Copernicus is spinning in his grave

Scientific Savvy? In U.S., Not Much

Dr. Miller's data reveal some yawning gaps in basic knowledge. American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.

That is the most pathetic thing I have ever heard. One in five. Of adults. That are allowed to vote. That spawn more equally idiotic offspring.

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20% PERCENT?! That' simply can't be right.

Reaper81 wrote:

20% PERCENT?! That' simply can't be right.

You think it's more too?

Err... what? *Blinks incredulously*

The last two paragraphs of that article make me want to weep proper man-tears.

Yeah, I believe it.
I typed out a rant and then deleted it. I find myself doing that a lot lately.
It all boils down to this: How can we educate a group of people that don't want to be educated?

Religion is the opiate of the masses...

Yeah, I said it

I don't think it's as simple as that Rezzy.

The fact of the matter is that 90% of adults don't NEED to know what radiation is. 66% don't NEED to know how DNA works. Probably 99% don't really NEED to know about the solar system. We're all fairly intelligent people (none of us use AOL, right?) so we just absorb this kind of thing as we consider the world around us. Most people aren't stupid, but they've got their own sh*t to worry about. How stuff works isn't as important as that it works.

You work 8 long hours in a job you hate for minimum wage, and when you come home do you learn about chemistry, or do you crack a beer and put on American Idol?

Some people just don't have curious minds.

You work 8 long hours in a job you hate for minimum wage, and when you come home do you learn about chemistry, or do you crack a beer and put on American Idol?

Some people just don't have curious minds.

Except some of this basic stuff is taught in highschool and lower.

You're being far to easy on them saying they just do not have curious minds. These people are morons.

One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.

I'm far more likely to believe that one in five adults doesn't know how to read and understand a survey question. This seems a little too extreme.

Of course, the general premise, that people lack basic understanding of scientific concepts, is quite correct from my experience.

Dr.Ghastly wrote:

Except some of this basic stuff is taught in highschool and lower.

You're being far to easy on them saying they just do not have curious minds. These people are morons.

It's a question of retention. Like I said, people like us just tend to pick things up. I would sit in biology class and just absorb, and years later I could recite the name of every bone and muscle in the body without looking in a book (I'm getting a bit rusty now!). But for many people, what they hear in school is only important until they pass the exam, and afterwards, who cares?

DrunkenSleipnir wrote:

I'm far more likely to believe that one in five adults doesn't know how to read and understand a survey question. This seems a little too extreme.

I thought about this too. I wonder how many people were just being sarcastic assholes.

DrunkenSleipnir wrote:
One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.

I'm far more likely to believe that one in five adults doesn't know how to read and understand a survey question. This seems a little too extreme.

Of course, the general premise, that people lack basic understanding of scientific concepts, is quite correct from my experience.

I'm with you, DS. I think this guy's research shows more that people don't know how to answer a poorly worded survey question. In the article, its mentioned that only 10% of Americans know what radiation is; but then later in the article, it is mentioned that the surveyers asked if people knew what Strontium-90 is. Was that the question that definitively proved that only 10% of Americans didn't know what radiation is? Because I can know what radiation is and not know the importance of strontium 90.

I took a look at this guy's curriculum vitae (on his website, here). Notice that he lists only two papers that have appeared in peer reviewed journals. Everything else is reports directly to the NSF or chapters in a compilation. His work, from what I can find, is seriously lacking peer review, which to me is very suspicious. I agree that the average American knows less than they should about scientific matters, but I don't think we should take the word of an alarmist without question either.

LobsterMobster wrote:
Dr.Ghastly wrote:

Except some of this basic stuff is taught in highschool and lower.

You're being far to easy on them saying they just do not have curious minds. These people are morons.

It's a question of retention. Like I said, people like us just tend to pick things up. I would sit in biology class and just absorb, and years later I could recite the name of every bone and muscle in the body without looking in a book (I'm getting a bit rusty now!). But for many people, what they hear in school is only important until they pass the exam, and afterwards, who cares?

Agreed on that point for sure.

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LobsterMobster wrote:

I don't think it's as simple as that Rezzy.

The fact of the matter is that 90% of adults don't NEED to know what radiation is. 66% don't NEED to know how DNA works. Probably 99% don't really NEED to know about the solar system. We're all fairly intelligent people (none of us use AOL, right?) so we just absorb this kind of thing as we consider the world around us. Most people aren't stupid, but they've got their own sh*t to worry about. How stuff works isn't as important as that it works.

You work 8 long hours in a job you hate for minimum wage, and when you come home do you learn about chemistry, or do you crack a beer and put on American Idol?

Some people just don't have curious minds.

...and hence end up in stupid 8 hour jobs which they hate. It's a vicious circle, which can only really be redeemed by a rigurous basic education.

