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Scientific Illiteracy article

  1. May 24, 2015 #1
    https://chronicle.com/article/How-Science-Literate-Are-You-/229753/


    This appeared in my news feed on the old Facebook, and my interest was piqued. Upon taking the quiz myself, I discovered a few noteworthy things.

    First of all, to my surprise, I was reported to have missed one of the eleven questions. It was question number five. Am I incorrect to have believed that the universe did not begin with a "huge explosion," but rather an infinitesimal expansion? Perhaps it's a trivial difference, as I can see how a 'big explosion' would be easier to teach to the general, non-scientific public. Thoughts?

    Second, the reported percentage of Americans who answered each question correctly shocked and terrified me, although I've spent the last six years of my life surrounded by (for the most part) fairly intelligent (or at least semi-well educated) folks. Clearly the public school system has failed. Yet on the ACT/SAT or other standardized tests, we have schools parading their collective scores, acting as if they've accomplished something. Clearly this means nothing, as most people are still incapable of answering some of the most basic questions of the world we live in.

    Also, I invite you and ask you to share your thoughts. I would love to hear what PF has to say about this article.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 25, 2015 #2

    QuantumCurt

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    I took this same quiz earlier. You're correct in thinking that the Universe didn't begin with a giant explosion. This is a common misconception in the public though. I inferred the meaning, and got 11/11. It's far more correct to say that the Universe began with an incredibly rapid expansion, but 'Big Bang' translates to 'big explosion' in the public view for the most part.

    It really is quite shocking to see how many Americans answered wrong. Although it really shouldn't be that surprising. When it comes to issues around evolution, geological timescales, and universal origins, a large portion of the American public has rather drastically misguided views.
     
  4. May 25, 2015 #3

    George Jones

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    Physics Forums Rules, to which everyone agrees when registering, state

    is not allowed, and that

     
  5. May 25, 2015 #4

    WWGD

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    But still, there is the issue of whether the test is statistically-sound: are the questions representative-enough of all general science? Is the phrasing accurate, etc? Why aren't any Mathematics included here; Mathematics may not in a sense be science, but it is a key tool for the understanding of science. And I did get 9 out of 11, BTW. Can you make a representative sample of all scientific knowledge with just 11 questions? I would believe you would need around 100.
     
  6. May 25, 2015 #5

    Evo

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    Let's leave religion out of this discussion, religion has nothing to do with science.
     
  7. May 25, 2015 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    I think some of these questions encourage over-thinking. #5 has the problem mentioned. In #3, the electron wavefunction in atoms is what gives atoms their size - and can be larger than atoms in certain circumstances. #6 is better answered that plates, some of which are associated with continents, are what's moving. #8 could be considered false, given that birds are a subgroup of theropod dinosaurs.

    As for #11, the fact that it has only one answer implies what the answer is, irrespective of the question.
     
  8. May 25, 2015 #7

    QuantumCurt

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    I think this article itself really speaks to how scientifically illiterate the American public is. As previously pointed out, there are flaws with several of these questions, even if they are possibly less obvious than #5. In making their point about scientific illiteracy, the people making the point have demonstrated a bit of their own.
     
  9. May 25, 2015 #8
    Forgive my basic knowledge of physics, but the size of an electron (both mass and radius) is smaller than any atom; isn't this pretty much a given? Considering that the atom contains electron(s)? But yes, I guess I see how the objective of the article is to show that people don't know these things. I don't believe that half of Americans raised these questions, causing them to *miss* the correct answer. I believe they likely had no idea of the answer.
     
  10. May 25, 2015 #9

    QuantumCurt

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    This is something of a flaw in how the atomic model has been presented classically. Quantum mechanically, it isn't entirely correct to think of an electron as a point particle. It's defined by a wave function and can more correctly be thought of as "smeared out" around the nucleus. It can be modeled as a point particle, and very often is, but the reality is more complicated than that.
     
  11. May 25, 2015 #10
    And we could also add the plates have been doing so for about 3 orders of magnitude longer than the question implies :)
     
    Last edited: May 25, 2015
  12. May 26, 2015 #11

    BobG

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    Good point. With a lot of true/false questions, you'd expect half the people with no clue to get the question correct...

    ... meaning only around 60% of people actually know the center of the Earth is hot, for example. Barely anyone knows about lasers, antibiotics, electrons, or when dinosaurs lived. So few that the few that did were gobbled up in the random variations of the clueless.

    When you get percentages like 30% or 37%, it's because a significant number of people have some alternative belief than the correct one. They're learning incorrect information and the incorrect information is taking priority.

    Only half of Americans know it takes a year for the Earth to travel around the Sun? sigh :sorry:
     
  13. May 26, 2015 #12

    ZapperZ

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    Just in case people missed it, there is a more extensive study reported in the 2010 Science and Engineering indicators about attitude and understanding of the General Public.

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c7/c7h.htm [Broken]

    Zz.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  14. May 26, 2015 #13

    WWGD

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    You seem to be assuming that this test is a good representation of basic scientific knowledge, that the questions were phrased in an understandable way, etc.. I would have expected some basic math and a longer list of questions, at least 30. I did get 9/11 , but many things can happen in such a small sample ( I may have done worse/better in a larger one).
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2015
  15. May 27, 2015 #14

    collinsmark

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    All true, but I'd give #6 and #8 byes.

    #6: Sure, continents are associated with plates and the plates are what are actually moving. But the continental centers have been moving relative to each other and continue to move relative to each other. That is true enough for me to give question #6 a "true." [Edit: by that I mean I agree with the official answer of "true" that continents have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future.]

    #8: Yes, modern birds are decedents of some dinosaurs, which is true.
    But by the same logic you could also say that the ancestors of modern humans lived at the same time of the dinosaurs, which is also true! But those human ancestors weren't technically humans (certainly not homo-sapiens), they were some sort of pre-humans (or maybe better yet, pre-pre-humans). One could make the same argument about modern birds no longer being classified as dinosaurs. So I think #8 correctly deserves a "false." [Edit: by that I mean that I agree with the official answer of "false" for the statement "The earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs." It's false because the human ancestors that lived at the time of the dinosaurs are not considered "human" (they were pre-pre-humans or some such) and modern birds are no longer considered dinosaurs (descended from dinosaurs yes, but not dinosaurs themselves).]

    [Edited for clarifications.]
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2015
  16. May 27, 2015 #15

    Evo

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    I think for the audience this is aimed at, we can at least hope they know what a continent is, many would have no idea what a tectonic plate was.
     
  17. May 27, 2015 #16
    I get 11/11, but for my excuse, I was a bit tired and my degree is outside hard science thus I did not bother to find potential flaws in those questions :D

    I had fun about such quizzes, until I saw that also my compatriots got abysmal results.

    Maybe moderators should put something like this quiz as registration captcha equivalent? :D
     
  18. May 27, 2015 #17
    The electron is a point particle, in the sense that it has no internal structure. There are just three numbers needed to describe its position. If the electron were not a point particle, its position would be described by some position density function, and the wave function would be a functional of this position density function, rather than a function of the position.

    The orbital wave functions of an atom represent the probability amplitudes for the position of the electron, but the position is still defined by a single point. It's not correct to say that the wave function somehow describes the spatial distribution of the electron - electrons are not clouds of charge.
     
  19. May 27, 2015 #18

    WWGD

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    Right, when I told someone that a relative of mine was incontinent, that someone asked: really, what continent is he in?
     
  20. May 27, 2015 #19

    Vanadium 50

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  21. May 31, 2015 #20
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