Why Do I Have to Know This Science Stuff Anyway?

It’s important to be scientifically literate. Everyday Einstein shows you why.

Lee Falin, PhD,
July 11, 2014
Episode #107

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While we can’t really expect politicians to have every chemical name memorized, we should expect them to be scientifically literate enough to know how chemical names are constructed.

Had they been paying a little more attention in chemistry class, they would know that whenever a chemical name starts with “di,” it means “two." So the first part of “dihydrogen monoxide” means “two hydrogens." Likewise, the prefix “mono” means “one," so "monoxide" means “one oxygen." So "dihydrogen monoxide" means "two hydrogens and one oxygen"--or H2O.

Water Memory

pacificoceanSpeaking of water, another common hoax is water memory. The basic idea suggests that if you put a substance in water, then completely remove the substance, the water somehow retains a memory of what was placed inside of it, allowing it to convey various novel biochemical effects, such as mysterious powers of healing.

Now if you have a little scientific literacy under your belt, you might wonder how anyone could believe in such a thing. Water is, after all, just a bunch of hydrogen and oxygen atoms floating around in liquid form. It’s not like it has a brain.

The reason this idea exists is that in 1988, a scientist published a paper showing that this effect occurred. Unfortunately, this experiment did not use the rigorous double-blind methods I discussed a couple of weeks ago, and when subsequent double-blind experiments were done, they showed conclusively that water has no memory.

Unfortunately, when people who aren’t scientifically literate look at this, they don’t ever seem to notice the subsequent follow-up studies, or even the techniques used in the first study. They simply read the headline, “Water has memory,” and head off to the homeopathic remedy shop.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in many herbal and alternative therapies, many of which have sound scientific studies backing their results. However, healing based on "water memory" has repeatedly been shown to have no scientific basis.


So now you know a little more about why it’s important to be scientifically literate. To sum up, it isn’t really that critical to know things like the atomic weight of Xenon, but it is important to understand how science works, and to have a firm grasp of its basic principles. Otherwise, you might one day find yourself signing a petition in support of banning dihydrogen monoxide.

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Atom and ocean images courtesy of Shutterstock