The Earth circles the sun once every year, but a startling 26% of Americans get this simple fact backward. They think that the sun orbits around the Earth.
This shocking finding comes from a survey of more than 2,200 people in the United States, conducted by the National Science Foundation in 2012. The survey, done every two years, tests the public’s knowledge of basic facts in the physical and biological sciences.
The survey is included in a major federal report, Science and Engineering Indicators, prepared for the president and Congress.
In 2012, Americans answered an average of 5.8 out of the survey’s 9 questions correctly. That’s a score of 65% — barely a passing grade.
All of the questions on the survey are listed below. Take the quiz, then see how you compare to your fellow compatriots.
1. The center of the Earth is very hot. True or false?
2. The continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move. True or false?
3. Does the Earth go around the sun, or does the sun go around the Earth?
4. All radioactivity is manmade. True or false?
5. Electrons are smaller than atoms. True or false?
6. Lasers work by focusing sound waves. True or false?
7. The universe began with a huge explosion. True or false?
8. It’s the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or girl. True or false?
9. Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. True or false?
10. Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. True or false?
Answers (% who got it correct):
1. True (84%); 2. True (83%); 3. Earth around the sun (74%); 4. False (72%); 5. True (53%); 6. False( 47%); 7. True; (39%); 8. True (63%); 9. False (51%); 10. True (48%)
In the table below, you can also see how the U.S. performed in comparison to other countries.
In the United States, respondents’ knowledge of science is “strongly related to people’s level of formal schooling and the number of science and mathematics courses completed,” the report said.
Those who completed a bachelor’s degree answered 78% of questions correctly, but the average of per cent correct dropped to 45% for those who had only finished high school. People aged 65 or older were less likely to answer science questions correctly than their younger counterparts, who have probably had more formal education. On average, men answered more questions correctly than woman, particularly in the physical sciences.
Here’s a table of trends based on sex, education, income, and age on surveys between 1992 and 2012.
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