How Much the Public Knows about Science, and Why It Matters

Cary Funk in Scientific American:

How much do Americans know about science? There’s a new science quiz from Pew Research Center. You can test yourself here. It depends on what you ask, of course. Many Americans understand at least some science concepts on the quiz—most can correctly answer a question about antibiotics overuse or the definition of an “incubation period,” for example. But other concepts are more challenging; fewer Americans recognize a hypothesis or identify the main components of antacids.

Our chief goal in asking U.S. adults about science facts and processes is to gauge people’s overall level of knowledge about science. The universe of science facts and concepts is vast. But people who happen to know more questions in this set are also likely to know more about science information, generally. We find striking differences in levels of science knowledge by education and by race and ethnicity. For example, 71 percent of adults with a postgraduate degree are classified as having high science knowledge on the scale, correctly answering at least nine of the 11 questions. This compares with about two in ten (19 percent) of those with a high school degree or less who score high. About half of whites (48 percent) score high on the scale; by comparison, much smaller shares of Hispanics (23 percent) and blacks (9 percent) correctly answer at least nine of the questions.

In this era of political polarization and sometimes intense debate over what information is true and false, Republicans and Democrats have roughly similar levels of knowledge about science. Four in ten Republicans (including independents who lean to the GOP) get at least nine of 11 questions correct, as do 41 percent of Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party.

More here.