The Pew Research Center just released results from a survey measuring knowledge of basic science knowledge in the US.
Not surprisingly, Americans scored a C on average.
But one of the 12 questions really baffled us: It asked participants to identify the definition of astrology, which isn’t a science.
Astrology is well known pseudoscience linking human behaviour to the position of stars and planets.
On the other hand, astronomy, is the scientific study of celestial objects.
For years, Americans have been mixing the two up.
In the National Science Foundation’s annual Science and Technology Indicators, a survey that’s been done for decades, almost half of Americans thought astrology was “sort of” or “very” scientific.
So I understand why the question was included — to see if Americans know the difference between the two “disciplines.” But, in my opinion, they got the wording all wrong.
Here’s the question from Pew’s website:
If Pew wanted to know if survey respondents could correctly distinguish astronomy from astrology, they should have asked test-takers for the definition of astronomy, or asked test takers to choose the correct definition of astronomy from a list.
Or they could have followed the National Science Foundation’s lead and ask: “Would you say that astrology is very scientific, sort of scientific, or not at all scientific?“
That question wording gets across the possibility that astrology is a pseudoscience, which is the real issue. The Pew question almost makes it sound like astrology is a real science by saying “the study of.”
Asking respondents to identify the correct definition of astrology just breeds more misinformation by inappropriately validating it as a field of “study” that could be misconstrued a real science.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans correctly identified the definition of astrology in the Pew question. I don’t think this proves that they understand it’s a pseudoscience, though.
I’d rather know how many could correctly identify the definition of astronomy.
The study of the heavens wasn’t the only question that tricked some test-takers. Here’s how Americans fared on the rest of the questions:
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