A Majority of Americans Question the Big Bang, 15 Percent Are Skeptical About Vaccines

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 21 2014 11:21 AM

A Majority of Americans Question the Big Bang, 15 Percent Are Skeptical About Vaccines

In a poll of 1,012 Americans, 53 percent say they are extremely confident or very confident that childhood vaccines are safe and effective

Photo by Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images

Americans are very skeptical about scientific facts that are seen as settled by experts. Assuming they can’t see it, that is. There seems to be very little debate about facts that hit close to home, like the link between smoking and cancer or that a mental illness is a medical condition that affects the brain, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. When things start getting away from what people can see with their own eyes, doubts start to creep in, according to the poll. There is more than a bit of skepticism about vaccines, as 15 percent of people say they are “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that “childhood vaccines are safe and effective.” In a result that suggests vaccine skeptics have managed to get their views across to a large percentage of the population, an additional 30 percent expressed some doubt, saying they are “somewhat confident” that vaccines are safe.

When it comes to facts that Americans don't have to deal with in their day-to-day lives, the skepticism only increases. Americans are largely skeptical about global warming, with almost four in 10 saying they aren’t confident, or simply don’t believe, that the world’s temperature is rising, mostly due to man-made heat-trapping gases. Yet none of the skepticism compares to what Americans feel about the Big Bang: they just don’t buy it. A full 51 percent of the population said they aren’t very confident that the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang. Only 21 percent say they are extremely or very confident that the Big Bang happened.

Democrats can feel smug with the poll results as the survey showed a close tie between scientific knowledge and political views. Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to be confident about scientific facts, including the age of the earth. There was also a strong inverse correlation between the answers and religious views—the more religious the respondent, the less likely he or she would have confidence in established scientific fact. The full survey results are available in this PDF.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Naomi Klein Is Wrong

Multinational corporations are doing more than governments to halt climate change.

The Strange History of Wives Gazing at Their Husbands in Political Ads


See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 30 2014 11:42 AM Listen to Our September Music Roundup Hot tracks from a cooler month, exclusively for Slate Plus members.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 12:42 PM How to Save Broken Mayonnaise
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.