The importance of a physics education can't be overly-stressed, especially based on this new paper (free access) that analyzed a student's analytical ability. The authors of this paper studied the scientific reasoning ability of non-STEM students when compared to STEM students. The latter, obviously, tend to have a higher scientific reasoning ability because of their inclination towards science/math/engineering topics. However, it is still surprising to see the disparity between the scientific reasoning ability between the two groups that was measured in this study.
That students in STEM majors demonstrate stronger scientific reasoning ability is not surprising, since most students typically choose their major based on their strengths. However, such a dramatic difference in reasoning ability between STEM and non-STEM students may contribute to disparities in effectiveness of reformed physics pedagogies. What works in calculus-based physics courses with natural and physical science students may not work in the general education, conceptual physics course.The authors earlier in the paper stated why a physics course is important for these non-STEM students, besides the fact that these are the larger population of the student body:
Since most students enrolled in conceptual physics or astronomy will never take another formal science course, our student learning objectives should incorporate broader reasoning skills. Scientific reasoning and metacognitive development are often required for effective decision making and problem solving far outside the typical scientific context Furthermore, it has been shown that gains in physics content knowledge are strongly correlated to scientific reasoning . In particular, reasoning and metacognition development are essential for problem solving, understanding and applying abstract concepts, and shifting between multiple representations.Considering that these are the same people that will enter the general population and also decide who they will elect and what they wish to fund, one can already see that without any kind of skill to think things through, we could be in serious problem (if we aren't already). One can now start to understand why the public in general can't tell the difference between anecdotal evidence versus scientific evidence, on why many still believe in superstition/astrology/other pseudosciences, etc.
It wasn't clear from the paper if they show any improvement in the students' scientific reasoning ability after they have taken such an intro physics class. They stated some discussion on "normalized gain", but I wish they would just present clearly a "before and after" comparison of the same test.
The ability to think things analytically should be the main aim of any education. It is the foundation of a civilized population. A physics course, if done properly, could be the most important class these students took, without them knowing it.