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Education Government It's funny.  Laugh. United States Science

Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report 495

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-let-the-rest-of-the-world-know-how-stupid-we-really-are dept.
cremeglace writes "In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans' knowledge of evolution and the Big Bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang."
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Evolution, Big Bang Polls Omitted From NSF Report

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  • by sznupi (719324) on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:47PM (#31796058) Homepage

    Shame? It's a not bad starting point...

  • They explain why (Score:5, Informative)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:51PM (#31796094) Homepage Journal

    in the article.

    • Sometimes I just don't understand how the hell we've made it to superpower status... really... wtf fellow Americans?
      • by Sique (173459)

        Between blinds, the one-eyed is king.

      • by MrHanky (141717)

        Lots of cannon fodder. That's the answer.

      • by Dunx (23729)

        You make it sound like superpower status was recently achieved.

      • by Dahamma (304068) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:10PM (#31796270)

        Are you just proving you didn't read it either? It sounds like the NSB/NSF was choosing scientific method OVER politics and religion in this case.

        Quote: "National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation (NSF), says it chose to leave the section out of the 2010 edition of the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators because the survey questions used to measure knowledge of the two topics force respondents to choose between factual knowledge and religious beliefs."

        They were badly formed questions for a literacy test. Instead of asking if they agree with the statement "The universe began with a big explosion", they should have asked something to determine IF people had a firm grasp of what the big bang theory WAS. Sure, personally I think that is by far the most likely theory (and that evolution is clearly fact at this point), but literacy is about comprehension, not belief.

        It's like asking in a classics survey whether "Prometheus shaped man out of mud to be brought to life by Athena". No, I would have to answer I don't believe that. Does that mean I am not literate in Greek mythology?

        • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:13PM (#31796744) Homepage Journal

          The problem is that any question on any survey could conceivably contradict someone's religious beliefs. If a survey designed to measure the scientific literacy of the general public find that large numbers of people choose religious beliefs over factual knowledge, that is a valuable datum indicating that scientific illiteracy is alarmingly high.

          It's like asking in a classics survey whether "Prometheus shaped man out of mud to be brought to life by Athena". No, I would have to answer I don't believe that. Does that mean I am not literate in Greek mythology?

          False analogy. Being literate in mythology does not require that one consider the myths under study to be evidence about the way the world works -- in fact, the very word "mythology" rather implies the opposite.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by IICV (652597)

          They were badly formed questions for a literacy test. Instead of asking if they agree with the statement "The universe began with a big explosion", they should have asked something to determine IF people had a firm grasp of what the big bang theory WAS. Sure, personally I think that is by far the most likely theory (and that evolution is clearly fact at this point), but literacy is about comprehension, not belief.

          I think that by definition, if people think that their religion trumps science in places as wel

      • by jc42 (318812) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:54PM (#31797000) Homepage Journal

        Sometimes I just don't understand how the hell we've made it to superpower status...

        Well, we might note that "superpower status" is in great measure made up of things like nuclear weapons, which the general population had no part in producing. There's also an economic component to that status, but again, those were built under the guidance of a rather tiny portion of the population (and regulated so that they wouldn't shoot themselves and the rest of us in our collective feet by a small population of anti-trust regulators ;-). The general population had little input to all this power.

        The American anti-science, anti-intellectual attitude is a property of the masses; our super-power status is a property of the actions of a small minority of thinkers and doers. There's no difficulty understanding how we could have both.

        Of course, most of the American industrial power seems to have been outsourced over the past decades, so we might be seeing the end of it all. And our government is more and more in the hands of know-nothings who are proud of their willful ignorance. So that superpower status may be reaching the status of "polite fiction". America's primary remaining power might be its military, which is more and more dependent on outsourced technology, and that's not a very stable situation.

        Stick around and find out how it all develops. Maybe you'll live to see who inherits the top-dawg position among nations.

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:00PM (#31796166) Homepage

      Nice try, but I'm not getting suckered into RTFA that easily!

