It’s easy to forget that the whole world doesn’t share your view of it. With the vast trove of information that is the Internet it’s become incredibly easy to surround yourself in an echo chamber of like-minded people, lulling you into the idea that you’re part of the majority. Once you’ve been in there long enough it’s easy to dismiss dissenting viewpoints as outliers, ones that shouldn’t have an effect on your perfect worldview. Of course if you have a rational mindset you’ll eventually come to learn that the world is quite unlike any echo chamber claims it to be and the reality can sometimes be quite sickening. Indeed I’ve fallen prey to it many times but none was as shocking to me as the current state of the population of the USA’s science education.
The table above is taken from the AP/GFK poll which was conducted between March 20-24 of this year with a total number of respondents being just over 1000. The margin of error for the study is +/- 3.4% at the 95% confidence level which shows that the figures portrayed above are very close to the actual state of opinion in the USA on these matters. As you can see whilst some of the bigger issues have wide spread support, like smoking causing cancer and that mental illness is a medical condition, the bottom half starts to get really murky. The thing about all those statements however is that they’re solid scientific facts so there’s really no debate about whether or not they’re correct. Indeed many of these things are what should be part of a typical American education which brings me onto the next point.
In the same report there’s a table labelled PPEDCUAT. (4 category) which shows the breakdown of the education levels of the respondents. Now I don’t know what I was expecting but 89% say that they have a high school education or higher which, I would hope, covers off the majority of the topics in the lower support brackets. What this tells me is that either the high school education doesn’t cover these topics, which I don’t believe is the case, or people are rejecting these arguments for one reason or another. Whilst I can hazard a guess as to why I’m sure you can figure out at least one or two factors that would be having a negative impact on those scores.
I’d be interested to see how this compares to other countries as whilst I’d love to believe that Australia is the bastion of rational thinking I know that’s not strictly the case. In any case this shows just how important science outreach programs are as this survey shows just how much work there is left to be done. Hopefully over time those numbers will all trend in the upwards direction, showing that the general public’s interest in science is increasing. It definitely feels like that is the case when you compare it to say a decade ago but as these numbers show there’s always room to improve.