Reasoning with Scientific Illiteracy

By Deb Walters

Ever wonder if New Age Enlightenment is going the wrong way? After all, we are surrounded by slow motion events such as an ever-growing world population existing on a planet with increasingly scarce resources. Does it make you wonder if we are losing our understanding of basic science concepts and premises? Is there only so much to go around?  How thin can we stretch it?

Dr. John Janovy, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Biological Sciences at UNL and author of many books including Pieces of the Plains and Outwitting College Professors, will be discussing “Scientific Illiteracy: A Public Health Hazard”.

“I have concerns about how we will sustain our quality of life,” states Dr. Janovy, “particularly when we remain dependent upon petroleum. The demands upon the existing fossil fuels are growing as countries such as India and China continue to expand. Fossil fuels are a fixed resource.”

Dr. Janovy goes on to explain, “There needs to be an informed discourse as we make political decisions about our energy sources and uses. For example, right now we have fears about nuclear power when it can offer us many opportunities as a viable replacement for fossil fuels. There seems to be an unwillingness to struggle nationally with an energy policy that makes sense for the long term. In the meantime, we are impacted by climate changes and the limits of fossil fuels.”

Dr. Janovy explains that his interest in natural sciences and science literacy dates back to his childhood. “I grew up in Oklahoma. My dad was a geologist and I spent my child hood outdoors – hunting, fishing and enjoying nature first hand. I went on to study it and made a career of teaching graduate and medical students.

When asked what concerns him the most about this millennium, Dr. Janovy replied “Hands down it is the rate of destruction on the fundamental features of the earth – overpopulation, loss of habitat, destruction of the rain forest, over-fishing the oceans. I am very concerned about what problems are being created for future generations.”

Dr. Janovy’s background is in study of parasites and he reflected briefly on the effects to the world supply that events such as devastation of bee colonies and epidemics such as bat killing white nose syndrome. “I don’t think we’re looking to see an ecological Armageddon from these.  In fact, the real global health problems are more from long term conditions and chronic infections such as malaria,” advises Dr. Janovy

He goes on to explain, “These have a greater drain on the human population over time. It’s respiratory illnesses and diarrhea that affect children the more so than sensationalized outbreaks. Children who grow up ‘sickly’ have lifetime consequences from these conditions.”

When teaching students, Dr. Janovy employs unique teaching experiences, such as using the ingredients listed on junk food wrappers to teach metabolism. He’s also a hands-on instructor who takes advantage of campus vegetation, museums and the outdoors to teach in a living lab.

Dr. Janovy finds that evolution is a central unifying theme in biology. “The underlying premise of evolution has been proven again and again. Molecular biology has provided powerful tools for testing evolutionary predictions,” says Dr. Janovy.

Also on Dr. Janovy’s radar are current topics such as globalization and information technology. “I am currently reading several books, including one titled That Used To Be Us, by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. The American dream was meant to be passed along to future generations. For that to happen…well, we need to stop scientific illiteracy.”

Dr. Janoy’s presentation is free and open to the public as part Omaha’s 13th Annual Darwin Day on Thursday, February 9th. The event is sponsored by REASON and will take place at 7:30 in the Main Auditorium, Room 1002 at the Durham Research Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center located on 45th street between Dewey and Emile. Refreshments will be available. For more information, contact Jim Bechtel at 402.556.8312 or Laurey Steinke at 402.598.0229. Additional details also can be found at

Leave a comment