On Why People Don’t Like Science, Especially Physics

 

Take a child.  Put said child into a sufficiently stimulating and diverse environment and let him/her explore.  When I’ve done or observed this, I’ve found that

a)      Children are interested in and curious about practically everything,

b)      And this includes asking scientific questions, and looking for or speculating about possible answers. 

Now add a few years of schooling, including heavy doses of negative stereotyping about science, especially for girls in the West.  Include also deadly dull and boring teachers who either hate the subject or the students or both.  Include huge reams of homework and assignments and authoritative pronouncements on who is stupid or smart, who is a science-type or not, and other forms of labeling. 

End result: people who think science (especially physics) is boring, or dull, or for “smart people only.”  People whose imaginations are unmoved by Saturn’s Rings, quadratic equations or the implications of the special theory of relativity.  People to whom gravity is something to be taken for granted rather than something amazing. 

I try not to take all this personally but it does get a bit depressing when people who are otherwise intelligent find out what I do and immediately cringe, or wince, or say something inane about how brilliant I must be.  This is not dissimilar to the reactions I get about writing science fiction (except for the “brilliant” part).  And while I think the two reactions are related, I first want to speculate about why people don’t like science in general and physics in particular.

Here are some random thoughts that come to mind.  These are in the nature of hypotheses:

  • It is taught poorly, which kills the student’s interest
  • It is challenging in the sense of what it requires from the student: dedication, attention to detail, discipline and constant practice.  
  • Formal education tends to divide the universe into “subjects” that appear to have little to do with each other.  Those who are not going into the sciences tend to think, as a result, that physics has no relevance to their lives.
  • It gets bad press, from dull textbooks and incomprehensible news reports to mad scientists in movies.  Particularly in societies where the herd mentality is paramount, where people tend to go with trends and bury their individuality in an attempt to conform, science is not portrayed as “cool.”  In such cultures (I’m thinking in particular of the US) it is the province of nerds and geeks, as though it is a necessary rite of passage when growing up to give up one’s curiosity about the natural world.  And if you don’t do that, gosh, how embarrassing you are.
  • Science, especially physics, is portrayed as antithetical to art so people who write or paint or make music are naturally turned off by it.
  • Science is the handmaiden of industry and war and is therefore off-putting.  It is owned by the powerful, and those in the lower levels of the hierarchy do not feel a sense of connection and ownership with respect to science.
  • Science is a boy thing and therefore not something that can be done by girls, or should be done by girls. 
  • Scientists are notoriously poor communicators, with some happy exceptions who write about it well, but then you have to know a certain amount of science and have some liking for it in order to appreciate their work.

In my experience growing up in India until my early twenties, things were different in two ways (again this is my experience):

  • There was no negative labeling if you liked to learn.  Kids who did well were looked up to by their classmates.  I don’t know if this is still true given the amount of penetration of Western norms into urban India in the last couple of decades.  
  • While there was less labeling regarding “science types” or “arts types” there was some.  But interestingly I didn’t myself come across the idea that girls could not do science.  The idea was that science required hard work and anyone who could put in the discipline could do it.  I’ve heard that nowadays in India female science graduates are sought after by mamas looking to arrange marriages for their sons because they can bring in a decent income.  However, then at least, a woman pursuing science would be expected not to go into demanding areas like research (as a long-term career anyway) because that would take too much away from family duties.

All right. I personally think that retaining one’s curiosity about the natural world adds to the richness of life experience, whether one is a scientist or a saxophonist, a mathematician or a dressmaker.  I mourn the take-over of science by Wall Street and the war mongers, but not the science itself.  I wish it were done and taught differently — in a more holistic way for lack of a better word — in a way that made us feel, like John Muir or the Buddha, connected to everything else, so that it would mean something to us at a personal level, and so we would not use it for harm.  But to dislike science itself, to think of its ideas as boring, or irrelevant, or dull?  That is beyond my comprehension.

A quick note:  I think a dislike of science may be connected to a dislike of science fiction, although not necessarily and not in every case.  But I’ve come across a bunch of reviews of my new collection The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and a couple or three of the reviewers have been totally baffled by my stories.  One classic example was the person who said that these stories were not really stories because they had science in them! 

