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Canada Education Science

Canada Tops List of Most Science-Literate Countries 221

Posted by timothy
from the one-end-of-the-moose-has-more-gravity dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A recent survey of scientific education and attitudes showed the Canadian population to have the highest level of scientific literacy in the world, as well as the fewest reservations about the direction of scientific progress (full report). A key factor is a high level of scientific knowledge among the general population (despite comparatively low numbers of people employed in STEM fields). Another is a higher level of comfort with choosing rationality over religious belief — only 25% of Canadians surveyed agreed with the statement "We depend too much on science and not enough on faith", as opposed to 55% in the U.S. and 38% in the E.U.

I also wonder if the vaunted Canadian healthcare system plays a role. When advances in medical science are something you automatically expect to benefit from personally if you need them, they look a lot better than when you have to scramble just to cover your bills for what we have now."
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Canada Tops List of Most Science-Literate Countries

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  • by RichMan (8097) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @07:18PM (#47780043)

    I am canadian, and if we are the most scientiically literate. I really pity the rest of you.

    • by itsenrique (846636) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @07:23PM (#47780085)
      There are cynics everywhere...
    • by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @07:36PM (#47780181) Homepage Journal

      I am canadian, and if we are the most scientiically literate. I really pity the rest of you.

      I pity us also. Does Canada have lots of relatively successful* politicians with whackadoodle opinions on climate change, Earth's age, and female reproductive biology?

      * In terms of votes, not intelligence ranking.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Stephen Harper fits that bill... as do a number of people in his cabinet.

        Stuff like that tends to float to the top.

      • by radtea (464814) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @09:03PM (#47780811)

        Does Canada have lots of relatively successful* politicians with whackadoodle opinions on climate change, Earth's age, and female reproductive biology?

        We are having a bit of a moment with some wack-jobs in the "Conservative" Party of Canada at the moment, which is actually a radical populist party that is opposed to everything conservatism in this country has ever stood for (fiscal probity, institutional stability, Westminsterian democracy...)

        A few of the loonier tunes, like Justice Minister Peter McKay, seem to believe that women have no agency (or at least that's what one infers from his attempts to push a "Swedish model" prostitution law through the system) and I believe former party leader [*] Stockwell Day is on record for a Young Earth.

        This has more to do with the wonderful (and I do mean that seriously) randomness of our electoral system, which is capable of electing a majority government with 35% of the vote, as well as the institutional disarray of the Liberal Party in the past decade. We're reasonably likely to throw the bastards out next year, although the Liberals have more than a few loonies of their own.

        [*] The history of the CPC is complex, but Day was the leader of one of it's fore-runners about ten years ago.

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          Funny, I bet you weren't complaining when the liberals held a government with a "small minority of the electorate" from 1993 to 2006. But held a majority in parliament.

          • by Zeromous (668365)

            That's funny, they pretty much won those majorities with Liberal outposts in every major province except Alberta- despite a bloc minorities/majority of seats in Quebec.

      • by quantaman (517394) on Friday August 29, 2014 @01:32AM (#47781951)

        I am canadian, and if we are the most scientiically literate. I really pity the rest of you.

        I pity us also. Does Canada have lots of relatively successful* politicians with whackadoodle opinions on climate change, Earth's age, and female reproductive biology?

        * In terms of votes, not intelligence ranking.

        True but it's much more a piece of trivia than a politically relevant fact.

        A few years back I remember an article about Stephan Dion and Jack Layton (the then leaders of the 2nd and 3rd largest parties in a minority Parliament) claiming they were both atheists.

        I don't know if it was true or not, I honestly didn't care that much. The astounding thing was that was the opinion shared by the overwhelming majority of online comments on the website of what I recall was a right wing paper. A few engaged in mild speculation but no one really cared enough to even dig or get emotional.

        These were the 2nd and 3rd most important politicians in the country and the topic of their religious affiliation was so irrelevant people scarcely bothered to investigate.

        By contrast the US is so obsessed with religion that congress doesn't have a single open atheist [freethoughtblogs.com]. Not to mention the massive religious examinations of presidential candidates.