Unfortunately, the trend there is to always aim for the lowest common denominator. This results in losing more and more of what I consider essential content (basic maths, languages/grammar/spelling, history...) and replacing it with goofy courses like modern pop culture or media studies, which don't exactly foster enquiring or even questioning minds.

I took a look at this guy's curriculum vitae (on his website, here). Notice that he lists only two papers that have appeared in peer reviewed journals. Everything else is reports directly to the NSF or chapters in a compilation. His work, from what I can find, is seriously lacking peer review, which to me is very suspicious. I agree that the average American knows less than they should about scientific matters, but I don't think we should take the word of an alarmist without question either.

Note that that section is titled "Representative Publications". It's not a complete list, it only gives two of his 5 books, for example. The statistical workings of surveys and long-term studies are well-known, and he's got over 20 years in those. The fact that he's heading up a long-term longitudinal study is suggestive of his expertise; those are high-visibility studies and not trusted to amateurs or crackpots.

Publications in edited books are usually peer-reviewed.

edit - Here's the overall report referenced, linked to Chapter 7, which is the one he'd have worked on. In the Bibliography, you can find the NSF survey, about halfway down.

http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/c...

There are two questions there that pertain to "radiation". One is "All radioactivity is man-mad - True or False?". The other is "Radioactive milk can be made safe by boiling it - True or False?". I can't yet find the raw data, but this is content from one of the surveys cited.

This guy is not a lightweight, nor a crackpot.

Robear wrote:
I took a look at this guy's curriculum vitae (on his website, here). Notice that he lists only two papers that have appeared in peer reviewed journals. Everything else is reports directly to the NSF or chapters in a compilation. His work, from what I can find, is seriously lacking peer review, which to me is very suspicious. I agree that the average American knows less than they should about scientific matters, but I don't think we should take the word of an alarmist without question either.

Note that that section is titled "Representative Publications". It's not a complete list, it only gives two of his 5 books, for example. The statistical workings of surveys and long-term studies are well-known, and he's got over 20 years in those. The fact that he's heading up a long-term longitudinal study is suggestive of his expertise; those are high-visibility studies and not trusted to amateurs or crackpots.

Publications in edited books are usually peer-reviewed.

This guy is not a lightweight, nor a crackpot.

I didn't see "Representative Publications". (why doesn't he have more peer-reviewed articles on there, anyway!? Bad scientist! :)) Anyway, my name is Katerin, and I am a dirty, filthy skimmer.

I don't think he's a crackpot, but I do think he's an alarmist. My point stands: I don't think we should take the word of an alarmist without question. It's a damn tall claim to say that a full 20% of people don't understand the Earth's revolution around the sun, and I can't seem to find the published article online with the data to back that up. Maybe it isn't online, or maybe I'm just not looking hard enough. All's I know is that this just sounds fishy to me.

It's a damn tall claim to say that a full 20% of people don't understand the Earth's revolution around the sun, and I can't seem to find the published article online with the data to back that up. Maybe it isn't online, or maybe I'm just not looking hard enough. All's I know is that this just sounds fishy to me.

Have you stepped outside and taken a look at your fellow humans lately? Oh, it's possible alright...

Dr.Ghastly wrote:

Have you stepped outside and taken a look at your fellow humans lately? Oh, it's possible alright...

:hump:

Yeah, seriously, I have no trouble believing that one at all. Just take a ride on a city bus some day outside of rush hour commutes.

I was going to post part of an article that I ran across last week about, err, "alternative" science.

The one thing I recall is that the "scientists" claimed that there was no such thing as gravity- it was "God" pushing down on stuff.

Kaaaa-chiiiing!

I don't believe any survey "results" where they don't actually show the survey or the results. What are they basing their 20% number off of? What was the question they asked? How many people responded? This article is heavy on editorialism, light on facts.

Again, take a look at the NSF report for 2002. It's got a full bibliography. This is not "alarmist", nor is it made up.

Robear, I'd happily take a look at his work in the NSF report, but I can't find it. Would you mind linking it to me?

I guess my point is that there's enough reason to doubt the intelligence of our fellow human beings without resorting to grandiose claims like this. I will potentially revise my opinion after I manage to get a hold of anything Dr. Miller has written.

cewargamer wrote:

I was going to post part of an article that I ran across last week about, err, "alternative" science.

The one thing I recall is that the "scientists" claimed that there was no such thing as gravity- it was "God" pushing down on stuff.

Kaaaa-chiiiing!

That was an Onion article. Its hanging outside my old advisor's office.

Earth goes around the Sun and not vice versa (86 percent of men compared with 66 percent of women).

Some of those questions I can see people getting wrong, especially considering the amount of FUD surrounding some of the issues. But this one above?