Anyway all I’ve done in the above is to speculate.  I’d like to hear what others think.  Why are some people turned off science? Why are there so many of them?  What, if anything, should be done about it?

Update: See my latest post on this, with further links.

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32 Responses to “On Why People Don’t Like Science, Especially Physics”

  1. bobprice Says:

    I wrote a reply. It was very long, far too long for a comment and unfair as a barrier to other comments down this page. I’ve posted it on my blog (bobprice.wordpress.com, with a link at the bottom of the post to return readers here where they should be).

  2. vsinghsblog Says:

    Hello, Kurt, thanks for the long and thoughtful response — well worth reading at bobprice.wordpress.com. Thanks for the Feynman story and the story about your father — citizen scientist, I love it! The Feynman story reminds me of the old and fake argument that science, by revealing the workings of something, takes away its mystery and beauty. That has always puzzled me because to me that knowledge of its inner workings gives depth to my appreciation of the phenomenon.

    I got into science pretty early because when I was a kid I had lots of time to roam around, climb trees, ponder the shapes of clouds. Even though we were in a big city my brother and I did these things, and at the same time we learned to appreciate the arts. So I think having an early aesthetic appreciation for the scientific inner workings of the world helped us to maintain that interest. So did the science fiction novels we read!

    I think there has to be a shift in the way science is taught, portrayed and done — and a change in its culture. Regular people need to take it back from the experts and the corporations. More on all that anon.

  3. Sara Says:

    I am an education student with the University of Arizona and doing a project on teaching science in elementary school. Your list of reasons for why people don’t like science fits exactly with my project’s theme and I would like to have your permission to use your list in my paper. May I use it, and how should I give you credit? You may respond to the email address provided. Thank you.

    • vsinghsblog Says:

      Sara, I’ve sent you email. Thanks for writing.

      I’d be very interested in the results of your research, if you’d be willing to share it when it is published. I used to teach science to a small group of local home-schoolers when I was homeschooling my daughter, and it was a fascinating experience.

      Vandana

    • Tarun Says:

      Hi sara, I have been looking for a place to share my idea’s about science education and I found your blog. I believe science education needs a lot of face lift these days. Your project on “teaching science in elementary school” is a an excellent idea. If my thought and findings are going to help you then here are my findings.

      The interest in science depends not only on the student but also the teacher. Most of the students are loosing interest in science. The reason why I am saying this is because of the way it is taught in schools. The only thing the teachers are bothered about is finishing the syllabus. They just read what is there in the textbook. Science is a subject that always start with a question why? If the teachers can explain that “WHY” to students they will definately start thinking. Science should always be taught in relation to the NATURE. So this is what i follow in my classes, when I teach them what is a flower, I actually take them to the garden and explain it practically. Trust me sara this makes a lot of difference in their learning. They would remember it for ever. I have tried this practically and it works.

      I give them examples of great scientists, modern research which they listen with eyes wide open. Now you tell me when such methods are not followed in school how will they even think about science. Am i right sara?

      There are so many such practical methods that I have implemented in class.

      If it matches with your theme, you can follow me through mail or on facebook.

      I saw this was posted in 2009 nevertheless I found the right place for my questions.