    • No they did not. (Score:5, Informative)

      by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:05PM (#31796226)

      From TFA:

      The board member who took the lead in removing the text was John Bruer, a philosopher who heads the St. Louis, Missouri-based James S. McDonnell Foundation. He told Science that his reservations about the two survey questions dated back to 2007, when he was the lead reviewer for the same chapter in the 2008 Indicators. He calls the survey questions "very blunt instruments not designed to capture public understanding" of the two topics.

      That explains nothing.

      And ...

      When Science asked Bruer if individuals who did not accept evolution or the big bang to be true could be described as scientifically literate, he said: "There are many biologists and philosophers of science who are highly scientifically literate who question certain aspects of the theory of evolution," adding that such questioning has led to improved understanding of evolutionary theory. When asked if he expected those academics to answer "false" to the statement about humans having evolved from earlier species, Bruer said: "On that particular point, no."

      So the guy pushing for the removal cannot maintain a consistent argument for that removal.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by hoytak (1148181)

        So the guy pushing for the removal cannot maintain a consistent argument for that removal.

        Not how I see it. People interpret yes/no questions very differently; hence his "blunt instrument" remark. In general, I (background -- statistics) would probably answer yes to a binary question if I felt it to be mostly true. My wife (background -- philosophy) would probably answer no or "i don't know" to many of the same questions.

        The problem with accurately designing surveys often boils down to understanding how people react if they have qualms about giving a yes/no answer but really feel in the midd

        • It seems that not answering the question is an option for these people.

          Really? From the way it seems to be phrased, he said that they would not answer "No".

          Not that they would not answer.

          What this guy is saying is that there are people who are ignorant about the topic and fall somewhere in the middle, and some who are very informed and thoughtful about it but have some reservations and thus fall somewhere in the middle. So, frankly, I think his argument is consistent unless you ignore the subtleties.

          What ar

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          There is not a double negative in the text you quote.

          There is no indication that not answering is an option.

          The previous sentence is not a double negative either.

    • by AK Marc (707885) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:28PM (#31796434)
      You seem to be quite confused. They do not explain why in the article.

      The guy most singly responsible gives his public excuse as to why, but it isn't intellectually consistent and completely fails to address why this change (allegedly in the works for years) would have been left alone for all the drafts then changed between the last draft and the release.

      "It's faith questions, not science questions" isn't an answer, it's an excuse. Why feel compelled to change it now when other countries are leaving it alone and if it's so useless, just include it and the people reading the results will ignore it. And, if it is a good thing to exclude, why wait until after the last draft to make the change?

      It stinks of a political or religious move, not a scientific one. The real science one would be to leave it in and put an asterisk at the end saying *These results are faith oriented and should not be considered science questions." Or, at the very least, not "lie" by releasing drafts knowing they will lead to a misconception of what will be in the actual report.
    • by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Friday April 09, 2010 @08:52PM (#31797326)
      They don't wish outsiders to think Americans are ignorant when in fact they are wilfully stupid.
  • Talking about evolution or big bangs makes the baby Jesus cry!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:01PM (#31796184)

    When TFA says "data on Americans' knowledge of evolution and the big bang", that suggests it's a measurement of Americans' awareness level of the existence of the topics.

    But when the TFA says "Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang", that suggests it's a measurement of American's agreement level.

    Awareness != Agreement != Acceptance

    For example, while I might be FULLY AWARE of and understand the reasoning behind Christianity, that does NOT mean that I accept the notion as true.

    TFA seems to be suggesting that if you disagree with some topic, that you simply do not understand the topic, which is a complete fallacy.

    • Awareness != Agreement != Acceptance

      I'd like to make you aware of my agreement with your equation that evaluates acceptance.

    • Wrong. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:20PM (#31796362)

      TFA seems to be suggesting that if you disagree with some topic, that you simply do not understand the topic, which is a complete fallacy.

      No. Not in regards to scientific issues.

      You can refuse to accept that the Earth is not the center of the Universe, but that DOES mean that you do not understand the SCIENCE behind it.

  • Not so bad (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oldhack (1037484)

    Big Bang is, well, Big Bang, and only some religious fundies would have issues since the rest of us don't really care one way or another.

    Sharing ancestors with apes, well, bit less so.

    Evolution: now this is different since it's a demonstrated fact.

  • by cirby (2599)

    When it comes to this sort of polling, there's a little thing that slips by the people who comment on them.

