Old people scientifically illiterate?

I've posted on general scientific literacy broken down by demographic groups in the GSS. I've also pointed to data which suggested that the lower scientific literacy of church goers vis-a-vis non-church goers is an due mostly to the influence of Young Earth Creationism. Finally, I put up a post which suggested that Americans aren't that scientifically inept in the international context. So I thought I would repost the raw responses to various questions. Charts below the fold, but to explain the title, here's the difference between the 18-24 demographic and the over 65 demographic in terms of correct responses to various questions:

The center of the Earth is very hot. (True) 14 point advantage to the young

All radioactivity is man-made. (False) 1 point advantage to the old

Lasers work by focusing sound waves. (False) 17point advantage to the young

Electrons are smaller than atoms. (True) 24 point advantage to the young

The universe began with a huge explosion. (True) 2 point advantage to the old

The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. (True) 22 point advantage to the young

Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? (Earth around Sun) 20 point advantage to the young

How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun: one day, one month, or one year? (One year) 34 point advantage to the young

It is the father's gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl. (True)3 point advantage to the young

Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. (False) 3point advantage to the young

Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (True) 20 advantage to the young

Now, I know that Continental Drift was not the scientific consensus when the over 65 set were youth, but I think evolutionary theory predates any of the seniors in the survey. I suspect part of the issue here is just confusion, and I think it goes to show the importance of reflective acuity in scientific response, since many scientific truths, such as heliocentrism, do not reflexively follow form intuition.

I know the charts are occluded, so you can view the originals here, though you might just view the image itself via Firefox by right-clicking (don't know what you IE and Safari people have to do).

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Wait, wait, I never noticed this before seeing this data, but what's going on here...

80 percent of people know that continental drift is true, but only 55 percent know it takes a year for the earth to go around the sun? Hell, only 73 percent know that the earth goes around the sun?!?

I've been discussing this with my fiance and she thinks that it's due to the "surprise factor" of continental drift, like "Gosh, it's bizarre that the continents move" and you remember it.

However, I don't think that can really explain it... I dunno. Maybe someone else discussed this, but this boggles my mind.

By Josh Schraiber (not verified) on 10 Jul 2008 #permalink

"It is the father's gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl"

Which "gene", exactly, is that? Here I always thought it was a chromosome.

Or was that not the exact question which was actually asked?

Not to nitpick here, but isn't it sort of incorrect to categorize the big bang as an explosion, as it was a rapid expansion of space time and not an actual explosion of matter?

By Will Reisman (not verified) on 11 Jul 2008 #permalink

Not to nitpick here, but isn't it sort of incorrect to categorize the big bang as an explosion, as it was a rapid expansion of space time and not an actual explosion of matter?

yes. and electrons are waves and particles....

Becca - please don't stop! Thanks for the genetic info. It just goes to show that no matter how much you think you know, there's always an embarrassingly large amount you still don't know - an amount which can only ever get distressingly larger!

Now I have another boatload of reading to do! Thanks a lot! %[

there's a lot of stuff going on around SRY too; it's just the beginning of the molecular genetic mechanisms (e.g., SRY can be totally fine and there might still be an XY "female").