Weekend Diversion: What we don’t know

“Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is; for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows.” -Socrates


This weekend, I’m pleased to bring you a song by Wizz Jones, a British singer-songwriter who’s been at it for over 50 years, yet who most people have never heard of. Have a listen to one of my favorite songs of his, about a man who returns from World War II and never quite makes peace with what happened.

Wizz Jones – Burma Star
And one of the things that we need to make peace with, wherever any of us goes, is that you are always going to be around people who either don’t know or don’t believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

While polls show that 79% of Americans know that the Earth revolves around the Sun, 18% thought it was the other way around and 3% didn’t know.

While we might have a lot to say about the state of education and knowledge in America, it might surprise you to learn that other countries are no better. In Germany, only 74% knew, while 16% got it wrong and 10% didn’t know, and in Great Britain, 67% knew, 19% got it wrong and 14% didn’t know.

And while, in the US alone, this equates to something like 50+ million people believing the wrong thing, I wouldn’t stress over it. Why not?

Just because you believe it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

The information — the correct information — is out there, and easy to find, and easy to learn. Even though you might find some of the things we ignorantly believe to be appalling, the fact that many of us believe them does nothing to make them true. And it never will, and no one else’s beliefs can change what you factually know.

So enjoy this weekend however you choose, and I’ll see you with the astrophysics during the week!

Comments

  1. #1 Sophos
    September 12, 2010

    At first I thought that was bad. Only 79% gets it right! After seeing that other countries are no where better, I began to wonder how bad will Malaysians do…

  2. #2 Toma
    September 12, 2010

    I’m not sure whether this is incredibly amusing or terribly frightening:

    http://www.galileowaswrong.com/galileowaswrong/

  3. #3 MadScientist
    September 12, 2010

    79% Yeah, we’re #1!(And despite the higher % of “does know” we also have the highest absolute numbers of “don’t know” on the short list.)

    [OT]:With all the publicity lately for S.Hawkings’ latest book, I’d just like to know where people get these ideas of multiple universes. 40 years ago I thought “black holes” was the weirdest claim made.

  4. #4 Sphere Coupler
    September 12, 2010

    Wow Toma,
    that site is really…well, &^%$#@ up and makes no sense at…
    wait a minute, they are charging money, ahhhh, now it makes sense!

  5. #5 Lloyd
    September 12, 2010

    And yet these same ignorant people are allowed and even encouraged to vote. No wonder we’re in such a mess!

  6. #6 Brandon
    September 13, 2010

    Just saw a link to this on slashdot… http://www.galileowaswrong.com/galileowaswrong/

  7. #7 Brandon
    September 13, 2010

    I don’t know how I didn’t see that that link was already posted…my bad.

  8. #8 OKThen
    September 13, 2010

    We know the “fact” that the sun rises every morning?

    And we know the “fact” that from a photons point of view, all fermionic matter including the Earth and the sun are at rest.

    With the “correct” underlying hypotheses, necessary assumptions and point of view, physicists “know” a lot.

    “What you factually know” makes sense; until a new Galileo or Einstein comes along.

    Furthermore, it all depends upon what “know” is and “factually” is. But I drift into philosophy, psychology, logic and linguistics and those other fields of soft “knowledge”.

  9. #9 BenHead
    September 13, 2010

    Yeah, whenever people start bashing Americans on things like this, it helps to realize that people really are the same everywhere.

    Not that that’s a GOOD thing, in this case!

    Of course, much as I appreciate optimism, it is important to realize that while people who have wrong beliefs can’t change the facts, they are going to be making decisions based on their beliefs. And while that may not be a problem for heliocentrism – I doubt any non-believers are going to be planning NASA missions to Mars any time soon – it can be a problem for many other issues.

  10. #10 IBY
    September 13, 2010

    @Ethan
    I am sorry to say that knowing the facts still doesn’t prevent me from cringing at the statistics.

  11. #11 IBY
    September 13, 2010

    @OKThen
    Yeah, but that doesn’t mean both of the facts are equally correct. One fact can be much wronger than the other. Out of these three facts:

    -Sun goes around the Earth
    -Earth goes around the sun
    -Earth goes around center of mass of the Solar System

    One of them is slightly wronger than the other, and the other one is wronger than both of the other options combined.

  12. #12 davem
    September 14, 2010

    “and in Great Britain, 67% knew, 19% got it wrong and 14% didn’t know. ”
    …or 19% got annoyed at being asked silly questions…

  13. #13 cervantes
    September 14, 2010

    The center of mass of the solar system is very close to the center of the sun, so, close enough. The sun does in fact occupy the gravitational center of the solar system.

    It is of course possible to envision the earth as being motionless and the rest of the visible universe moving around it in an enormously complex dance, as it is possible to do with any object or location in space. (Wherever you are, you appear to be at the center.) But it is completely arbitrary, makes description far more difficult — practically speaking, impossible — and has no theoretical justification.

  14. #14 Hugo
    December 24, 2010

    Mybe the 20% got it right. About 50% (USA) believe that we all life forms appeared on earth “abrutply” and did not evolve from hydrogen to mud to bacteria to fish to mammals to us and maybe they are right. After all, C-14 dating of dinosaur bone collagen and other bone fractions of dinosaurs from Texas to Alaska give dates in the range of 23,000 to 33,000 RC years: that’s 2000 times younger than claimed by academia. Even Dawkin’s web site has acknowledged the data but of course he has to ridicule; that’s MOS. Ref. “Evolution: The Decline of an Hypothesis,” published in Italian and edited by the VP of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR), Nov. 2009, Dr. Roberto de Mattei, historian. Ten papers are reproduced in this book from the conference held on Feb. 23, 2009 at the CNR including one by the Paleo Group on RC dating bone collagen and calcium carbonate fraction of bone bioapatite from two dinosaur femur bones sawed open in 2005 at the Glendive MT Dinosaur and Fossil Museum. This data confirmed previous C-14 data for dinosaur bones from TX to AK from the 1990′s. These ages range from 23,000 to 33,000 RC years. “Date the fossils, not the roccks!”