Poll revealing ignorance of Americans

I recently found a long lost clipping of mine from about 10 years ago. I thought it would interest Cecil fans, and put a certain perspective on results of ALL opinion polls, from geopolitics to stem cell research. Oh, and also elections.

This just in: Earth revolves around sun!
CHICAGO (AP) More than 450 years after Copernicus proved the Earth revolves around the sun, millions of adult Americans seem to think it’s the other way around, a researcher reported yesterday.
On very basic ideas, vast numbers of Americans are scientifically illiterate,” said Jon Miller of Northern Illinois University, who conducted a nationwide survey for the National Science Foundation.
In the July telephone survey of 2041 adults 18 or older, people were asked about 75 questions testing their knowledge of basic science, Miller said.
Asked whether the Earth goes around the sun or the sun around the Earth, 21 percent replied in. correctly. Seven percent said they didn’t know.
Of the 72 percent who answered correctly, 45 percent said it takes one year for the Earth to orbit the sun, 17 percent said one day, 2 percent said one month and 9 percent didn’t know.
The responses indicate that about 55 percent of adult Americans, or some 94 million people, don’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun once a year, Miller said.

This is no joke. I couldn’t find a copy of the study online but found this document confiming the NSF relationship to the author

The bottom line is that politicians are basing policy on the opinions of people who, while perhaps not stupid, are ignorant to the point of having no context to process a question not related to televised sports. We joke about this on Leno and StreetSmarts, but it truly frightens me. In 1994 I worked with a 25 year old college graduate who didn’t know when the Vietnam War was. Picture him grappling with the issues of Afganistan!

At the risk of exposing one of us to more irony than either of us can bear, what is the General Question here?

I suppose the question is whether or not to be afraid of this kind of stuff.

I wanted to discuss this with a group that doesn’t feel ignorance is bliss. I posted in General because MPSIMS posts seemed far too frivolous. If that was an error, I apologize.

Also, I’m no troll. While my reg show recent, that’s only because I was inactive for a some time, forgot my password and my emails changed. I am a participant dating back to 96 when there was only the usenet group.

The General Answer is, “yes, assuming the study was representative.”

MPSIMS: “For general chatter, great thoughts, etc.”

Welcome back. The thread-moving process is sometimes a little bumpy, and new folks sometimes get seasick. So take some Benadryl, 'cuz here we go!

Hey, careful man! There’s a beverage here!

I put very little stock in any poll like this which was conducted over the telephone. How many people even listen to what some annoying pollster on the other end is saying? Then, when asked, “Does the earth revolve around the sun?” and knowing the whole thing is anonymous, how many people will, just to mess with the pollster’s head (or to be funny, I suppose) respond to this rather obvious question with, “Uh, duh, I don’t know”? I also refuse to believe those supposed-to-be-amazing polls that tell us that 75% of American teens can’t find America on a map, or some such nonsense. These are polls with an enormous margin of error. I have never met a teenager who couldn’t find America on a map, and I doubt that the teenagers that I know are some sort of unusual cross-section of kids.

I know that polls like this are supported by statistics and all, but the findings are dubious at best.

*Originally posted by manhattan *
**The General Answer is, “yes, assuming the study was representative.”

Well, I make the assumptions:

a)The NSF doesn’t give grant money lightly

b)That “Jon Miller, director of the Public
Opinion Laboratory at Northern Illinois University” should know something about how to take a valid poll. 2000 samples is from my recollection often used in national opinion polls by news organizations.

And thanks for the lift

I caught a bit of the “Millionaire” a few months ago.

The question was what is the nearest star to the Earth. The choices given were “the Sun” and three others (which I can’t remember - but non of which were Alpha Proxima.)

The contestant didn’t know so he asked the audience. The majority picked the Sun but ALL THREE OTHER ANSWERS WERE WELL REPRESENTED. Not a random sample since it was limited to people present at the show that night, but still :rolleyes:

(No cite, but I actually saw this, not a FOAF.)

I can’t watch millionaire any more, things like that and worse make me scream and rant.

I have a new hero!

Thanks - that’s the best laugh I’ve had all day. :smiley:

I agree! My kids looked at me like I’d come unglued I was laughing so hard!

Gee guys,

sorry my post wasn’t thought stimulating for you, say on the order of threads like “Everyday “stuff” You Constantly Lose or Misplace”
or “Buffy starts tomorrow!”

I watched from my roof as the freaking Trade Center fell. It sure as hell has raise MY awareness that stuff like this matters as more than grist for the snarkmill. Apparently I am nearly alone.

Chill gellfix. They were referring to that fact that this was, I believe, originally posted in the General Questions forum, a forum reserved for questions which have a definate answer. Which is why you’ll notice this thread is now in MPSIMS, a place for random thoughts as was your post.

Some people don’t think of the Sun as a star - but don’t you mean Proxima Centauri? Alpha is another, brighter star in the constellation, IIRC

Good for you.

Here’s a little test for anyone who does believe that survey regarding how many teens can’t find the U.S. on the map.
Go get a map. Preferably one without the countries listed, but whatever. Just go get a map.

Now, circle the United States.


Did you remember Alaska and Hawaii?

If not, if you just circled the continental United States, then congratulations! You don’t know where the U.S. is on a map. Because that’s the criteria used for the test. 96% of students could find the continental U.S.; but about half of those students forgot to also circle Hawaii and Alaska. Ergo, half of our students don’t know where the U.S. is on a map.

You know, those polls remind me of the segments on Leno where he goes out into the streets and polls people about who the current President is, when the Revolutionary War was, etc. Do they show us the people who get the question right? Nope. Not good entertainment. Likewise, are polls entitled “Flash: 96% of all American Teenagers Able to Find America On Map!” going to sell newspapers or get repeated around the coffee machine. Pfeh.

Actually, Alpha is a binary system, with two stars very close to each other. Proxima is a little star orbiting around the two others at a greater distance. Currently, it’s the closest star, but at some point in the future, following its orbit, it will be longer away. The system Alpha A + Alpha B + Proxima is the closest stellar system.

Which sounds like a trick question to me. If they’d been asked to circle all 50 states of the US on the map, then I’m sure more than 25% would have got it right. They phrased the question to encourage people to think it was a quick, one-shot, get-out-of-the-annoying-poll question to encourage a printable, shocking statistic.

You can manipulate statistics to show whatever you like, not by chi-square distributions and analysis but by the text and manner of the original questions you ask.

Yeah, well, I don’t get it.

To very roughly paraphrase H. L. Mencken, Sage of Baltimore-

No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.