It's no secret that the average American knows very little about science. But according to new research, many women are more likely to know the difference between a Libra and an Aquarius than whether the Earth revolves around the sun.
No one is more distressed by this than Florida State researcher Susan Carol Losh, who recently reviewed surveys of basic scientific knowledge conducted by the National Science Foundation. Men and women were asked 10 elementary questions (see chart). Women averaged 6.2 correct answers, men 7.4. "I was absolutely dismayed," says Losh. "I thought that once I took into account the level of education, age, and other factors, that the gap would vanish. But it didn't."
Most startling, women were much less able to answer such grade-school-level questions as whether Earth's center is very
hot, and whether oxygen comes from plants. "Something is going wrong at the grade-school-to-middle-school level," says Losh. She speculates that girls of that age are in the throes of hormonal distractions and focus their attention elsewhere: on boys. "Boys mature a little later, so they're likely to get distracted later."
But what accounts for women's belief in astrology, which 35 percent say is "sort of" a science, as compared with 25 percent of men? Losh believes it's partly because "women are less likely to feel in control of their futures." But she adds that when it comes to pseudoscience, men may be just as clueless. "Researchers always ask about astrology, so women sound like bimbos," she says. "When they ask about time travel and other 'beam me up, Scotty' fantasies, men are more likely to be believers." So why are the Star Trek questions seldom asked? "Most researchers are men," cracks Losh. "They probably believe in time travel themselves."
THE TEST: HOW LITLE WE
This chart shows the
percentage of correct responses from 12,000 Americans. Correct answers
appear below right. men women
ANSWERS: 1. True, 2. True, 3. False, 4. True, 5. False, 6. False, 7. Light, 8. Earth rotates around the sun, 9. True, 10. True
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.