More than 40 percent of Australians don’t know how long it takes the Earth to travel around the sun, according to a new survey, which also dug-up that nearly 30 percent of Australians didn’t know if humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs.
The Australian Academy of Science surveyed more than 1,500 people, asking them very basic scientific questions.
The survey is a repeat of a 2010 questionnaire, asking the same basic questions, it seems we’ve slowed our thinking – as a nation – way back in 2010 more than 70 percent knew that the earth took a year to travel around the sun.
The surveys author says it’s a wake-up call, he’s also worried that our knowledge of basic science might devolve even further, blaming popular culture and an insufficient school curriculum. We’re not alone however, the US seems to suffer similar symptoms ::::
The academy’s Professor Les Field says movies like Jurassic Park may be to blame for some of the strange answers.
“Dinosaurs and humans missed each other by more than 60 million years,” he said. “We do have some popular TV and some movies like Jurassic Park and some terrific graphics which make these things look incredibly real. When you see dinosaurs and humans running alongside each other and it makes it difficult for people to distinguish fact from fiction.”
The survey also found a decline in young people’s scientific knowledge in recent years.
Back in 2010 when people aged between 18 and 24 were asked the sun orbiting question, 73 percent got it right.
But the most recent survey found that statistic had fallen to 62 percent.
Professor Field suggested the decline was most probably from an increased reliance on technology to provide the answers quickly.
Professor Field says there could be an even further decline in science literacy if things don’t change.
“I would hope that a survey like ours is a wake-up call that says there is an issue, an underlying issue that we need to address,” he said. “If nothing else our education system really does have to have a focus on the fundamental sciences, the maths, the chemistry, the physics and biology, all the way through our school curriculum. We need to ensure that each of our students come through the system with an appropriate toolkit to be a part of the modern society that we live in.”
Professor Field believes society cannot underestimate the importance of science.
“Even if it’s as much looking under the bonnet of your car and understanding what superficially some of the bits do, or whether it is contributing to the debate that we are having around climate change or drugs in sport – all of these issues require a degree of scientific literacy simply to participate in the debate,” Professor Field said.
State education departments around the country are in the process of implementing a national curriculum which ensures science education right through to year 10.
Earlier this month the president of Academy – Professor Suzanne Cory called on governmet to invest more in science.
“Australia must invest more in research and development: to protect our economic competitiveness, our social wellbeing, and our quality of life; to build our resilience and to protect our future productivity,” Professor Cory said. “We must invest in high quality education that will produce and sustain internationally competitive scientists, mathematicians, technologists and engineers; a broadly skilled workforce and a scientifically literate community.”
Professor Cory issued a challenge to Australia’s decision makers, asking them to develop “strategic decadal plans for science and education.”
Robyn Aitken from the Science Teachers Association said it was a step in the right direction.
“When you get a new curriculum, there’s always a new energy around it, so teachers become more positive and they’re a bit more focused,” Ms Aitken said.”They know: ‘I’ve got a new curriculum to do – how will we teach it?’ That’s always a good step.”
We’re Not Alone
In a similar US survey, conducted by the California Academy of Science – in 2009 – 53 percent of adults got the earths travel time around the sun right – compared to our 60 percent – a crazy 60 percent of Americans believed that dinosaurs and humans roamed the planet at the same time – compared to our misguided 30 percent – in the US, knowledge on basic scientific issues is also low, unlike Australia however, the US is getting smarter.
In a 1988 survey, just 10 percent of US adults had enough basic scientific knowledge to read the science section of the New York Times, 10 years later, almost 30 percent of adults scored high enough to comprehend science at the same level
Most worrying is America’s penchant for the disregard of natural evolution, only 37 percent of American adults accepted the concept of biological evolution in 2008, and the level of acceptance has declined over the last twenty years.
NOVA Australian Academy of Science News: science.org.au/nova
PEW Basic Science Quiz: pewresearch.org/quiz
ABC Science Page: abc.net.au/science
NYT Science Page: nytimes.com/science
CATALYST My Favourite: abc.net.au/catalyst