Public senses it is falling behind in scientific understanding and looks to scientists to provide reliable information
San Francisco, CA, April 24, 2001.A national survey developed by the California Academy of Sciences and polling organization Harris Interactive, reveals that the American public lacks basic scientific knowledge at a time when science-related issues - bioengineering, mapping the human genome, environmental problems, global climate change, cloning, the increasing extinction rate, the reliability of energy resources, and the future of science-based business and technology - have an increasing impact on daily life. The public has a distinct sense that it is falling behind in science: 43% of Americans say they understand less and less of what scientists are doing today.
While crucial social, economic, and health issues now facing the public are being profoundly influenced by new scientific research, a startling number of Americans cannot answer even basic scientific questions:
More than half of all American adults (53%) do not know that the Earth goes around the Sun once a year.
Nearly half (48%) do not have a sense of what percentage of the Earth's surface is covered by water.
And 42% can't answer correctly when asked if the earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs.
Nearly 1 in 5 people (19%) couldn't answer any of these questions correctly. Even college graduates did not fare well, just over a third (35%) were able to respond correctly to all three questions.
The survey reveals a scientific knowledge gap that is particularly distressing at a point when science literacy has become essential to participating in our democracy and supporting the economy. Recent debates over arsenic levels in drinking water, testing for salmonella in school lunches, oil-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Kyoto global warming agreement, as well as the California energy crisis, illustrate the type
Contact: Amy Cramer
California Academy of Sciences