American readers will be pleased to know that, in general, respondents didn’t completely let the team down. The vast majority of participants, totaling 3,278 adults, were able to answer the easy questions like the core is Earth’s hottest layer (86%) and correctly identifying a comet (78%). And it’s definitely a relief to know that 73% knew the difference between astronomy, the legitimate field of science, and astrology – star signs and all that woo. Overall, respondents gave more correct answers than incorrect. Well done.
The two questions respondents struggled the most with were how high altitude affects water boiling (only 34% guessed correctly), and what determines loudness in a soundwave (35%, and it’s amplitude by the way).
Unsurprisingly, those with a postgrad degree did the best, while those only educated to high school level or less did the worst. The 12-part quiz also highlighted gender differences whereby men outperformed women overall, even when differences in education were taken into account. But before anyone starts crying that this shows men know more about science than women, Pew points out that the majority of the questions were about physical sciences, rather than life sciences, and research has shown that these subjects tend to reveal the biggest discrepancies between men and women.
It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from such a short quiz, which doesn’t even scratch the surface of such a broad and complex subject, but perhaps the fact that only 6% of respondents got a perfect score does highlight that general science knowledge may be lacking in the U.S. population. So maybe it’s time to put the smartphone down for an hour a day and pick up a copy of National Geographic.
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