American adults flunk basic science

Mar 12, 2009

Are Americans flunking science? A new national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences and conducted by Harris Interactive reveals that the U.S. public is unable to pass even a basic scientific literacy test.

Over the past few months, the American government has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars for economic bailout plans. While this spending may provide a short-term solution to the country's economic woes, most analysts agree that the long-term solution must include a transition to a more knowledge-based economy, including a focus on science, which is now widely recognized as a major driver of innovation and industry. Despite its importance to economic growth, environmental protection, and global health and energy issues, scientific literacy is currently low among American . According to the national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences:

• Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
• Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
• Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water .
• Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

Knowledge about some key scientific issues is also low. Despite the fact that access to fresh water is likely to be one of the most pressing environmental issues over the coming years, less than 1% of U.S. adults know what percent of the planet's water is fresh (the correct answer is 3%). Nearly half didn't even hazard a guess. Additionally, 40% of U.S. adults say they are "not at all knowledgeable" about sustainability.

Despite this lack of knowledge, U.S. adults do believe that scientific research and education are important. About 4 in 5 adults think science education is "absolutely essential" or "very important" to the U.S. healthcare system (86%), the U.S. global reputation (79%), and the U.S. economy (77%).

"There has never been a greater need for investment in scientific research and education," said Academy Executive Director Dr. Gregory Farrington. "Many of the most pressing issues of our time—from global climate change to resource management and disease—can only be addressed with the help of science."

More information: www.calacademy.org/

Source: California Academy of Sciences

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User comments : 25

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Arikin
4.8 / 5 (4) Mar 13, 2009
I would like to thank my junior and senior high school science teachers for showing me how wonderful science is.

Oh and to the parents... it takes more than just thinking science is important. Expose your children to science museums, nature, science kits, etc. Hey you can learn with them too you know.
magpies
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 13, 2009
Most people are morons do we need studys to prove this?
docknowledge
5 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2009
It's just the tip of the iceberg. I'm a professional editor, and in my experience, most US college educated people can't write a good, short essay on any subject. The vast majority don't understand simple statistics (What's the average IQ of a group of students?) And the number of people who believe there's "some truth" in astrology?

The problem is too much focus on commercial consumption and, now, online socializing -- where a typical ten year old is perfectly at home.
vlam67
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2009
Thanks Science (sorry, not God) that there is still at least 20% something of Americans to keep the country from intellectual bankruptcy!
pseudophonist
3 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2009
The problem is too much focus on commercial consumption and, now, online socializing -- where a typical ten year old is perfectly at home.


I don't agree. Online socializing builds computer literacy, which, if you're a physicist, a geneticist, an electrical engineer..., is essential to your career. In fact, incorporating this into a syllabus could be one way of improving student involvement.

Most people are morons do we need studys to prove this?

Correction: most Americans, according to this article. And I'm sure Canadians resent their being lumped in with the U.S. on this issue.
Correction: studies
nilbud
4.7 / 5 (6) Mar 13, 2009
http://www.thereg..._dunces/

In regard to the question what percentage of the Earth is covered by water
"If you take the online version of the poll at the Academy website, you are offered the options 61-70 per cent or 71-80. The "correct" answer - according to the poll - is 70. Quite apart from not genuinely offering the respondent any real chance to "roughly approximate" their answer, this is actually wrong.

In fact, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "the ocean covers 71 per cent of the Earth's surface", so you ought to get it right by selecting 71-80, not 61-70. The online poll says "Only 21% of US adults surveyed answered correctly"; almost certainly something to do with the fact that the Californian Academy of Sciences apparently doesn't know the right answer."
Alexa
1 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2009
..earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live..
I didn't knew it too, until I saw the Jurassic movie...
robbscholl
not rated yet Mar 13, 2009
I always knew that water covered approximately 3 quarters of the earths surface give or take depending on how much ice there is. That was a trick question and invalidates the whole survey. Also just because a person doesn't know the answers does not make them a moron. Just ignorant.
Velanarris
not rated yet Mar 13, 2009
I didn't knew it too...


Priceless, utterly priceless.

Also, how do you want those questions answered?

The answer for the third one is between 70 and 71%, which considering the options given, either answer would be correct.

The second one would be dependent on whether you consider birds to be decendants of dinosaurs, in which case, technically, yes or no is correct.

The first question is the saddest of them all as the correct answer isn't selectable as an answer in the questionaire.

The price is wrong Bob.


