How long does it take the Earth to revolve around the sun? Did the earliest humans and dinosaurs live at the same time? What percentage of the Earth's surface is covered with water? Think you know the answers? Well, if you're an American adult you may be frighteningly alone.
According to a national science survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences, very few of us retained what we learned in school. No way, really? Doesn't one of these polls come around every few years to make us chuckle at how stupid we are? Well, my fellow ignoramuses, apparently this survey has a higher purpose. Its intent seems to be drawing attention to the widely held belief that long-term solutions to many of the world's most pressing issues must include a transition to a more knowledge-based economy, including a focus on science, which is a major driver of innovation and industry.
"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."
Although the survey proved, once again, that we don't know squat, it also revealed that we're at least aware of the importance of science in our world. 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 percent), and the U.S. economy (77 percent).
What can you do? Start by taking an abbreviated survey here, then go stare at the Discovery Channel until your head explodes.
Not the biggest science head, but let me take a wild guess at those questions... :-/
1. 365 days, 2. NO! 3. 70%
How did I do?
Ok, I just took the survey and got all the questions right. And most people only missed one or two out of 6. The article makes the results seem worse than they actually are. Some people just are not going to know what percentage of Earth's water is fresh water or to be able to approximate the percent of Earth's surface covered with water to within 10%. I am sure most people know that most of Earth's surface is water and that only a small amount of that is fresh.
"Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow"
- T.S. Elliot
Yeah, a two of those questions ask for some pretty exact percentages by the way the answers are divided. You can be off by one percent and get the fresh water question wrong. Not the best test.
What I'd really like to see are some very obvious space questions, like what galaxy do we live in, and whether our sun is a star. I've found some otherwise smart people to be disturbingly ignorant on that stuff.
Americans are woefully ignorant of science, but these tests tend to be skewed by their format. As was pointed out, if you said 65% or 75% or 2/3 of the earth was covered in water you would have got the answer wrong. I remember hearing various numbers while in school. If instead of saying how long does it take the earth to revolve around the sun, you said how long does it take the earth to ORBIT around the sun, you may have had a better result.
I do find it amusing (and bemusing) when my grown coworkers, some college educated (and not just American educated), try to argue to me that our sun is not a star.
Never mind, I just looked it up and they would have taken anything form 65% to 75%, we are just ignorant hahaha.
Great comments! Congrats to those who aced that (definitely hyper-precise) test.
Kyleb and others-- please feel free to send me some questions that you'd like to see on a science test for the American public-- and send me the answers too! We'll make a quiz here on PopSci.com and see how our users fare (surely better than the average Joe, I'm sure).
Email me your quiz questions and answers, with the subject line "PopSci Science Quiz", at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the online quiz itself, you will of course be credited for your contributions!
Digital Content Manager
"What is the air speed velocity of am unladen swallow?"
African swallow, or European?
Yeah, I had to teach some 3rd graders about our solar system a couple of years back for a class, and one of them was arguing with me that the Sun was the biggest planet in the solar system. The sad thing? His children's learning toy (I think it was a leap pad or something) had taught him that.
One can't forget that most of the world is theistically inclined. One of the big three religions, Christianity, teaches that the world is most likely younger than 10,000 to 15,000 years old.
It is basically expressed by most Christian teachings (not all, I'm sure) that humans existed with all creatures for a period of time. The vast number of people globally who consider themselves christian number over 2 billion according to the research here: http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html
The link is a list of the adherents to many major religions, if anyone is interested.
By these numbers a huge amount of people would find fault with the question "Did the earliest humans and dinosaurs live at the same time?" A goal of determining memory retention cannot be achieved if a person is not recalling a single answer, but more than likely choosing between two or more answers from as many sources.
In addition, not all schooling prior to college is public schooling.
TheBang Tail, please do some research before saying that all of the two billion Christians believe in Creationism and are responsible for scientific ignorance. By far, the largest Christian denomination is Roman Catholicism, which teaches that, while God did create the world, the time in which and how it all happened are not specified. This is because the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is often symbolic instead of literal. If you look at the story of creation, the tools that God used (evolution, Big Bang, etc.) are all unspecified. Also, the order that it occurs in Genesis bears a strong resemblance to the current scientific theories. Therefore, science and religion are certainly compatible, and religion is not to blame for America's ignorance. Personally, I find the public school system, especially the teacher's union, responsible, but that is a topic for another debate.
just because you believe in a certain religion does not make you ignorant. In fact believing there is no God can take significantly more faith than believing there is a God. There is just as much proof for evolution as there is proof against evolution. The fact that evolution is the accepted truth merely proves that the world wants an excuse to remove God from their lives.
I'm sorry if I've confused anyone, or insulted anyone. I ask that you read the last half of my argument. My whole point is that, and I paraphrase myself, you can't determine someone's memory or recollection of a subject by asking a question which a person may answer more than one way.
The dinosaur question may have TWO right answers, Yes or No. Many people have heard evidence for and against both answers.
I was trying to bring light to the fact that I'm sure people put "Yes" based upon religious reasons. This doesn't mean they don't remember what they saw on the Nat Geo in-class movie. Both sides could argue they were CHOOSING an answer, not recalling the only answer.The question is almost like a "fill in the blank, yes or no" format, where the statistical answer is maybe; depending upon what your personal belief is.
I think if we could ask simple questions based upon scientific Laws, we will get a better picture of what kids actually learned in science classes. Its just not a good idea to use a question related to such a contested point as evolution in a memory survey. Replacing the dinosaur question with the "Sun is a Star" question would be a great move.
This test is supposed to be simple memory and knowledge, and doesn't require an in-depth meditation about how life came into existence.
Pretend I do a survey of my next college class on PB and J sandwiches. The question is, "How do you make a PB and J sandwich?
Half of the class says "Take two pieces of bread, add PB to one, and then put the jelly on top of the PB. Put the second piece of bread on top.
The other half says "Take two pieces of bread, add PB to one, and then put Jelly on the other. Put the two pieces together.
It turns out, the survey shows half of all college student's don't know how to make a simple Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich.
investment=taxpayer money directed to another worthless layabout project with no accountability.
What is your favorite color?
Sigmund Freud said that "The more the fruits of knowledge become accessible to men, the more widespread is the decline of religious belief".
In another two thousand years will we release ourselves of God or reinvent it.
The issue raised highlights the importance of knowing and supporting Public Ethics as well as Personal Values. Public Ethics comprises all of the civil frameworks and institutions for fairness and multilateral arbitration of facts and differences as best can be achieved independent of personal beliefs and values butting heads. It's no wonder the three questions used in this example in fact pitted hundreds of years of 'science' versus 'faith' statements against each other. Mature citizens put public ethics above personal values in the public space. Education in science is a necessary part of being able to strongly love and support public ethics as well as personal values, and to put public ethics above personal values when arbitrating facts and making decisions in the public space.