        Sure this stuff does become relevant, particularly with regards to climate change, but we have nowhere near the culture wars that are going on in the US.

        • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Friday August 29, 2014 @03:35AM (#47782351) Homepage Journal

          More fun statistics, from Wikipedia:

          • - Canada has 67% Christians and the United States has 73%
          • - 24% of Canadians and 20% of Americans declare no religious affiliation.
          • - Only 7% of Canadians are Evangelicals compared to the US's 30-35%.

          ...I was going somewhere with the Evangelicals stat, since they're generally the most fervent, but then I realised that there are plenty of insufferably stolid palaeoconservative Anglicans in the UK and it wasn't really a point worth making.

          It really comes down to the fundamental collectivist-vs-individualist difference between the Canadian and American cultures, I think; despite Stephen Harper's best efforts to destroy the country, our charter of rights and freedoms was still a missive about how we were free from harassment by peers (thus sending the message "we are all siblings"), as contrasted with the American declaration of independence's emphasis on being free from harassment by authority (thus sending the message "you are free to do as you please"). Interestingly, a hundred years ago you would not really find this; Canada was just as much of a racist hellhole as the US at the time, although as there were practically no black people we could only complain about other European ethnicities. It was only as our population and economy fell behind, and we started accepting in huge numbers of immigrants following World War II, that this really started to take shape.

          I'm sure the relatively weak levels of religious conviction help too (only 25% of Christians attend church regularly in Canada; above the rates of Northern Europe but far below the rate in the US) and that is doubtlessly a function of what flavour (can we call them 'distros' yet?) of Christianity is in question, too, since many Anglican ministers now preach actual biblical scholarship (my favourite quote, heavily paraphrased, is "Hell (as a threat) was invented in the Middle Ages") rather than what most think of as the typical naive system of "swallow-and-enjoy-your-life-textbook-with-no-critical-thinking" morality. Whatever the exact impact of each component is, it doesn't really jive with the idea of excluding us poor little minority atheists.

          ...except maybe in profoundly Catholic areas. I bet they care more in Newfoundland and Quebec. British Columbia is barely half Christian (54.9%) so you can bet they sure don't.

          • by cbeaudry (706335)

            Yes in Quebec over 75% are Christians and more than 75% of Christians are Roman Catholic.
            However, this is followed sharply with 12% atheists being the 2nd largest demographic.

            Also, even though 75% have been baptized, its more of a cultural thing than people actually having faith and practicing religions.
            Most likely more than half of the 75% Christians have no faith, do not practice and do not care about religion.

            As others have mentioned, there is a heavy separation of religion and state in Canada, especiall

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by phrostie (121428)

      well, for what it's worth, you have the best SciFi.

    • by Beck_Neard (3612467) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @07:48PM (#47780299)

      As someone who is not Canadian but has lived in Canada... whoo boy, you have no idea. I'm not surprised by this article in the least. Now if only it weren't so cold...

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @07:54PM (#47780325)

      I am canadian, and if we are the most scientiically literate. I really pity the rest of you.

      I don't think this poll was really measuring anything. Asking people if they believe in the statement "We depend too much on science and not enough on faith" is not measuring their knowledge of science at all. Someone that has no scientific education could disagree, while a PhD in astrophysics may think otherwise. It is also implying a conflict between faith and knowledge. Through history, most scientists have also held religious beliefs. Isaac Newton was a devout Christian. Does that mean he was "scientifically illiterate"?

      • According to TFA, there are several different sections. The statement about depending on science was from a portion designed to clarify prevailing attitudes towards science in general. It was separate from the part evaluating scientific literacy.

        [The report] contains the results of a new public survey that assesses Canadians’ science attitudes, engagement, and knowledge. The report reviews data on Canadians’ science skills and the current peer-reviewed literature on science culture. It also features an inventory and analysis of the organizations and programs that support and promote science culture in Canada, particularly among youth.

        However, it turns out the survey was commissioned by a number of Canadian agencies. It was performed internationally, but a Canadian report saying Canada is number one in science is at best somewhat suspect.

      • by abies (607076)

        Isaac Newton was a devout Christian. Does that mean he was "scientifically illiterate"?

