47% of Americans need to be launched into a heliocentric orbit

The entire universe in blog form
March 13 2009 8:16 PM

47% of Americans need to be launched into a heliocentric orbit

Sigh. I should be surprised by stuff like this, but the most damning thing about it is that I'm not surprised.

Only 53% of adult Americans know it takes the Earth a year to go around the Sun. The reason it's not surprising to me is that that's how many Americans couldn't ask Oprah or Dr. Phil about it first.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

Advertisement

This is the result of a survey done by the California Academy of Sciences. The other results aren't a whole lot more encouraging. What slays me is that the vast majority of Americans think that science is important to their lives:

Despite this lack of knowledge, U.S. adults do believe that scientific research and education are important. About 4 in 5 adults think science education is "absolutely essential" or "very important" to the U.S. healthcare system (86%), the U.S. global reputation (79%), and the U.S. economy (77%).

I guess that's a start; at least people know it's important. The thing is, they don't act like it! Just knowing science is critical hardly matters if people don't a) understand it, and b) vote about it.

And it's not like this is new. I have a book called Worlds Apart (available as a free PDF from The First Amendment Center, and well worth reading if you're as concerned about this as I am), loaded with studies that have pretty much the same results as this recent survey, except this book came out more than ten years ago. Nothing has changed, really, and I suspect nothing will for a long time. The system is broken, we're not teaching our kids good science, and how to fix it is a mystery. I think a lot of what we're doing is right -- science is exciting, and a lot of outreach does a good job of showing that -- but somewhere in our educational system the ball is being dropped. People have devoted their careers to studying this, and I wonder how much closer we are to a solution.

I honestly don't know. I don't mean to be bleak or anything here, but I know there are no quick solutions. But I'm not even sure we have a slow one. Obama has talked about overhauling the educational system, but I'll believe that when I see it. The last overhaul -- No Child Left Behind -- is an unmitigated disaster, which was no surprise to those of us in the education field when it passed. I'd love to see that torn down first, but what to build in its place?

I wonder if there are people out there with the right ideas, something that we can implement to mitigate this. I suppose that's a rhetorical question, but with surveys like this showing we're not getting any better, it's an increasingly important one.

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your children is perfectly legal. 

Ken Burns on Why Teddy Roosevelt Would Never Get Elected in 2014

Cops Briefly Detain Django Unchained Actress Because They Thought She Was a Prostitute

Minimalist Cocktail Posters Make Mixing Drinks a Cinch

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest of jewels.

Books

Rainbow Parties and Sex Bracelets

Where teenage sex rumors come from—and why they’re bad for parents and kids.

Books

You Had to Be There

What we can learn from things that used to be funny.

Legendary Critic Greil Marcus Measures and Maps Rock History Through 10 Unlikely Songs

Catfish Creator Nev Schulman’s Book Is Just Like Him: Self-Deluded and Completely Infectious

Behold
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 14 2014 2:37 PM When Abuse Is Not Abuse Don’t expect Adrian Peterson to go to prison. In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 13 2014 8:38 AM “You’re More Than Just a Number” Goucher College goes transcript-free in admissions.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 14 2014 7:10 PM Watch Michael Winslow Perform Every Part of “Whole Lotta Love” With Just His Voice
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?