  4. Adrian Says:

    Vandana,
    This question has been of great interest to me and it surprised me how many different search queries I had to submit in Google before I came upon your blog. I’ve recently graduated from a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and am looking to pursue a career in science journalism; however, the more research I do the more it seems as though the general public simply does not want to read about science. Newspapers all over the world are dropping their science sections because they don’t bring in enough advertising. Science journalists with resumes to die for (figuratively, of course) are competing for a very limited number of positions and often have to resort to professional blogging rather than staff positions. I’ve often wondered whether fear of science (at least in North America) has to do with a national sense of insecurity. The earliest exposure most students have to science is through mathematics and many people are, simply put, not mathematically inclined. Since science is so inherently tied to mathematics in our education system, the students that are weakest in this area will shy from continuing on in science. However, it must be a blow to the ego of our youth when they are told, whether through grades or otherwise, that because they don’t like math, science is ‘not their thing.’ So they come to agree with the stereotype propagated by the media that science is for socially inept ‘nerds.’ This helps them feel better about their weakness (which, more often than not, is due to skewed perception and not true) and thus another generation grows up to propagate the stereotypes over again.
    Scientists, however, don’t help their case. Many scientists are very, very normal people, but a select few fall into their role simply because they were assigned to it when they were young. And let’s face it, where better for an intelligent antisocialite to reside than in a laboratory, because research is generally quite a solitary career. Even though these kinds of ‘nerds’ can be found in any career with very likely equal representation, people use those found in research science to validate their stereotypes.
    I agree with your point that our educators are partially to blame. However, I’d be even more tempted to blame the arts. In film, literature (excluding science fiction, of course) and television, when was the last time any of us got to see a scientist played by a sexy, charming male/female protagonist? The hottest roles in the arts are all played by doctors and forensics experts (oddly… do we have a culture obsessed with morbidity?). Both of these positions are highly educated scientific professions that, in many cases, receive the same background education as research scientists. And yet, I can count the number of scientists I’ve seen in film that could be considered ‘hawt stuff’ on both my hands:
    – Alan Grant in Jurassic Park.
    – Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park.
    – Capa in Sunshine (Cillian Murphy was tutored by a physics professor so that he could accurately portray a physicist’s fascination… and he accomplished this beautifully)
    – Jack Hall in The Day After Tomorrow.
    That’s it. While I’m certain this list can be expanded on, the number of desirable male and female scientists in film pales in comparison to most other professions. And think of the number of negative stereotypes that we see? To list two that stick in my mind…
    – Dr. Frankenstein (an excellent story, but how research scientists ever live this one down?)
    – Dr. Walter Bishop from the TV series fringe
    – Etc., etc., etc…

    I’m going to avoid expanding this list, because it only becomes more embarrassing and I think anyone could pick out a huge number to add to this. Scientists are depicted as effeminate, weak, antisocial, disconnected and arrogant.

    To tie all of this talk of scientists in the media to national insecurity, I think that as each generation in North America matures, those who control the arts continue to propagate these false stereotypes because they grew up believing them. While it’s unlikely this is uniquely due to psychological insecurity on an individual level, I think the science community needs to look into the problem to prevent social polarization of our research workforce.

    Without making this post much longer, I find it very interesting that the Indian culture revolving around science is such an antithesis to my North American upbringing. I would be very interested in hearing about any Bollywood references you might have to the portrayal of scientists in film or art to contribute to the article I’m working on. Once I get my blog up and running, I hope you’ll also feel free to review some of the information I plan on posting regarding science and the way it is perceived by the general public. Great post, I agree with all your points and hadn’t considered some of them before. I also hope to do some research on the public perception of science fiction that I’d be interested in comparing notes on later.
    Adrian

    *To anyone offended or disagreeing with my post, these are solely my opinions and have (not to my knowledge) been supported by any peer-reviewed research. I do not claim any of the above statements to be fact.

    • vsinghsblog Says:

      Hello, Adrian,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I would like to do them justice by writing at length but that will have to be another day and probably a whole post. But I did want to elaborate on your point about labels and stereotyping with regard to science. The notion that there exist “science-types” and “math types” as opposed to “arts types” is accepted as truth and yet education research questions its validity. Have you ever come across the work of Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck? She put her research into a popular book called Mindset that has changed the way I teach and the way I view such things as natural aptitude and talent. It is well worth reading. Among other things her results challenge the above commonly accepted notion.

      It is depressing to learn that newspapers are less inclined to carry science articles and that science journalists must compete for a few positions. And you are right about the portrayal of scientists in movies (I’d add Jodie Foster in Contact to your list of decent protrayals, by the way). But I think there is also the deeper issue of culture in science. I think (and hope to elaborate on it further some day) that scientific culture tends to pick certain personality types and people with certain aptitudes. If the culture wasn’t so restrictive I think we’d have a greater variety of people becoming scientists and being drawn to science. Perhaps part of what scientists and science journalists have to do is to change that internal culture.

      More on all this anon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. KS 'Kaz' Augustin Says:

    I think a distinction needs to be made between Western attitudes and English-speaking Western attitudes to science and maths, because I’ve certainly noticed the difference. And it is maths as well as science that seem to somehow cause an iron curtain to descend in someone’s mind.

