We’re Bad at This Science Thing

We suck at Science.

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.

“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.”

But don’t let this get you down.

I’m sure you can still get a Masters of Science in Creationism.

*sigh*

  • Miko

    While we’re at it, what percentage of those who “know” can explain why? I’d say the majority (of the minority that know) are just parroting the conclusions they’ve heard without any real understanding.

  • http://foreverinhell.blogspot.com Personal Failure

    one year, no and 75%. what’s so freakin’ hard about that?

  • Steven Carr

    ‘Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.’

    Earth revolving around the Sun?

  • David D.G.

    Egad. Now we see why “Are you smarter than a 5th grader?” keeps coming up as a legitimate question. This stuff was basic information when I was in grade school. So are we to assume that only 21% of the adults polled had completed an elementary education? That’s just as disturbing a thought as the idea that 47% of respondents live in the middle ages, or that 41% apparently consider The Flintstones a documentary series.

    ~David D.G.

  • http://gaytheistagenda.lavenderliberal.com/ Buffy

    Dude, the sun revolves around the earth. It says so in the Bible. And there were no dinosaurs–those fossils were put there by Satan to deceive us.

  • http://colinurban.com/wordpress Colin Urban

    Students from all over the world still come to the United States for an outstanding education (at the university level) its a shame Americans can’t recognize what a great opportunity for understanding they are given simply by living here.

  • Ryan

    Buffy Says:

    March 19th, 2009 at 5:29 pm
    Dude, the sun revolves around the earth. It says so in the Bible. And there were no dinosaurs–those fossils were put there by Satan to deceive us.
    ——————————————–

    Did the Vatican have a faulty bible when Galileo did his thing?

  • mikespeir

    When I read things like this I have my doubts. I realize there are some stupid people in this world, but surely there really aren’t so many. I never seem to run into them.

  • weaves

    I…er…..what?!

  • Bart the Pirate

    Average science scores of eighth-grade students, by country: 2007

    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009001.pdf

    Singapore 567
    Chinese Taipei 561
    Japan 554
    Korea, Rep. of 553
    England3 542
    Hungary 539
    Czech Republic 539
    Slovenia 538
    Hong Kong SAR1,3 530
    Russian Federation 530
    United States3,4 520
    Lithuania2 519
    Australia 515
    Sweden 511
    Scotland3 496
    Italy 495
    Armenia 488
    Norway 487
    Ukraine 485
    Jordan 482
    Malaysia 471
    Thailand 471
    Serbia2,4 470
    Bulgaria7 470
    Israel7 468
    Bahrain 467
    Bosnia and Herzegovina 466
    Romania 462
    Iran, Islamic Rep. of 459
    Malta 457
    Turkey 454
    Syrian Arab Republic 452
    Cyprus 452
    Tunisia 445
    Indonesia 427
    Oman 423
    Georgia2 421
    Kuwait6 418
    Colombia 417
    Lebanon 414
    Egypt 408
    Algeria 408
    Palestinian Nat’l Auth. 404
    Saudi Arabia 403
    El Salvador 387
    Botswana 355
    Qatar 319
    Ghana 303

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    If you go here, you can take a similar quiz for yourself. After each question there is a blurb on how the public responded to the question. Two more questions were about evolution — whether it was happening now, and if humans influenced evolution in other species — and if I recall correctly, it said over 60 per cent answered these questions properly. It wasn’t clear if these numbers were referring to the quiz on the Web site or the Harris poll.

    Anyway, these numbers don’t really surprise me. People are just people. Not getting 6/6 on their Web poll doesn’t make you stupid. More likely it means that people just aren’t interested and have no need to remember what they were taught in grade school. If you have an interest in science and related issues then you probably surround yourself with people who share a similar interest in academics and learning in general. So you probably don’t end up having conversations about science with the crazy lady downstairs with nicotine-stained fingers who sells reservation cigarettes our of her electric wheelchair when she’s not eating Doritos while watching the latest CSI marathon.

    I’d be curious to see results of a similar poll done in other countries.

