There are substantial differences among Americans when it comes to knowledge and understanding of science and scientific processes. People's level of science knowledge varies by education, race, ethnicity and gender, according to a new study released today by Pew Research Center.
Americans' knowledge of specific facts connected with life sciences and earth and other physical sciences ranges:
The representative survey of 4,464 adults finds that on the 11 multiple-choice questions asked by Pew Research Center, Americans give more correct than incorrect answers. The mean number of correct answers is 6.7, while the median is 7. About four-in-ten (39%) Americans get between 9 and 11 correct answers, classified as having high science knowledge on the 11-item scale or index. About one-third (32%) are classified as having medium science knowledge (five to eight correct answers) and roughly three-in-ten (29%) are in the low science knowledge group (zero to four correct answers).
"In an era of easy access to a wide array of information, along with sometimes-intense debate over what information is true and false, this survey takes stock of the degree to which the public shares a common understanding of science facts and processes," said Cary Funk, director of science and society research at Pew Research Center.
The data show that there are wide educational differences on science knowledge.
Americans with more education score highest on science knowledge. These large differences are consistent with past Center surveys on science knowledge and with analysis of the factual science knowledge index in the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators.
In addition to educational differences, there are substantial differences in levels of science knowledge by race and ethnicity.
Whites are more likely than Hispanics or blacks to score higher on the index.
Men score higher than women on the science knowledge scale, but the differences vary across questions.
The survey also finds that men generally score higher than women on the scale.
Republicans and Democrats hold similar levels of science knowledge.
Republicans and Democrats have similar levels of understanding about science, in contrast with the wide differences by education and racial and ethnic group.
Two-thirds of Americans see the scientific method as an iterative process.
People's understanding of scientific processes and the way scientific knowledge accumulates may help them navigate ongoing debates over science connected with issues such as climate change, childhood vaccines and genetically modified foods. The survey includes two questions designed to tap understanding of scientific processes.
These are among the findings from the new report, which is based on a nationally representative survey conducted Jan. 7 to 21, 2019, among 4,464 adults 18 years of age or older who live in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1.9 percentage points.
The findings will be available at https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2019/03/28/what-americans-know-about-science/.
A quiz with the 11 questions will be available at https://www.pewresearch.org/science/quiz/science-knowledge-quiz.
Materials provided by Pew Research Center. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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