    For this reason (as well as others), we made a conscious decision to move (back) to south-east Asia for our children’s primary education at least. There’s no way I’d be subjecting my coloured children to the same kind of bullying, insults and stereotypes that I had to endure as a brown, female, high achieving student (and yes, I wore glasses too), including being told that I shouldn’t pursue the Science/Maths stream in high school because girls’ brains “can’t cope” with such a workload. Oh puh-lease.

    Now, I know Adrian mentioned that many people seem not to be mathematically inclined. In fact, I’m not sure whether this is correct. I find that both men and women who strenuously assure me that they detest maths are also able to: (a) quote the relevant statistics for their favourite athletes for the past two centuries, and/or (b) calculate, given a particular material width, exactly how much material would need to be purchased in order to make a jacket or coat, or the ratio and amount of ingredients to make x number of a particular type of cake. Thus, it appears that we are all actually quite well mathematically inclined, it’s just that most people are too damned lazy to use it if the situation is a nanometre outside their favourite array of topics.

    Didn’t press a hot button of mine there, did you V? 😉

  6. links for 2009-05-03 « Embololalia Says:

    […] On Why People Don’t Like Science, Especially Physics « Antariksh Yatra End result: people who think science (especially physics) is boring, or dull, or for “smart people only.” People whose imaginations are unmoved by Saturn’s Rings, quadratic equations or the implications of the special theory of relativity. People to whom gravity is something to be taken for granted rather than something amazing. (tags: science education) […]

  7. devil's advocate Says:

    Do you like everything? ( No sarcasm intended here.) Was there a subject you liked not that someone else was passionate about? Maybe understanding your lack of interest in something would be the first step. Maybe there were things you disliked that you later began to like. Some of us or them may just like other things/science more and science/other things less. Diversity is good.

    Or, perhaps you were talking about more people being put off by it than would be normal because of bad advertising. In that case I concur. Certainly, many of the science text books use “traditionally male activities” to explain physics concepts at a young age (Cricket in commonwealth countries, baseball in the US) almost insisting it is a male field. Recently the trend is changing with “Alex” throwing a curve ball often replaced by “Christina pitching a softball”. Either way, if you are passionate about science, the onus is on you and other like minded individuals, to advertise its beauty (as apparently you do).

    For what its worth one of the problems with some elementary and early middle
    school teachers who are called on to teach all subjects to kids, might be that they inadvertently project their own biases and fears of math and science to the children they teach. One way out would be to have separate science/math teachers from an early age.

    Indian culture is more (as of today) pro technology because most developing countries see technology as a way to get ahead. It is very anti liberal arts (anti non-technology, even anti pure science) to quite a degree. Lack of dignity of labor is another reason. In the US people can find different ways to be creative and make a decent living. Perhaps, there are people in science in India who would have been more creative had they pursued a field they had greater aptitude for.

  8. vsinghsblog Says:

    Hello, all,

    Sorry for the awfully late reply.

    Kaz, thanks for sharing, and good luck! You made a great point about people who claim not to be mathematically inclined being able to quote statistics with ease when it is about their favorite pastime. At some point I shall write a post about the work of Stanford U. educational psychologist Carol Dweck and her work on this sort of labeling, but in the mean time check out this article: http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2007/february7/dweck-020707.html.

    Hello, devil’s advocate, my article is aimed at what you say in para two of your comment. I think that we all obviously have preferences for one thing over another, but to have an active dislike of a subject calls for a deeper analysis/explanation of the possible causes.

    You are right about early and middle school teachers projecting their attitudes on unsuspecting children. I teach a class for future elementary school teachers here in the US and I am sad to say that the majority are put off by science or intimidated/bored by it. Much of my energy goes into trying to change that attitude.

    I agree that Indian science teaching has a certain rigidity to it, and its own biases. I remember not being allowed to borrow books from the Arts library at Delhi University because I was a science student — forget about wanting to take non-science courses. Do look up the Dweck reference above as well, it is quite insightful.

    I wonder if science teaching were more creative and less rigid, if more people and more types of people would be attracted to the sciences.

    Vandana

  9. otopark bariyerleri Says:

    bariyer…

    […]On Why People Don’t Like Science, Especially Physics « Antariksh Yatra[…]…

  10. Rimi B. Chatterjee Says:

    I completely agree with you. The science/arts divide in India is what prevents sci fi from being both written and read. People think anything with science in it has to be a) difficult and b) deadly boring. You’re only allowed to write SF if you subvert science in a poco sort of way.
    Sigh.

