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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 @06:47PM (#31796058) Homepage

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

  • RTFA (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:56PM (#31796130)

    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.

    Slashdot is nearly as bad as mainstream media, constantly trying to sensationalize everything...

  • by cirby (2599) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:06PM (#31796236)

    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 clever fiction thought up by some guy."

    Yeah, we have more people who really do believe in some things, but we also have a massively higher number of folks who get handed a "no points toward your final grade" test, fill in "D" for all of the answers, and spend the next 45 minutes staring off into space, because the results DO NOT AFFECT THEIR LIVES IN ANY RATIONAL FASHION...

  • by BitHive (578094) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:09PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:23PM (#31796388)
    There was nothing in the universe. Not one deity. All of a sudden a tiny thing showed up (out of thin air) and exploded and gave birth to faith.

    Who cares that the most basic laws of observation say that there is absolutely no possible way faith should be here. There should not be ONE SINGLE DEITY in the universe. But there they are.

    Then ... religions popped up all over the place.

    Yeah I feel sooo dumb for wondering why religion could not have just popped into place from thin air for no reason.

    The faithful of this age are a wonderful irony. Elitist simpletons who simultaneously think they believe the absolute truth yet have no ability to think for them self.
  • Knowledge and belief (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:25PM (#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.

  • Re:They explain why (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:25PM (#31796406)

    Republican sex is just like Democratic sex, but with Republicans theres less same-sex and a desire for lower taxes.

    More BDSM in Republican circles.

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

    by not-my-real-name (193518) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:25PM (#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:So? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Entropius (188861) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:33PM (#31796482)

    nobody can explain how it works (there aren't even any good theories*)

    Quantum electrodynamics produces results that agree with experiment to thirteen significant digits. It is probably the most accurate, successful theory ever devised.

  • Re:So? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cirby (2599) on Friday April 09, 2010 @07:41PM (#31796552)

    Like our child mortality rate

    ...which is measured differently than pretty much every other First World nation on the planet.

    We count babies as "born" which most countries end up counting as "stillborn," which hits a different category in the stats. For that matter, we have premature births which end up with nice, healthy babies - that most countries can't even keep alive - or won't even try...

    Some European countries don't count a baby death as "infant mortality" until the baby reaches three days (they don't issue birth certificates until then, and the infant mortality stats use birth certificates for generating that statistic).

  • Re:So? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@nOSpam.yahoo.com> on Friday April 09, 2010 @08:07PM (#31796704) Journal

    Interesting, if true. Do you have a source?

  • Re:They explain why (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IICV (652597) on Friday April 09, 2010 @09:31PM (#31797216)

    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 well-explored as the big bang and evolution, then those people are scientifically illiterate. As is their religion.

    The only reason why the NSB would want to hide this is because they don't want to face the fact that the faiths in the United States are anti-reality. I mean hell, it makes no sense at all - the same segment of the report has been in there for the last few years.

  • by r00t (33219) on Friday April 09, 2010 @10:20PM (#31797450) Journal

    Suppose a woman becomes a biology professor. She spend her fertile years studying, either in a lab or out in some horrid part of the world. Does she reproduce?

    Suppose a woman goes door to door trying to save people. (from science I guess!) She meets a lot of nice guys. She has no significant way to support herself. She thinks birth control encourages sin. Does she reproduce?

    Given that mental traits are largely genetic, you can tell where humanity is going. The resulting creatures ("humans") will of course **KNOW** that it was God's will to strengthen people's faith.

  • Re:So? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Protoslo (752870) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @12:03AM (#31797872)

    Board members say the decision to drop the text was driven by a desire for scientific accuracy. The survey questions that NSF has used for 25 years to measure knowledge of evolution and the big bang were "flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs.

    I agree with the parent that the primary, or at least one of the primary motivations that caused the board members to actually act on this was that the survey results were embarrassing. However, that does not mean that their objections aren't valid.

    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.

    It is unsurprising that this effort was spearheaded by a philosopher, attuned to the precision or lack thereof of language and its epistemological implications.

