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"An educated citizenry is the only safe repository for democratic values."
         - Thomas Jefferson


"In a democracy, it is very important that the public have a basic understanding of science so that they can control the way that science and technology increasingly affect our lives."
         - Stephen Hawking


"Scientific literacy may likely determine whether or not democratic society will survive into the 21st century."
         -L. M. Lederman, Nobel Laureate


Broadly speaking, “Science Literacy” refers to a person’s ability to comprehend basic scientific principles.

We generally regard a person as being “literate” if he knows how to read and write and has at least a passing familiarity with the works of such writers as Twain and Shakespeare

Nonetheless, a large number of otherwise well-educated “literate” Americans don’t know that Earth orbits the Sun or can explain the phases of the Moon.

Consider this frequently heard comment: “Mathematics! Ha! I can barely balance my checkbook!” The person making such a statement faces little or no risk of social embarrassment, even if they are college-educated. In contrast, imagine the reaction if that same person were to say, “Literature! Ha! I can barely read!”

Elementary competence in science and mathematics should rank as a social imperative equal to an elementary competence in English. The fact that this parity does not exist is more than unfortunate, it is dangerous.

With increasing frequency, public policy decision-making involves the sciences. How can we as citizens make sense of headline-grabbing news stories about global warming, genetic engineering, or nuclear waste disposal, if we don’t understand what is meant by “greenhouse gasses,” “DNA,” or “half-life”?

In 1989 the American Association for the Advancement of Science published “Science for All Americans” in which it outlined the basic elements of science literacy, which includes an understanding of:

The Scientific World View

  • The world is understandable.
  • Scientific ideas are subject to change.
  • Scientific knowledge is durable.
  • Science cannot provide complete answers to all questions.

Scientific Inquiry

  • Science demands evidence.
  • Science is a blend of logic and imagination.
  • Science explains and predicts.
  • Scientists try to identify and avoid bias.
  • Science is not authoritarian.

Scientific Enterprise

  • Science is a complex social activity.
  • Science is organized into content disciplines and is conducted in various institutions.
  • Scientists participate in public affairs both as specialists and as citizens.
  • There are generally accepted ethical principles in the conduct of science.

The Clark Foundation believes that science literacy is a critical yet often overlooked contributor to our society’s stability and prosperity. Our mission is to identify and support cost-effective programs that encourage the public awareness of science.


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