    • vsinghsblog Says:

      I think so much of the problem is how it’s taught. People expect it to be dry and boring. I teach in a more multidisciplinary way and I often get odd looks from students because they don’t expect that in a science class. Ah well, I persist. 🙂

  11. Karen Says:

    I agree with this so much!
    Science is just putting your natural curiosity to work in a structured form.
    I am in my last year of high school so obviously I get asked “So what are your future plans?” ALL THE TIME. When I answer that I’m thinking of going into math or physics, I get weird looks for actually being interested in something that so obviously is really boring and pointless and then on top of that I am a blonde girl so they are immensely surprised I’m not doing something artistic. It’s annoying.
    My physics and math teachers have all been great all throughout my school career so I guess I’m lucky in that sense that they didn’t suck enough to turn me off of that sort of thing.
    And actually, on a slightly related note, I was very into English at first but how they taught English, with the tearing apart of books look for similes and symbolism, turned me off of that. Funny.

    • vsinghsblog Says:

      Dear Karen,
      It is so good to hear from a science enthusiast! Kudos for breaking stereotypes! I’m glad you’ve had good teachers — college should be even better. I would suggest not letting English teachers put you off English — it helps to go into science having multiple talents and interests. There is some evidence that different kinds of creativity play off and reinforce each other. During the time of the Renaissance people were not put into boxes as they are now. To be a full and complete learner, approach everything (OK, nearly everything) with a ferocious enthusiasm and see what happens!

  12. ys Says:

    I was just talking about this today and found that your article reflected my thoughts.

    Regarding stereotypes. Since I was 6 years old I liked astronomy and started reading a lot about it. But I also read about history, philosophy, mythology, fiction during the years and liked video games etc. As a teenager I learned to play guitar, started a band and learned to record/mix/master music later on. I just have an interest in diverse things. But I’ve noticed that it surprises many that a musician can have an interest in physics. Or that someone with an interest in physics has a “metal musician look” and not the tv-stereotype of a nerd. For me, it’s rather natural to have several interests and I even feel as if they overlap and “connect” in a way sometimes.

    Adrian was right though concerning people being put off during school. I started to struggle with math around seventeen due to circumstances and was advised not to pursue astronomy. Then a few years later after moving I had an opportunity to retake two math courses and it went very well. So now after a detour in the workforce I have taken and am taking some math and physics courses at university anyway. A big part was not getting intimidated as before and it helped.

    But as said above : not everyone needs to like it. What bothers me is unnecessary stigma and attacks on science without people knowing what it’s really about.

    About teaching with more of an overview.
    I saw a similar comment regarding a new book “The theoretical minimum” by Susskind. The aim of it is teaching what’s necessary to understand physics the way physicists use it. In other words certainly above popular science but without deeper details like a textbook.
    Someone wished that his education had been like that. He understood the connection between everything instead of having every course feel unrelated.

    Maybe not a bad idea? Start with what people need, make them understand concepts and enough math and with experience people can delve deeper as needed?

    By the way, the discipline argument is very valid and also works outside of science. Take guitar playing, it takes thousands of hours of practice over many years to get to an advanced level technically. And you have the same symptom there : many either get intimidated when they see others or don’t care to practice.

  13. Why People Don’t Like Science: some links | Antariksh Yatra Says:

    […] long while ago I wrote a piece called “Why People Don’t like Science, Especially Physics” in which I speculated as to the answer to that question.  About two years ago I decided to […]

  14. saikat datta Says:

    After reading ur whole topic l got the idea to approach science. U know how physics can change the mind. Moreover to have an interest to such a delicious,pretty,fantabutous subject one must not think if physics comes naturally to me or any other subjects I should not neclect others. Most of the time people neglect other subjects and at last gets into undue pressure to stop reading that subject. And thats one reason to loose interest in such subjects. So go out of yr normal studies. Have a look at some scientific msgazines. Feel science can give u ur respect.

