Andrew asked a pertinent question in response to my previous post, and has helped me realise that I was trying to say two different things.
I started writing a comment, but thought this deserved to be a further post.
Andrew's question is as follows;
The first point I was trying to make is about scientific education. Science at degree level is a set of subjects in decline. Despite the massive increase in university student numbers over the last few years, 'hard' scientific subjects are out of favour, and softer subjects like media studies (which I'm not taking an easy pop at, since I think it's a worthwhile and academic discipline) are in the ascedant. In the past Britain has been among the world leaders in science and technology, but now we are dropping behind fast. The science education of countries like China would seem to be far in advance of ours, if the problem on the Royal Society of Chemistry site is anything to go by. We are dropping behind as a centre of technological innovation, and unless we do something about it fast, we are unlikely to remain a player. The RSC argue that this is, in part, an unintended consequence of the school league table system.
But in part it's due to a cultural move, and that's my second point. I think ignorance about science is becoming more culturally acceptable. Sure, us mathematicians have always been thought of as a slightly strange breed (even before the widespread use of the term 'geek'), but I think ignorance of science is becoming deeper and more accepted. This is mostly my own opinion, but I would cite some of the daft pronouncements made about scientific subjects such as climate change as evidence that most people are increasingly unable to evaluate scientific arguments. Spin is replacing argument in the public reporting of science. We can't all be scientists, but most of us need the ability to lift the lid on a scientific argument to decide whether it has any obvious flaws. We need experts to offer advice, but experts cannot absolve us from our responsibility for following their pronouncements uncritically.
So to answer (at last) Andrew's question about the desirable level of science education, there isn't a right answer for everyone. There will always be people who are good at science, and those whose skills lie elsewhere. My concern is that we are creating a cultural environment that doesn't encourage people either to pursue a career in science, or to develop a working but non-specialist knowledge of the subject. I wonder if future generations will struggle with the question on the BBC site, let alone the Chinese problem.