  • Bart the Pirate

    I’d be curious to see results of a similar poll done in other countries.

    Well, uh, look up at the previous post.

  • Ryot

    Well, uh, look up at the previous post.

    That measures eighth grade students’ test scores, not a random sampling of adults. Not quite the same circumstances.

    The linked article says, “A slightly higher proportion of American adults qualify as scientifically literate than European or Japanese adults, but the truth is that no major industrial nation in the world today has a sufficient number of scientifically literate adults.” No actual numbers it seems.

  • Bart the Pirate

    Ryot,

    Thanks for noting the poignant and significant difference between 8th graders and adults.

    The first reflects our nation’s current state of awareness, the other our future.

    It is comforting to know there are those willing to make others aware of apparent insignificant yet (in reality) crucially relative variances between reader comments. You add much to the discussion and the topic in general.

    Your alertness is greatly appreciated. Thanks again!

  • http://www.noonespecial.ca/cacophony Tao Jones

    Bart, I’m not sure how much of that last comment was sarcasm but the data you posted is very different from the data I was wondering about.

    Average science scores of eighth-grade students,

    vs

    Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

    Knowing 8th graders average test scores doesn’t tell me what percentage of German adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

    Furthermore, even if your post was relevant to my question, I had started writing my comment before your post was made. So your, uh, snarkiness is not appreciated.

  • Richard Wade

    I do children’s science performances for a living; fun shows about astronomy, dinosaurs and volcanoes. It has become clear to me that in school the kids are taught the information but it doesn’t stick. I think the problem is in the way it is taught. Just telling them verbally that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and maybe drawing a quick diagram on the blackboard just won’t keep their attention. I get them physically involved by using themselves to build an orrery. One kid holds a light bulb and another kid spins around himself to the left while also walking in a circle to the left around the kid with the lightbulb. They get it and they retain it. They can explain day and night, what a year is, and why different stars appear at different times of the year. Using a baseball in a similar model they can understand the phases of the moon.

    Sadly, our emphasis is too much on having students memorize facts instead of teaching them methods of thinking and problem solving skills. They may know what science knows but they have no idea how science knows. If facts are like fat and thinking is like muscle, then American children are either skinny and weak or fat and weak. It’s not their fault and I don’t blame the teachers entirely either. The system has become mass production oriented, seeking a unified standard by way of the lowest common denominator. School districts are under pressure to pass standardized tests which, usually using multiple choice questions, only measure memorized facts but do not measure proficiency in thinking.

    I admire teachers and I know I couldn’t do the day-to-day work they do. Teachers build the next generation, the one that will take care of us in our old age. We should honor and revere them, train them well, pay them well and help them with experts on keeping discipline problems from using up all their teaching time.

  • Bart the Pirate

    Richard Wade,

    Excellent insights.

    • A case could be made for competition in the educational system.

    • As I recall my teachers, some were excellent, others were apparently little more than union hacks. (My Jr. High Lit teacher was imprisoned for abusing his students. Fortunately I was not one of his pet students and thereby avoided his many camping trips with boys that led to his arrest.)

    • “One size fits all” has never worked; can never work.

    • Sadly, our educators are focussed on structures (literally) and extensive and expensive bond programs that lock up community dollars and lock out competion.

    As you note, there are credible teachers who deserve our support.

  • Anonymous

    …the crazy lady downstairs with nicotine-stained fingers who sells reservation cigarettes our of her electric wheelchair when she’s not eating Doritos while watching the latest CSI marathon.

    Wow! What a stunningly beautiful vision of Utopia! :)

  • http://www.bookishbelle.wordpress.com BookishBelle

    One of the blogs I was reading today (for frugal tips) posted their homeschooling curriculum.

    It was from Apologia. Creation Science textbooks.

    The Science Question of the week, geared toward 13-18 year olds?

    (paraphrased)
    Which of the characters on Veggie Tales are fruits, and which are vegetables?

    Gah. Made me a little sick. If this is how children are being taught, no wonder we are so low in global ratings.


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