Friday, March 13, 2009

Science Literacy Survey

The California Academy of Sciences,, recently conducted a telephone survey of scientific literacy.  There are 6 questions listed on their web site if you want to test yourself - I don't know if they asked other questions or just those 6.

I came across this by way of the links below at and The results of the survey aren't too surprising:  a lot of Americans don't know some very basic facts about the  earth.  However, I was especially interested in the readers' comments left at both of the posts.  I recommend reading them yourself.  A complaint of many was that the questions in the survey don't really measure any understanding of science, but rather they amount to mere trivia.  Understanding science, they argue, requires an understanding of the scientific method, experimental design and generally being skeptical and knowing how to judge the evidence.

Personally, I like (some) trivia.  But I understand the point - it isn't enough to just know some facts.  Given the importance of scientific knowledge and discoveries in everyday life, I think it is important for the public to have an understanding of how scientists figure out how things work.  Advertisers often tout some product as "clinically proven," or "scientifically tested."  The public should know what this means - and I would hope they could make a guess at when it is pure bullshit.

However, I think it is also important to know things.  And for that reason, trivia like the questions asked in the CalAcademy survey are worthwhile.  They probably have little impact on your daily life, but if you are to have any hope at judging the reliablity of what scientists (or politicians or advertisers) have to say, you need to know some of the relevant facts as well.

Science Literacy - American Adults 'Flunk' Basic Science, Says Survey

1 comment:

Belle said...

I got 5/6: missed the one on how much is fresh water. I guessed too low, based on a recently glanced at factoid... about drinking water methinks. While 5/6 is better than their numbers of 'normal' I think it's sad. Those are not hard questions...