    45% of Americans in 2008 answered true to the statement, "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." The figure is similar to previous years and much lower than in Japan (78%), Europe (70%), China (69%), and South Korea (64%). The same gap exists for the response to a second statement, "The universe began with a big explosion," with which only 33% of Americans agreed.

    The first thing I noticed about this was that the questions are indeed imprecise: it would have been more appropriate, if the questionnaire is indeed meant to test knowledge to say something like "The biological theory for the origin of man most supported by the evidence is that [earlier question]." Testing belief separately is not a bad idea, though: otherwise we really are trying to ignore reality.

    The second thing that occurred to me was that South Korea did second-worst on the evolution question. Apparently, ~30% of South Koreans identify as Christian.

    Christians aside, there could very well have been a small minority of perfectly scientific individuals who still answered "no" to either of the questions because of their poor phrasing. Perhaps they prefer to say that the universe "expanded rapidly." I am much more familiar with evolution than astrophysics, and wonder what is really meant by "developed from earlier species of animals." More than one species? Do they mean that transitively, or are they asking about a radical horizontal transfer theory? We could also argue about the precise meaning of "developed from" and "earlier." Of course, I would still answer "yes" because I don't want to troll the NSB survey, but maybe if I were having a bad day...

    The questions are blunt instruments to capture the public understanding of the topics. I don't have a problem with rewriting them and hopefully expanding them into more questions. In the end, though, even Bruer agrees that pedants trolling the survey is not a (statistically) significant issue.

    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."

  • Re:So? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @12:23AM (#31797956)

    > ...which is measured differently than pretty much every other First World nation on the planet.

    No it isn't. This claim is plucked out of thin air whenever someone mentions the US' relatively high child mortality rate. I must have seen this happen a dozen times now, and (unsurprisingly) there is never any substantiation given.

    International medical studies always go to great lengths to identify and, where possible, eliminate bias due to differences in reporting methodology. A comparative study of child mortality does *not* simply use each nation's definition of what constitutes a live birth.

  • Re:They explain why (Score:3, Interesting)

    by psnyder (1326089) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @01:15AM (#31798098)
    H. G. Wells wrote about this:
    The Country of the Blind [readbookonline.net]
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @06:29AM (#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.

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

    by turgid (580780) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:21AM (#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?

  • Re:They explain why (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Marble1972 (1518251) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @07:32AM (#31799002)
    Unfortunately not all atheists are as peaceable as you might hope. Check out the Great Purge [wikipedia.org] orchestrated by Stalin - check his wikipedia entry under religion. Feel free to dig further and then feel free to realise than humankind is full of agressors - regardless of religious beliefs.
  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Saturday April 10, 2010 @11:37AM (#31799940) Journal
    "not meant to be anti-agw, though obviously, until tried or proven from first principles, the jury is still out"

    RF = 5.35*ln(C2/C1) = 3.71 W/M^2 for a doubling of CO2 concentration - Fourier's 1824 prediction of the GHG properties of CO2 derived from it's spectra. Faraday confirmed Fourier's predictions by experiment in the 1850's. A modern version of that experiment can be seen here [youtube.com].

    "Anyone mentioning the subtle detail that climate is chaotic"

    Usually doesn't know the difference between climate and weather, let alone the difference between forcings and feedbacks.

    "The only systems we can predict are systems that are, thermodynamically speaking, in equilibrium."

    Yeah right, the size of expansion joints in bridges and railway tracks are picked out of a hat.

    "But if the AGW "debate" proves anything, it's that science is no longer allowed to tell people "we don't know"."

    No, what it proves is that a measly few million bucks worth of anti-science propoganda [sourcewatch.org] can create a huge army of usefull idiots [wikipedia.org] such as yourself to create the impression of a debate about a well understood climate forcing.

    The rest of the "science" in your post is so wrong it makes creationist arguments look reasonable. The whole thing is an accurate demonstration of the GP's astute observation that "stupid and pissed off (at the IPCC) is the new cool".

    Ironically, your post also contains the cure for your ignorance in your call to teach scientific philosophy [wikipedia.org], unfortunately you don't seem to have taken your own advise and uncritically repeat the misinformation and red-herrings fed to you by lobbyists.

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