216 Million Americans Are Scientifically Illiterate (Part I)

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Cognostic's picture
216 Million Americans Are Scientifically Illiterate (Part I)

Being completely baffled by some of the current posts on the site, and while listening to Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World for the 100th time, I wondered if a statistic he gave was true. Carl asserted "95% of Americans are scientifically illiterate." Wow! Really? No wonder we get utter and ignorance from people at times. Of course I can't just believe what Carl says. He is, after all, trying to sell a book and may be a bit hyperbolic. So I did a bit of research.


The good news: America’s science literacy rate is up from a pathetic 10 percent in 1988. The bad news: it’s still only 28 percent.

What do you think? Could religion be linked to the cause? Could religion be linked to the result?

" This level of science illiteracy may explain why over 40 percent of Americans do not believe in evolution and about 20 percent, when asked if the earth orbits the sun or vice versa, say it’s the sun that does the orbiting–placing these people in the same camp as the Inquisition that punished Galileo almost 400 years ago."

"One of Miller’s findings that may surprise many Americans is that Europeans and Japanese actually rate slightly lower in science literacy. To be sure, these same populations also have a much higher percentage of people who accept evolution and other basic scientific theories. America’s large population of conservative religious believers may be one reason for this discrepancy,..."


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CyberLN's picture
I think the Texas Board of

I think the Texas Board of Education is responsible for a great deal of science illiteracy in the U.S. They also have ruined the subject of history.

The TBoE sets the standards and content for textbooks used all over the country. Given their obsessive scrutinization of the material and their hyper-conservative views, schoolchildren are fed outright lies.

Theism certainly plays a role in their curriculum OCD, but I think it’s larger than that. It’s control, manipulation, every trick in the book to keep future adults “in line.”

LogicFTW's picture


Wait that leaves over 100 million that are scientifically literate! Call me skeptical, but I would put that number at best at 10 million. Of course it really depends on what metric you go by to "measure" scientific literacy.


I may be more extreme, but I feel religion is holding humanity back a lot. It may of been somewhat helpful/useful a long time ago but it most certainly (to me) is not anymore.

The cynical in me says: the most likely scenario for humanity is: as we run out of resources, (most notably water - exacerbated by climate change,) and people begin to starve, (already occurring, as it always has been, but at a scale we have not seen in centuries, except now there will be ~8 billion of us,) wars will surge, and someone somewhere will push that nuclear button. (More countries than ever are able to make nuclear/hydrogen bombs.)

We humans are fully capable of preventing the above outcome, but the rise of the far right, (trump, boris johnson, Italy's Matteo Salvini, and many others, with close ties to religion and sticking to comforting lies instead of reality prevents us humans from correcting, (what I think, is an inevitable collision,) this seemingly likely path for humanity.

The optimist in me thinks: Humanity has been reeling from disaster to disaster and survived them all so far and at least so far, have mostly thrived to a scale never before seen in life on this planet. I also have hope scientific advancement may just save our butts, if we can figure out a way to do fusion, we could avert most of this outcome without even expecting people to change their ways, (I never expect the "people" to change much at any given time unless highly incentivized to do it.)


Theism certainly plays a role in their curriculum OCD, but I think it’s larger than that. It’s control, manipulation, every trick in the book to keep future adults “in line.”

I agree, religion is just another tool, among many to keep the majority in line. Many of us atheist here may have figured out the religion "controls" but we would be naive to think there is not many more we are not aware of, I actually think religion as "control" is on the way out. Replaced by better controls. I actually hesitate to write my thoughts and findings on this, as it scares the crap out of me, it would be all to easy for those doing the control to make me disappear if I start to "step out of line" on this. (Puts on tinfoil hat.)

algebe's picture
@Cognostic: Europeans and

@Cognostic: Europeans and Japanese actually rate slightly lower in science literacy

What's the source for this? I couldn't find any reference in the article cited. Europe's a diverse place, so I guess anything's possible, but I've always thought the Japanese were very science-literate. The OECD's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, which include science literacy, show Japan to be among the highest-scoring nations, alongside Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and ahead of the US and most of Europe.

Does America have national standards for science education. Some Aron Ra videos I watched recently gave me the impression that States, Counties, and local education boards could set their own standards, with the result that idiotic ideas like creationism and geocentrism have been allowed to seep into science classrooms. Is that a fair picture?

CyberLN's picture
Algebe, you asked, “Does

Algebe, you asked, “Does America have national standards for science education. Some Aron Ra videos I watched recently gave me the impression that States, Counties, and local education boards could set their own standards, with the result that idiotic ideas like creationism and geocentrism have been allowed to seep into science classrooms. Is that a fair picture?”

Yes. And no. The problem is the stranglehold the TBoE has on textbook production. A couple of great sources to learn more about this if you’re interested, are the RationalWiki on it, https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Texas_Board_of_Education or a
an interesting little book titled “Lie My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen.

