We Americans are often told that if we could only get rid of religion then scientific advance would flourish. To support this argument, we’re always presented with the same two statistics – Europeans are much less religious than Americans and Europeans are much more likely to accept evolution than Americans. But if being less religious translates as being more scientific, shouldn’t there be many more indicators of this than acceptance of evolution? In fact, if this Gnu atheist argument had substance, shouldn’t Europe, compared to the USA, be a scientific Gnutopia?
You would think so. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.
For starters, consider a paper by Carlos Elías, entitled, The decline of natural sciences: confronting diminishing interest, fewer scientists and poorer working conditions in western countries. A comparative analysis between Spain and the United Kingdom
(pdf file here)
Here is the abstract:
This study sets out to determine if the interest in and study of natural sciences is declining in western countries as scientists currently contend. Part one demonstrates how survey results reveal a decline of interest in scientific news in the EU. Part two explores the decline of interest further through examining data such as the number of students interested in scientific subjects and scientific careers. We compare data from two different countries: the UK and Spain. Within the study the UK represents the Anglo Saxon culture (traditionally more interested in science) and Spain represents the Latin culture (traditionally less interested). We conclude that in both regions there is a lack of interest in scientific subjects.
The paper lists some interesting findings. For example, almost 40% of European students “do not care” about science or scientific discoveries. And this lack of interest is significantly reshaping European universities:
In 2006 Sussex University announced to shut down its high- ranking chemistry department, the proud source of three Nobel laureates. Scientists reacted angrily to the announcement but Sussex University’s authorities confirmed the plans to concentrate in other areas, including English, history and media studies.
It was the latest in a long list of closures indicative of the weakening state of chemistry education in the UK universities: King’s College London closes chemistry department (2004); University of Wales Swansea stops taking in new chemistry undergraduates (2004); Queen Mary, University of London, merges chemistry with biology (2005); University of Dundee closes division of physical and inorganic chemistry (2005) and University of Exeter merges reduced chemistry department into biological sciences(2005).
According to The Observer (12 March 2006: 12): Financial pressures and the shift of popularity towards less traditional subjects such as media studies have been blamed. In a statement to staff, the vice-chancellor at Sussex University said chemistry was a difficult recruitment area at present times.
Data from the Spanish Education Office from 2000-2004 proves physics fell by 12%. Chemistry fell by 18% (from 30,744 to 25,171). So that means a fall of 5.570 students in only four years. Mathematics dropped by 20%, and Biology only fell 7.9%.
In contrast to this, and in a similar trend to UK, Journalism has risen 4.4% but actually the star is Cinema & TV studies, which has risen 13%. Data from the academic year 2003/2004 shows the following number of students registered: chemistry (25,171); Physics (10,923); Mathematics (8,266); Cinema & TV studies (11,266) and Journalism (16,656). Data from Italy —a country with similar cultural parameters to Spain— shows the following numbers of students registered: in Physics & Maths (4,126); in Chemistry (2,628) and in Media Studies (54,000).
It looks to me like getting a population to get rid of its God beliefs isn’t translating into some resurgence of interest in science. Gnutopia is looking like an article of faith.