Shining a light on the Philadelphia 76ers Dark Ages.

I was a cheerleader for the Philadelphia 76ers NBA team during the 90-91, 91-92 and 92-93 seasons. First year was awesome. Easy to bust some moves in modest uniforms and hightops?! (left) when the entire stadium was cheering on the Atlantic Division champs (Barkley/Jordan era).  I was a senior in college at the time. Just a couple of years prior, I was a cheerleader for the incredible Temple Owls basketball team (ranked #1 in the nation for some weeks). Traveled everywhere. Sold out games, die-hard college fans and an entire city–craving any type of championship–behind us. Dated a football jock. Held a Beer Bong record. Very cliche. Life was good. But I digress.

After my first or second year with the 76ers, Barkley left, the team lost lots of games and despite a radical redo of our outfits (looking more like today’s dance team, above), the fans turned sour. I figured that as long as I could still scalp my free tix, all was not lost. Everyone else, it seemed, had given up on the 76ers during what was called the Dark Ages.

What’s this have to do with science? Glad you asked.  I never gave up on the team. In a few short years, they found The Answer in Allen Iverson. See, I had faith in the 76ers like I have faith in YOU. Stay with me.

USA Today ran an article “Are we science-savvy enough to make informed decisions?” that included the results of a Harris Interactive Survey showing that only 26 percent believe that they themselves have a good understanding of science.  And, 70 percent believe that the United States is no longer the leader in science achievement.

Not to worry. We’ve taken the first step here by admitting we have a problem when it comes to understanding science. Test your science skills, see how you measure up, and learn a few critical science facts in the process. USA Today posted this short quiz.

Next step: we’ll work with the renown science literacy expert Dr. James Trefil who created a formula for success. Together, we’ll learn the basics: the framework of science, or “spiderweb” approach as Trefil calls it. (I interviewed Dr. Trefil several weeks ago then got a little side tracked with ScienceDebate2008 activities and, um, the beach.)

Why? Another great question! The point of the USAToday article is this: If 3rd graders can outscore us on science tests, we have no business weighing in on policy issues. Stem cell research, energy resources, modified foods, nuclear plants, cancer research, space exploration, defense spending, etc. They all require a very basic level of science literacy. We’re not talking rocket science here. Fairly simple stuff likely taught to you in the driest possible manner years ago. And a crash course on what is NOT science (like, astrology!).

The Science Cheerleader is working to open doors so we can start having a say in major science policy issues. See here and here. For decades, calls to include the public in science policy decisions have been wasted on some elitist scientists and some lazy policy makers. Typical response from them goes something like this: [Full belly laugh. Wipe away tears of laughter. Another uncontrollable fit of laughter.] “Oh, Lordy, that was a good one! My Jimmy-the-Greek bobble head knows more about science than the public!”

If the best defense is a good offense then we should remove our “Stupid American” label now.

A variety of factors are converging to form the perfect storm for us. Scientists and policy makers are warming to the idea of inclusivity. The public is starting to take science by the horns in the form of “citizen scientists.” We can make history. It’s going to happen but it can only happen if we step up and get a better handle on some key science facts. Start with the short science quiz. Remind your girlfriends that astrology should not be considered as science. Keep your questions coming. And, I’ll be back soon with Dr. Trefil.

PS: At the very least, you will seem smarter than your friends at the conclusion of our social network science experience.

  • Just one comment – while there are indeed elitist scientists, there are also scientists who aren’t elitists, and elitists who are not scientists. My experience is that if you paint with too broad a brush in those terms, you end up loosing a lot of allies. Other then that, I agree with you.

  • Just one comment – while there are indeed elitist scientists, there are also scientists who aren’t elitists, and elitists who are not scientists. My experience is that if you paint with too broad a brush in those terms, you end up loosing a lot of allies. Other then that, I agree with you.

  • Great point, Phil. You’re right. I’ve modified the descriptors. 🙂

  • Great point, Phil. You’re right. I’ve modified the descriptors. 🙂