Afternoon InquisitionScience

AI: Our Town

My home town is Houston, Texas, in the U.S., and it is encouraging to see establishments and businesses grounded in science becoming prominent on the cityscape. Of course NASA is here, and Houston boasts one of the most prestigious medical districts in the world. But there are also private businesses based on scientific study, as well as high-tech companies that are now icons in a city that historically was defined by oil and cattle. 

Do you think this type of change/progress reflects the scientific literacy of a city’s residents? What’s the lay of the land where you are? Do you notice any swings away from the traditional images to a more progressive or high-tech image where you live?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. I live in Cincinnati, which by some strange anomaly is at least 10 years behind the Average American Temporal Mean.

    That said, we do have a very significant Zoo that’s world renowned as being the best place to get rare animals to breed (what else are they gonna do?) and that has a frozen DNA project intended to bring back endangered species. They also keep the family and breeding records of a number of endangered animals around the world.

    Other than that, I think people around here are just starting to get into this new internet thing, and myspace is really cutting edge.

  2. I live outside DC, and I work for a company that deals with statistacal methodology. I see Boeing, Ch2mHill, Northrup Grumman, CSC, and other technological-based companies. When I lived in Herndon, I’d pass by fortune teller. There’s one in Manassas Park. There’s an alternative practitioner in Falls Church, and more Chiropractic than I can shake a stick at. The “Big Boys” change with the time. Psuedoscience is here to stay. All we can try to do is marginalize it.

  3. When i was interviewing at NASA in clearlake, they were pretty religious there, but the schools in that area were still known for great science education and huge supportors of keeping creationism out of school. So there seemed to be some positive effect on the community’s scientific literacy, but that’s such a micro climate there, since such a HUGE percent of that town is actually scientists by profession.
    I’ve noticed changes in attitude from Georgia to Colorado. Still a lot of anti science bull but in Georgia where it was the bible belt it was a lot of new earth/creationism stuff, while out here in colorado where it’s much more liberal and much less christian, you see a lot of other anti science stuff in the forms of homeopathy and “energy” and chi and what not. I wouldn’t call denver high tech but i would call it progressive and they just seemed to fall prey to a different sort of scientific illiteracy. I work in the Uranium mining industry, and they’re quick to tell me how we shouldn’t “scar” the land to mine Uranium, that there’s no need when we could use solar and wind first. Besides the major issues of solar and wind compared to nuclear, there’s simply never a thought of where the metals and chemicals that go into making wind turbines and solar panels come from (i’ll give you a hint, it begins with an m and ends with an -ines)

  4. I’ve been stewing about how to answer this for a while now. I live in Boulder which has a large collection of science building both public and private sector as well as an economy heavily driven by high-tech. To a certain degree this will of course drive up scientific literacy because of the people these institutions tend to employ. I think what you are getting at, however, is is there a spillover effect into the community at large? I haven’t seen it, but I can’t say it doesn’t exist.

    I grew up in Lawrence, KS and there the effect was huge. A small town with a large university. The quality of education in the whole town was incredible and the number of opportunities open to children directly from the university and indirectly because it happened to be there were numerous.

  5. Portland seems to have long ago embraced the high tech image. A number of folks work for Intel and HP and so on, yet it’s also a pretty woo-friendly place. I don’t know how the area rates in scientific literacy, but I can at least say all the high tech industry doesn’t do much for skeptical literacy.

  6. I am currently in L.A. This is the place where pets have their own therapists and psychics. There are tarot and palm readers up and down our street. Maybe the “magic of the movies” makes people believe in lots of magic.

  7. @zapski: I live in West Virginia, on the end nearest to DC. WV must be at least 50 years behind Average American Temporal Mean. Possibly more.

    Compared to many people here, I’m Lt. Data.

  8. I live in a smallish university city that is generally woo friendly but quite advanced with regard to life style acceptance and being wired. Given our size there is not a lot of science based industry around except in Seattle to the south and Vancouver to the north. The loss of timber industry and fishing jobs has not necessarily seen an increase of high tech jobs. There is a newish manufacturing company that makes high tech airline interiors that is doing well and we have some great brewpubs which involves the brewing sciences, and quite a few affordable golf courses so its all good.

