Uncomfortable Relationship Between Factual Knowledge and the Human Population

I suppose I should not have been surprised when the last Gallup Poll was released indicating that 85% of the American population did not believe in evolution.  However, when I took a look and analyzed a National Science Foundation poll asking people throughout the world (e.g., United States, Japan, EU, India, China, etc.) about whether they accept factual knowledge from the physical and biological sciences, the results were truly startling.  Actually, with some of the statistics I had to do a double take and I’m still experiencing the aftershock of the results.

Take a look below:

Or if you don’t want to analyze all of those numbers let me pick out six of the results I found most shocking:

1. Only 57% of Indians and 49% of Chinese think the center of the Earth is very hot

The center of the Earth has a similar temperature to the surface of the sun (5700 K vs. 5778 K).  Although the Indian and Chinese populations scored poorly on this question, most countries seem to have a firm grasp on this natural fact.  Compared to all the other facts, this one is quite well known and accepted.  I suppose the shocking part about that is that even the best scores were very poor.

2. Only 44% of Malaysians, 32% of Indians, 44% of Chinese and 40% of Russians believe that the continents have been moving for millions of years and will continue to move in the future.

This fact was largely rejected by a majority of people.  This could be that the theory of plate tectonics was an astonishingly late discovery in the history of science and was not generally accepted by the scientific community until the 1950’s and 1960’s.  I’m not sure if that is the principle reason why most people don’t know or are unwilling to accept the fact that the continental arrangements are not static.  It could also be sheer incredulity, an inability to comprehend that land can move and/or that land that size can move.  It could also be that an acceptance that continents move is simultaneously conceding that the land your country controls will not always exist.

3. Except for South Korea, all countries polled have 20% or more of their population that believe we live in a geocentric solar system.

This one is really the one that I’m having a tough time understanding.  Even though more than 50% of the population in every country polled knew the Earth travels around the sun, this should be one of those questions that has >95% correct accuracy.  The fact that 34% of Europeans, 30% of Indians and 27% of Americans think the Earth goes around the sun is just bizarre.  Part of me thinks that the polling organization needs to re-ask this question because those numbers are just so high.  Or maybe I am naive to think that the notion of a heliocentric solar system is so convincing?  Maybe people without any scientific education just conclude that what they see everyday (the sun rising and setting around them) is proof enough that we are at the center of the solar system?

4. Only 38% of Americans, 34% of Indians, 22% of Chinese and 35% of Russians believe in the big bang.

Undoubtedly this question’s poor results stem from religious cosmology.  And for that reason it was sort of paradoxical that Americans and Russians did not score higher.  The pollsters stated to people “The universe began with a huge explosion” and excepted a ‘true’ or ‘false’ response.  For many Americans and Russians at least this could easily be interpreted and reconciled with the Christian cosmology.  For Indians, or more specifically people influenced by religions of Indian origin (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism) this statement would definitely be answered as false because of a belief that the universe has always existed, and although it is in perpetual flux, it will always exist.

5. Only 25% of Japanese, 38% of Indians, and 22% of Russians know that the fathers gametes determine sex.

Poor knowledge of sex-determination is definitely a problem.  Throughout history women have commonly been blamed by men for not ‘giving them a son’.  This still occurs throughout much of the world, particularly in Asia, and of course this destructive phenomenon of blaming the woman has no basis in factual reality.  To be fair, neither the man or the woman should be blamed for the sex of the child since sex determination happens uncontrollably at the microscopic level.  However, it is the male gamete which determines sex so women should certainly get no blame.

6. Only 47% of Americans, 56% of Indians and 44% of Russians believe that we evolved from other animals.

Alright, humans evolved from other animals.  Although the results were low, they were not as low as I’d thought they’d be.  Especially considering the recent American Gallup Poll I discussed above.  However, the numbers actually support one another.  In this poll 47% of Americans believe that humans evolved from animals and this is in accordance with the Gallup Poll because in that poll 15% of Americans believed in human evolution and 32% of Americans believed in evolution with God’s help (i.e., Intelligent Design).  That makes a total of 47% of Americans who believe that humans evolved from other animals.  Obviously with the knowledge that the question itself can be interpreted to mean that some supernatural force helped humans come into existence from other animals explains the high accuracy in correctness.  I don’t have data from other countries breaking down whether the percentage of people who answered correctly did so because they believe in human evolution or because they believe in Intelligent Design, but from the American data alone we can conclude that knowledge of evolutionary processes and the human species is still unacceptably low.



About Cadell Last
Hello. I'm probably drinking coffee and reading.

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