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Data Points

How Much Does The Public Know About Science?

A new report found some surprises when it looked at the state of scientific knowledge amongst Americans.

The public's lack of scientific literacy is a familiar lament voiced by scientists. But a new Pew Research Center Report finds that while Americans' knowledge of the sciences is complicated, it's not as bad as perhaps some have feared.

What the American Public Knows About Science
Most Americans have a basic understanding of certain scientific concepts, but their grasp of subjects like physics is shakier. That’s the finding of a Pew Research Center survey of 3,278 people, who answered 12 multiple-choice questions.
manuel canales, NG STAFF
SOURCE: pew research center

Pew asked more than 3,200 U.S. adults a set of 12 multiple-choice questions testing knowledge of scientific topics as varied as geology, physics, and medicine. Americans gave more correct answers than incorrect ones, with 82 percent of college graduates and post-graduates getting at least 8 of 12 questions right. Only 40 percent of adults with a high school diploma or less got 8 of the 12 questions correct.

The report also found that men answered, on average, 8.6 out of 12 questions correctly while women got an average of 7.3 questions right.

Questions about the Earth's core and about which element was required for nuclear weapons and energy garnered the most correct responses. Survey participants failed miserably when it came to answering questions about what makes sound loud (its amplitude) and whether water boiled at higher or lower temperatures (lower) at high altitudes than at sea level.

And more people younger than 50 years old tended to answer technology-related questions correctly than older folks. Eighty percent of adults between 18 and 29 and 77 percent of people aged 30 to 49 knew that radio waves were used to transmit cell phone calls. Only 57 percent of folks 65 or older answered that question correctly.

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