Press Release

Stephanie Stone (415) 379-5121
sstone@calacademy.org
Andrew Ng (415) 379-5123

AMERICAN ADULTS FLUNK BASIC SCIENCE

NATIONAL SURVEY SHOWS ONLY ONE-IN-FIVE ADULTS CAN ANSWER THREE SCIENCE QUESTIONS CORRECTLY

California Academy of Sciences conducted omnibus survey

SAN FRANCISCO (February 25, 2009) — Are Americans flunking science? A new national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences and conducted by Harris Interactive® reveals that the U.S. public is unable to pass even a basic scientific literacy test.

Over the past few months, the American government has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars for economic bailout plans. While this spending may provide a short-term solution to the country's economic woes, most analysts agree that the long-term solution must include a transition to a more knowledge-based economy, including a focus on science, which is now widely recognized as a major driver of innovation and industry. Despite its importance to economic growth, environmental protection, and global health and energy issues, scientific literacy is currently low among American adults. According to the national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences:

 

  • Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
  • Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
  • Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth's surface that is covered with water.*
  • Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

 

Knowledge about some key scientific issues is also low. Despite the fact that access to fresh water is likely to be one of the most pressing environmental issues over the coming years, less than 1% of U.S. adults know what percent of the planet's water is fresh (the correct answer is 3%). Nearly half didn't even hazard a guess. Additionally, 40% of U.S. adults say they are "not at all knowledgeable" about sustainability.

Despite this lack of knowledge, U.S. adults do believe that scientific research and education are important. About 4 in 5 adults think science education is "absolutely essential" or "very important" to the U.S. healthcare system (86%), the U.S. global reputation (79%), and the U.S. economy (77%).

"There has never been a greater need for investment in scientific research and education," said Academy Executive Director Dr. Gregory Farrington. "Many of the most pressing issues of our time—from global climate change to resource management and disease—can only be addressed with the help of science."

To test your own scientific knowledge, please visit the California Academy of Sciences' website at www.calacademy.org.

Methodology
This survey was conducted by telephone within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the California Academy of Science between December 17 and December 21, 2008 among 1,002 adults ages 18+. For complete methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Andrew Ng at 415.379.5123 or Kelly Taylor at 415.359.2313.

Education and Research at the California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences is one of the world's preeminent natural history museums and is an international leader in scientific research about the natural world. In addition to its public exhibits and aquarium displays, the Academy is home to over 100 scientists and educators, as well as over 20 million scientific specimens. These specimens span several centuries and all seven continents, and they are used to study everything from the historical presence of environmental toxins to the spread of parasites. They are also the foundation for determining the evolutionary tree of life and creating maps that are used to identify conservation priorities. Through research expeditions to some of the least-known places on the planet, Academy scientists continue to build these collections, strengthening our understanding of the world around us. Meanwhile, Academy educators are working with both museum visitors and school teachers to share this information in creative, engaging ways, inspiring a passion for science and the natural world.

* The approximately correct answer range for this question was defined as anything between 65% and 75%.