Scientific Savvy? In U.S., Not Much
While scientific literacy has doubled over the past two decades, only 20 to 25 percent of Americans are “scientifically savvy and alert,” he said in an interview. Most of the rest “don’t have a clue.” At a time when science permeates debates on everything from global warming to stem cell research, he said, people’s inability to understand basic scientific concepts undermines their ability to take part in the democratic process.
Over the last three decades, Dr. Miller has regularly surveyed his fellow citizens for clients as diverse as the National Science Foundation, European government agencies and the Lance Armstrong Foundation. People who track Americans’ attitudes toward science routinely cite his deep knowledge and long track record.
“I think we should pay attention to him,” said Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, who cites Dr. Miller’s work in her efforts to advance the cause of evolution in the classroom. “We ignore public understanding of science at our peril.”
Rolf F. Lehming, who directs the science foundation’s surveys on understanding of science, calls him “absolutely authoritative.”
Dr. Miller’s data reveal some yawning gaps in basic knowledge. American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.
Have Americans gotten any smarter since 2005?