LogicFTW's picture
I wonder if TBoE stranglehold

I wonder if TBoE stranglehold will continue to matter?

As we move to an increasing digitized world, where school textbooks are increasingly irrelevant, due to the internet. But that, to me, is not even the top 3 problems school text book creators face.

They can obviously (and have) digitize too, but the problem is it is all too easy to pirate this stuff. Which creates a whole host of new problems.

Even when the textbook companies try and force online only subscription access for each and every student, by strong arming/bribing/etc all the school boards, into making the "online book cost" rolled into the cost of the class to the taxpayers, (that is going to be extremely expensive to the textbook companies as there are so many schools!) And raising taxes on education to fund the textbook companies is going to be a very difficult push on a national level.

This is still not even the worse problem they face: All the answers are on the internet, the same internet these online subscriptions require to even use! All the answers are free with a 2 second google search in the comfort of a home. The more popular the textbook the faster the complete answer list will be given. (Sometimes within 24 hours of a new textbook edition release) As textbook answers can be monetized easily, and already have been monetized. With answers and material popping up faster on the net than any legal department could possibly shut down.

The harder they push legally to counter this, the faster the tech will evolve to circumvent this. Just consider the music and now even the entire media industry faces. Textbook content creators are going to have to go "netflix" /spotify (10-12 dollar a month subscription to nearly unlimited content, and only exist/work because it's actually more convenient/easier then simply pirating it.) Or face extinction as the new tech called the internet, runs them over.

We live in a strange world where music artist used to do live concerts to help sales of their albums, where now it is the opposite, they put their albums/songs for free on the net, (they have no choice!) in hopes to drive concert ticket sales. What will happen to the textbook industry? They may be forced to put up all their content for free just to compete, and find a different way to monetize. (Which actually has scary implications, making these companies vulnerable to people like (for example) someone like the koch brothers that have an agenda they would like to push even if it cost them many millions of dollars.

It may take a decade or two, but what happened to the music industry will happen to textbooks.

Cognostic's picture
@Algebe: "It's a quote from

@Algebe: "It's a quote from the article." (9th Paragraph, second page.)

algebe's picture
Oh yeah. I see it now. It's

Oh yeah. I see it now. It's puzzling. Perhaps it's because the MSU survey targeted adults, while the PISA tests are taken by high school kids. Another factor that can affect scores is the quality of translation. That's an art rather than a science, and if the original English questions are in any way vague or ambiguous you'll get Chinese whispers squared.

Cognostic's picture
@LogicFTW: RE: "As we move

@LogicFTW: RE: "As we move to an increasing digitized world."
The government has not yet figured out that they can cut even more educational spending by digitizing all the text books standardizing everything and simply closing down all the schools. Now, consider the fact that no one is elected to any office in the government without believing in God. (Things are about to get scary!)

LogicFTW's picture

They won't close down many schools because it is basically subsidized daycare/jail for children while the parents work their jobs with sometime an added benefit that the kids may learn a thing or two. I went to a south florida public high school for 2 years they had barb wire fence around the school, that faced... Inwards! (Easier to sneak into a school then to sneak out.) It is an extreme example, but it also should not exist at all.

But yes, the US education system is beyond broken. We spend more money per student then just about any other nation, yet lag in many education metrics to countries that spend 1/2 or 1/4 as much per student's education.

But yeah the whole "god" thing is salt in the wound. I had jury duty a while back, all kinds of "god" references all over. Makes it hard for me to respect the court when their motto's are (to me) based on a lie and a complete lack of fact/evidence. On the plus side I would be happy to swear on a stack of bibles if it makes my testimony "better" somehow to the judge/jury. Only thing I would have to worry about is to not perjure myself, I have zero concerns about some sort of cosmic justice after I die. Fortunately I never had any need to lie in court.

David Killens's picture
I do no desire to trash my

I do no desire to trash my wonderful neighbors from the USA. But I have seen enough atheist discussion videos to make me shake my head and really wonder how anyone can survive in such ignorance, and suffer such a profound lack of understand about science. I don;t know what the percentage is, but without a doubt, too many wallow in the deep pit of self-imposed stupidity and ignorance.

There is a joke. In Iceland a US businessman was visiting for a major meeting at the city hall. As he jumped into the cab at the airport, he directed the cab driver to take him to the most important building in the city. The cabby took him to the library.

Cognostic's picture
@Dave: I give you credit 3

@Dave: I give you credit 3 times and then I claim it as my own. Iceland! I loved Iceland. The only European country producing tropical fruit. Hot lakes in the middle of snow fields. Fantastic mountains everywhere. Water pipes above the ground. Do they still do Free Taxis after midnight? Some of the strictest DUI laws in the world. I would visit again in an eye-blink. I only stayed in Reykjavik but I would love to see more of the country. Great place and great people.

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