The Coalition of Scientific Societies recently conducted a survey about evolution in science education and the public’s attitudes toward evolution. I’ve lamented in the past about how lousy such surveys tend to be, but this one is by far one of the better, more interesting ones to me. I always thought that it would be beneficial to ask a few questions about other science subjects other than evolution to get an idea for how much the respondents know. This survey did so.
Although 69% of survey participants had some college education (27% were college graduates, and 14% had attended graduate school), only 23% gave correct responses to all three of the following statements: the continents or land masses on which we live have been moving for millions of years and will continue to move in the future (79% correctly agreed); antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria (43% correctly disagreed); the earliest humans lived at the same time as the dinosaurs (53% correctly disagreed). Respondents who answered all three questions correctly were much more likely to respond that humans and other living things evolved (78%) rather than that they were created in their present form (11%), and more favored teaching evolution (78%) than creationism (27%) or intelligent design (24%).
The survey also determined that the public would rather hear from scientists and educators on matters such as evolution rather than judges or school board members. This prompted the Coalition to advise scientists across the country to get involved in promoting and defending sound science.
There is a clear need for scientists to become involved in promoting science education. Challenges to teaching science undermine students’ understanding of the scientific method, how scientific consensus develops, and the distinction between scientific and non-scientific explanations of natural phenomena. If our nation is to continue to develop the talent necessary to advance scientific and medical research, we must ensure that high standards in science education are maintained and that efforts to introduce non-science into science classes do not succeed. Failure to reach out effectively to a public that is supportive of science and open to information from the scientific community is not just a missed opportunity, it is a disservice to the scientific enterprise.
More information is available at the ScienceDaily article. The Coalition is an impressive collection of organizations: American Association of Physics Teachers, American Astronomical Society, American Chemical Society, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society, American Physiological Society, American Society for Investigative Pathology, American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, American Society of Human Genetics, Biophysical Society, Consortium of Social Science Associations, Geological Society of America, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, National Academy of Sciences, National Science Teachers Association, and Society for Developmental Biology.