Are you more scientifically literate than the average American?

the-stupid-it-burnsThe state of science education in the United States is appalling and it’s only getting worse. Thanks to stupid policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act which places an exaggerated emphasis on testing to determine whether kids are learning anything resulting in schools “teaching to the test” and cuts to science education over the years, most people these days fall far short on basic scientific knowledge. It doesn’t help that there has been a systematic attempt by the Far Right in this country to undermine the teaching of well established scientific theories such as Evolution. Is it any wonder that the Discovery, History, and Science channels are resorting more and more to running shows like Ancient Aliens and The Supernaturalist?

It’s helpful to understand just how bad things have gotten so the folks at The Pew Research Center take the time every so often to poll Americans with a simple science quiz to see how they do. When I say simple, I mean ridiculously simple. There are 13 questions and only one of them made me pause for more than half a second to think about the answer.

You can take the quiz yourself here: Do you know more about science and technology than the average American? Go ahead and take it before proceeding with the rest of this entry. I’ll wait.

Done? OK, how’d you do? I got 13 out of 13 correct. There were several questions that I couldn’t believe they were seriously asking. Surely everyone got all of these questions correct, yes? According to the results I scored better than 93% of the Public and the same as only 7% of other quiz takers.


Granted I’m probably more scientifically literate than the average person just because it’s a topic I’m interested in, but it’s not like I spend all my time studying science books nor are these questions in any way esoteric. The vast majority of them were laughably simplistic. If you’re paying attention at all you should get all 13 right.

When you get into the demographic breakdowns of the quiz it gets a little more interesting. Men did better than women on most of the questions except for those related to health. Generally speaking, the more education you have the better you’re likely to do — “collage graduate” scored better than “some college” which was better than “high school” — but it was surprising that only 20% of folks know which gas makes up the majority of the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s middle school science class for crying out loud. And the older you are the more likely you are to score low (probably because you’re beyond the point of giving a shit).

So what do we do to fix this problem? Hey, how about we get rid of that stupid No Child Left Behind program and allow teachers to, you know, teach and then properly fund education and science initiatives?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! Like that has a chance in hell of happening.

16 thoughts on “Are you more scientifically literate than the average American?

  1. I had a brain fart on the chemical reaction question, but the rest were pretty basic.

  2. 13/13. That is a pretty fucking basic quiz. Much like yourself, I have an amateur interest in science, but I don’t read any of the primary literature, or at least not much. At the very least, I’m glad that over half the respondents got over half of them right…..not exactly a high standard, admittedly. If I did the math right, it looks like collectively the group of test takers got a D- verging on a D. So, if we take society at large and look at it as a pass/fail, maybe our hidden alien overlords will decide to postpone our extermination…maybe humanity has a ghost of a chance of avoiding a extinction through ignorance? ….okay, fine, those outcomes are fucking abysmal and it makes me hate people just a bit. I hope you and the Pew Research Center are happy now, Les!

    Looking through the results, it looks like it was a phone poll…..I wonder how the total online results match up? I suppose that online, only people with at least a bit of interest and at least basic literacy would complete it, which might make the population look smarter than they are in reality. Although I also wonder if taking the test verbally with no mental prep at all makes it artificially harder for some people who might do better on a readable version. I don’t suffer from test jitters much, but some folks clam right up if they weren’t expecting a quiz.

    I wonder what skewing would have resulted if they’d asked any questions that had anything at all to do with evolution…it certainly wouldn’t have made the scores any higher. Or AIDS or STD’s or vaccinations for that matter. I also noticed, before reading the rest of your post, that women scored higher on the health/medical questions, but none of the rest. I wonder, if there had been more questions about health/medicine/disease, or even maybe biology/sex, if it would have shifted the stats a bit toward women, or if there had been more technology/engineering questions, more toward men. I suppose it’s nice that even so simple a quiz can still offer some food for thought, even if it feels a bit like I’m having to enjoy that lunch all alone…..

  3. What’s scary about those demographic breakdowns is when you compare it to poll data and note that the oldest Americans are usually the most consistent voters. So the older you are, the more likely you are to be a moron and engaged in politics.

  4. I did better than college grads and much better than old farts like me. Does this mean I may be getting younger, or maybe smarter? Nah, probably just a bad set of questions.



  5. 13/13 here, but a couple of the questions were ambiguous enough to be open to interpretation. Or am I the only person who sees “dissolve sugar” and thinks about what happens when you mix sugar with sulfuric acid? 🙂 Depending on the nature of the disease and factors like the placebo effect, the “don’t treat half the patients” method isn’t necessarily “better”.

  6. 13/13 The only one did had me thinking for a few seconds was the one about the gasses in the atmosphere.. I picked nitrogen and then started second guessing, but stuck with it.. All in all anything less than 12/13 is shameful.. You really wonder why we want less educated kids? oh wait..

  7. Bugger – couldn’t remember if it was Nitrogen or Hydrogen. Hydrogen- what was I thinking! “Oh no, the air has exploded again!”

  8. I took the test and aced it, but I was wondering where the rest of it was. That couldn’t be the whole thing, could it? Huh, only 13 ridiculously simple questions I could have aced at age 15. It is truly sad to see that anyone scored less than 10.

  9. Mistermook I thank you, your reply made me laugh.

    You all know E=MC^2 here is something to think about: if all the mass of the universe was converted to Energy then you would have this

    where ET is the energy total
    ET = C^2
    ET catch me if you can!
    OK I know there is dark energy and dark matter but I’m a little shady about them.

    Then there are those pesky other dimensions too, can’t get my head round them either:

  10. *puts on nerd specs* Actually, that’s incorrect. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. The variables in the equation represent the amount of energy, mass and the speed of light. They are not those things intrinsically. So, you can’t just whoosh away “M” and say it was all converted to energy. It would still be E=MC^2, just M would be a really big number. And by the simple laws of algebra, moving M to the left side of the equation would result in E / M = C^2. *removes nerdy specs*

  11. Was aware of that Solonor, think of this though

    if you could convert all the mass to energy (hypothetical I know) then it would be

    E (some ridiculously high number) = M (nothing, since all the mass was converted to energy!) multiplied by C^2 and as you already know any number multiplied by zero is still zero therefor E would also have to equal zero to balance the equation.

    At last proof that the universe was created from nothing, joking ;~)

    Just playing around. You could tie yourself in knots with this.

  12. First, 13/13, and if my kids got less than 11/13 I’d disown them.

    Second, if you really want to understand E=MC^2, see what happens when 1g of matter interacts perfectly with 1g of antimatter.

    E = (.002) * (3 * 10^8)
    = 1.8*10^14 kg m^2/sec^2
    = 180 Terajoules (theoretical perfect conversion)

    In comparison, the Fat Man bomb was 88 Terajoules…less than half.

  13. I got 13 of 13, and the only one I had to really think about for a minute was the chemical reaction question. Those were all really basic science questions that most people should have learned in middle school.

  14. If this quiz represents the things that only the top 7% can put together in one brain, then I weep for humanity (again).
    As for getting out of the way and letting teachers teach, I take another tack: get out of the way and let kids learn without walls and fake esteem building and bullies in the hallways.
    The best thing teachers could do is stay out of the classrooms and just assist the older kids with organization and supplies. Let the kids seek and find information in the ways they see fit to do so.
    Maybe have one or two hours per day of sit-down, formal teaching just to maintain societal and scientific coherence of language and behavior skills.
    Career counselors can be playground monitors, if they pass this quiz.

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