Imperative for China to improve scientific literacy

By Yan Yunming Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/28 20:03:40

Photo: IC

Is an airport a wishing well? Some people in China apparently think so. Earlier this month, a medical student tossed three coins onto an airport's parking apron, in the hope that her cousin's baby who was suffering from diarrhea would get well. 

The student surnamed Wang, 23, was flying with her family from Nanchang, capital of East China's Jiangxi Province, to Xichang, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, for a wedding. As the little child of her cousin fell ill during the flight, she dropped the coins through the gap between the aircraft and the jet bridge while getting off the plane, believing such a practice could bring good luck.

But what it brought was a penalty. Fortunately, given that no airplanes and travelers were affected, she was fined 200 yuan ($28) with no other punishment.

Tossing coins at airplanes is extremely dangerous. It may damage the engines and lead to serious accidents. Not only meaningless in bringing "blessings," it is also illegal. In accordance with China's law, one shall even bear criminal responsibility if serious damage is caused.

However, superstitious aircraft passengers like Wang are far from rare.

At least five similar cases have been reported in 2019 alone, not to mention in previous years. In June 2017, wishing for a safe flight, an 80-year-old lady tossed nine coins at an airplane in Shanghai with one going into the engine, resulting in a serious flight delay. In February 2019, in East China's Anhui Province, two coins thrown by a man caused a flight cancellation as well as around 140,000 yuan ($20,000) worth of economic losses. He was then sued by the airline and detained by police for seven days.

To curb such detrimental behavior, some airports have taken action. It was reported in June that a huge warning board was displayed at an airport in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province, saying that "throwing coins is an unlawful act which breaches security and brings no blessings." Pictures of the sign were posted online and spread widely. Nonetheless, it turned out the effect was only limited. Cases have still emerged one after another.

And ironically, in many cases, the "troublemakers" were seniors with beliefs in Chinese traditions, but Wang, a young student majoring in medicine, did the same thing, for the purpose of curing a baby. Rather than making use of her professional skills to help her family, she resorted to superstition. According to local media, Wang had no idea at all of the trouble she had caused. After being found by police, Wang appeared astonished and kept asking officers if this case would have any adverse effects on the postgraduate entrance exam she was preparing for.

Many Chinese netizens consider it ridiculous. One commented, "Predictably, this future doctor will throw coins at her patients instead of giving treatments."

Some experts point out such cases reveal a lack of scientific literacy among Chinese people. That is, some are void of basic scientific knowledge and have insufficient ability to apply knowledge to solving practical problems. A report released by the China Association for Science and Technology in September 2018 showed that only 8.47 percent of Chinese had science literacy.

Although the country has made remarkable progress in enhancing this index - it was 3.27 in 2010 and 6.2 in 2015 - a huge gap between China and the Western developed world is still obvious. China's scientific literacy rate was equivalent to that of the European Union about 20 years ago. 

China has a long way to go in advancing scientific literacy. We should now at least encourage the young to abandon their superstitious mentality, apply what they have learned, and stop seeing the airport as a wishing well.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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