    @Merkuto: While I live in Bellingham near the Canadian border I see a specialist at Oregon Health Science University. Aside from the many great doctors there, they have an appalling acceptance of alternative medicine which is thick in the urban more educated areas of the northwest.

  9. What DataJack said. Although, I am happy to be discovering that there is also a robust and fascinating skeptical community here. And of course the Skeptic Society lectures are just a short drive to CalTech in Pasadena.

    I should really go check out that psychic reader on my block. You know, for SCIENCE!

  10. @Zapski: Yeah, my brother lives in Oxford, OH (works at Miami U.) and he doesn’t even own a computer or a cell phone, and very few people give him a hard time about it. Well, except me. I had to drag him kicking and screaming into an electronics store to buy his first DVD player only 3 years ago.

    For me, I live in the suburbs of NYC (Long Island), so technology and science abound (old-school). I mean, the LEM for the moon landing was built about 2 miles away from where I currently reside. I’m not involved in the industry at all, but companies like Computer Associates and Northrop Grumman are still pretty big around here, but due to the high costs of real estate some tech companies are moving away at an alarming rate.

  11. People in northern Colorado tend to see science and technology in the context of agriculture.

    Most of the engineers and high tech folks I’ve met are fundamentalist Christian, and because HP has been headquartered here for so many years, the Mormon contingent is large.

    As a community we are both highly educated and highly religious. I think having a land-grant university here from nearly the beginning has always had a good effect on the community – at least for education and tech savviness.

  12. I live in Calgary, which is primarily an oil and gas town. We have a huge amount of technology and engineering as a result, and lots of tech companies.

    There is a lot of impact in that regard. For the longest time (if I’m not mistaken) Calgary was one of the most wired cities in the world. But with all the oil and gas, we’re a hotbed for climate change denial. We also have a lot of woo, though I doubt it’s on a par with somewhere like Los Angeles.

    In my opinion, the thing we have most here are well off honkies. Well off honkies tend to love the church, though our fundamentalist sects are small. Well off honkies also seem to love alternative medicine. Lots of chiromancers and flingers of woo.

    I’m not sure how it has held up to scrutiny, but I quite enjoyed reading Dr. Richard Florida’s book Rise of the Creative Class after seeing him talk. It deals with this whole technologification of cities and the impact it has had on the populace.

  13. okc Oklahoma here.and well not sure bout tech advances here but the religious woo is strong as ever,3 blocks from me is a new age shop and 60 feet at most from that is a bar and small little convince
    store and a pool hall with full bar across the street
    with a tech trade school the other way down a bit.we like our drinking and religion mixed with our fancy book learning i guess.

  14. I’m currently living in central Virginia. My knee-jerk reaction is to say that there is very little in the way of science and reason happening here because many of the people I work with day-to-day have a fair amount of anti-science sentiment. But since many of the people I deal with are from an under-served population, that may be a bit skewed. On the other hand, everyone I socialize with is either in medicine or science- it’s really one extreme or the other. The university here has some strong science labs and collaborations and good medical research, but the overall culture of the city is more earthy-crunchy, homeopaths, and healing lasers. I don’t believe there’s much in the way of scientific industry happening here, and there is very little in the way of museums or scientific exhibits. For that, we make the trip to DC.

  15. Portland, ME (you know, the other one) has had a huge medical biotech boom in the last few years. It’s nice for me because I have a job (and more opportunities if that falls through), but I don’t think it reflects scientific literacy as much as business sense. There’s a lot of money in medical technology, overhead is lower up here, and we have a big immigrant population that does a lot of the production work.

    I wish I could say otherwise, but the pseudoscience is evident even at my job and especially moreso in the greater population.

    I’m also a musician and a lot of artistic people tend to be into alternative medicine. My friends are often shocked that I think homeopothy or reiki is bullshit, and I have debated them loudly (drunkenly) many times.

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