        I would rather disagree with devout _Christian_
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]
        [...]
        not holding to Trinitarianism.'In Newton's eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin'
        [...]
        Newton refused viaticum before his death.
        [...]

        Yes, he was a person of faith, but he was very far from being Christian - both in his times meaning and in contemporary meaning.

    • No offense intended to any Canadians, I spent a good amount of time in Windsor when I lived in Michigan and long time family friends are from Windsor. Better beer than the US, and not much different than folks in the US (minus the "aboot time" and "eh", but we have people in the US with their own quirks).

      The study is by the Council of Canadian Academies. An immediate question of bias should pop into your head with that little fact. There was exactly one person on the council not from Canada, who happened

    • by Krishnoid (984597)

      Well, the survey really only considered scientific literacy in moose and beavers. I think that was mentioned in a footnote.

    • No kidding. One of the scariest quotes of the article: "42 per cent of Canadians are able to read and understand newspaper stories detailing scientific findings."

      The scary part is Canada is ahead of everyone else on that stat. Newspaper stories are not exactly deep in scientific detail and hard-to-understand words.
      • "Only 42% able to understand ... scientific findings"

        Ok, maybe that explains why Canadians keep electing a Prime Minister whose main policy is to pump all of the carbon from the tar sands into the sky.

        In the immortal words of Pris: "Then we're stupid and we'll die."

    • by Bodhammer (559311)
      Eh?
    • by Ragica (552891)

      Amen.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 28, 2014 @07:18PM (#47780047)

    They think maple syrup grows on trees!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by vux984 (928602)

      They think maple syrup grows on trees!

      No they don't. It grows IN trees not on them; that's why you need to install a tap.

      • They think maple syrup grows on trees!

        No they don't. It grows IN trees not on them; that's why you need to install a tap.

        This is a whoosh, but even more of a whoosh to whomever modded it informative.

  • by jblb (2639331) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @07:28PM (#47780105)
    The current regime seems pretty anti-science though, unless it is directly related to increasing tar sands oil extraction efficiency? http://science.slashdot.org/st... [slashdot.org] http://news.slashdot.org/story... [slashdot.org]
  • Biased (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @07:43PM (#47780237) Homepage Journal

    "[O]nly 25% of Canadians surveyed agreed with the statement "We depend too much on science and not enough on faith", as opposed to 55% in the U.S. and 38% in the E.U."

    Seriously? I was expecting a survey of scientific literacy to be about, you know, scientific literacy, not asking people the relative merits, as it were, between science and religion.

    I'm not sure how this proves, quote, "Canada is a nation of science geeks." It's a complete non-sequitor. It doesn't even match the data, in which 58% of Canadians couldn't understand basic science concepts from newspaper stories, and in which Canada ranks 19th out of 29th in science degrees (by percentage).

    Contrawise, Americans, sure, value religion probably more highly than other countries, and might even think that we could use more religion, but that is not a question of scientific literacy or attitudes towards science in and of itself. It seems to presuppose the long-discredited Conflict Thesis, which states that religion and science are inherently always in conflict.

    The clincher for me - which indisputably shows the authors' bias - is that Canada ranks #1 in people protesting GMOs and nuclear power, and the authors consider this a good sign that their population is scientifically literate!

    The authors should get back to euphorically sniffing their own armpits, and stop pretending to be scientists. Or whatever you call the people that work at science museums.

    • by m00sh (2538182)

      "[O]nly 25% of Canadians surveyed agreed with the statement "We depend too much on science and not enough on faith", as opposed to 55% in the U.S. and 38% in the E.U."

      Seriously? I was expecting a survey of scientific literacy to be about, you know, scientific literacy, not asking people the relative merits, as it were, between science and religion.

      I'm not sure how this proves, quote, "Canada is a nation of science geeks." It's a complete non-sequitor. It doesn't even match the data, in which 58% of Canadians couldn't understand basic science concepts from newspaper stories, and in which Canada ranks 19th out of 29th in science degrees (by percentage).

      Contrawise, Americans, sure, value religion probably more highly than other countries, and might even think that we could use more religion, but that is not a question of scientific literacy or attitudes towards science in and of itself. It seems to presuppose the long-discredited Conflict Thesis, which states that religion and science are inherently always in conflict.

