A Thought Experiment

National Public Radio, as part of its mission to help half the country feel it’s smarter than the other half, published this “Study” from the National Science Foundation earlier this week.

Among its (not especially dramatic) “findings” (I’m going to add a bit of emphasis):

A quarter of Americans surveyed could not correctly answer that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, according to a report out Friday from the National Science Foundation...To the question “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth,” 26 percent of those surveyed answered incorrectly.

In the same survey, just 39 percent answered correctly (true) that “The universe began with a huge explosion” and only 48 percent said “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.”

It’s kind of funny that NPR is so confident in its own audience’s vaunted intelligence that it had to subtly point out which answers were correct.

On the other hand…:

Just over half understood that antibiotics are not effective against viruses.

I’m amazed that Americans did that well on what is, in day to day life, rather more important.

It’s an indictment of the American education system, isn’t it?  Wait – maybe not:

As alarming as some of those deficits in science knowledge might appear, Americans fared better on several of the questions than similar, but older surveys of their Chinese and European counterparts.

Didn’t see that coming, didja?

This “study” is a pet peeve of mine. Let’s take the survey at face value; that some Americans are unclear about the order of the universe, believe in evolution, and don’t know about any Big Bang Theory that doesn’t involve Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco. 

So what? 

If the person who believes the sun revolves around the earth is refinishing your driveway or washing dishes or working for your city’s Public Works department, what difference does it make? He’s not your doctor. 

(And if your doctor is unconvinced by the Big Bang theory? Again, so what? She got through medical school…)

Seems like these studies are just an elaborate way of allowing half the country to laugh at the other half.

23 thoughts on “A Thought Experiment

  1. I’d like to include the following questions on the survey and see how the progressive half of the country fares:
    Vaccines cause autism, true or false?
    GMO food is unhealthy, true or false?
    Fracking is bad, true or false?
    IQ measures intelligence and is inherited, true or false?

  2. I read the question in the article and it looked pretty straightforward “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth”? However if instead of reading the question, I were trying to answer it over the phone while I was distracted by events at work or a child screaming for my attention, I couldn’t be certain that even though I know the correct answer that I might not give the wrong answer by mistake.

    Also I had a job in college doing market research over the phone and I noticed that often when you give someone a choice between multiple options (even if only two) that a lot of respondents answered with whatever the last answer was that they heard. Our computer system was set up to randomize the order in which we read the options to account for this factor. If half the respondents to this question had instead been asked “does the Sun go around the Earth or does the Earth go around the Sun?” (same question but in a different order), I suspect that the 27 percent of incorrect responses might be lower still.

  3. In Cali, they want to register every citizen to vote.
    Federalist 10 (Madison):

    A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.

  4. I view NPR as a hazard. I feel tired when I turn it on and hear their soft speaking condescending tone. If I want to read about the left I’ll check Realclearpolitics.

  5. Well if about 25% of the people believe that the sun orbits the Earth that might explain why so many people like the current President believes in global warming let alone climimate change.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  6. 95% of NPR listeners were unaware of the fact that NPR is one of the most liberally biased networks on the air.

    94% of NPR listeners are unaware that company sponsorships are actually advertisements.

    98% of statistics are made up on the spot, but I’m guessing I might actually be close.

  7. I read the NPR article last week on the gay Jewish hotel owners who met with Cruz. Then I read the comments. Soooooo is anyone else disturbed that the gov’t run radio listeners are extremely bigoted and hate-filled against Christian-Americans?

  8. What’s the difference between NPR and Fox?
    Liberals aren’t forced to pay for Fox.

  9. Of course, the new theory doesn’t prove Creationism is correct any more than it proves Big Bang is wrong. But read this line in the article:

    “Ali and coauthor Saurya Das at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, have shown in a paper published in Physics Letters B that the Big Bang singularity can be resolved by their new model in which the universe has no beginning and no end.”

    and compare it to this line:

    “. . . as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end . . . ”

    NPR, your Big Bang theory has existed fewer than 100 years and has been revised so often it now desperately includes dark matter and dark energy to solve the relativity problem, just as discredited former cosmology included epicycles to account for retrograde motion.

    My Creation theory has been around 5,000 years and scientists as recently as two months ago agreed it solves all problems. Who’s believing in fairy tales now? Who’s the dummy now?

  10. NPRs one saving grace? It flips to the BBC Radio at 11pm. BBC I respect because they are honest and up front about their bias. I wonder what they wI’ll sound like if UKIP ends up being kingmaker in elections in 3 weeks

  11. Funny, POD, I assumed NPR was the only station on the radio and Airport CNN was the only channel on the T-V down there. Learn something new everyday.

  12. The other possibility is that a quarter of Americans surveyed lie to the surveyors. I know I do.

  13. Joe, but… but… HAWKING! This means his proof that G*d does not exist is in question! Oh… the humanity!

  14. Joe Doakes, if you believe in an ageless universe, it needs to look the same a billion or ten billion years ago as it does now. When they do spectrographic analysis of the light from old galaxies, they find that they are very different than the light from newer galaxies — old galaxies have less metallic elements.
    But there is always a problem when talking about time. Neither the past nor the future exist in anyway that is meaningful without an observer. The universe only exists now.

  15. An ageless, eternal universe also has problems with entropy. I don’t believe any means for reversing it exists, which means the universe is of finite age. This is also in effect Augustine’s cosmological argument.

  16. The planet Earth has a problem with entropy. How do you from a formless gas to the exquisitely complex Earth.

    Obviously the second law doesn’t apply at large scales.

  17. Pow:

    Keep in mind far more liberals voluntarily watch Fox just to see what is going on. Conservatives because they have talk radio and Fox don’t need to tune into NPR to find out what is going on.

    Walter Hanson
    Minneapolis, MN

  18. DManfred, the second law doesn’t apply at the atomic scale. Change due to time is something that is seen in large structures. A hydrogen atom that is ten billion years old is identical to a hydrogen atom made from a proton and an electron ten minutes ago. I believe (though I am not certain) that radioactive decay occurs instantaneously. Uranium 238 becomes thorium 234 + a helium nucleus with no stage where the U238 is “becoming” Th 234.

  19. Once stars burn through iron, they can’t fuse anymore so they collapse. By iron, they don’t mean “iron” iron. Its iron nuclei in a sea of electrons. There are some real conceptual problems with stellar evolution and it is too easy to think that we can really understand it the way we comprehend events with the five senses. Red dwarf stars burn low & slow, so the oldest of them won’t collapse for about 60 billion years. But what does it mean to say that the first created red dwarfs will burn out in 60 billion years? The universe is only 13 billion years old. We aren’t predicting something we will actually ever experience, unless you think man will still be around in 60 billion years. The collapse of red dwarf is something that only exists in the human mind, it does not exist in the real universe.
    Same thing with the exotic matter inside of the white dwarf that will be created billions of years from now when our sun collapses. White dwarf matter weighs about a ton per cubic centimeter. The heaviest element on Earth weighs maybe 90 grams per CC. In collapsed matter the nuclei are packed so tightly that their electron shells have shrunk to almost no width, and the nuclei don’t move so the collapsed matter is at a temperature of near absolute zero. The outer surface of a white dwarf is white hot, though, and if you could somehow get a cc of white dwarf material on the surface of the Earth it would instantly explode since their was not enough gravity pressure to keep it in its collapsed state. White dwarf matter isn’t really hot, or cold, or anything like a familiar solid, liquid, or gas, or even plasma. And the stuff inside neutron stars and black holes is weirder yet.

  20. Pingback: In The Mailbox, 04.30.15 : The Other McCain

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