Velanarris
not rated yet Mar 13, 2009
They've subsequently changed the questions. I jsut looked again and the correct answers are now selectable.
Nederluv
1 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2009
Oh LOL, that's just sad.
However, I doubt that people from Western or Northern Europe would do any better.
We might not have as much religious zealots as the USA, but we do have a lot of naive socialists...
axemaster
not rated yet Mar 15, 2009
"Most people are morons do we need studys to prove this?"

Nope. And by the way, "studys" is spelled "studies".

Some people make me lol helplessly.
MrFred
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 15, 2009
"Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time."

Really! 59% of Adults 'know' this to be true when in fact it is ONLY a theory! Even the scientists are only GUESSING that this is the case!

I suggest a new theory. The guys who came up with this poll failed it themselves... and that's a fact! ;-)
Velanarris
not rated yet Mar 15, 2009
I'm willing to bet only about 2% of people know what "theory" really means.

Nederluv
3 / 5 (2) Mar 15, 2009
"Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time."

Really! 59% of Adults 'know' this to be true when in fact it is ONLY a theory! Even the scientists are only GUESSING that this is the case!

I suggest a new theory. The guys who came up with this poll failed it themselves... and that's a fact! ;-)


Well MrFred, science happens to consist out of theories...
The scientific method doesn't claim to know the truth, but is always trying to uncover it.
A new idea starts as an hypothesis and, if there is enough supportive evidence, will grow into a theory. There is nothing better than a theory, you can't get any closer to the truth than that. So saying that it is 'only a theory' makes you look rather foolish on a scientific website.
That's probably the reason you still have a 1/5 ranking after 3 votes.
You can choose to support science in it's quest for knowledge, or you can become a religious zealot. You can't do both, since they happen to exclude one another.
mysticshakra
1.8 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2009
The fossilized foot prints of men and the foot prints of dinosaurs have been found in numerous places. The ancient iconography of many civilizations speaks to this being very likely as well.

http://www.bearfa...tone.gif

http://www.bearfa...urs.html
paulthebassguy
2 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2009
I agree with Mr Magpies - most people are morons. What is even funnier is that there are some obvious morons in this blog that don't even realise they're morons - for example those that are actually debating that dinosaurs and the early humans shared the earth.
freethinking
2.7 / 5 (7) Mar 15, 2009
Interesting, my kids aged 6-17 knew the answers. They answered the answer to the dinosur as teachers would have us answer the question as "no"

We love science in this family, though we are religious fundamentalists. My kids know more about science than most. Blaming religion for poor science knowledge is stupidity. Blame ignorance. Ignorance is not just with those who believe in God, but also in equal measure with those that dont.
bmcghie
not rated yet Mar 15, 2009
The fact that people even take the time to conduct these studies suggests that America is soon going to be in serious trouble competing on the global stage.
docknowledge
not rated yet Mar 16, 2009
The problem is too much focus on commercial consumption and, now, online socializing -- where a typical ten year old is perfectly at home.


I don't agree. Online socializing builds computer literacy, which, if you're a physicist, a geneticist, an electrical engineer..., is essential to your career. In fact, incorporating this into a syllabus could be one way of improving student involvement.


Respectfully, need for computer knowledge for physicists, geneticists, and most other professions is limited -- and what needs to be learned probably could be much better taught in formal courses. As for less technical people...I'm an experienced and successful computer professional...there are few things more irritating and less productive than listening to "self-taught" computer literates, who assume that years of chatter with their online friends about "cool" features puts their knowledge remotely close to a good professionals'. Knowing how to rip CDs, create a MySpace page, and play World of Warcraft is no substitute for even a couple quarters' of university Computer Science coursework.
MrFred
not rated yet Mar 16, 2009
"Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time."



Really! 59% of Adults 'know' this to be true when in fact it is ONLY a theory! Even the scientists are only GUESSING that this is the case!



I suggest a new theory. The guys who came up with this poll failed it themselves... and that's a fact! ;-)




Well MrFred, science happens to consist out of theories...

The scientific method doesn't claim to know the truth, but is always trying to uncover it.

A new idea starts as an hypothesis and, if there is enough supportive evidence, will grow into a theory. There is nothing better than a theory, you can't get any closer to the truth than that. So saying that it is 'only a theory' makes you look rather foolish on a scientific website.

That's probably the reason you still have a 1/5 ranking after 3 votes.

You can choose to support science in it's quest for knowledge, or you can become a religious zealot. You can't do both, since they happen to exclude one another.



Thanks for the clarification on the term 'theory'! Apparently I am not a scientist... who knew. Although I think I may have actually known what a theory was at one point in my life.

