Interesting New York Times piece.
When Jon D. Miller looks out across America, which he can almost do from his 18th-floor office at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, he sees a landscape of haves and have-nots – in terms not of money, but of knowledge.
Dr. Miller, 63, a political scientist who directs the Center for Biomedical Communications at the medical school, studies how much Americans know about science and what they think about it. His findings are not encouraging.
While scientific literacy has doubled over the past two decades, only 20 to 25 percent of Americans are “scientifically savvy and alert,” he said in an interview. Most of the rest “don’t have a clue.” At a time when science permeates debates on everything from global warming to stem cell research, he said, people’s inability to understand basic scientific concepts undermines their ability to take part in the democratic process.
Over the last three decades, Dr. Miller has regularly surveyed his fellow citizens for clients as diverse as the National Science Foundation, European government agencies and the Lance Armstrong Foundation. People who track Americans’ attitudes toward science routinely cite his deep knowledge and long track record.
Dr. Miller’s data reveal some yawning gaps in basic knowledge. American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.
At one time, this kind of ignorance may not have meant much for the nation’s public life. Dr. Miller, who has delved into 18th-century records of New England town meetings, said that back then, it was enough “if you knew where the bridge should be built, if you knew where the fence should be built.”
“Even if you could not read and write, and most New England residents could not read or write,” he went on, “you could still be a pretty effective citizen.”
No more. “Acid rain, nuclear power, infectious diseases – the world is a little different,” he said.
It gets worse. According to this,
A group representing religious schools in California is suing the University of California system. At issue, the question of whether creationist courses in high school are counted as science credit for college admissions.
And how about this from the LA Times?
Dinny the roadside dinosaur has found religion.
The 45-foot-high concrete apatosaurus has towered over Interstate 10 near Palm Springs for nearly three decades as a kitschy prehistoric pit stop for tourists.
Now he is the star of a renovated attraction that disputes the fact that dinosaurs died off millions of years before humans first walked the planet.
Dinny’s new owners, pointing to the Book of Genesis, contend that most dinosaurs arrived on Earth the same day as Adam and Eve, some 6,000 years ago, and later marched two by two onto Noah’s Ark. The gift shop at the attraction, called the Cabazon Dinosaurs, sells toy dinosaurs whose labels warn, “Don’t swallow it! The fossil record does not support evolution.”
The Cabazon Dinosaurs join at least half a dozen other roadside attractions nationwide that use the giant reptiles’ popularity in seeking to win converts to creationism. And more are on the way.
“We’re putting evolutionists on notice: We’re taking the dinosaurs back,” said Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, a Christian group building a $25-million creationist museum in Petersburg, Ky., that’s already overrun with model sauropods and velociraptors.
“They’re used to teach people that there’s no God, and they’re used to brainwash people,” he said. “Evolutionists get very upset when we use dinosaurs. That’s their star.”
Useful set of web references on the general topic of scientific literacy can be found here.