    When people from other countries take this sort of test, we get a solid mix of answers, taken seriously.

    When people from the United States take them, a regular sample of about 33% hit the "funny answer button."

    You get high school students who will, given the chance, answer "Who was Martin Luther King?" with "D. A famous dentist."

    You get people on the Internet who answer "what is evolution?" with "D. A

  • by introspekt.i (1233118) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:07PM (#31796240)
    To the average layman/Joe/Jane "knowledge" of the truth of the Big Bang and Evolution is really tantamount to believing that they are true (that is, valid explanations of our reality). If you go off of a high school education, what do teachers really tell you aside from a few weeks' lecture (at best) and showing some pictures in a book? How does that equate to knowledge of these things aside from "my teacher told me it was true". Perhaps we're just doing a horrible job of managing our credibility on topics such as these. People in all walks of life both deny and affirm the validity of these two theories, yet they seem to appear everywhere (and are wildly [un]successful at their pursuits). Widespread belief in the (in)validity of these two things does not denote the working value of a high school level education, if not even a higher education outside of the areas relevant to these theories. In my opinion, of course.
  • I've seen more than enough bad science and outright anti-scientific posts here at Slashdot; I can't imagine how depressed — and depressing — the numbers must be among the general populus.

    Luckily it's Friday afternoon, and the bar is close by.
  • by BitHive (578094) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:09PM (#31796258) Homepage

    "The prevailing theories in science might one day be overturned so why shouldn't I remain ignorant?"

    These are the same people who will insist that using anything more abstract than C means you're not a real programmer.

    At the end of the day, thinking for them is more about ego-defense than actual synthesis.

    • by blair1q (305137)

      So is this thing about calling out the dilettantes with vague, demonizing similes.

    • by snowgirl (978879)

      At the end of the day, thinking for them is more about ego-defense than actual synthesis.

      You're describing Apologetics, right?

      You know, this idea explains a lot why American society is so prone to "cognitive dissonance". People refuse to recognize hypocritical beliefs on their part, simply because they fail to actually produce their own synthesis of their own thoughts. They're perfectly fine mapping out completely opposing beliefs given the argument at hand.

  • by RightSaidFred99 (874576) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:10PM (#31796272)

    Sorry, these two theories are not on a level playing field. Evolution is a ridiculously strong theory, it's really hard for anyone to not "accept" it unless they do so based on entirely irrational beliefs.

    I might think, if not say, someone who doesn't "believe" in evolution is an idiot. I would not say the same thing about the Big Bang for various reasons, among them the fact that the Big Bang does not explain the state of existence at T(Big Bang) - 1. It does not explain creation, and in fact creation is inherently inexplicable unless one resorts to "Magic" of one form or another.

    • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:32PM (#31796472)

      Who is to say there was any state of existence before the Big Bang? Einstein has taught us that space and time are part and parcel of the same thing, that is the universe. Without the Big Bang there is no universe and therefore no time, and T-1 is a null pointer error. Hawking and Hartle have actually shown how time can emerge into existence during a Big Bang. cf. quantum cosmology.

      From a philosophical point of view it can be argued that asking what happened before the Big Bang is the same thing as asking who created God. It is the same problem in a somewhat different context.

      Einstein and Hawking have dealt with the question in a naturalistic setting, in this century Augustine of Hippo dealt with the question from a religious point of view some 1500 years earlier.

  • education.

    under the guise of 'practicing our faith', innumerable religious sects and groups pump youth with bullshit.

    this is just the opening stages though. just keep it that way for a few decades more, you may see even the most basic scientific rules and laws getting challenged.

  • Knowledge and belief (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:25PM (#31796400) Homepage Journal

    If your beliefs separate you from knowledge, then you lack knowledge. Their polls are about measuring knowledge. Removing it because some beliefs keep people intellectually backwards is a shame.

  • It doesn't matter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by not-my-real-name (193518) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:25PM (#31796412) Homepage

    Why are we concerned if people, in general, accept the big bang theory or evolution? Why not worry about general relativity and quantum mechanics?

    For the vast majority of people, it simply does not matter. Will it pay my mortgage or put food on my table if the sun revolves around the earth or the other way around? If not, then why should they care?

