Unconscious Literacy

Today I sat down and listened to a room full of people who thought they didn’t know much about science talking about how much they knew about science.

They knew about falsifiability.

They knew about burden of proof.

They knew about biases, and minimising them.

They knew about climate change.

They knew they could be fooled.

These people were sure they didn’t know much about science, but in one forty-minute conversation with two moderators, they showed that even if they didn’t know science, they had internalised scientific principles. They knew how to prove things. They knew how to understand things. They also knew that they didn’t know that much, and therefore, they should understate their level of scientific competence.

I went into this report – which is, yes, an analysis for class work – expecting to find a group of younger people than me, bein’ all youthful and not valuing what I valued. What I found was that they not only valued many of the same things I did, but they were humble about that. They did not think of themselves as scientifically literate, because literacy is background radiation at this point.

I think about this sort of thing a lot when I’m surrounded by computer programmers and scientists. I don’t mean this as a judgment on them, but they so often talk about users as cattle or savants; where they are sure of what users know and can utilise well without ever actually knowing, as if the experience of a user is something that can just be deduced like a cow’s movements, or the way a dog will behave when a ball is thrown.


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