To those that think science and religion are mutually exclusive, I say this. If there is a particular religion that is in fact true, then true science would ultimately lead to that religion. Then the question would be, are you still a scientist? Or just anti-religious? And, if there is no true religion, then why do you even care?
pseudophonist
not rated yet Mar 16, 2009
(Previous quotes omitted)



Respectfully, need for computer knowledge for physicists, geneticists, and most other professions is limited -- and what needs to be learned probably could be much better taught in formal courses. As for less technical people...I'm an experienced and successful computer professional...there are few things more irritating and less productive than listening to "self-taught" computer literates, who assume that years of chatter with their online friends about "cool" features puts their knowledge remotely close to a good professionals'. Knowing how to rip CDs, create a MySpace page, and play World of Warcraft is no substitute for even a couple quarters' of university Computer Science coursework.




It was not my intent to undermine the value of a good university degree in computer science, and I will be the first to admit that while I consider myself reasonably competent in computers, I don't hold a candle to my computer scientist friends.

That said, I have noticed a large difference in comfort using a computer between my parents (and their generation, to generalise) and my own. The key is the ability to be placed into a new computing environment and be able to manage a task with only a little initial guidance.
JAndrewGreen
not rated yet Mar 16, 2009
Curiosity is the key to all of these questions. As a scientist, I haven't the foggiest idea why I am curious about the world in the particular way that I am. My guess is that everyone is born with it, and it gets shut off somehow by negative experiences.



Or perhaps the overwhelming amount of scientific knowlege and data that is out there. I think in the economics section, there is an article about consumer choice. When too much choice exists, people are more likely to do nothing than something. I have found this to be true for myself, but not sure if it is true for others.

BTW, given the ambiguity of the quiz mentioned above, I wouldn't have done that well, either. Allowing for estimation is far more important than knowing the exact answers to things.
Nederluv
not rated yet Mar 16, 2009

Thanks for the clarification on the term 'theory'! Apparently I am not a scientist... who knew. Although I think I may have actually known what a theory was at one point in my life.



To those that think science and religion are mutually exclusive, I say this. If there is a particular religion that is in fact true, then true science would ultimately lead to that religion. Then the question would be, are you still a scientist? Or just anti-religious? And, if there is no true religion, then why do you even care?

Correct, the acceptance of all fields of science and religion is mutually exclusive unless a "true religion" would exist. However, a %u201Ctrue religion%u201D is not a religion, but the truth.
Religion regards (personal) beliefs; you can believe that divinity exists, but you can't prove it.
You can't believe in the truth. You either know the truth or you don't.

At the moment there is no %u201Ctrue religion%u201D, since all religions conflict at numerous points with the scientific method.

You can%u2019t come to the right conclusions if you start with a false set of (religious) ideas which you regard as the truth. To get the right conclusions you should start with nothing and work your way up with help of factual information or experiments. Therefore any scientist that claims to believe in God doesn%u2019t fully accept the scientific method, but tries to combine it with the dogmatic ideas he was brought up with. Such a scientist can still be successful in using the scientific method at work, but he doesn´t use this method in his personal life. He will remain a religious person at home and a scientist at work, instead of becoming a scientist (critical person) at heart.

I%u2019m not a scientist yet and I think I understand religion, but I don%u2019t like that it exists. I know that life can seem hard and that it is tempting to belief in an almighty deity that will eventually fix everything for us. I mean there are people that die from horrid diseases. We age, become frail and lose our loved ones. Children die, because they lack proper sanitation. There is murder, suicide, theft, rape and war. Our reality can be harsh if you think about it and I understand that everything seems easier when you can rely on a higher power that guides us. That there is a peaceful place where we go to after we die can be a very comforting idea. But is it the truth? Or is it just a mind trick we have thought ourselves and our children to feel comfortable about our existence? I think it%u2019s madness to believe in something you can%u2019t taste, touch, feel, see or prove in any way. Not just because it%u2019s most likely not true, but also because it slows down scientific progress. Religious people have tried and had temporary succeeded to halt stem cell research, but there are numerous others scientific fields (astronomy, geography, gene therapy, genetic modification etc.) that have been slowed down by the same people. I think it would be much better if we set aside our beliefs and started working towards a better future with the help of science. Therefore I care...
Paradox
1 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2009

Most people are morons do we need studys to prove this?

Correction: most Americans, according to this article. And I'm sure Canadians resent their being lumped in with the U.S. on this issue.
Correction: studies

You seem to think Canadians are an exception to this??? You are kidding, right? I have been all over the world, and I can tell you, there are morons everywhere.

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