      The clincher for me - which indisputably shows the authors' bias - is that Canada ranks #1 in people protesting GMOs and nuclear power, and the authors consider this a good sign that their population is scientifically literate!

      The authors should get back to ...

      Well, Canada is top of the science-something from the data.

      For the purposes of the study, science-literate is a new term which means tops in those criteria studied.

      For the matter of however it correlates to whatever way you define literacy is not the author's problem. They collected the data and Canada is at the top in the data they collected. Science-literacy is not laid out, well defined term so you go

      euphorically sniffing their own armpits, and stop pretending to be scientists. Or whatever you call the people that work at science museums.

    • Re:Biased (Score:5, Informative)

      by radtea (464814) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @08:57PM (#47780761)

      The clincher for me - which indisputably shows the authors' bias - is that Canada ranks #1 in people protesting GMOs and nuclear power, and the authors consider this a good sign that their population is scientifically literate!

      The report says nothing of the kind. Did you read it? GMOs and nuclear power are mentioned as divisive issues, but there is no data on the ranking of people against them.

      The Globe and Mail article says, "Canadians also expressed the lowest level of reservation about science and its impacts. Compared with the U.S., Europe and Japan, far fewer Canadians said that they thought science is making our way of life change too fast."

      Sounds about right.

      Canadians are generally very aware that our lives would be miserable if it weren't for science and technology keeping us safe and warm and fed. We have our tree-hugging reactionaries, of course, but they have far less influence than you might think despite the vast amounts of noise (and I do mean "noise" in the information theoretic sense) they generate.

      • The clincher for me - which indisputably shows the authors' bias - is that Canada ranks #1 in people protesting GMOs and nuclear power, and the authors consider this a good sign that their population is scientifically literate!

        The report says nothing of the kind. Did you read it? GMOs and nuclear power are mentioned as divisive issues, but there is no data on the ranking of people against them.

        Well, for some reason the CBC's coverage of this [www.cbc.ca] seems to think that Canada is 3rd out of 33 countries in having high numbers protesting nuclear power. I haven't read the full report, but either (1) the CBC is wrong, (2) you're wrong, or (3) the CBC is reporting based on true information that isn't in the report you read.

        Regardless, it sounds like SOMEBODY did a survey comparing attitudes about at least nuclear power and found Canadians were near the top in terms of objecting and protesting.

    • A recent survey of scientific education and attitudes showed the Canadian population to have the highest level of scientific literacy in the world, as well as the fewest reservations about the direction of scientific progress

      They measured multiple things! The statement "We depend too much on science and not enough on faith" was measuring attitudes about science, and neither the article nor the report present it as an example of scientific literacy. Here is what the article stated as proof of scientific literacy from the article:

      Among the most striking results from the survey is that Canada ranks first in science literacy, with 42 per cent of Canadians able to read and understand newspaper stories detailing scientific findings.

      The executive summary of the report goes on to list some tests as an additional assessment:

      Average score on OECD PISA 2012 science test: 525 (10th out of 65 countries)
      Average score on OECD PISA 2012 math test: 518 (13th out of 65 countries)

    • Re:Biased (Score:5, Informative)

      by CanadianRealist (1258974) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @09:15PM (#47780871)

      The linked article is not very clear. There's much better coverage on the CBC site. [www.cbc.ca]

      The study considered two different things, scientific literacy, and level of reservations towards science.

      The "we depend too much on science..." was from the second part - about reservations towards science.

      The science literacy part asked questions like:
      Does the sun go around the earth or does the earth go around the sun?
      Human beings as we know them today developed from earlier species of animals. True or false?
      Electrons are smaller than atoms. True or false?

      • Does the sun go around the earth or does the earth go around the sun?

        That's a tough question.

        • I guess it was for the 13% of people who got the wrong answer. I liked the following quote in the CBC article:

          "While 87 per cent knowing that the earth goes around the sun is pretty good, that still leaves 13 per cent of Canadians that haven't absorbed the scientific knowledge of several centuries ago," Ingram said.

