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'Science is rather a state of mind,' Angier argues and, as such, it should inform everything. 'It is a way of viewing the world, of facing reality square on but taking nothing for granted.' It would be hard to argue that this state of mind was advancing across the globe. We no longer make and mend, so we no longer know how anything works.
One of Angier's interviewees, Andrew Knoll, a professor of natural history at Harvard's earth and planetary sciences department, suggests that 'the average American adult today knows less about biology than the average 10-year-old living in the Amazon, or the average American of 200 years ago'. I spoke to Angier to find out why she thought that this might be the case.
To some extent, she suggested, that was a political question. 'Here in the US we have had the last seven years of this administration which has made everything about the two-cultures divide seem worse.' But it is not just that. 'Newspapers are getting rid of all their science pages; they are jettisoning all their science staff. The feeling is people don't want to read it.'
The implications of this, and the resultant general scientific illiteracy, she believes, are possibly catastrophic. Forty-two per cent of Americans in a recent survey said they believed that humans had been on Earth since the beginning of time. 'A geophysicist friend suggests we are at a critical crossroads just like the start of the Renaissance,' Angier says, 'where you couldn't just leave reading and writing to the kings and priests anymore. Ordinary people have to keep up. In the world we live in, the new economy, you have to become scientifically literate or you will fall quickly from view.'