So says the Pew Research Center, which issued a report Thursday on the state of the nation’s knowledge regarding some basic scientific facts.

The public opinion and research organization quizzed a representative sample of U.S. adults on geology, physics and astronomy, among other topics. Out of 12 questions, the test-takers answered 7.9 correctly, on average. That’s a score of 66%.

Only 6% of the 3,278 test-takers answered all 12 questions correctly. Twenty-six percent missed only one or two questions, and an additional 27% missed three or four.

Continue reading:  American adults get a D in science; 22% confuse astronomy and astrology

Commentary by The Secular Jurist:  I took the test and scored 11 out of 12 questions correctly (I missed the Polio Vaccine creator question).

6 thoughts on “American adults get a D in science; 22% confuse astronomy and astrology

  1. Robert, I always take these kinds of surveys with a grain of salt. The survey designers (IMO) try to develop a survey which will produce poor success by the respondents. Otherwise, they wouldn’t create the news that they makers seem to crave.

    In this test, those of my age certainly remember Salk, because when it came out, it was such a godsend (my parents’ generation was deathly afraid that their children might get polio), that Salk was considered a saint (and I distinctly remember that having stood in a long line to get the first vaccine). Much like Millennials consider Steve Jobs a saint. I wouldn’t hold it against 16 year olds today to not know about Salk any more than I would hold it against my 85 year old mother not to know who Steve Jobs is.

    As for the chart question, while it’s true that the chart shows a correlation between sugar consumption and cavities, the data on the scatterplot doesn’t really show a significantly linear correlation. Therefore it is not irrational for people to be suspicious of the “correct” answer (see the illustration, particularly the fourth one here to see the problem. Perhaps people missing that one are more (rather than less) sensitive to data analysis.

    As for the others, there is subtle tricks. For instant, in the astronomy vs. astrology question, if you were taking the test quickly, you might stop at the first part–the study of location of planets and stars and pick astronomy without reading the second part about how behavior is affected. That might be a reading comprehension deficit, but it does not necessarily mean scientific ignorance. A similar critique could be made of the cell phone question and others.

    Plus how was this test administered? (I confess I did not read the L.A. Times article.) If someone from Pew called me, I might agree to answer the questions, but I wouldn’t give even 25% of my attention to it.

    In any event, who at Pew decided what 10 questions defined scientific literacy? And really isn’t it more important that American citizens support science and critical thinking than know tidbits about the field.

    In that regard, I personally think the news of the week is that the public school science standards in Alabama were revised to include the teaching of evolution as an accepted scientific fact and the promotion of data analysis. Alabama for god’s sake! That is much more hopeful news than the results of a test, in which getting a “D” is certainly higher than Louie Gohmert or Steve King would get.


    • From the article:

      The quiz was hardly a comprehensive assessment of Americans’ scientific knowledge, but it did include a mix of questions about things we should have learned in school and topics that have been in the news.

      You made some good points, DK, and – as noted – I didn’t know who Salk was either. However, I found the questions to be generally simple and consistent with the multiple-choice testing I had throughout my childhood education. That adult respondents would score so poorly on such an elemental quiz does speak volumes about Americans’ declining aptitude in science (and other disciplines) in my opinion.

      I’m glad to hear the hopeful news from Alabama; although, the wave of anti-secular “reforms” now spreading across many southern and rural school districts remains a cause of great concern.


  2. My horoscope says the stars are aligned in my favor. Isn’t that astrologyand astronomy?
    Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Even Sarah Palin knows the difference, so consider what that says about the ‘average’ American’s intelligence and then consider why The Donald may be our next President.


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