In the USA, we like to arrogantly, and naively, believe that we still lead the world in all modern thinking and historic wondering — but when we’re faced with the hard facts that we’re losing the battle of the minds in BioScience — will we dedicate billions of dollars to win that international “war” as we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, or are we forever stuck in our destination of the middling mind?

Here’s the educational slap in the face we need to wake up and start spending money to solve our lack of ongoing BioScience progression:

States across America are failing to prepare students for pursuing biosciences in higher education–a key pipeline for developing the bioscience workforce of the future. A new report funded and researched by BIO, Battelle, and the Biotechnology Institute provides the first ever comprehensive study of middle and high school bioscience education in the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia.

The report also finds a wide disparity across measures of student achievement in overall science and biosciences, an uneven record across states in incorporating the biosciences in state science standards, supporting focused bioscience education programs and higher level bioscience courses, and ensuring science and bioscience teachers are well qualified.

How did we fall so far behind in BioScience education?

Did we think we knew enough as a people that we didn’t need to spend any more time or resources in an ongoing BioScience education?

Or did we just allow our national lack of curiosity to fail us?


  1. I fear that the true answer may be even more horrific : people just don’t want to put forth the effort to study harder sciences because they are “too difficult” and there is too much to memorize.

  2. The sciences are getting tougher, Gordon, and I think that’s due to a total lack of real exposure in the elementary school years. Kids who don’t know a BioScience from a bookshelf — won’t even wonder about taking a class in high school or college. Exposure to the subject needs to be embedded at a very young age for it to take.

  3. I’d say start with babies.
    Seriously. More parents need to stop making up burbly sounds and just read books to their babies – science books, history books, etc.

  4. This is sad, but not surprising in the least. Americans just don’t like science. When I was studying chemistry, the vast majority of my classmates were either the children of immigrants or the children of scientists. I think the blame lies partly with the school system and partly with the culture, which can be very anti-science. I’ve been asked why I would want to study chemistry, cause “chemicals are like, all poisonous and like, polluting, you know?” And forget telling people that you work at a pharmaceutical company! Not that I agree with all the policies of the pharmas, but the whole industry, all the way down to the lab techs, have been painted with the same brush as the tobacco companies.

  5. liminal —
    Thanks for the excellent comment. What you argue is depressingly true and I don’t know if we can ever fix that sort of cemented thinking.
    How did the pharmacy industry come to painted with the same brush as the tobacco companies?

  6. Short answer- drug discovery is freaking expensive. Pharmaceutical companies will sell a pill for $10 even if it only cost them a penny to manufacture, because they must recoup the costs of 15-20 years of research. 15-20 years for that drug alone- for each drug that makes it to market, they will have seriously studied 8-10 other drugs that turn out to be useless. People also expect more than is scientifically reasonable, and blame the pharmas for not providing cures or drugs for certain diseases- cancer especially comes to mind. A “cure for cancer” is pretty much impossible- such a thing will not exist in our lifetimes, but no one wants to hear that.
    The high cost of research leads pharmas to engage in less than ethical practices- they advertise directly to the consumer, give doctors lavish gifts, meals and vacations to encourage them to prescribe certain drugs and push for legislation that weakens the FDA and federal oversight. Big Pharma does a *lot* of lobbying in DC, which is why they are legally allowed to do some morally questionable things. I don’t approve of this, but my feeling is that businesses are businesses and Congress needs to grow a spine and set some limits. But this is where most of the comparison to the tobacco companies comes from. It’s also partly in the drugs that are brought to market- ED drugs, drugs to treat restless leg syndrome or chronic dry eyes seem frivolous to the public, even though most of these were discovered accidentally while researching more serious conditions.
    However, pharmas do focus on developing drugs to treat chronic conditions in developed nations- there is much more money in a cholesterol lowering drug than in curing malaria. People with malaria usually can’t afford prescription meds, and even if they could, you only need to buy a cure once. I don’t blame pharmaceutical companies for this- considering the high cost of research they really can’t survive by studying orphan diseases. That’s what academia is for- researching things that aren’t profitable. But there is an expectation that anyone in a medical-ish profession will be working for the common good, which simply isn’t true for pharmas. They are working for their stockholders and their bottom lines, and they will stoop pretty low to sell a drug that’s cost them hundreds of millions of dollars before the first one rolls off the assembly line.

  7. Wowser!
    Thanks for the outstanding education, liminal. You have given us so many things to think about and the end result doesn’t sound especially pleasing. SMILE!

  8. I think there’s a lack of science in a Christian nation, Katha. So many people fear the unknown future and so they place their money and their faith in God and not science. To be a good scientist you need to have early family support at home to get the best shot at thinking logically and coolly as an adult when it comes to tasking out hard problems. There isn’t enough in home training to foment that sort of courageous mind beyond the Sunday School pew.

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