          It was also a pretty tough question for the Catholic church for quite a long time. And their top guy is supposed to have a direct line to the guy who created the universe.

          And then there are also

          • "While 87 per cent knowing that the earth goes around the sun is pretty good, that still leaves 13 per cent of Canadians that haven't absorbed the scientific knowledge of several centuries ago," Ingram said.

            It was also a pretty tough question for the Catholic church for quite a long time.

            Not as long as you might think. The church removed the general prohibition against books advocating heliocentrism in 1758, and the last precedents for prohibiting specific passages (e.g., of Copernicus) were effectively overturned by 1820.

            Meanwhile, the first actual empirical proofs of the earth's motion occurred mostly in the 19th century, with the first measurement of stellar parallax occurring in 1838. (Parallax had been predicted since the 1500s if the earth were in motion, but never observed.) Cor

            • (By the way, so no one can accuse me of being misleading, Bradley's observation of stellar aberration in 1729 was seen by many as the first proof of the earth's motion. However, my point was that soon after that the church eased its restrictions, and it had eliminated them before all the other problems with heliocentric theories were finally resolved empirically.)
          • It's perfectly possible to mathematically model, 100% correctly, a universe where the sun revolves around the earth.
      • The science literacy part asked questions like:
        Does the sun go around the earth or does the earth go around the sun?
        Human beings as we know them today developed from earlier species of animals. True or false?
        Electrons are smaller than atoms. True or false?

        I will never understand why anyone thinks asking questions like this is some sort of credible test of "science literacy."

        Basically, these surveys usually end up testing only two things: (1) how good are you at memorizing and recalling facts your middle-school science teacher told you? and (2) are you more likely to trust your middle-school science teacher over your priest/rabbi/shaman/psychic/New Age crystals dude/whoever else also tells you things about the world?

        Why do we think that "science literary"

      • by ShakaUVM (157947)

        Does the sun go around the earth or does the earth go around the sun?

        I'm guessing you're Canadian by your name.

        The fact that neither you nor the authors of the study know that in a relativistic framework this question is meaningless, makes their conclusion not just meaningless but paradoxical.

        I strongly suspect the science museum "scientist" who wrote the study never got past Newtonian physics.

        It's like giving all the OECD a math test, and then only marking right the students who define Pi to be exactly 3. And then announcing that fundamentalist Christians "Rank #1 in mathem

    • by aybiss (876862)

      "but that is not a question of scientific literacy"

      Yes it is. If you believe you need more reliance on a 2000 year old fairy story in your country you can stay the fuck away from any science I have anything to do with.

    • by fgouget (925644)

      It seems to presuppose the long-discredited Conflict Thesis, which states that religion and science are inherently always in conflict.

      Long discredited? That may be so but we still have lots of religious people who oppose teaching evolution or reproductive biology on a religious basis, disbelieve climate change [theguardian.com] in disproportionate numbers, believe the earth is about 6000 years old [wikipedia.org], or even, in some parts of the world, think that girls have no need [wikipedia.org] for education [cnn.com].

      Finally most religions require one to accept truths on faith, that is without objective reproducible proof. That's the anti-thesis of the scientific method [wikipedia.org].

  • I also wonder if the vaunted Canadian healthcare system plays a role. When advances in medical science are something you automatically expect to benefit from personally if you need them, they look a lot better than when you have to scramble just to cover your bills for what we have now."

    Or conversely, maybe when the government looks after your health you don't need to worry about researching it yourself, and you take it for granted and don't value it as much. But let's stir up a big argument about capitalism versus socialism.

    • by dryeo (100693)

      The governments (healthcare is a Provincial responsibility with the feds setting minimum standards and in charge of equalization payments) have an interest in educating the population on health as a healthy population is cheaper.

  • by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Thursday August 28, 2014 @08:06PM (#47780393)

    They say

    I also wonder if the vaunted Canadian healthcare system plays a role. When advances in medical science are something you automatically expect to benefit from personally if you need them, they look a lot better than when you have to scramble just to cover your bills for what we have now.

    but it sounds as if they're comparing the Canadian system for paying for health care with the US system, as opposed to the systems used in for example, Western Europe.

