What Should Be Explained Better?

I tweeted this on an impulse:

What is the one concept in science that you really think should be explained better to a wide audience?

At least 140 characters restricts people to really only suggesting one thing. But I don’t want to leave the blog readers out, so have a go. See if you can stick to just one!

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107 Responses to What Should Be Explained Better?

  1. wldmr says:

    The fact that science asks “how?” rather than “why?” and therefore has no overlap with religion. People need to get over the idea that one somehow precludes the other.

    I don’t think that was quite what you were asking for, but there it is.

  2. Brent Mosley says:

    Speciation. I have seen so many “definitions” that I’m not that even scientists agree on what the term means, let alone the public.

  3. Non-Believer says:

    I’ve read a lot of about it, (pop books, not real science books) but I still have a hard time grasping quantum mechanics.

  4. spyder says:

    What happened to string theory? Or perhaps, what is happening in string theory?

  5. Magnus says:

    The difference between electrostatics and magnetism.

  6. onymous says:

    Decoherence.

  7. viggen says:

    Two things: Occam’s Razor and the difference between a hypothesis and a theory.

    Maybe a bit more generally than you’re asking, I would suggest that the thing most needed by the general audience is an understanding of the difference in philosophy that makes science different from religion. There are a lot of claims made by people in our world that are confused for scientific by laymen mainly because people don’t really understand the difference between something that “sounds” like science and something that _is_ science.

    There are a lot of cool things I’ve seen in my years of studying sciences, but weird, cool details are sort of lost on common people if they are just as weird and maybe less comprehendable in coolness than some internet inspired Hollyweird fantasy.

  8. viggen says:

    Don’t get me wrong, Quantum in a nutshell would be cool too. And, if you can give me some hints about Renormalization group, it might help me on my homework;-)

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  10. BoRon says:

    Space is expanding at an accelerating rate. Galaxies are accelerating away. Is this a coincident value or is the space imparting a force on the galaxies that accelerates them? Sounds like an ether is required.

  11. Stray Cat says:

    That evolution does not assert that we evolved from modern day creatures, but instead that they are our distant cousins.

  12. freelancer says:

    Can’t believe I’m the the first one here, but, f***ing magnets, they work how, exactly?

  13. BoRon says:

    I observe an elliptical galaxy’s redshift. How do I differentiate redshift due to its motion, due to the stretching of space and due to its gravitation?
    (Sorry, that’s my 2nd and final question.)

  14. Lin Mu says:

    With the coming climate circus in the congress. We need to know more about peer review, & how we know, what we know. We need clear unambiguous statements about how Science comes to consensus, and how it deals with junk.

  15. Ben says:

    The spin 1/2 system in quantum mechanics. See Griffiths’ Introduction to QM, 2nd edition, Section 4.4, pg. 188-189.

    Since it’s a single particle, it’s easy enough to understand and to appreciate the weirdness resulting from the fact that Sx and Sz don’t commute.

  16. Dan says:

    The general public needs to have an understanding that science is not out to (and usually cannot) PROVE things so much as to rigorously test hypotheses and see what stands up to these tests. I really think this is at the core of scientific illiteracy.

  17. "Shecky R." says:

    ditto Dan… public doesn’t understand there’s no such thing as ‘proof;’ only preponderance of evidence and hypothesis-testing…

  18. John Wilkins says:

    The principle of least action. It underlies thermodynamics and pretty well every aspect of engineering, and yet some people seem to think that more can be done with less to any limit.

  19. Nick says:

    If we include principles from the practice of science, than echoing Dan and Shecky more on the standards of hypothesis testing that science adheres to, opposed to the more or less fallacious impressions about proof that tend to dominate popular (populist?) policy debates.

    If we’re just talking about scientific knowledge, I’d go with more on controlled fusion. ITER is about to get a huge chop to its funds, which won’t end well. But that’s just my own biases coming out.

  20. takisword says:

    Thermodynamic laws (0-3)

  21. Duane says:

    Did you mean “at most” 140 characters?

  22. AndrewL says:

    Gravity, No-one gets it.

  23. CNR says:

    The scale of the universe.

    It’s simple, people can easily relate it to their experience and it gives people perspective.

    I think the major issue with the world today is that humans lack true perspective on reality. This allows things like myth, religion and pseudo-science to be called reality when they are obviously not.

    When you first learn that our galaxy is made up of billions of stars just like the sun and that the universe consists of over a billion, billion galaxies you begin to appreciate that we are not the center of the universe. That we are not “special”, but maybe just unique.

    When you understand this, our place in the universe and the implications it has on myth, religion, and pseudo-science (basically invalidating them), everything changes.

    Everyone needs to know this, because surprisingly enough, I think most, in fact a vast majority of humans, have no idea.

  24. AJKamper says:

    Statistics and probability. Yes, it’s technically math, but it fundamentally affects not only science, but our entire understanding of how the world works, and people don’t understand these concepts at all.

  25. Andrew Price says:

    Empiricism