Holton, in Jefferson Lecture, Criticizes Science Education

"Our nation is spinning towards scientific and technological illiteracy," Gerald Holton, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and professor of the History of Science, said Wednesday in the tenth Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities.

Americans today are "caught between the forward thrust of technology and the backward thrust of education." Holton said, adding that students with inadequate scientific education will be "slaves with respect to key issues of self-government."

the Jefferson Lecture is described by its sponsor, the National Endowment for the Humanities, as the "highest honor that the United States pays to an eminent humanist." Holton, the first scientist to be so honored, gave the hour-long lecture Monday in Washington, D.C. and repeated it Wednesday before an invited audience of about 250 at the Boston Public Library.

He predicted a time when about 2 per cent of the population will constitute a "technological elite," while the remaining 98 per cent will have "no method adequate to question the experts." Rather, he said, this majority will "sink into the banal amusements that technology provides for that purpose."

"The tailspin is not incorrectible." Holton concluded, but he added. "the scale and variety of our efforts must be enlarged."


Holton is the third Harvard professor to give the Jefferson Lecture, following Erik H. Erikson, professor of Human Development Emeritus, and Paul A. Freund, Loeb University Professor Emeritus.