Americans are smart about science: Educating them won’t solve political problems


EXCERPT: Hey, didja hear about those scientifically illiterate Americans? People so dumb, they think the sun revolves around the Earth? People who can’t pass a quiz of basic science facts? People who are getting dumber and whose lack of knowledge leads them to have misguided opinions about science policy? If you’ve somehow missed those stories, you’re likely to see some similar to them Thursday, as journalists and scientists react to the latest Pew Research survey on Americans’ general scientific knowledge. [...]

But the researchers who conducted that survey, as well as outside scientists who study American scientific knowledge, say that’s not the right takeaway. [...] Basically, Americans aren’t dumb. Even the people with the least formal education — who are at a disadvantage in these polls — can still accurately identify nuanced aspects of the scientific method at rates higher than 50 percent. The data from the National Science Foundation surveys support similar conclusions...

So if Americans aren’t really scientifically illiterate, why are polls of our scientific knowledge so often accompanied by headlines suggesting the opposite? Partly, John Besley said, it’s because of a misunderstanding of the polls themselves. [...] The people putting these together are specifically choosing questions that they know not everyone will be able to answer. “If everybody got it right, we wouldn’t use it,” Besley said. “And if everybody got it wrong, we wouldn’t use it.”

That’s because these surveys aren’t elaborate pub trivia. Instead, both Pew and NSF conduct them partly as a way of learning more about how differing levels of scientific knowledge correlate with attitudes and beliefs about science. They want to find out whether people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson are right when they blame scientific illiteracy for problems like disbelief in climate change.

“And interesting thing about that,” Besley said. “Turns out the relationship between what people know about science and their attitudes about science … is pretty small.” That is to say, Americans who know more science facts don’t necessarily hold the science policy beliefs actual scientists would prefer, nor do Americans who know the least have the least trust in science. And despite very different ideologies on a number of scientific issues, Republicans and Democrats score about the same on the Pew survey. What’s more, Besley said, experiments that tried to change a belief about a science topic by increasing people’s science education have largely failed.

“Scientists buy heavily into this argument that to know us is to love us,” said Sharon Dunwoody, professor of mass communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But that just isn’t backed up by empirical evidence. [...] “I hope that when people read surveys like this, they read with a little humility,” Besley said. “There are lots of things scientists don’t know that average people think they should. If you want people to appreciate science, it’s important to be the caring and empathetic person who you want to be perceived as.” (MORE)
People? You mean a majority of Democrats.

in 2012 a majority of Democrats (51 percent) could not correctly answer both that the Earth goes around the Sun and that this takes a year.
But in understanding the gist of evolution, Republicans (76 percent) are insignificantly ahead of Independents (71 percent) and slightly, but significantly ahead of Democrats (68 percent).

So Americans are obviously not equally scientifically illiterate. Which is why so many complain when the wrong people explain science to them.
And this article seems to be making a very weak attempt at excusing Democrat ignorance.

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