  15. Brian Says:

    The only thing I want to point out is that this stereotype doesn’t hold true in the West anymore, at least not where I went to high school (Fitchburg, MA). People who understood science were looked up to – probably revered a little too much in some cases – but they certainly were not denigrated or looked down upon. I was in high school only just a year ago, and I graduated with a lot of people knowing who I was and respecting me for the fact that I understood and enjoyed science. I think this is a shift that’s happening far more with the younger generations. Much like homosexuality is no longer a negative thing to the majority of us, neither is being a “nerd”. Nerd is the new jock.

  16. Alex Brown Says:

    Well, from my experience, science has been an area of great interest and disappointment.

    I’ve always had an interest in the natural sciences. I read books about dinosaurs as a kid. Their outlandish appearance would grab my attention wherever I went. Dinosaurs, sharks and other beastly creatures simply enthralled me, and I always enjoyed imagining extant examples of such creatures roaming the earth once more, but my fascination for those things was largely inspired through art.

    My mother is an artist, and she raised me to be a visual person. Reading books about dinosaurs and the earth’s past inspired me to understand things visually. She would give me sketchbooks and watercolor pads and let me visualize to my heart’s content.
    The important thing about this experience is my lifelong habit of understanding things artistically. That’s how she grew up. I suppose my analytic side, or my cognitive understanding of the world, suffered as a consequence.

    I struggle with math. From a visual perspective, math is an abstraction. When I was in the first grade, I didn’t understand how to add numbers together. My father, being more math-savvy than my mom, would sit down with me for hours trying to explain addition by using pennies. Unfortunately, I had to repeat the first grade. Math wasn’t necessarily the reason why I had to repeat it. The fact I had Asperger’s Syndrome was the primary reason. (I didn’t know I had Asperger’s until I was in High School.) I eventually understood the idea and usefulness of the math in the second grade. I was nine years old then. Other kids in my grade knew how to multiply and divide by then. Kids uninterested in the natural world could do math better than me, so imagine for a moment how upset I was with the situation.

    I enjoy the sciences, but I suck at math. Some people are better than me at math, but they don’t care for the sciences. I don’t understand how people can say “math is the language of science” when I’m quite happy to look at things as they are: beautiful. You don’t need to be a mathematician to be a scientist.

    I don’t see myself as unscientific, though. I don’t particularly enjoy or care for math, but I certainly enjoy learning how things work. I excelled in biology in college. I took a “weed out” entry-level biology course my freshman year. I was terrified at first. I thought I’d flunk the class due to my poor math skills, but I found out quickly having artistic skills put me at an advantage. I can understand something as long as I can visualize it, and biology is certainly a subject where a visual understanding is necessary and, in my opinion, possible. Physics is no doubt a visual field, too, and I acknowledge it. I’ve managed to learn a lot of physics concepts by visualizing them, but the math involved is not visually helpful for me.

    I’m taking a college physics course right now, and it’s kicking my butt. I’ll need to re-take it, to say the least. I love the sciences, and I agree students should be taught to utilize logic-based skills in mathematics, but I suppose I only say this at the expense of my poor upbringing in the mathematical side of the sciences.

  17. sneha k.s Says:

    I had keen interest in science especially bio i took med.PCBH as my subjects in 11th..i hated maths frm childhood hence i became weak in handling PHYSICS.. this led my confidence to ZERO…nw my ambition is itself lost..even i;m lost…i feel lyk leavng science stream n join ARTS… ths was always my second option bcz i wantd to bcm a journalist…ths s actually my scnd dream…my 1st dream to bcm a NEUROSURGEON is not nw possible bcz i cant bear anymore mntal pressure!!! Guys gv me suggetions….

    • Guess Who Says:

      Hi there! I’m a class 12 student and though I’m guessing its a bit too late for this reply, but here goes…

      I too have been passionate about science – space especially and all flying machines. From what I can remember, it was in grade 4 that I had decided to become an astronaut, and slowly that majestic dream dropped down to a mere engineer…and then, even that cool dream took a plunge on entering class 11.

      First off, I blame the educational system in India. It does not introduce any element of core science till class 10. It feels as though you do all your ‘studying’ in the cramped space of 2 years.
      Yes, you had no idea you were going to deal with this shit.

