. Hazen, R. (2002). Why Should You Be Scientifically Literate?

  3. Hirsch, E., Jr. (1987). Cultural Literacy. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2 Park Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02108 USA.

  4. Miller, J. (2002). Civic Scientific Literacy: A Necessity in the 21st Century. FAS Public Interest Reports, 55(1): 3-6.

  5. Miller, J. (2006). Civic Scientific Literacy in Europe and the United States. World Association for Public Opinion Research, Montreal, Canada.

  6. National Research Council (1996). National Science Education Standards. National Academy Press, Box 285, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20055 USA.

  7. National Science Board (2006). Science and Engineering Indicators 2006, Vol. 1, NSB 06-01, Vol. 2, NSB 06-01A. National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA USA.

  8. Nelson, G. (1999). Scientific Literacy for All in the 21st Century. Educational Leadership, 57(2).

  9. Trefil, J. & Hazen, R. (2003). The Sciences: An Integrated Approach, 4th edition. John Wiley & Sons, New York USA.