    We're all (sometime I wonder though) nerds here, so we care, but most people don't. I know that the operation of my GPS navigator depends on both general relativity and quantum mechanics, but it works whether I believe them or not. How many other people know or care?

    A better question would be to ask if they believe that the scientific method is a valid method of seeking the truth. Another question would be if the scientific method was the only valid method of seeking the truth.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by h4rr4r (612664)

      Because if they do not accept these things it shows how little value science and education have in our society. The reality is current US culture is very into denialism and superstition.

  • Goddammit America - You used to be this shining beacon in the world of leadership, democracy and sensibility. Now you're just descending into some kind of nutbar crazy JesusLand. Every week there's another story like this one.

    What the hell happened? I want my old America back... Can't you level-headed Americans (there must be *some* of you left...) do something about it?
    • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:39PM (#31796530)

      The first long term settlements in America were by extreme religious groups like the Pilgrims and Puritans. The idea that America didn't used to be particularly religious is not historically accurate.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dido (9125)

        True, however the United States of America, the nation as it was conceived by the Founding Fathers, was also very much based upon the idea of religious tolerance. It was precisely because of this that the United States managed to attract the best and brightest in the past: that people could be assured of their safety regardless of their own personal religious beliefs and practices. Unfortunately, it seems that increasingly growing and vocal groups are all set to overturn this longstanding principle...

  • Failure to accept an assertion is not the same as failing to understand that an assertion has been made

    Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs.

    Those are not, in any practical sense of the word, facts. Whether or not they are literally true

  • Religious dogma aside, this Big Bang theory seems dated. The idea that the Universe might be finite has been challenged and, frankly, seems less likely as more is learned about quantum gravity and string theory. I am of the mind that there may have been a bang, perhaps many, but not just one big one. As some are monotheistic and others are polytheistic, I rebuke one big bang and claim to believe in many bangs. Just like thinking we are the only ones in the Universe, I doubt if this vastness could only co
  • by Warwick Allison (209388) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:58PM (#31796654) Homepage

    "the two topics force respondents to choose between factual knowledge and religious beliefs."

    i.e. the respondents might belief X is false even though they know X is true. That's the best description I've seen of the stupidity of religion.

  • Only here (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:04PM (#31796690) Homepage

    Humans and apes share 96% of their DNA. I forget which comedian asks if you have sandwich that's 96% crap and 4% ham, would you still call it a ham sandwich?

    That by itself doesn't prove we descended from apes, but sure would seem to lend it scientific plausibility. If you're faith leads you to a different conclusion, that's fine. But that doesn't mean the rest of us need to teach it in school or avoid teaching what science can measure.

    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @05:29AM (#31798884) Journal

      The question should be, if a sandwich is 96% ham and 4% crap, would you still call it a ham sandwich. And yes you would. A disgusting ham sandwich but a ham sandwich still.

      And we are not descended from Apes, we share a common ancestor. And we share one with most life if indeed not all.

      And faith shouldn't go against facts and be considered normal.

      If my faith led me to believe gravity doesn't affect me, wouldn't I be considered normal if I jumped of a building? No, I would be called insane. If ignoring the theory of gravity is insanity, then so is ignoring the theory of evolution.

  • by prefec2 (875483) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:40AM (#31798762)

    If the USA would be a country like Afganistan or Italy without nuclear weapons I wouldn't care and hope that some day they will understand that religion is not a good source to find out how the universe come into existence, but a possible good source for ethics and mental stability (as long as you do not become a fanatic). The real problem is that there are so many religios fanatics running around in the US believing in all kinds of things including Armageddon. And now think one of those crazy guys becomes president and pushes the button... This possibility frightens me most. Therefore it is very good to hear that the US is reducing their nuclear potential. Even though they will still be able to fry everyone on this planet. But at least not six times.

  • My Brother's Keeper (Score:4, Interesting)

    by turgid (580780) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @06:21AM (#31798984) Journal

    Americans are far more likely to be ignorant religious loonies who refuse to believe scientific fact in favour of archaic superstition and myth and profess to follow the word of a deity, meanwhile trying as hard as they can to ensure that the poor and sick don't get the help they need.

    Can someone please explain why America is like this?

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