      The key to surviving is :
      1. Being curious – don’t let go of that child in you
      2. Accepting that being a student of science requires discipline and work ethic.
      3. Accepting that things aren’t going to be easy because the educational system sucks. But you can’t escape it – and the best way to tread is to – ADAPT.
      4. Try improving your thinking skills by engaging in fun puzzles, games.
      5. Know that this will be over – soon.
      6. Know that you are on an adventure – to create, design and innovate things which will be of purpose, or for fun and pleasure or for a global cause.

      Peace 🙂

      P.S. Don’t give up. Don’t let the competition freak you either. This learning experience is your adventure….not others’.

  18. Sonia Lal Says:

    personally, I’ve always thought both math and physics are boring. But in grade school I was pretty good at math. And I took enough math in college to want nothing further to do with it.

    But yes, a good chunk of why math bored me probably had to do with the way it’s taught. I had only one math teacher who made it interesting.

  19. Jesse Says:

    Hi, Vandana.

    Have you read the book “Innumeracy” by John Allen Paulos? I came across it this summer while wandering the stacks of a local library and found it very interesting, if not sardonic. It discusses many of the issues that you address here but is more focused on societal views of mathematics.

    I don’t recall if this is something that Paulos explicitly mentions in his book, or if it is a thought of my own that was seeded by reading his book, but, in addition to the stigmas against science that you mention, I also believe that there exists a certain lack of stigma that I find quite perplexing. Why is there no negative stigma associated with not being interested in or good at science or mathematics?

    As an analogy, think of the negative stigmas that surround illiteracy. I imagine how I would feel if I was illiterate and another person (adult or child) was to find out. Personally, I would be embarrassed beyond all explanation. The ability to read is such a wide-spread and indispensable skill in modern society that I assume illiteracy would automatically come with seemingly endless ridicule and shame (if not also support and encouragement). While I certainly wouldn’t condone public ridicule, I can’t ignore the fact that it can be a very strong motivator.

    Personally, I don’t know of a single illiterate adult in my life. I am not so naïve to believe that the world literacy rate is 100%, but I do believe that the overwhelmingly negative stigma associated with illiteracy has led most illiterate people to either learn to read or, at the very least, compensate in some other way that precludes others from knowing that they cannot read.

    If such strong stigmas exist around illiteracy, why don’t similar stigmas exist around innumeracy (and the inability to do science)? I cannot count the number of times in my life that I have heard phrases such as “I can’t do math,” or “I’ve never been good at science.” At the same time, I don’t know of anyone who would openly and proudly declare, “I cannot read!” Why is it that so many people are not only comfortable with being bad at math and science, but wear it as a badge of honor that they flaunt so freely?

    I’m sure that many people openly flaunt their poor math and science skills as a defense mechanism in the disguise of self-deprecating humor, but I also believe that there is truth in almost all of these statements. What is it about math and science that causes people to feel that they are perfectly reasonable things to hide from? Certainly no one would argue that math and science are useless, but why don’t people realize that these skills are as indispensable to daily life as is the ability to read?

  20. lathiya's WORLD Says:

    Reblogged this on LATHIYA's WORLD.

  21. theamateurphysicist Says:

    Very interesting post. You are so correct in so many ways! I had no interest in science (physics especially) when I was at school. It completely killed it for me. All of the factors you mentioned above definitely gave me the impression that physics was a dull and boring subject. Physics felt as if it was an unnecessary practice. Also, being primarily a musician, the “artist” type, I definitely felt as if I could never be both a musician and interested in science.
    Now that I have found physics on my own, I love it. I am going to university this year to study music, but after that, I plan to work towards applying for a physics course.

    Thanks for your post, it’s awesome to see that this is being wrote about (especially so fantastically). Science is truly fulfilling and I hope that school/the education system does not ruin it for too many others out there.

    The Amateur Physicist

  22. Etcyl Says:

    I am glad there are people posting about this sort of thing. Even though it seems like there haven’t been many comments lately.

    I identify with the amateur physicist in a lot of ways. I also grew up inclined towards music. I never really applied myself, which is probably the biggest problem I faced until college. At the same time, I can recall many “teachers” giving me a lousy interpretation of science or no motivation at all. When I was nearly failing in some basic math class like algebra in middle school, I specifically remember one day after class having to talk to the teach er about it. “I should just drown you all like rats”, she said reffering to me and other failing students. Definitely not the right attitude I would have approached myself with having aced differential equations, your typical calculus sequence, and linear algebra and college algebra. Turns out I also loved trigonometry, but who would believe in a student that seemed lazy and quite frankly incapable of understanding math or science when I had trouble with multiplication tables. I didn’t try hard enough and my teachers were generally bland and unimaginative.

