Monday 16 March 2009

Scientific Ignorance

I wish I could find the full survey results for this one! A recent survey by Harris Polls for the California Academy of Sciences finds that only 53% of Americans knows how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun and only 59% know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs didn't live at the same time.

I wish I could find more detailed breakdowns of their polling responses to see whether the same covariates that correlate with economic and political ignorance also predict scientific illiteracy. It seems particularly odd to me that more people would get right that humans and dinosaurs didn't live at the same time than figured out that the Earth goes round the sun once a year. I mean, none of us have experience of the pre-historic era, and the Flintstones could be confusing, and preferences over young-earth religious beliefs might induce odd beliefs on the dinosaur front, but surely we all have direct experience of there being 4 seasons per year.

I'd love to know how the "Earth revolves around the Sun" questions was set up. Did the correct answer hinge on differences between Calendar, sidreal, and anomalistic years? Or was it the obvious a) one year b) one month c) 5 years kind of thing?

HT: Slashdot.

Update 19 March I'm likely to be getting the survey data. Excellent.


  1. I'm guessing that if the answer wasn't the obvious one a lot less than 53% would have got it right.

    I suspect one day would have been a popular choice.

  2. Theres some contact info in the article if you want to get all the juicy details...