Fortunately, knowing if boiling milk to remove radiation works isn't something people really need to know, nor is the structure of our solar system. Unfortunately, people have lots of opinions on scientific things (stem cells, evolution, etc.) which they have poor understanding of. In part, I suspect that the distrust people have towards the sciences are a leading cause of these results. For most world problems, I feel education is the solution. This one is no exception, and is in fact a direct, rather then indirect method

Thanks Robear! I knew I could count on your google fu skillz.

Okay, so I knew something was fishy: it's the New York Times. They sensationalized this guy's report up. Still... if, for instance, those "radiation" questions are the only two questions asked about the subject, how does that prove a lack of understanding? You could understand what radiation is (energy transmitted and propagated in the form of rays or waves), and still be iffy about radioactivity (spontaneous emission of radiation, from nuclear reactions or unstable nuclei). They are not even close to the same thing, and saying that because people don't understand the mechanics of radioactivity means you don't grasp radiation - like the NY Time article suggests - is sensationalism.

All of this is just one more reason to increase education funding in the US.

For two decades, he has designed and conducted the biennial national studies of the public understanding of science and technology for the National Science Board, published biennially as Science and Engineering Indicators.

I don't find mention of him in the Acknowldgements for the 2002 survey. The article says that he has surveyed populations for this study for 2 decades for "clients such as the NSF". So I assume that's what his role is. The NSF report comprises a lot more than just a survey of attitudes and knowledge, that's why I linked into chapter 7. I'll see if I can find more poking around the NSF site.

Okay, so I knew something was fishy: it's the New York Times. They sensationalized this guy's report up. Still... if, for instance, those radiation questions are the only two questions asked about radiation, how does that prove a lack of understanding about what radiation is? You could understand what radiation is (energy transmitted and propagated in the form of rays or waves), and still be iffy about radioactivity (spontaneous emission of radiation, from nuclear reactions or unstable nuclei). They are not even close to the same thing, and saying that because people don't understand the mechanics of radioactivity means you don't grasp radiation - like the NY Time article suggests - is sensationalism.

Again, this is one study. But note the nature of the questions. Anyone who understands anything *useful* about radiation or radioactivity should know it is natural, and not not a contaminant that can be destroyed by heat. That's not sensationalist at all. It's quite reasonable.

There may have been more detailled questions in other surveys. But try asking these questions of people for a bit. Not just the college-educated folks you know, but janitors, teenagers, store clerks. I think you'll be surprised by the answers you get.

Edit - It's interesting that your distrust of the media leads you to distrust information they report, *even* *when* it's easy to check up on it. And your fallback position was that even if they reported in general correctly, they still "sensationalized" the information. In effect, you don't want to believe something, even something you feel could be true (judging by your funding remark) because you believe the source is somehow biased and trying to fool you.

Shouldn't you rather conclude that the NYT did indeed report accurately and you were mistaken in your initial distrust, based on the evidence?

KaterinLHC wrote:

All of this is just one more reason to increase education funding in the US.

Because just tossing money at the problem has worked so far. Please we spend a lot on education and we end up with mediocre results. It has nothing to do with education, it has everything to do with culture. Parents need to be more involved, period. Intelligence needs to be celebrated, not celebrity or money. Values need to be changed, not more money spent.

Parents need to be more involved, period. Intelligence needs to be celebrated, not celebrity or money. Values need to be changed, not more money spent.

1000% correct.

Mayfield wrote:
KaterinLHC wrote:

All of this is just one more reason to increase education funding in the US.

Because just tossing money at the problem has worked so far. Please we spend a lot on education and we end up with mediocre results. It has nothing to do with education, it has everything to do with culture. Parents need to be more involved, period. Intelligence needs to be celebrated, not celebrity or money. Values need to be changed, not more money spent.

Haphazardly tossing money around will certainly not be a solution. What we need is better teachers, better infrastructure, and better social attitudes. We can get those via superior training, tighter reign of existing funds, and public education about the value of education. These are improvements which can be made with reorganization and revamping the system. Unfortunately, that would require money. It's not that we need to spend huge amounts of additional money, it's that we need to research how to better spend the money we do have. I do agree though, that the unhealthy social attitude is greatly contributing to our problems, and something like that isn't easily solveable.

edit:

Dr.Ghastly wrote:

1000% correct.

Wow, that's really correct! Is that a statistically scientific percentage?

DrunkenSleipnir wrote:
Dr.Ghastly wrote:

1000% correct.

Wow, that's really correct! Is that a statistically scientific percentage? ;)

Yes, yes it is. I am a Dr. afterall.

LobsterMobster wrote:

You work 8 long hours in a job you hate for minimum wage, and when you come home do you learn about chemistry, or do you crack a beer and put on American Idol?

Some people just don't have curious minds.

Or, to put it other way around, some people's minds haven't been developed to aspire (or to be capable of) anything beyond a minimun wage job.

I'd replace "some" above with "a lot of", though.