    Then I got to college. What saddens me more was that it was a community college, and that too brought negative connotations. It is as if pursuing knowledge purely to understand the world around you is boring, useless, and not worthwhile as conversational pieces. Maybe it’s simply because I grew up in Orange County. I did eventually connect with the Orange County Astronomers. They are great for your science medium. But outside of that…where is all of the interest in how we objectively under stand the regularities

  23. Etcyl Says:

    I am glad there are people posting about this sort of thing. Even though it seems like there haven’t been many comments lately.

    I identify with the amateur physicist in a lot of ways. I also grew up inclined towards music. I never really applied myself in school, especially toward math or science, which is probably the biggest problem I faced until college. At the same time, I can recall many “teachers” giving me a lousy interpretation of science or no motivation at all. When I was nearly failing in some basic math class like algebra in middle school, I specifically remember one day after class having to talk to the teacher about it. “I should just drown you all like rats”, she said reffering to me and other failing students. Definitely not the right attitude I would have approached myself with having aced differential equations, your typical calculus sequence, and linear algebra and college algebra. Turns out I also loved trigonometry, but who would believe in a student that seemed lazy and quite frankly incapable of understanding math or science when I had trouble with multiplication tables. I didn’t try hard enough and my teachers were generally bland and unimaginative.

    Then I got to college. What saddens me more was that it was a community college, and that too brought negative connotations. It is as if pursuing knowledge purely to understand the world around you is boring, useless, and not worthwhile as conversational pieces – especially in the U.S. Maybe it’s simply because I grew up in Orange County. I did eventually connect with the Orange County Astronomers. They are great for your science medium. But outside of that…where is all of the interest in how we objectively understand the regularities that occur in our home we call the universe? Even scientifically inclined acquaintances from high school, one of which who ended up studying physics at Harvey Mudd, would shy from conversations about science or math. Instead they seemed more interested in social trends or how to one up you about your lack of math knowledge or chastising you for pronouncing Euler as “Ul-er” instead if “Oil-er”, which is in fact not correct because in German you would sat “Oil-ah”. Not that it should matter since we are speaking American English vernacular.

    Science is the reason our smart phones, spaceships, and medicine work. It should be more interesting to talk about how capacitors can make your touch screen work, or that if our planet had just slightly different properties it would be impossible to get off of it using the rocket equation or Vonn Braun rocket science, instead of Kim Kardashian or deflate gate football. It depresses me that this is the other way around in the U.S.

  24. I Bet My Life On You – Le Eccentriques Says:

    […] wrote this online letter to Vandana Singh, after reading an article of hers. Here are links to her website and her blog. I bet my life on propagating Physics; hence […]

  25. Mr. ZiDda Says:

    The simple fact that responses to this entry are large and precisely boring, proves that there’s a problem. Then you said “if you don’t do that, gosh, how embarrassing you are”. This type of statements are the problem with teaching physics. People being label as embarrassments.

  26. Rene Hernandez Says:

    You are totally wrong, like the common perception of this topics or similar. You are starting off from the idea that people like science because people have curiosity. Wrong. Curiosity is one thing and study, spending time trying to know, is another thing. If I like the water it doesnt mean I like to train swimming to be a champion or to learn how to swim very well. People like the result but not the process to reach it. You can teach to anybody to hate sex and they will love it. This is inside human nature. But humans are not intelligent as human nature. PEOPLE ARE INTELLIGENT IN THE SENSE OF SEX OR FOOD. The basic needs as animals. Humans are not intelligent because one or two of them create General Relativity or Quantum Mechanic. They create more, much more sex and food everyday. The cheetah is fast because everyone of them is fast, not because one or two of them are fast. Your mistake is to think everybody can think on science. Everybody can think on sex, and food a considerable time in a day. But not everybody, independently of the teacher or the education, can think on science a long time in a day or years. And the level of actual science requires this. Humans are not intelligent, my friend. You are wrong.
    They are animals for sex and eat and a few of them, push the rest to the future.

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