Stranger Fruit

The state of science literacy

If only to contextualize the Harris Poll I mention below, it is worth pointing out that science literacy in this country is fairly appaling. Witness the bi-annual NSF Science & Engineering Indicators (2004), which found that forty percent believe that astrology is either “very” or “sort of” scientific. This drops from 49% to 25% as education rises. It clearly should raise alarm bells if a quarter of college graduates feel that astrology can be even “sort of” scientific. Read the whole report … it should depress you even if you are an ID supporter.

The demographic for this survey was 7% with less than high school, 53% high school graduate, and 40% college graduate – thus 60% are high school or less – in the Harris Poll this was ~74%, thus perhaps indicating that the NSF survey may in fact be overestimating literacy.

Update: This report indicates a high school drop-out rate of ~30% nationwide. Thus it would appear that both the Harris and NSF data seriously under-represents that group and thus, I imagine, seriously under-represents the problem of scientific illiteracy.


  1. #1 Dr. Free-Ride
    January 28, 2006

    I can’t help but wonder: if science education were better (including more engaging), would fewer kids drop out? (Most of the folks I know who dropped out before high school graduation had given up on science, too.)

  2. #2 John Lynch
    January 29, 2006

    I’m not sure whether improving science education would increase the graduation rate; it strikes me that there are many other (perhaps more important) factors. However, I will say that science education in general does obviously need to be improved – my students have told me some horror stories over the years!

  3. #3 John Lynch
    January 29, 2006

    I should also add, b.t.w., that science education at the university level could probably do with an overhaul as well. Just my 10c :)