    • by dryeo (100693)

      It's what we're most exposed to including lots of ads for insurance if traveling south and scary stories of being denied insurance such as for not mentioning you had a tummy ache 60 years age.

      • by Guy Harris (3803)

        It's what we're most exposed

        So? Most of us USans are mostly exposed to the US system as well, but that's not an excuse for being clueless about the rest of the world.

        I.e., if "gee, our health care system doesn't let people who aren't well off get no health care" is offered as an explanation for why Canadians are less likely than people in the European Union to say that "We depend too much on science and not enough on faith.", whoever offers that explanation really needs to start looking at European health care systems, or, at least,

        • by dryeo (100693)

          I"m well aware of various European health care systems and also what is wrong here but I'm not most Canadians. I'm also well aware that we get bombarded with American shit so understand why most Canadians are more aware of the States then elsewhere.

          • by Guy Harris (3803)

            I"m well aware of various European health care systems and also what is wrong here but I'm not most Canadians.

            Then presumably, if the anonymous submitter was Canadian, they were one of "most Canadians", and offered his or her hypothesis about the attitudes towards science and the Canadian health care system because either 1) they didn't pay attention to the EU results or 2) they assumed that European countries are like the US in their heath care systems.

            Or perhaps they were a typical Amurrican and made the same silly assumptions.

            In any of those cases, if the second paragraph of their submission had been eaten by

  • by sandbagger (654585) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @08:33PM (#47780597)

    That man ordered irreplaceable scientific records be taken to the dump, destroying generations of scientific data. He's closed musea in order to build up fake War of 1812 war memorials. He's closed the scientific lakes project that was the programme responsible for identifying acid rain thanks to decades of data.

    This man has been utterly destructive to Canada's intellectual property, its scientific pedigree and ability to generate new knowledge. Moreover, he's gagged scientists from discussing their own peer-revirewed data. Instead, political interns get to act as mouthpieces.

    Anyone in the scientific or technical community can't help but see how destructive Harper-ism is to Canada's ability to create the next generation of knowledge.

    • by dryeo (100693)

      But, but he claims to be the leader of the most scientific government in our history with billions spent on proving that bitumen floats and more billions spent on proving bitumen sinks, not to mention the billions spent proving that bitumen is oil rather then a tar like substance.

  • You mean the one that makes me wait months and months any time I need to see a specialist, unless it's an absolute emergency? An informed consumer of healthcare these days hardly benefits from the knowledge a mere GP can offer, which by definition is rather lacking in specificity (all they really bring to the table are the ability to write prescriptions and issue referrals). Think of it this way: you're likely spend a lot more time on the (hopefully small number of) ailments you suffer from, and the amount
  • by mewsenews (251487) on Thursday August 28, 2014 @10:07PM (#47781161) Homepage
    I'm Canadian and I'm very pro-science. Not because I'm left-wing or right-wing, but because my mother was a science teacher and I've basically absorbed it. I literally have no personal attributes that I can try to commend regarding my decent scientific knowledge. Regarding the fucking article, I'm Canadian and I have a science education. A bachelors to be technical. I hated science courses in university. They were dry and the instructors had no interest in helping me. It was a night and day difference from my high school experience. Back to the topic of this article, Canadians understand science to be the truth. We've got less religious disruption than the Americans, and probably many European countries. I told my mother a few months ago that "I need to tell you, growing up I didn't realize that scientific beliefs would be repeatedly questioned in front of me as if there were no experimental evidence" and she went off on some other tangent as mothers do, but I was trying to tell her that she is the basis of everything I believe in the world. My parents took me to church and it was obviously bullshit. My mom told me about chemical reactions and it made sense. I hate myself for not being kinder to my mother.
  • I've lived and worked in Canada my entire life, had lots of average friends here, and met a great cross section of canadians.

    Just because canada has a very high percentage of athiesm, doesn't mean the majority of canadians understand that there are particles smaller than an atom, that the concept of gravity has developed past Newtonian, the flow of electricity in a direct current system, or even the basic laws of energy any better than the average american.

    Seriously, they don't. This lack o

  • The statistic for EU as a whole is irrelevant, since the EU is not a country(for the moment at least, though they are working on making it one).

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